“Everyone group up! Keep the formation tight. Line up and do not let anyone through that door.”
We know that they have a siege weapon built and the walls are going to come down any minute. We only need to hold our keep for another 20 minutes – not an impossible task. Our numbers are even. As long as we can stay together we should be able to hold out.
“Wait, wait, everyone. I see the other faction incoming on the south side of the keep. No, no they aren’t trying to push in… they’re just… standing around.”
Well, that only means one thing. After we’ve been engaged and weakened, this other team is going to run in and try to wipe out the survivors and claim the keep themselves.
This is the kind of tense situation you can find yourself in when engaging in territory defense in Crowfall. However, before you can legitimately take part in a fight like this, you have to create a character and figure out where to even begin.
Let’s get some levels and some gear
Starting out in Crowfall is akin to starting out in pretty much every MMO. I do really love the vast number of choices available when it comes to picking a class and race. Sure you don’t have every single class open to every race, but the variety is pretty fantastic. I really want to sit down, look at each race’s unique benefits/skills, compare that to the classes I like to play, and start to think about exactly how to make the perfect warrior. But then I remember this game is still in pre-alpha and some features aren’t even really in the game yet, and what is in and what isn’t in is not always something you can look up online in five minutes. So instead, I just pick the cool-looking race that can be a paladin.
At the very start you find yourself dumped in a cave with no gear. Well, that’s no problem really. You walk around for a little while and – between the pop-up hints and the fact that most of us know how video games work – you realize that you need to make your starter gear. Chop, chop, chop. Smash, smash, smash. Throw everything into a fire and – POOF! We have ourselves some weapons. And food, as apparently you need to eat in this game.
I come across some spiders and smashed them real good. Their nameplates have R1 at the end of them, so these must be little newbie level 1 spiders, fun. After screwing around with them for a little bit and gaining a level or two, I think it’s time to turn it up and see if I can find some real action, or at least some camps to mess with.
Close encounter of the brief kind
Once I get to the main temple, I reach out with a little map chat to see where the action is. I may be low level, but maybe I can just get a feel for what a fight is like, and besides, there must be other lowbies out there. The response: silence. Well, I guess I’m on my own.
So, I strike out into the grand world. And I’m running. And I’m running… and running. Where in the hell is everyone, or anyone, or anything? I was shocked by how big the map felt and yet just how empty it was. Now, I was playing on a school night (maybe a Wednesday) and it was about 9:00 p.m. Typically I consider that prime time, so I was pretty disappointed by just how lonely it was. Look I can hear you already: “It’s an alpha. It’s probably the end of the campaign so fewer people are on.” Sure, that may have been the case. I don’t know. But what I do know is that all was quiet on the fronts.
Finally, I decide to take on a little camp solo. There are just two guards, both of them R4. Well, I’m about level 4, so let’s see what’s shaking. The first arrow hits me for about one-fifth my health; I knew this was a bad idea.
After I recover my apparently extremely weak and fragile body, I come across another player in my faction. I convince them we should attack the camp together. We head to the camp and begin to make some good progress on these guards. Then, one enemy shows up and kills my ally then knocks me down… and I’m dead. Riveting.
Being a new player is a challenge
My take away from that experience was multi-layered. I realize that I was not in some low-level area. In fact, there isn’t a low level area at all. I also discover that the R4, while indicating some rank/level for the NPCs, it does not correlate directly with your character levels for… reasons. They must be on some other scale unknown to me.
Let’s think of it in these terms: There’s no real starting/low-level areas, which means that low-level players are going to be outclassed and totally wrecked from the get-go. Since this is a PvP-centric game, there is very little PvE content. In other words, you’re too weak to get into the fray and fight so that you can take loot from people and level up, and there isn’t other content for you to do to get loot and level up.
So, what does a player in this situation do? Well, if you don’t quit the game, you go find a spot where low-ranked monsters spawn, and you farm them. That’s right. In a PvP-focused game, to get started, you farm monsters.
You kill them over and over and over again. Partially because of the EXP you gain, but even more for the gold. Yes, the gold. Now, sure gold is useful for all sorts of reasons, but it’s more important at this point because you can convert it into EXP. Kind of weird, but that’s how it works.
I completely understand you angry Crowfall fan out there with the “but it’s pre-alpha! refrain, but from a testing and design standpoint, it’s not much of an excuse. If you want people to get fully immersed and enjoy your PvP game, you should probably start your game by letting them, you know, PvP. It’s why we’re here.
The real roll-over-laughing, kick-you-in-the-teeth part of this whole situation? Levels at this point in the game (I learned after another quick fight with the guards) have little bearing on your total character power. Power is primarily driven by the gear you’re wearing. Which makes me wonder, what the heck are these levels even for? Just to gate the skills?
I’ve come this far, and this is a campaign between factions. If going it alone or with a couple allies isn’t going to cut it, I better see what it’s like in a guild.
Friends are your best weapons
There isn’t actually an interface in game for joining a guild, not that I could see. You have to go onto the Crowfall website and join from there. I won’t knock them for that one yet. The forums aren’t the best, but with some poking and prodding I was able to get an invite and join a proper guild.
The experience here is much like you’d expect from an organized group. Everyone is given their marching orders. Some people ran off and farmed the monsters (less for the gold and levels but more for the hides). Others were assigned to knock down every tree or boulder they saw. The guild’s smithy crafts the gear. Everyone gets fitted and prepares for war.
In my last Fight or Kite column, I mentioned how I really struggled with a reason to play WvW in Guild Wars 2 given inadequate reward. Well, one thing you can say here is that the experience of fighting over a keep is rewarding, and factions are not going to lose their keep if they can help it. In Crowfall, crafters can create better gear and items within keeps than they can in lower-level holdings. So whenever a keep that belongs to your faction comes under siege, you really need to work hard to hold onto it.
I found myself finally beginning to enjoy the game while in the keep with allies, trying our best to hold it against the hordes of enemies pounding on our gates. I realize this part is really what the game is all about. But I can’t get all that boring start-up stuff out of my mind. I want to be able to jump in and have some fun. I want to be able to tell my friends to join me in Crowfall because it’s fun. Grinding away at monsters for hours is just not fun. Also, knowing that these campaigns often reset your character without any gear means that there will be times, even as a veteran, when you have to repeat that new player process.
If ArtCraft can make some good decisions, I think it might be on to something strong with Crowfall. That starter experience needs to be cleaner and involve more PvP. If the number of players in a campaign isn’t going to be much larger, then maybe the maps should be smaller. Honestly, running through all these maps without ever seeing another player really makes the game feel dead, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s because it’s an alpha or because the maps really are too spread out. And if ArtCraft can reduce some of that lag during a large fight, then Crowfall could be great.
So tell me, legions of enemies pounding on my gates – have you given Crowfall the ol’ college try? Did its battles measure up to your expectations for a good fight?