Not So Massively: Final Stand Ragnarok might be the seed of a fun game, but it was set up for failure


Not being a PvP fan, I haven’t had much investment in the long and tortured saga of Camelot Unchained, but I am a fan of Norse mythology and co-op action, so I was happy to grab a review key for the spin-off title Final Stand Ragnarok when developer Unchained Entertainment kindly offered us one to coincide with its latest attempt at an early access launch.

I won’t bury the lede here: When I tried it in early April, the game was nigh on unplayable owing to its low population, with Steam Charts showing concurrency in the low single digits on most days. We’re not talking “literally unplayable” in the meme sense, but literally unplayable in the, uh, literal sense.

Final Stand Ragnarok accommodates parties of up to eight players, but each time I queued up, it waited for about three minutes before zoning me into a map all by my lonesome — presumably that’s as long as the matchmaker will let you wait. I did my best to press on anyway, and with a tank character I was able to get decently far, but in the end defeat felt inevitable. This game simply isn’t balanced right now for solo play (something MOP’s Chris found when he tried to stream it too); the studio emphasizes co-op play, which we saw during our press preview.

The developers do apparently intend more mechanics and balance scaling for small group sizes in the near future, but I can’t imagine why that wouldn’t have been a prerequisite for an early access launch. A regular gamer who stumbles into the game on Steam simply cannot play it in any meaningful sense right now unless he brings his own party and would come away disappointed.

I did still manage to play enough to get some sense of what the game is like, so let’s put the population woes aside for a moment. Would this be a fun game if anyone were actually playing it?

I can’t deny there’s a primal satisfaction in mowing down hordes of unhallowed dead, regardless of what game you’re doing it in.
There’s no tutorial right now, but it’s pretty easy to pick up the basics. FSR is mostly focused on wave defence scenarios where you have to protect capture points from hordes of undead. Most of these are just chaff, but occasionally you’ll see some tougher mini-bosses mixed in. It’s pretty simple, but sometimes simple works. I can’t deny there’s a primal satisfaction in mowing down hordes of unhallowed dead, regardless of what game you’re doing it in.

The sheer scale of the armies you face is the game’s main selling feature and arguably its chief reason for existence, being a demonstration of Unchained Entertainment’s proprietary engine. However, while the scale of battles is impressive, I should note it’s not unique. I saw similar battles in the short-lived Kingdom Under Fire 2 several years ago.

You play as one of five champions, each with three active abilities. You can also customize them a little by slotting passives that are unlocked by killing enemies over the course of a match. Despite the Norse theming, the champions are pretty multi-cultural, including an Eastern ninja, a Celtic spearmaiden, and a Middle Eastern paladin with fire powers.

The latter two were my focus, and I found them both pretty fun. The paladin allowed me to hold out far longer than I probably had any right to as a solo player, and while this doesn’t justify the lack of scaling or erase the fact that playing solo was mostly a stressful and unpleasant experience, there were some moments of genuine thrill when I survived against impossible odds by cycling my defensive skills.

The spearmaiden, meanwhile, focuses on skills that summon ghostly clones of herself by blowing her war horn. The battlefield quickly became blanketed by my spectral minions as they clashed with the undead in absolute joyful anarchy.

So there are good ideas here, although there are still some rough edges that could use smoothing for these champions. The paladin has an ability that can turn his shield into a flamethrower, and it’s frankly a little too good. It so utterly out-classed anything else he could do that after a while it felt like the character was just about running away from the undead until the flamethrower was off cooldown. Meanwhile the spearmaiden creates a lot of auditory spam with her war horn, which could become annoying for her player and teammates.

I noticed other forms of early access jank, as well. There are some pretty severe lag issues at times. Mostly these happened at the start of the match, before the action starts, but it happened once or twice mid-battle as well. Not ideal.

Of course, the game is already fully monetized. In addition to its box price, it has a cash shop offering cosmetics and XP boosters. These seem mostly harmless, but I did find it odd that cosmetics are character-specific even when they have no reason to be. If you want your character to leave a trail of glowing runes when you walk, you need to buy it again for every champion.

Finally, we need to talk about how FSR treats its mythological inspirations. I was in no way expecting anything particularly faithful to the original myths, but it makes such a mockery of Norse culture that I was starting to feel personally insulted.

For example, the Big Bad of the game is Hel, goddess of the dead, and she and the other gods constantly trash talk each other throughout the match. The voice acting is awful, and the writing is worse. At this point I should probably mention that the undead you’re fighting are technically called “Helizens,” which… yeah.

I’m usually all for more dialogue in games, even if it’s campy, but for perhaps the first time I found myself desperately wishing the NPCs would talk less. There’s even a lengthy sequence where Hel mocks you when you lose a mission, though you can mercifully skip that at least.

In the face of all else, it hardly seems to matter, but I’d also like to mention that Hel repeatedly refers to Odin as her grandfather, which he definitely isn’t. I know the game is meant to be silly and unserious, but casual research into the actual mythology would’ve made all of this work much better.

Again, at no point did I think the game would be particularly faithful, nor does it need to be, but it’s just downright disrespectful to put so little effort into something based on a real world culture. This has little to do with Norse mythology; they just slapped some recognizable names on it as a cheap marketing gimmick.

Overall, I think Final Stand: Ragnarok has set a new bar for games launching before they’re ready. I’ve tried a lot of janky pre-launch games for Not So Massively, but this one sets a new standard for simply not being ready for what gamers expect from early access.

Weirdly, it feels like the team set it up to fail. I don’t know why anyone would do that, so I’m not saying that’s actually what happened, but if that had been the intention, Unchained could hardly have done a better job. Relaunch a game into early access, without the scaling mechanics that would make it playable with a low population, and give it minimal marketing so no one is playing – why would anyone do this? Especially a studio trying to repair its reputation ahead of the launch of its MMORPG next year? I understand that the studio has said that building the game, its marketing, and its playerbase is going to be a “multi-month effort,” but the current state of the game is a net negative even for people like me willing to give it an honest try.

Once the scaling mechanics are fully implemented, there could be a seed of a fun game here. But right now this isn’t even a game unless you’re bringing your own full group of players; it feels more like a tech demo.

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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