Fight or Kite: Crowfall’s launch is a struggle, but I’m ready to play

    
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It’s been just under a week since Crowfall officially launched, and the game’s more alive than ever before. It’s been what has felt like an eternity since Crowfall was initially announced as a Kickstarter back in 2015. I recall sitting on the sofa, coffee mug in hand, reading about the initial core concepts, and I just knew this was going to be a game I had to play.

Fortunately, ArtCraft has been quite straightforward and developed the game very openly. Backers have had access to the game’s early builds for years now, meaning I’ve had the opportunity to share my thoughts for quite a while now as well:

So I won’t get down and dirty with too many gameplay specifics today. My fellow PvP sandbox fan Andrew already shared some incredibly detailed info here on MOP on all aspects of the game last week, and you would be seriously missing out if you haven’t checked it out, especially if you’re interested in crafting, as his explanation on crafting went much further than mine ever did. Instead, let’s take this week’s Fight or Kite to talk about how launch has gone so far and whether Crowfall fills in the blanks I’ve been looking at since its announcement.

The population levels aren’t the problem people think it is

The first thing we need to talk about is the population. It appears there have been plenty of questions about the size of the playerbase, but I should make one thing clear: When you’re actually playing now, it doesn’t feel empty. In the alphas, and even as recently as a week before launch, you could legitimately run around servers without seeing a single player. But that’s not what I’m experiencing on the live servers. Right now, I see players, both guilded and solo, running around completing the tutorial quests and engaging with one another.

Honestly, until I saw the news myself, I thought that the population was doing really well. Sure, the numbers reported don’t sound great. But when you’re actually playing, it doesn’t feel sparse. To be fair, even when you’re playing Guild Wars 2 or any of the other big MMOs, you don’t expect to see 50,000 players all stacked on top of each other at the same time (Albion Online notwithstanding – those towns are nuts!). As long as you are actually seeing players all around you while playing in the cities, roaming for PvP, and harvesting, then there really isn’t a problem.

Even in my guild members who frequently would roam and harvest resources solo realized that that wasn’t going to be an option anymore – they either needed to wait until they were geared up better or work with others, else they were going to be killed by the sudden influx of new PvP players.

This isn’t to say the game has no problems right now or even that the population couldn’t be a problem in the longer term. Let me outline my concerns.

Launch day woes

Let’s talk about launch day, or launch night as it is for many of us these days (curse you family/responsibilities/adulthood!). It was exactly what you would expect for an MMO launch: difficulty logging in, client crashes, and endless queues. You always think, “It’s the year 2021, we’ve got launches figured out by now.” But alas, those are merely sci-fi dreams, and launch always is a fail.

So technically, I wasn’t even able to play the game on launch night. I’m not sure whether I’m alone in this or not, but after I created my character and attempted to join a starter zone, the game crashed. Reportedly, once you were in a server and actually participating, there were far fewer issues.

It wasn’t until the next night after an hour of desperately trying to join a server and failing miserably that I decided to try something else. I was watching streams, looking at Twitter, and just flailing about trying to understand why everyone else was getting to play except me. So, I created a new character and tried to join again and was finally able to play. I guess that first character I created was corrupted or something. What a pain.

Unfortunately, the pain didn’t end there. Some aches continued into the launch weekend when I made my first mistake. I had reached the point of moving into the next zone on the server, so I clicked to move and… boom I’m in the lobby. When I tried to join back into my server, I had a queue, which is somewhat expected but still aggravating. This is where I made my next mistake. I canceled the queue and attempted to move to a less populated server. The game did not take kindly to this series of events. It again locked up and locked me out. After a few rounds of closing down, reopening, rinsing and repeating, I was finally able to play again.

Overall, it’s improved every day since, and I’ve seen worse, but you always hope for better.

Character customization options are still slim

Now, getting on to the important things: How pretty can I look in my MMO? Currently, I am quite a bit disappointed. Even though we’ve all played dozens of MMOs over the years and we know that 95% of the time you’re just looking at the back of your character’s head in whatever gear you are wearing, you still want to customize and make the character your own. These are roleplaying games, after all. I recall the huge dilemma I faced when Guild Wars 2’s early launch began and I had to decide between spending two and a half hours painstakingly designing my face or blazing through it and ensuring I get my character’s name reserved. XsamkashX might be a silly name, but he looks fantastic.

Well, you won’t have that problem here.

During the alphas and the betas, I gave the character customization a pass. Obviously, new and additional faces and hairstyles are not a core tenant of the gameplay loop, so I can understand that being a final piece that gets fleshed out. But when I logged into release only to see the same three faces and five hairstyle choices available, I was extremely let down. This is a released game now – players need more agency in how their character looks.

It’s missing some polish, but the core is ready

The game truly has grown by leaps and bounds in just the last year and a half. Gameplay is almost unrecognizable from what I originally wrote about when I first started this column. Gone are the obtuse and confusing NPC ranks, the awkward leveling grind, and even the survival-esque game mechanics (though there are debates about whether that last one was necessary or not). Instead, we have a far more streamlined system that moves you from new player to PvPer.

I mentioned sometime ago that while the tutorial was getting some much needed improvements, it was still lacking in a couple of key areas: a deeper dive on crafting and on the individual classes. Now, from reading Andrew’s piece, I think it’s clear that the crafting explanations need more emphasis much sooner in the gameplay loop. It was interesting to see him suggest levels be removed as well, as I thought the same thing. With the unique classes, we at least have an NPC that explains the mechanics in general, which is really important. It isn’t a deep dive, but even a brief explainer is a better than nothing. The new campaigns have only just begun, so I’ll reserve judgment on those for now.

I’m the first to admit that the game isn’t all perfect and polished. Launch issues aside, there are still a few things overlooked that make you wonder if this release wasn’t a tad bit rushed. The splash screens when loading into zones, for instance, still read “developer build.” During the tutorial, some of the side quests still don’t populate in the quest log. They’re minor things, perhaps, but they give me pause.

With all that said, now is a solid time to start playing. There are players all around. Guilds are recruiting and looking for more players to join. The guild I’ve joined already has 500 members! I think we’re past the login difficulties, too; players aren’t trying to cram into a handful of servers anymore, they’re spread out a bit. Many already competing in the campaign even. So, if you’ve been on the fence  – and have the time and means to play – I can’t think why you wouldn’t want to at least check it out.

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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2Ton Gamer

I like the crafting but it’s too deep for a PvP game like others here have stated. I would honestly be interested in some PvE elements because I like some of the backstory and would like to explore that more.

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John Mclain

I never even made it past the tutorial island. It was just so… boring I guess. Perhaps that’s not the right word… It felt like I’d seen and done it all before a million times. Generic fantasy races, giant exclamation marks everywhere, market center filled with vendors, generic skill bar abilities… On one hand it was immedately familiar and graspable, on the other I also felt like I was driving in Atlanta traffic for the trillionth time.

After a few hours I just didn’t want to play anymore. It’s about as simple as that.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how populous a game may feel while you are playing it. It matters whether that population can sustain the game long term.

Let’s face it, an open PvP sandbox is going to be a niche game catering to a smaller audience. The question is how small can that audience be while providing enough income to keep the lights on.

Hopefully Crowfall can ride it out long term as this is a niche that certainly needs to be filled. But considering most MMOs see their largest population during the first couple of months, I am not overly optimistic.

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Solaris_N7

I’m loving Crowfall. My guild, once skeptical, is all in. I don’t understand the ‘population concerns’ as the game has been packed since Day One. No there aren’t queues but there is no shortage of action in the game world.

Best PvP since DAoC. Community for a PvP game is surprisingly helpful and overall fantastic. We have not stopped playing since launch and we’re growing. It’s so good to feel this way again about an MMORPG. There are some facepalm nuances to the game that frustrate new players. But the game plays well and everything that is lacking or needs a tweak should be easily remedied. Best races in the genre and the classes building is fantastic. Very happy with the game overall.

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Chris Walker

I’m having a blast. The graphics are very appealing, at last to me on Medium or High. And like Sam said, the population is fine — when you’re playing the game. Any perceived low pop numbers are conversation pieces for people who don’t actually play it.

Celestia
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Celestia

I know there’s a good game in there somewhere, but I can’t help feeling as if the devs purposely made learning Crowfall difficult and opaque.

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Dug From The Earth

Trying it out for the first time since launch. Level 22 now.

Its… OK…

I love the music. I love the races you can play. I love the concept art. The setting is cool. Im OK with the visual theme, its not necessarily pleasing to my eyes but its also not offensive (artistically).

however.. its got some pretty un-ignorable annoyances.

– Character customization: On the note of races and customization, there are too many gender locked races, in favor of males. 1/4th of the races are gender locked. The 2 my wife was interested in playing (as a female), are male only. Guineceans and Elken. The devs are giving this “lore” reason for this, but I cant help but think that it was more due to them running out of development time to add the gender counterparts.

– Combat: You cant use skills if you are holding down your primary/auto attack. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? This is like action combat 101 since early days of action combat. Makes the devs look pretty inexperienced.

– Combat: Clunky and laggy. You will often see the “loot corpse” option pop up before the enemy visually dies. Attacks often lack that “impact” feeling making hard to tell if it connects or hits.

– UI: Just down right unacceptable. This isnt a case of “Console UI ported to PC”. This is purely a case of “They had no idea what they were doing” when it comes to the UI. How do you screw up a Chat window? Well Crowfall did! Enjoy missing messages on tabs that arent visible. No option to make new windows/tabs. You cant quickly click to due to not having a mouse pointer immediately. And WTF… just give a key that switches between action targeting and active mouse like EVERY other game that works this way.

– UI: Needing 2 key binds to weapon swap. Just dumb. I could program a 1 button solution for them… in a number of different languages.

– Crafting: Holy hell… it did not need to be this complex, or tasking, or grindy, or confusing. Tied in with the Bad UI, enjoy having to put ingredients into their proper slots to craft EVERY… SINGLE… ITEM. Heaven forbid they highlight the items in your bag that are used for the recipe, since so many of the ingredient icons look identically bland.

– Engine: Performance is utter crap. Thats what you get when you use the Unity Engine for something so much larger scale than it was designed for. This will be a HUGE reason people leave this (pvp) game.

– Engine: Video options suffer from the “lets bundle a bunch of graphical options into one slider. So if you want to turn down the games grass density for performance, its also going to lower the texture quality…. seriously.. WTF… Textures should NEVER be linked to performance options because they have a 1% (or less) impact on performance. Textures are mostly only important linked to the amount of GPU memory your card has, and thats about it.

So much of the game screams “Vastly unfinished”

So much of the game scream “Inexperienced designers” (which is odd because supposedly there are mmorpg developer vets)

So much of the game screams “Cut corners”

I like the base of what Im seeing, but its simply a struggle to ignore the annoyances to enjoy the half finished core that has fun value. I DO hope they can fix and improve it, but it needs to be something that happens sooner, rather than later. MMORPG players arent very forgiving, and will abandon this game at the drop of a dime for whatever next game is shiny.

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Ardra Diva

lack of much of an avatar editor, and the end result just being sorta ugly, kind of killed my interest in the game, but i’m *that* kind of MMO player, so that should be taken with a grain of salt. I didn’t have a bad opinion of the game. Graphics were pretty good, movement was fluid, if it’s your jam I’m glad for you.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

I hope this gets polished up for the people that enjoy this kind of PVP.

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Mallus

There’s no auction house so that means you need to login and out of multiple EKs for items that might not even be there. The UI can’t be customized/resized/moved, Zergs rule dregs (an alliance cap of 100-200 would help alleviate that somewhat), combat still feels clunky (probably has to do with the fact that you have to stop attacking in order to initiate skills), the performance is still sketchy at best. crafting is overly complicated and expensive > 160k gold just to max one of them). The world itself doesn’t feel alive and there’s not much to do. Overall I don’t think this game has much hope of retaining a player base.

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Arktouros

If my napkin math is right it’s about 156k to get a legendary gathering disc and another 305k to get a legendary gathering belt. Not sure if the other specialized drop only runes can also be upgraded, but if so that’s another 156k before you factor in any costs of getting a corpse. Crafting is slightly more expensive cause the belts are 3k instead of 2.5k but it’s like 35k more.

Oh it’s also like 81 disciplines for legendary gathering disc and like 846 disciplines for legendary belt.

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Mallus

It’s insane, you would figure that crafting would allow you to gear without spending allot of money when the opposite is actually true (usually time invested in trade skills is the cost in most MMO’s). I stopped leveling my crafting and will just buy the items I need, at least for as long as I play it…