If you had told me two weeks ago that Ashes of Creation is going to be one of my most anticipated upcoming MMO titles, I probably would have blushed and been pumped that you were even talking to me! But aside from that, I would’ve rolled my eyes, pointed at the back of the line, and told you to take a number.
Well, to my surprise, it appears you would have been right. When I heard the news about another test for Ashes of Creation Apocalypse, I knew I wanted to give it a try. I had nothing to lose really, and as it turns out, I had a lot to gain.
Wait, are we talking about an MMO here – or something else?
Ashes of Creation was Kickstarted to be an MMORPG, and developer Intrepid Studios has doggedly maintained that the MMO is still in development. It claims to check off all the boxes in the sandbox list of must-haves: medieval fantasy, player housing, dynamic cities, quests, PvP, PvE, crafting, and all your hopes and dreams. Beautiful, right?
Apocalypse is something else entirely. It began as a battle royale PvP mode for the MMO but has since been spun out into a standalone free-to-play BR mode, all in the service of testing AOC itself.
From my perspective, I think this is a great idea on the surface. I know we’re talking sandboxes here, and there is a lot more to it than just the combat. But if you want to convince me you are going to make a strong PvP game with large player battles – and you do, since this is Massively OP’s PvP column, after all – then you need to have some top notch combat. Apocalypse gives AOC a playground to get that combat down right.
Combat was smooth and fluid, but don’t put away your toolbox yet
During the test itself last week, I found that engaging in combat with enemies was extremely rewarding for the most part. I didn’t really experience any lag or nasty rubber banding effects. I thought the animations looked smooth and the skills triggered well and felt good too. When I landed a strike on an opponent, it just felt right.
And to my eye, the animations look spectacular. There are some extremely impressive weapon skills too. If I hadn’t been in the heat of battle royale combat, I would’ve loved to have gotten a screenshot of this brick wall skill someone used to put some distance between us. Overall, I was really blown away by the animations. I’d have to say it was some of the best-looking graphics I’ve seen from a small studio like this. Maybe it’s because Intrepid is using Unreal Engine 4 on the back-end. Whatever it is, it’s got my attention.
With that said, I definitely had a gripe with a few aspects of the combat – some of which the developers can tweak and improve upon, but others might just be locked-in design choices.
Melee combat is too fast but also frustratingly slow
What I mean by too fast is that weapons simply do too much damage. Maybe two or three hits with a decent melee weapon will completely wreck your opponent from full health to zero. At the same time, the stamina use gives you about four or so swings before you are tired, at which point you run around aimlessly until you regenerate enough stamina to fight again.
I didn’t like that pacing at all. In one of my engagements just after drop off, my opponent and I attacked and dodged a few times, then danced side-to-side looking at each other like a couple of goobers until we had the stamina to continue fighting. It was simply dull and boring. I didn’t enjoy that experience, and I wouldn’t enjoy watching it either.
Now, I’m not advocating for long, drawn-out fights, but currently it is simply not hitting the mark for what I expect from engaging PvP. Why not reduce the damage per hit and the amount of stamina used per swing? Let’s actually fight each other a bit. Make it feel like there’s some skill involved that’ll determine the fight’s outcome – not just that one player got a couple of sucker punches in.
Odd design choices… for an MMO
Apocalypse is a battle royale, so naturally there are a lot of similarities between it and the battle royale giants, including Fortnite. One of the designs Intrepid has clearly imitated is item and weapon pickups during a match. I don’t know whether it works the same way in the MMO proper, but either way, I wasn’t a fan.
Here’s how it works: You pick up an item; it goes to one of your five toolbar slots. That includes potions, weapons, and armors. As an MMO player, I was driven crazy. Where is the sanctity of the skill bar? Items belong in your bag and skill slots are reserved for… skills. It just feels so icky. I understand it’s something you get used to after playing a while, but I constantly kept trying to pick up a piece of armor, only to inadvertently drop the weapon I was holding. I just didn’t like the way that worked.
I much preferred the weapon and inventory system in Fallout 76’s Nuclear Winter (also a battle royale mode). There, items were a bit more siloed off from each other. Weapons went to a carousel, and armor went to a bag for equipping. There was also a hotkey for using your heal packs.
AoC Apocalypse isn’t an MMO, but don’t write it off
It won’t surprise you to learn there is a lot of controversy around AOC Apocalypse. Some of it is understandable, but we need to be a bit more optimistic and objective. I can completely understand feeling as if the team is changing directions on you. You bought into AOC as an MMO, and when Intrepid releases an in-testing game that isn’t that MMO, it can feel like you’ve been tricked. It’s not too different from players who were excited for Fortnite’s original co-op PvE design and then were disappointed when the battle royale came along and totally overshadowed it, apart from the crowdfunding elements.
Consider the situation from another point of view. Before dipping my toe into this BR mode, I didn’t know much about AOC the MMORPG other than its name, and more importantly, I didn’t care to know more about it. I’ve since decided I’ll give a game some of my attention when it has more to show for itself – and that’s exactly what Apocalypse has done. Not only did it get my attention, but I really like the idea of using battle royale as a means of shoring up the game’s combat for launch. Too often studios will just put their MMO’s combat and PvP out there and hardly look back at it. Intrepid has a chance to do it right, and it fills me with hope.
MMO PvP players, this needs to be on your radar
AOC Apocalypse isn’t the full MMO you are waiting on, but it is a solid game, even in its test phase. I had a lot of fun playing, and honestly if I’s had more time available, I would’ve kept playing. If you enjoy PvP and you enjoy fantasy combat, this really is a game to check out the next time Intrepid puts up a Steam test.
Honestly, there are so many Kickstarter games that have been in development for years that it’s easy to completely ignore any new games that are announced. That’s where I’ve found myself now. How many times in the last several years has a new company popped its head up and told us it will design the next amazing sandbox PvP MMO? How many of those games have come to fruition? How many of them are still in alpha (or pre-alpha, or betas that are really pre-alphas) years after being funded? How many times will my walking, talking, wooden crow and camel puppets keep telling me, “Someday we’ll be real boys!” I’m sick of it. I bet you are too.
And yet, AOC Apocalypse impressed me so much. I’ve gone from apathetic to energetic. I’m looking at videos and can’t wait to see what the MMO has in store. I’m inclined to put aside my pessimism for once and take Intrepid at its word, especially since it’s ponied up with a totally public test and let the world have a look at what it’s got cooking. Apocalypse is another step in the direction of the MMO of our dreams, not the death knell of it. And if the studio burns us in the end, well, in that case I’ll stand with you.
So, torchbearers, pitchforks and stakes at the ready, did you give AoC Apocalypse a chance? Did you find the combat as entertaining as I did? Or can you simply not accept that this is only a test toward improving the MMO?