A few weeks ago in the Not So Massively column, I gave my initial impressions of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable title, despite hewing perhaps a bit too close to well-trod ARPG tropes.
I’ve now finished the campaign and dipped my toes into its endgame Champion of Stormfall mode. The experience uncovered a few other issues for me but also gave me an even greater appreciation for a build system I already enjoyed.
The hardest part about playing Wolcen is settling on a build. There are so many cool skills, so many ways to combine them, and so many fun ways to modify them that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of options. I want to do everything.
After some experimentation and no small amount of soul-searching, I settled on an agile battle mage style build, using Infinity Blades (a melee spell) and Wrath of Baäpheth (a chain whip attack) as my main damage-dealers. To support those I added Plagueburst (an aura that causes enemies to explode on death), Wings of Ishmir (a leap attack), and Sovereign Shout (a buff). With the exception of Plagueburst, which lacks the option, I made sure everything did occult damage so I could stack bonuses to that. I stacked Agility to increase my attack speed, and my character quickly became an absolute blur of death, leaping from fight to fight and bursting enemies down with lightning fast flurries of melee attacks.
It’s a really, really fun build, and it doesn’t feel quite like anything I’ve played in an ARPG before. The speed and mobility combined with the mix of melee and magic is quite unique.
Much has been said about Wolcen‘s bugs and balance issues. To be honest, I didn’t run into many myself. Some minor hiccups, but nothing to write home about – with one exception.
I did find that the difficulty spike from normal play to major story bosses was extreme. Obviously bosses are expected to be harder than trash mobs, but this is perhaps the harshest gap between the two I’ve ever seen. I ended up in a frustrating place where 90% of the game played perfectly, but then I’d hit a boss and get absolutely massacred.
Eventually I had no choice but to change up my build. I kept the same skills and maintained largely the same playstyle, but I tweaked my passives, gear, and attribute allocations.
It took me a while to figure out exactly what I should change — again, so many options — but then inspiration struck when I unlocked a modifier for Infinity Blades that allows it to regenerate my character’s force shield on hit. With my attack speed so high, it could regenerate my shields quite fast, and it occurred to me I could lean into that playstyle.
Up to that point, my force shield was pretty low. I was using rogue gear, which has some force shield but more health. In the interest of boosting of my survival chances, I switched to using rogue gear only in the helm, chest, and leg slots — rogue gear in those slots boosts movement speed, and mobility is very important in this game — and switched to sorcerer gear for every other slot. Sorcerer items are all force shield, all the time.
Then I changed my passives to support this playstyle. Notable additions included a passive that converts all life leech effects to force shield leech instead, and one that causes health globes to also restore force shield. I added further synergy by taking modifiers to give Wrath of Baäpheth and Sovereign Shout life leech buffs, and Sovereign Shout the ability to spawn extra health globes. Finally, I shifted my attributes to stack more Toughness than anything else, though I still tried to keep my Agility reasonably high.
This was enough to make major bosses doable once again, without the need to lower the game difficulty. They were still a fair bit intense, but they were doable.
Part of me really enjoyed this. I like having to strategize with my build like this, at least in a context where my choices are interesting and making changes isn’t too hard. It reminds me a lot of the original version of The Secret World, and that’s always a good thing.
However, the fact remains even with the improved build boss fights still leaned more towards stressful than fun. All in all, I would like to see future balance changes nerf the bosses a bit. Not too much — a challenge is good — but just enough to make things a little less punishing on the player than they currently are.
That’s really my only major issue with the game right now, though. I have other complaints, but they’re small, and all in all I’ve had a really great time with Wolcen. I’m repeating myself, but I can’t overstate how cool the build system is, nor how fluid and satisfying the combat feels.
As far as the endgame goes, I’ve just started to explore it.
Story-wise, the transition from the campaign to endgame is a bit jarring. I quite liked the ending of the game’s story, but it is a bit ambiguous, and it feels weird to jump ahead six months to the endgame mode without answering any questions. One gets the impression the fourth chapter of the story was meant to be part of the base game but got pushed back to make the launch date. At least we know it’s coming.
Even a hardcore story advocate like me must admit that an endgame mode like this isn’t something where the plot matters all that much, though. That part of the game is about the mechanics.
As a “Champion of Stormfall,” you’ll find your duties mainly include running various randomized dungeons, potentially with modifiers to increase challenge, for loot and other rewards. It’s not dissimilar from running Nephalem Rifts in Diablo III.
A twist to this version is that you are also ostensibly helping to rebuild a city, with your choices of what buildings to construct unlocking various bonuses. Disappointingly, this isn’t depicted in the game world, so you don’t get the satisfaction of actually seeing the city change as you rebuild, but mechanically it’s a pretty good endgame advancement system. There are interesting choices to make and powerful rewards to chase.
Some of these rewards can add yet more depth to your build options. The most obvious is the option to unlock an extra skill slot, but what’s perhaps even more interesting is the ability to duplicate skills, allowing you to have the same skill equipped multiple times, potentially with different modifiers. That opens a lot of most interesting possibilities, but is perhaps most appealing for a pet build. Normally you can only have one Livor Mortis (a powerful and tanky pet), but if you duplicate the skill, you could end up with up to three chonky zombie bois following you around.
Endgame grinds are not my favorite thing, but this system seems about as good as anything on the market right now. If I end up losing interest, that won’t be the game’s fault.
It’s account-wide, too. As I’m an unabashed alt addict, this pleases me greatly. At this point it’s not a question of whether I’ll level other characters in this game so much as it’s a question of when and what builds they’ll have. Right now I’m thinking a melee necromancer focused on poison and bleed damage and an archer focused on elemental damage, but an elemental necromancer is also a tempting prospect…
I cannot deny that Wolcen is a game with some rough edges, but my recommendation remains: If you like ARPGs, Wolcen is absolutely worth your time and money.