Not So Massively: Wolcen’s Bloodtrail is worth coming back for

    
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I’ve been a fan of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem from the start, but with how long things went quiet after the initial post-launch updates, I was starting to get worried. Thankfully, the silence has now been broken with the launch of the first Chronicle, Bloodtrail, which brings with it plentiful polishing as well as new content.

The first thing I noticed when logging in after the Bloodtrail update was how much the game balance has improved. Wolcen always had an issue with spikey difficulty, with certain enemies being wildly more challenging than other monsters of the same level. Soul Demons and those Punisher Exoskeletons were particularly bad offenders.

However, those outliers have now been brought down to the average level. All higher end monsters are now roughly equivalent in difficulty, preventing you from feeling like you hit a brick wall every time you run into a Soul Demon.

Story bosses have also been toned down some. They’re still challenging, but no longer unpleasantly so. I also noticed that player power seems to have increased quite a bit. After the Bloodtrail patch, my main went from being unable to do Wrath of Sarisel challenges at all to earning the highest possible score on my first try.

There are some smaller but still welcome improvements, as well. Something that I didn’t see in the patch notes is that dying and transmoging your gear no longer has a gold cost. This is a very welcome change for the fashionistas among us, as the old costs were prohibitive for low level characters. Now our alts can take full advantage of the account-wide appearance library.

There have also been more maps added to Champion of Stormfall expeditions. Some of these are new tilesets added in the patch, while others are based on maps from the base game that weren’t previously used in expeditions. Adds some much-needed variety to the inevitably repetitive endgame grind.

Across the board the game now feels more polished, less stressful, and more fun. It reminds me of playing after the Reaper of Souls pre-patch, which improved nearly every aspect of Diablo III. It feels like Wolcen is starting to hit its stride.

But of course the real headline of this patch is the new Bloodtrail Chronicle itself.

Chronicles are Wolcen‘s answer to Diablo III‘s seasons or Path of Exile‘s leagues: seasonal content that offers new rewards and activities for newly created characters. For all the ARPGs I play, this isn’t a style of content I’ve ever really gotten into before. I enjoy leveling alts, but needing to start over from scratch without support from one’s main never sat right for me. However, I enjoy Wolcen enough I was willing to give it a shot this time.

As always, the greatest struggle of leveling a new character in Wolcen is settling on a build, because there are just so many good options. Bloodtrail added new elemental modifiers for nearly every active skill in the game, so the options are now even more vast than they once were.

I eventually settled on a tricksy shadow mage, who uses crowd control and illusions to evade her enemies whilst obliterating them with burst attacks and high crit chance. I modified Anomaly to create two large vortices that continually pull in and damage enemies, upgraded Winter’s Grasp to freeze enemies at range, and then brought the pain with Solarfall, Consuming Embers, and the newly added Talon Shot, all modified for shadow damage.

The enemy could barely move, and even if they did reach me, my active dodges left behind explosive illusions to further trip them up.

It’s also a very pretty build. Double Anomalies plus Solarfall has a real “the cosmos bends to my will” feel, and I love the aesthetic of Talon Shot. More games should let me swarm enemies with flocks of explosive shadow ravens.

Of course, a new character and a new build demands new content. The big ticket feature of this first Chronicle is the new Hunts system. Appearing randomly throughout the story campaign and Champion of Stormfall, Hunts have you following a path of destruction to locate and confront a mini-boss.

Along the way, you will encounter a number of traces of the boss’s passing. Interacting with a trace allows you to choose modifiers for the hunt. One might increase the boss’s damage in exchange for higher drop rates, while another might trigger an immediate onslaught of enemies but guarantee a rare drop from the boss. There’s quite a lot of them, so no two Hunts ever feel quite the same.

Each modifier also comes with a short paragraph of flavor text, and they often form chains that tell mini stories over the course of the Hunt. It’s a level of effort they didn’t have to go to, but which I really appreciate.

A new update like this also wouldn’t be complete without new rewards. Bloodtrail introduces a new vanity pet system, as well as several new cosmetic gear sets (some of which can be claimed even by non-Chronicle characters).

Furthermore, Hunt bosses have a chance to drop items with new “tributary” affixes. These add an additional bonus in exchange for a penalty — +50 health, but -3% critical strike chance, to use a hypothetical example. In Champion of Stormfall, hunt bosses also drop a currency that can be used to buy tributary gear from a new vendor.

To be honest, the tributary gear doesn’t thrill me; it doesn’t feel that different from regular gear. But overall I do find the hunt system a quite positive addition. It brings some welcome variety and unpredictability to running familiar content, and the mini-stories add some nice texture to the world.

Speaking of story, Bloodtrail brings with it some new story content. There’s a short new quest in the main campaign that introduces a new faction, and once you reach Champion of Stormfall with a Chronicle character, you can explore a new storyline featuring said faction.

Unfortunately, this new story does not resolve the cliff-hanger left by the base game, but it is a good ride in its own right. I initially took it as a bit of a sidequest (albeit a quality one), but the ending hints that these events might become important to the greater story in future.

I wasn’t keeping an exact count, but it’s about 3-4 hours of new story overall, which is pretty good for a free update.

I do have a few problems with the delivery of the new story. One is that it’s only accessible to Chronicle characters, and you can’t jump into Champion of Stormfall on a Chronicle character until one of them has beat the campaign. I kind of wanted to redo the campaign anyway, so it didn’t bother me so much this time, but I wouldn’t want to have to reroll from scratch every time there’s new story. Hopefully future story updates will be more friendly to veteran characters.

Also, the final boss of this new storyline is a bit of a pain, which is frustrating given how much Bloodtrail improved balance elsewhere in the game. The boss has become a bit more manageable following some bug fixes, but it’s still leaning more towards exhausting than fun.

Those minor hiccups aside, this is a strong update that has elevated an already solid game. If you were waiting to give the game a try or have drifted away, now is the perfect time to dive in, again or for the first 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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Michael Fuchs

I don’t know if Lost Ark spoiled me, but I just tried this game, and I just couldn’t get into the combat. It felt so slow.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

I really don’t understand the appeal of stuff like PoE’s Leagues or D3 “seasons.” As much as I like making new characters more than actually playing them in most MMOs, I like being powerful in ARPGs. If I was going to reinstall Diablo 2 and start playing again, it would *only* be after tracking down the flash drive where I saved my single player characters from when I last played years ago. I absolutely do not see the appeal in starting over from scratch in this type of game.

I am also, clearly, so much a minority in that regard that I don’t even show up on the chart. ( >.< )

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Bryan Correll

I play leagues pretty much exclusively myself. Three months is about as long as I can stay interested in a particular build and the league stuff just gives me some extra incentive to try something different. D3’s seasons aren’t nearly as engaging since the only difference between two max level characters of the same class is the gear they have.

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Hareikan

Seasons kinda stress me out because I dont really want to start over, but the season makes me feel really compelled to do it anyway.

I can see the appeal of PoE’s leagues a bit better. They usually introduce some really nifty gameplay mechanics, so there’s new fun stuff to actually do.
On the other hand, I can’t stand D3’s seasons at all. Last time the entire seasonal deal was that you could have like… 1 extra set bonus or something like that.

Meanwhile PoE had… Complex dungeon delving where you could affect the layout of the dungeon, or that… Assassin brotherhood (whatever it was) where npc would come back and remember if you killed them etc. That was stuff you ran into right away on a lowbie character, whereas a lot of D3 seasonal stuff has been passives that doesnt even affect you until endgame anyway.

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Vanquesse V

loot is certainly in a better place now, but the passive wheel needs a from-scratch redesign. Minions still only have one half of a wheel section in terms of passive upgrades, and that’s in the final ring. Minons are also notoriously squishy even when heavily investing into hp/defense, with only the gargantuan thing being able to survive. There’s also a good amount of not-quite-thought-through gamedesign in there, but I could definetely see a lot of people have a fun arpg vacation in wolcen now. Just don’t expect PoE/GD/LE, or even 40k inquisitor levels of quality here.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Wolcen’s combat is some of my favorite in ARPGs. I’d play the heck out of this game except for their bosses.

I find Wolcen’s boss fights to be epically annoying in every regard. 3 death boot mechanic. Multi-phasing with many adds. Extremely long fights with over reliance on dodge mechanic. (My hand literally goes into fatigue shakes from all the dodging.)

I thought the Bloodtrail mechanic was a lot of fun and I understand the end game is really enjoyable, but if I can’t get past the bosses, it doesn’t really matter how good the end game is.

As soon as I hear they’ve substantially toned down the boss fights and removed the 3-death boot mechanic, I’ll be back.

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Blake

Thanks for reminding that the game is still around, and I’m glad to hear the new update is worth checking out. Reinstalling it now and will give it a go.

Thanks again.

Zulika Mi-Nam
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Zulika Mi-Nam

I have been playing this game off and on for a long time. Surely got my pre-launch money’s worth out of it.

I believe the way it was crushed on launch, review wise/stability wise, was a testament to how starved the ARPG genre is and how even the dev team underestimated the genre’s draw.

Diablo and POE are soooo big, even though Diablo keep pissing in the wind, and the 2nd tier is almost vacant -so ya thanks Tyler and MOP for keeping this on our radar!

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Blake

I enjoyed it at launch myself, despite some of the issues it had. Was a fun game that I put about fifty hours into and, like you, got my money worth without a doubt. Just never got back to it, but will do so now.

Just need to figure out what kind of character I want to play.