A mere fortnight ago, the team behind Ashes of Creation took its MMO combat testing ground known as Apocalypse and opened the doors on Steam as a fully free-to-play title (persistent early access). I took a look at the game during its brief weekend-long test and was honestly blown away.opened for the early access at the end of September. I had to know: Did Intrepid Studios listen to any player feedback from the test, or was it all just a marketing ruse?
So what’s changed in a month?
From my time playing the past couple weeks, I can say that it does not appear that any major changes took place in AoC Apocalypse. However, I did notice a number of nice quality-of-life changes and some balance tweaks.
Intrepid Studios added in several pop-up hints to aid new players. It seems like such a small thing, but it actually helped me out considerably. Since the game’s lobby prior to a match beginning is fairly sparse and there isn’t an alternative place to go and test out the game’s skills and keybindings, the hints help tremendously. Lunging, for instance, is a huge maneuver that is key to the gameplay flow. Without it, you aren’t going anywhere.
One might argue that this simply means players need some better way of trying out skills that isn’t strictly in the heat of a fight, and by “one” I mean me. Twitchy, fast-paced fights like the ones experienced in AoC Apocalypse can be extremely fun, but not when you have yet to learn the muscle memory of performing your actions. If there were a lobby with some target dummies to smash that wasn’t time constrained, that’d be helpful.
Also, it appears Intrepid wisely listened regarding overall melee weapon damage and stamina use. This was probably the single most frustrating bit of the previous test’s combat. Before, you could swing your weapon about three times before running out of stamina. If you had a max-tier weapon, these three hits were probably enough to take out most opponents. It looks like the team reduced the stamina and damage per hit. This was great. Fights now feel more fluid and reactionary. Instead of being dead within a few hits from a surprise enemy, you have time to dodge out, get acclimated, and return the favor – or run away.
Weapon balance is improved on the whole
As I said, since there isn’t a dedicated lobby where players can test out all the different weapons at their leisure, it’s difficult to really get an idea of the overall weapon (and related skill) balance, but there are some serious outliers.
Let’s talk about the potion launcher. It’s a grenade launcher, plain and simple. It is very satisfying to use; however, its damage is honestly too high for its ease of use. If you’re looting shortly after drop-off and you find one of these bad boys, well, you have no one to blame but yourself for not getting to the final showdown.
Most of the melee weapons appear to be well balanced. I’ll need more fights to get a better feel for them overall, but the one standout from my matches has been the halberd with lifesteal. In most one-on-one encounters while wielding this I’ve felt pretty OP. I’m not sure if it needs to be tuned down or others need to be tuned up yet though.
The long and shortbows are strong, but there are a few improvements still necessary. First, they appear to fire almost like single shot revolvers in that there isn’t any trail or tracer for the arrow fired. When you are firing from a long distance, it’s difficult to tell just how much you missed the shot by. I’m not sure what needs fixing here, but something just feels off. The crossbow doesn’t really suffer from this weakness because it actually does provide a blue streak, so you feel a little more confident in your shots. Similarly, you can’t really tell how far your attacking range is. Did I miss the target because of a poorly placed shot, or was she just too far away?
Battle royale improvements are still needed
In many of these battle royale titles, it’s important to get a feel for your surroundings. Audio is a key part of that. When crouched in a room’s corner ready to strike at the door, you need strong audio as a key indicator for how close and in what direction your opponent is in. Whether it’s footsteps behind you or an arrow whizzing past, you need that information.
But right now, it doesn’t feel as helpful as it needs to be. You can hear the smashing of furniture and a slight ping if an arrow hits or misses, but it needs to tighten up for players to take it as seriously as they might other BRs.
We also need improved hit indicators for damage inflicted. When you suffer from an attack, the damage and direction it came from are made apparent by the hit indicator. However, it’s really difficult for me to tell whether I’m hurting my opponent or not. There are small numbers that pop up and a text read-out under your health bar, but it’s not enough.
With the over the top animations and blurring effects as you swing and fight, I simply do not have enough information to know whether my enemy is dying or close to dying – or if I even hit him at all. Honestly, do you see that little “14” floating in the image above? Now go full PvP combat speed and try to watch it. In traditional MMOs, you have tab targeting and can gauge your opponent’s health just by watching the bar scroll down. You don’t have that here. I’m not sure what we need, but I’m open for a brainstorming session on it.
The elephant in the room: Monetization and the MMO proper
I couldn’t wrap this one up without at least mentioning the monetization. I realize I touched on it briefly before, but I wanted to talk about some specifics because yes, this game was originally Kickstarted to be an MMORPG first and foremost, and MMORPG player aggravation over the way this battle royale test mode standalone as well as its monetization have been handled is making itself known with Steam review-bombing and so forth.
Thus far, the monetization really is purely cosmetic. However, I can also see that having paid for the Legendary path to the game is a huge advantage regarding how many cosmetics you unlock and how quickly you unlock them.
See, Apocalypse has what it calls Quests and Adventures. The Quests are simple dailies and weeklies, while the Adventures are reward tracks. If you are a totally free-to-play player, you have significantly fewer dailies to do, which results in significantly less experience gain on the reward tracker. You see where this is going?
The true annoyance here – and Intrepid is far from alone in doing this – is that you also have separate reward tracks depending on whether you are a paid player or not. I completely understand the rationale behind it. Free players get to see all the sweet loot they are missing out on. Come on, don’t you want that bling? The frustration for me is that it’s a double knock against free players. Not only do you advance on the reward track slower, but you also get fewer and less-desirable rewards.
This probably encourages some players to pony up the dough, but I’m sure it also turns some players away – and this game’s not exactly burning up the Steam Charts here. Usually as a free player, I find my logic will run along the lines of, “Well I can’t get the loot as fast, but I know I’ll get it eventually.” Here, that isn’t the case. As a free player, you literally can never get the loot.
Regarding the BR versus the MMO, I suppose I don’t have much else to say. I personally like the idea of a studio trying to come up with new modes to support and test and promote its “real” game. If Intrepid pulls an Epic on us and more or less (or even fully) drops the MMO in favor of the BR – as some backers seem so convinced of – then I’ll gladly stand beside you, pitchfork in hand. But I truly do not expect that to happen. I think the BR space is full enough that a newcomer isn’t going to make the kind of splash that Fortnite did, so there’s little temptation to give up on the “real” game, and Intrepid is clearly still working on the MMORPG for which this mode is just one tiny component.
Apocalypse is a solid game in its own right, even if it’s not pulling in gobs of players. I don’t think there are any other fantasy BRs that match it in terms of excitement of gameplay. Heck, there aren’t a lot of fantasy, action-oriented PvP first games on my radar at all. So for now you can be sure to find me spending my evenings in the Apocalypse.
Have you tried playing Ashes of Creation Apocalypse? Like, actually tried to play it? I see your Steam reviews. Do you think this is the start to a beautiful MMO combat experience, or is it just another cash grab? Play it for yourself and then let me know.