Not So Massively: First impressions of Wolcen, a familiar but fun ARPG

    
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Not So Massively: First impressions of Wolcen, a familiar but fun ARPG

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem isn’t a game whose development I followed super closely, but I’d seen it on Steam aways back and thought it looked interesting enough to add to my wishlist. Once it released in February, some positive buzz was enough to convince me to pick it up sooner rather than later. And while Wolcen isn’t likely to revolutionize the ARPG genre any time soon, I’m definitely glad I grabbed it. It’s been a good ride so far.

First the bad news: Wolcen is, in many ways, very generic. If you’ve spent any amount of time playing ARPGs, nothing about this game is going to surprise you. From the gritty setting to the rains of color-coded loot, it’s all very familiar.

But I’m largely OK with that. Originality is nice to have, but it’s not essential. Nothing about Wolcen feels all that new, but the graphics are gorgeous, the combat is visceral and satisfying, and it just feels good to play.

The main way Wolcen seeks to set itself apart from the pack is its intricate build system, which seems to be trying to combine the best parts of both Diablo III and Path of Exile‘s systems. I would say it has been mostly successful in that goal.

Maximum depth and freedom is clearly a goal in this game. There’s no classes, and anyone can learn any passive or active skill. The only real restriction is that all active skills require you to have appropriate weapons equipped, but thanks to dual-wielding even that isn’t so much of a restriction.

There’s also a huge passive skill tree that definitely calls to mind Path of Exile‘s. This is probably my least favorite aspect of the build system. I’ve said before that I don’t believe adding more buttons to press actually adds more depth, and I don’t find unlocking eleventy bajillion “+5% crit chance” style talents to be especially exciting game design.

However, there are some nice twists that make this version of the idea a little more appealing to me. One is that the “tree” is actually arranged in concentric rings, and you can spin the rings around to customize the path you take through the tree, which adds a whole other layer of strategy. Additionally, it doesn’t take too long to unlock more interesting and game-changing passives, so it’s not all bland stat buffs.

The real upside, though, is that the rest of the build system is a lot more interesting. Something I really like is that active skills level up as you use them, and as they level up, you gain access to a system of passive tweaks and enhancements to each skill. This is very similar to Diablo III‘s rune system, but with way more depth. I really like it; it feels like a great way to make your skills your own.

Something else that’s interesting is the way resource mechanics work, and how that interacts with the build system. Magical skills are fueled by willpower, which regenerates passively over time, but physical skills are fueled by rage, which bleeds out over time. Furthermore, each type of ability generates the opposite resource.

Now, basic weapon attacks also restore the associated resource (a staff will generate willpower with basic attacks, while a sword will generate rage), so if you want to focus on just one type of skill and its associated resource, you can, but if you want to mix magical and physical skills, you end up with this really neat symbiosis between your skills, as each type fuels the other. As someone who loves mixing physical and magical abilities in any game that allows it, I really enjoy this playstyle. It makes combat flow really well.

Wolcen has some other interesting ideas, too. As in many RPGs, you can spend points to increase your core stats when you level up, but the core stats in this aren’t necessarily tied to one type of skill the way they normally are. It’s not like you need to stack intellect if you’re a caster. Instead, all the core stats in Wolcen are basically what would be secondary stats in another game — things like attack speed and crit chance — so you can stack any skill you want with any kind of build. You can be a mage that stacks agility, or a tanky bruiser based on wisdom. It makes spending stats feel like a genuine choice in a way it almost never is in games. Again, I really like this.

Something I have more mixed feelings on is how this game handles damage types. I always find it frustrating in games when I’m encouraged to focus on just one damage type, like fire. Aesthetically, I find it makes a character feel lifeless when all their abilities are the same color and the same theme. I like the idea of specializing, but I prefer a theme build that incorporates a few different flavors of attack. A positive example would be my wizard’s Tal Rasha’s build in Diablo III, which encourages her to cycle through all four wizard elements.

Wolcen attempts to add flexibility to this idea by lumping damage types into three broad categories: material, elemental, and occult. You can fully specialize in fire damage if you want, but you can just as easily branch out and have an elemental build that also uses ice and lightning.

Really great idea, but I don’t think the game capitalizes on it enough. Most skills have an upgrade to change their damage type, but only just the one, and sometimes it’s from the same category (like changing fire to lightning). This can limit your skill choices a fair bit; it’s frustrating to have a spell whose mechanics you love but whose damage type doesn’t fit into your theme build.

That said, a lot of this issue stems from the fact there are so many fun and cool skills in this game that there’s too many I don’t want to give up, and that’s kind of a good problem to have.

The one final complaint to level against the build system is that there have been some balance issues – notably, pet builds were initially underpowered to the point of being utterly unusable even for the most casual of players – but the developers seem to be moving quickly to address the most severe of these problems.

That’s a lot of text about the build system. The bottom line is that it’s not perfect, but it has some good ideas, and the pros easily outweigh the cons.

That could just as well describe Wolcen as a whole. Not perfect, but easily more good than bad.

The story, like a lot of the game, is unoriginal but competently executed. If I was younger or less experienced as a gamer, I would probably be a lot more impressed; it’s really quite good, but it just feels like a story I’ve already seen many times before.

I will say that they put a lot of effort into the world-building. The amount of flavor text in this game is staggering, and while the concepts of the world are not especially original, the developers have made an impressive effort at fleshing things out and adding detail.

As mentioned above, the graphics are stunning, and the game’s pro-customization philosophy spills over to the visuals as well. The character creation screen is a lot more robust than the average ARPG, though still pretty shallow compared to most MMORPGs. There’s also a pretty strong transmog and dye system, though its gold cost is pretty steep, especially for a low level character.

And it just feels good to play.

Wolcen isn’t going to redefine any genres, but if you enjoy ARPGs, it’s definitely worth your time.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

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angrakhan

I apologise for spoiling the ending. I wasn’t thinking. It bothers me so much I just spat it out there without any consideration for anyone still playing the campaign. I’m very sorry and thank the mods for removing it. I ask for forgiveness and I will effort to not be so stupid in the future. I will go away now.

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Solaris

I love this ARPG. One of the best I’ve played. Fun solo, fun co-op. Beautiful environments and easily the best looking ARPG out there.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Spoiler-free comments: My comment won’t have story spoilers, but as a warning there’s a comment below about 5 down from someone else that someone spoils the ending of the game without warning, so be very careful reading comments where people talk about the ending. I don’t know if MOP removes spoiler comments or not, but it’s a pretty big one for a new game and it’s there right now.

I thought it was all worth the money despite the ending, which I assume is there because they planned on continuing the game in the future, but I don’t care about the current “end game” content either.

The only difficulty in the game for me came from the bosses and mini-bosses and I didn’t really care to build up the city in the end game. It seemed more about time and grinding than play skill. That isn’t fun for me.

They have a dodge key, which I love because it lets you use your own play ability a bit more, rather than just stepping back away from stuff and spamming pots like some games do.

I played through the normal difficulty and purposely made a balanced character to make sure it was fun to play. There were all sorts of overpowered builds when I was playing, though they have been fixing those up in patches. I did my goal, getting the no death achievement on all 3 acts with a balanced build and without dropping the difficulty and had fun doing it.

The game is so beautiful. They had launch issues for the online characters, but this stuff happens in online launches. Yes, they should have put the current build of the game up for testing in Early Access for a few weeks before release, but some people have really been hammering them hard for normal online launch issues. People have the right to vent on forums when the game they paid for is down, but others are just going overboard still now about every little thing.

If they continue development for the game in the future with new story content or bosses etc, it could really turn into something amazing and great to spend lots of time in. For now, it’s fun just to play through the story, but I don’t see much reason to stick around for the city building.

I didn’t see much reason to stick around Diablo III after finishing it either though. Some people just keep grinding and doing higher difficulties of the same story etc in those games, that isn’t really for me though.

hurbster
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hurbster

Did they make all the kickstarter promises ?

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silverlock

No they canned most of them to produce a standard ARPG.

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Tee Parsley

I got in early, and liked the open world version, despite it’s own particular problems. Continued on through release, but it’s so standardly corridor ARPG that when I got tired of a boss or two, I just deleted the game.

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NeoWolf

“Wolcen isn’t going to redefine any genres, but if you enjoy ARPGs, it’s definitely worth your time.”

This was pretty much the conundrum for me.
Is Wolcen a good game? – yes
Is Wolcen and attractive game? – yes
Is the story of Wolcen decent? – yes
Is Wolcen anything new? – Nope, sadly not.

I bought it, I played a number of hours and it was fine but it was also nothing new.

It felt like Diablo, it looked as good as Diablo and others of its genre, it had a Path of Exile like progression which is far better than Diablo’s…BUT it again it was nothing new. All I could think while playing it was this is not going to keep me occupied beyond today because this ALL feels like i’ve done it before. And so I got a refund and pre-ordered Cyberpunk instead :)

If you are okay with a re-skin of existing games, sure you’ll like Wolcen, BUT if your looking for something new… you will not find it in Wolcen.

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losludvig

The game is fun, but oh boy is it ever broken, both in terms of bugs and balance.
The passive tree is novel but you soon realize that every modifier (except crit damage and a couple of instances of “double damage”) is additive, so that +25% damage while having only 1 nearby enemy is not that exciting when you already have ~600% damage from just stats alone, making it practically unnoticeable.
The “upgrading your city” meta-endgame is kinda cool, but the actual content is a bit too samey, and desperately needs more tilesets and enemy types.
This could become a good game down the line, but they’ve got their work cut out for them.

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3dom

Hopefully the devs and investors will be ambitious enough to re-invest some of the sales money into end-game and expansions development. With visuals and gameplay like these the game can easily thrive for a decade.

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angrakhan

Biggest issue I have with the game right now is “endgame”… Well, that and the end to the story is probably the worst end to a video game ever. **Edited by mod to remove spoiler for the entire ending. Come on dude.**

Anyway terrible ending and transition to end game aside end game itself is just grinding the same game mode over and over again. Go to a randomly generated dungeon, kill enough stuff to summon the boss, kill the boss, sell 99.9% of the trash loot you pick up. Rinse and repeat. There’s not a lot of variety in any of it. All of it you saw in the campaign.

I was going to get to 90. My build is pretty good. 6 figure aoe crits basically face roll the whole map. Boss needs more skill depending on its abilities, but in general I get it done without being downed once. I made it to level 67 but then the game just literally started putting me to sleep. At the point I’m actually nodding off at the keyboard you have officially bored the shit out of me.

Core game is solid, but this is going on the shelf until they release some new content. Maybe then I can tolerate hitting 90.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

The game ending is horrible, but don’t just tell what the ending of a new game is in your comment without marking it as a spoiler. That’s so uncool.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I think you nailed Wolcen’s appeal. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. You can pretty much play it however you want. I’ve spent about 60 hours in the game since launch (I have more hours in the game; I bought it in EA). I’ve played a spellcaster (staff) and a rogue (catalyst and pistol) but have come to understand that I just really, really want to whack and smack with my two heavies, sword and shield and a two hander.

One’s got high block and crit and the other one has a big sword, big axe, whatever two-hander it is, I assure you, it’s big.

When putting the SnB fellow together, I pretty much followed Vulkan’s Juggernaut guide. (Here, if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ4iGa_FTGs&list=PL_Jtl9npyy0DuVV_l6_dmyjdtRP_o_O9v&index=2&t=241s) Although Bleeding Edge was toned down since this was posted, it made little to no difference in how this build performs, IMHO, so long as you have high crit chance, Bleeding Edge still wipes the floor.

But for my twohander build, I went rogue. That is, I went Cabalist, in the Gate of Fates. Actually both are true, I went rogue and cabalist. Two handers do a lot more damage than one-handers, but have a -25 to speed. That’s supposed to make them slower to compensate for the extra damage. But stack the supposedly rogue attribute of agility (through stats, gear and nodes) and your two-hander’s speed moves up significantly. So now you’re doing heavier damage faster.

The Cabalist section gives more ailment stacks and the ability to have more than one ailment on a foe at the same time. This allows you to put more than one damage over time condition on and have more stacks of it. In the case of my twohander, this is Rend (causes bleeding) and Fire (causes burn). Rend is a Material ailment and Fire is an Elemental ailment.

The more ailments you have on a mob, the faster it goes down.

For the record, I am a terrible theorycrafter (probably because I never played D&D), think devs are funning me with their +X% that looks meaningless and almost always use a build guide. But the Gate of Fates is a lot of fun to play around with much, much easier to use than PoE passive skill tree and encourages out of the box builds.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I should probably add so as not to confuse anyone, that I’m not casting any spells. You can’t with a two hander. But, the melee skills I use, Bleeding Edge (circular attack), Flight of Gaavanir (axe throw), Juggernaut (shield summon), Warpath (charge), all have modifiers available to change their damage to fire.

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Castagere Shaikura

Pretty much a mixed bag on steam so far. And they don’t even try to hide the copy of the POE skill tree. The reviews that are positive seem to just rave about the graphics. It seems like a lot of bugs still to weed out. One I read about seems to be that health globes drop if not picked up freezes the game.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Always remember that Steam users routinely post their bug reports as reviews. Fortunately, a lot of these negative reviews based on launch issues will age out.

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Bryan Correll

I did notice that a LOT of the negative reviews amounted to “If they’d fix x and y I’d recommend it.”