Fight or Kite: Pax Dei’s alpha is equal parts survival gameplay and grind-fueled crafting


In my experience, I’ve found “survival game” and “grindfest” are synonymous with each other in all but the rarest of cases. There just seems to be a faction of gamers who really do not want anyone to be able to play and succeed in a reasonable period of playtime. You must work and expend your precious life time before you’re allowed to really get to the fun bits.

But even so, the fact that gamers enjoy this sort of gameplay loop and so many of these games exist is a great thing. So I’ll refrain from smashing up the concept of how these games play and instead try to go over my personal experience because I’ve played enough survivalboxes to understand what I should do and whether or not there’s room in my own life for Pax Dei now that I’ve given it a spin in alpha.

World navigation is old school annoying

Last week, the MOP team rallied for a Massively Overthinking roundtable about features that we can’t really imagine going back and playing our MMOs without. My own answer was primarily focused on inventory management since the topic was presented from that angle; however, simple minimaps and ease of play are things I hate to do without as well. It’s not more immersive to me in any way to have to constantly stop moving (because I don’t want to run over a cliff or into some beast that’ll tear me apart) just to look at a map and regain my bearings. It’s totally par for the course in survival games, but I just don’t like it. “Well there’s no minimap in real life!” Like hell there isn’t! If I’m walking around places I don’t know, I absolutely have my phone or watch setup with a map and my destination enabled so I can see what’s around me and where I’m going.

I’ve come to accept that gamers of survival games consider minimaps off-limits, but they seem to grudgingly give compasses a pass. New World similarly doesn’t have a minimap, but at least it does have a serviceable compass. Not only can it point you in the direction of quests and map pins, but it includes gathering nodes and such once you’ve leveled up your hunting and gathering skills enough. I’d still take a minimap any day, but I can work with the compass.

Surprisingly, Pax Dei does include a pseudo functional fast travel feature. The primary function is simply to give you a respawn point after death, but you can pull up a teleport ability. You can’t just click on the shrines from the map to go to them, but it seems to pull you to the nearest one. These shrines are basically your respawn points, which also means you’ve got to do some corpse runs again. Yes, everyone’s favorite game mechanic wherein you are punished not simply by dying but also by needing to run back and find your stuff – if you weren’t in a PvP looting situation.

Now, Pax Dei does go a bit easy on us in this case. Once you are within a certain radius of your body (or even a party member’s body), you can sort of summon the corpse to you to recover. So if you died by bear (which is apparently a boss-level mob) and it’s camping your body, you’ll be able to recover it without having to face the bear again.

Progression expects you to have a guild

Pax Dei doesn’t shy away from the fact that this is a game in which you’ll want and need to group up to achieve anything meaningful. From the comprehensive starter guide to comments throughout the alpha mailers, Mainframe makes it clear you’re not really expected to play solo.

I don’t believe there’s anything that actually stops you from playing solo. It’s not as if you are allowed to level up only a single gathering skill or combat ability. But the amount of material required and time it takes to level up these abilities makes it exceedingly impractical to play solo.

I recall playing Myth of Empires and thinking that getting my home base and its surroundings setup was prohibitive for a solo player. But that was nothing compared to the absolute crawl of getting started in Pax Dei. Part of that problem is apparently down to the fact that once a player has claimed a plot of land as his own, nodes quit spawning on it. So I was brought into the world and just ran around staring at the ground searching for a branch and rocks I could smoosh together to make a proper axe for a solid 10 minutes. I believe the developers have remedied this somewhat already, but it was still a pain during my test run.

Claiming a plot and getting my first crafting bench and campfire wasn’t too onerous, but I think that once you want to get into building walls, floors, and respectable gear, a solo player will find herself outmatched.

Fortunately, I have an amazing group of gamers to play with. Some of these people are true stalwarts, and honestly I’m always a bit impressed with their dedication and encouragement while playing. They truly enjoy games like Pax Dei. Finding a niche in the guild, filling it thoroughly, and banging out gear and objects for others to use is their thing. It’s almost infectious listening to them talk about what they’re working on and what they need to build the next tier of stuff for the group.

Yet even superfans know when too much is too much. The sheer amount of material needed to build walls and structures was becoming overbearing even for some of them. It was just a huge grind. That’s what I heard repeated over and over. You need nails and brackets and bits and bops and all manner of different parts to craft the actual thing you wanted to craft. And it takes a lot of those bits to craft with.

Pax Dei also currently lacks a good means of storage for your mats and other objects. For the gigantic number of mats needed to build anything, you have very little space to work with. Mats barely stack right now too. My guild had boxes upon boxes upon boxes just in an attempt to try to store all the materials we were gathering and actively using. In the image below, we have 12 storage containers for a single crafting station – and we had dozens of stations laid about.

Much more survivalbox than typical MMO

Pax Dei falls squarely in the survivalbox category much more so than a typical MMO, which is completely intended. But that isn’t to say it’s forsaken its MMO heritage. You do have proper guilds, and the world is very much large and persistent just as you’d expect from a proper MMO. It’s just not my style of MMO.

For one, characters are progressed with a classless system, which in general is a cool idea. But I suppose I’ve learned that I really prefer more rigid class structures. In Crowfall, you selected a class, and that was your calling. If you were a Guinecean, then you specialized in some form of rapier or musket combat. In Pax Dei, you can use a spear a whole lot and become a specialist, but I don’t think you’ll learn a whole slew of skills that non-spear players don’t have. At least it wasn’t obvious to me that anything like skills would change.

And using a bow is kind of brutal. The distance those first arrows travel before falling is about 10 feet. It’s more than just inaccurate; it’s a practical joke. Quite pitiful. I was hunting a bit and was beginning to enjoy it in spite of myself, but New World does it much better.

The gameplay loop also tracks closely with that of other survival games. Myth of Empires  comes immediately to mind since that was my most recent foray into survival games and it’s still relatively new, and I don’t see why anyone would play this over Myth of Empires, at least in its current test state. I suppose it’s Western-centered lore versus Eastern. Granted, MOE is so well-established that trying to play it now is difficult with a lot of large Chinese guilds already running the show over there. Pax Dei has a few extra MMO tricks up its sleeve, and it’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of a new survival MMO. But even when it’s ready to properly launch, it’ll be entering a very crowded field.

Ultimately, as someone who likes to take the road less traveled and walk alone, I’d be hard-pressed to really encourage others like me to play Pax Dei as it’s been presented in alpha so far, barring major changes between now and early access or launch. But if you’re more like my guildies who live for survival cooperation on a grand scale, you’ll really enjoy this gameplay. For my part, I’ll probably just dabble a bit here and there to catch some of the second-hand fun from them.

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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