Not So Massively: Wolcen’s Endgame is one of online gaming’s all-time worst blunders

    
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Speaking as a long-time fan of the game, I think the post-launch management of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem has been an absolute mess. There have been long content draughts. The game moved to a seasonal content model called Chronicles, only to never release a second Chronicle. Wolcen Studio went years without concluding the cliff-hanger the game’s story ended on.

When the fourth and final story chapter was at last announced, my hope was restored. At last, the game was getting back on track. Little did I know it had only begun going off the rails.

As details about the Endgame update began to trickle out, I was alarmed to learn the team at Wolcen Studio planned to reset vast swathes of player progress. It was my hope that feedback would push back against the idea, that the devs would reconsider or scale back these plans.

But that didn’t happen, and the ultimate reality proved more sweeping than my worst fears.

Essentially, the studio turned back the clock to the game’s launch three years ago. Veteran players keep their progress in the original story campaign and their cosmetic unlocks… and virtually nothing else. Character and skill levels have been pushed back to level 40. All gold and currencies have been reset. Characters from the first year of the game’s life even had all their gear deleted.

Perhaps most egregiously, all Champion of Stormfall projects have been reset. This was the game’s grindiest system, and it unlocked noteworthy perks like an additional skill slot. Losing the hours upon hours put into that is devastating.

There is some compensation for all of this, but it’s a band-aid on a bullet wound. Older characters who had all their gear deleted do get sets of new gear in compensation, but while theoretically high-end, in practice the gear is pretty bad. Whereas whatever items you had before would have been tuned to your specific build, the compensation gear just has a set of generic bonuses that won’t synergize with your specific skills.

There are some major oversights, too. The sets don’t include a catalyst, an item that is essential to any build mixing magical and physical builds. Even more tragicomic, most of the jewelry has “attacks with this weapon deal +X damage” type affixes, all of which do absolutely nothing because jewelry isn’t a weapon.

Meanwhile the Champion of Stormfall grind has been reduced, but it’s still daunting, and it would take me many, many hours just to earn back what I had before.

I do grant that there is something like a legitimate problem this clean sweep seeks to solve. The game’s been out so many years that there’s a huge gap in power between the most hardcore players and more casual types. Tuning the final story chapter for all players is tricky.

The best solution would have been some kind of scaling mechanic that adjusts the difficulty according to a character’s level and gear. Another option could have been to offer a wider variety of difficulty settings; there’s already story vs. normal mode, so the tech for it exists in the game. Failing all that, the studio could have simply let the high end players waltz through the story and get their challenge from endgame content as before.

The solution the devs actually chose was undoubtedly the worst possible option. It solves the problem, but with overwhelming collateral damage. There’s a reason most online game expansions have a gear reset, but there’s also a reason that those resets usually come in the form of just making the new stuff better than the old stuff, rather than deleting people’s gear.

This is the cardinal sin of live service gaming. This is the one thing you never do. If you’re going to ask people to spend dozens or hundreds of hours grinding, they need to know that investment of time is being respected. Why should I do anything in Wolcen now? What’s stopping the team from just deleting all my gear and projects again?

Adding insult to injury, many of the my most-used skills got nerfed in this update. Normally I wouldn’t much care about such a thing, but many of these nerfs were not simple number tweaks but anti-fun changes like increased cooldowns that disrupt my rotation.

Most frustratingly, Talon Shot — once one of the main nukes used by my primary alt — has gone from an instant cast ability to one with a lengthy casting animation. Mobility is key to survival in this game, and I can’t imagine ever using the ability now.┬áCoupled with the loss of my gear, my levels, and my extra skill slot, my characters feel like pale shadows of their former selves. It’s just awful.

But maybe it’s all worth it if the new story is amazing, right? I’ll forgive a whole lot for a good story!

For full disclosure, as of this writing I haven’t finished the new chapter, but unless there’s a really long epilogue after the final boss or something else unexpected happens, I have seen most of it.

I can’t fault the quality too much. It’s more Wolcen — so, not amazing, but pretty good — but there’s almost nothing there in terms of actual quantity. Most of the new chapter is made up of a slightly retconned version of the story from the Bloodtrail Chronicle, which you still have to do even if you completed it before. The actual new story — again barring something unexpected that I haven’t seen — appears to be under an hour of content.

This extremely sparse story is stretched out by a great deal of grinding and time-gating. It incorporates some of the endgame systems from the Champion of Stormfall mode (accessible once more in its full form once you beat the story chapter), with a new roguelike inspired mechanic wherein you are expected to fight the final boss and lose many times before you finally succeed.

Most of your progress carries forward when you die to the boss, but some specific Stormfall upgrades get reset, and I suspect those upgrades will be essential to victory, so basically it boils down to how fast you can rebuild the Champion of Stormfall progress erased by the update. Once you’ve got your baseline productivity high enough, you can begin really knocking out the one-time upgrades.

I have to be honest, none of this is appealing to me. I’ve never liked roguelikes, progression raiding, or anything else where the intention is to die repeatedly until you grind up enough upgrades to drag your corpse across the finish line. But I do grant this is a personal preference issue, and I give the team some credit for trying something different.

If I’d been diving into this new roguelike grind with my characters at the top of their game, I’d probably be motivated enough to make my way to the end of it, but I am so utterly demoralized by the loss of dozens of hours of progress and the shambolic state of my characters that I can’t see myself finding the will to power through any time soon – if ever.

The Endgame update is one of the worst experiences of my lifelong gaming career. I once loved this game, and Wolcen Studio has torched all the goodwill I once had toward it. I don’t know if this the biggest mistake ever made in the management of an online game, but it at least deserves to be in contention for the title.

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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