Fight or Kite: Ashes of Creation Apocalypse is a doorway to an action-packed MMO

    
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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.

This is fine.

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?

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!

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memitim

The fact it has a name (Apocalypse) that isn’t “Alpha test x” is slightly telling, if it really is just a test not calling it that was obviously going to cause confusion.
The real tell though is the cash shop, but this is a very early alpha so of course everything in it is free for testing purposes right? No? Bye.

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PharazonGaming

They definitely need to iterate further on the combat. I think from previous tests to now they have made solid improvements even beyond just the back end changes that they made, including the root motion animation system.

I wish more MMO players would play in the BR to help shape the combat. The game is aiming for a hybrid tab/action system in the MMO proper and you won’t be able to fully remove action from your hotbar (minimum 25% action skills). Even though someone might not like BR games, now is the time to provide feedback to help shape the action combat so that even if they prefer tab, that action is still useful to them.

I have been critical of several aspects of the development and Intrepid definitely shows that they are “new” to this open development style even though they have very tenured staff, with how they handle things. I do feel like they are trying to learn from their mistakes and some things have gotten better and other things not so much, but I think their intentions and effort are honest.

I’m glad to see that people are still finding the game and interest is still being sparked. I just hope that everyone understands how rough and ugly early development can be especially when a studio is trying to take risks and try things that haven’t been done in the MMO genre before.

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Jahlon

Yeah that 25% / 75% max split is going to force everyone to use a little of everything.

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Jahlon

You hit the nail on the head on several parts in this article.

There are more than enough reasons to be angry at Intrepid over this APOC thing, but people who are getting twisted out of shape need to remember this is the first in a series of tests that should hopefully lead us to an MMORPG.

Nobody is going to say you can’t have complaints because you can. Just take a few minutes to research them before just spewing out things as facts. There are a lot of bad actors who misquote a lot of things about Intrepid, Ashes of Creation, and Apocalypse. Make sure you are going to a primary source, not someone interpretation of a source.

Intrepid is a brand new studio and is going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. We can burn them as they go, or point out the flaws and hope the recover.

Oh and Sam, be careful about befriending docile forest creatures. The moment you say any single thing to upset them they start with the lawyers and law enforcement officials. Just free advice.

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Anstalt

Action combat with a short time-to-kill is my nightmare PvP scenario, I absolutely hate games like that. It basically removes all player skill from the game and makes it into either a stat-comparison or just one person getting the jump on someone else.

I want my PvP to be all about what I do in combat. Can I out-think my opponent? Can I time my skills better? Can I use my situational abilities at the correct time and not blow them early? If someone jumps me, does the game give me enough tools to be able to fight back and maybe turn the tables?

I’ll keep an eye on it though. I’d kind of written AoC off as another kickstarter that wasn’t really going anywhere. Whilst I dislike battle royales too, I think it’s a good idea to develop something like this in order to really test the combat mechanics thoroughly and as early as possible. I’m a combat focused player, so if the combat mechanics are a bit shit then I’ll be quitting pretty damn quick, like I did with ESO and Wildstar.

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Davlos

I agree with you on disliking the BR genre. If personal hells were a thing, my personal hell would be playing PUBG or Apex Legends for eternity. With inverted mouse controls. And all other players are screaming mainland Chinese cheaters.

When having a BR to test and validate netcode was publicly talked about, I was supportive of the idea because it was inexpensive in tech cost, sessions were quick to start and end, and the game mode forced at least 30-40 players into certain hotspots in the game world to push the backend hard. That being said, this current iteration performs much better than the one we last laid our hands on several months ago, but it’s not perfect with a long way to go yet. I may definitely dislike the BR genre, yet I see the value it holds in bughunting and I played it as much as possible in order to hunt dem bugs.

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Solaris

I don’t know if you have played this BR, but it takes a ton of skill. Fights can be long and drawn out or take 10 seconds. I’m not a BR fan at all, but came away impressed and looking forward to seeing the system implemented in the MMO.

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Jahlon

I give a lot of respect to BR/FPS players.

The only BR I play is Ashes, so I got really out of practice, and then with the new animations I felt like I was horrible.

It got better, but its amazing to watch someone kill you and then do the ride along and see them just go on a 6, 7 , 8 player kill streak.

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Sorenthaz

Ashes is pretty much going to get flak and hate for anything it does that isn’t releasing the MMO. Folks can be very passionately vengeful against stuff like this, even if they didn’t put money into the Kickstarter or so on.

Kind of wish I could’ve checked out the test but they usually do tests when I’m at work.

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G I G A B E A R

A game company getting flak for releasing an entirely different game than what people actually backed? You don’t say :)

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Sorenthaz

Yeah you’re one of those people, I get it.

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G I G A B E A R

I’m quite surprised that, unless I simply missed it, the article does not mention the cash shop, which has been probably the biggest complaint against the product left by Steam reviewers. The game had mostly negative reviews there, btw.

It also disproves Intrepid’s assertions this is a test for the MMORPG. While some data might be being gleaned and used to that purpose, the cash shop makes it pretty clear APOC exists to make MONEY. The term cashgrab seems fair.

A proper MMORPG test environment merely needed to be an upgrade to their existing alpha 0 client and arenas which they had used at PAX West(2017). A no thrills setup that was pretty much already in existence.

But to cash in, they needed a full standalone game. So they misappropriated our backer dollars to make something in an entirely different genre just to make yet more money for a game they claimed was already fully funded through development.

We got a Fortnite clone with magic and swords. Copied right down to the battle pass, and possibly, right down to sidelining the MMO side of it for a Battle Royale. They surely haven’t shown much progress on the MMORPG side of things. Their recent trailer was shredded for having crap animations.

It’s probably DOA. And this doesn’t even get into Intrepid’s numerous scandals, such as offering the exclusive lifetime sub from kickstarter after the kickstarter, the CEO banning people for asking fair questions and then trolling them in the discord, him being involved in an MLM the FTC was about to investigate for being a pyramid scheme before they shut down their own company, and a bunch of other things that make this thing sketchy as hell.

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Sorenthaz

left by Steam reviewers. The game had mostly negative reviews there, btw.

Yeah, it’s almost like review bombing still happens on Steam or something. Shocking.

https://steamcommunity.com/app/942810 shows nothing but positive reviews for a long while before finally seeing the beginnings of the bare-minimum-playtime negative reviews.

People were going to dump on it no matter what because most folks in the MMO community hate/don’t understand BRs.

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G I G A B E A R

The reason for the initial positive reviews is because the Phoenix Initiative($2500 backers) all left reviews because Intrepid let them play the more recent version of the battle royale, and they have obvious incentive to protect their investment.

I contend any review bombing was more than outweighed by the PI meddling.

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Solaris

Infowars much?

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Sorenthaz

Lol, BS. 58 backers (84 if you count those above that tier) at most are in that. That’s nowhere close to the amount of negative reviews that folks were trying to bomb Ashes of Creation’s page with, assuming that all 84 people even did put up positive reviews.

Godnaz
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Godnaz

A few points you touched upon here.

To me, network stability is the key which every great MMORPG’s misses on and it’s the proverbial hump PvP games have issue getting over in online games today. How the Unreal4 engine and networking capabilities will compensate for a high volume of players/data, in a real world with generally poor bandwidth infrastructure without skill lag and player state delay is the holy grail of massive scale PvP success.

PvP mechanics in an MMORPG are generally different from game to game and understanding the goals of a developer and giving feedback to make fluidity better can be a frustrating task, even with Player Test Servers and good communication. Guildwars 2 arguably has a good balance between speed, durability and class skills and mechanics. The same could be said for Black Desert but where speed of combat makes up for a lack of diversity. The lull you spoke of with stamina barriers can outright kill the experience. A balanced yet effective 1vs1 should never last more than 4 minutes.

I really hope Ashes of Creation can deliver it’s vision, even if it takes longer than anticipated just to get it done right the first time. With the current line up of announced games, AoC and Pantheon appear to be the heavy from runners for a robust and fulfilling RPG experience.

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Vincent Clark

BLUF, if you are crowd funding an MMORPG, the first anyone sees of the production shouldn’t be a BR. The second time anyone sees a portion of the game, it shouldn’t be a BR. And so on and so on…

I was far easier and cheaper to monetize a BR “version” of the main game than it was to actually show the main game the people are helping to fund. So, no thanks.

As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a good first impression and the team behind this game fucked it up royally.

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Jahlon

I agree with you if the fist thing people see is a BR that’s going to be bad.

Have to remember there was an entire Alpha Zero testing period (https://youtu.be/VM7d8BpYix4) where they did show off the MMORPG.

Problem is it was so long ago, people have forgotten about it at this point.