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Wolcen Alpha Thoughts

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This weekend was a largely chill en devour that focused on lots of gaming while either upstairs in my warm warm office, or downstairs snuggled into a blanket on the sofa. It was my original intent to spend lots of time hunting monsters with friends, and I did in fact manage that for a bit Sunday afternoon. I also managed another goal which was to craft the Horizon Zero Dawn set of Palico gear which Kenzie is currently wearing. It admittedly feels a little weird at times to talk about Kenzie in game versus Kenzie the real life cat, but I still feel like if you didn’t name your Palico friend after an actual cat you are a monster. The other big happening of the weekend is that I dove head first into a game that I had been wanting to try for a bit.

Wolcen Lords of Mayhem is an Action Roleplaying Game that draws its inspiration from Diablo 2, Path of Exile and to some extent Diablo 3.  It’s funny how a genre that largely spawned from a single came can branch and wind up fairly divisive.  There is an entire community that feels like Diablo 2 was the ideal version of the game, another that feels like Path of Exile is the true successor to the throne…  and a whole other group of people that care nothing about that noise and happily play Diablo 3.  Wolcen is this weird amalgam in which I can see some of the best traits of each of those camps, as well as pulling in some other games in the genre like Titans Quest and its eventual successor Grim Dawn.  Essentially it is a good start at trying to build a brand new modern ARPG.

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The game itself is completely gorgeous, which admittedly was the first thing that I noticed about it.  I stumbled onto this game when D3 community YouTuber Rhykker did a video talking about it.  I have been trying very hard to avoid playing alpha/beta/early access games because they tend to sour my impression and excitement when the final product is released.  However when I saw the game play I promptly threw that rule out the window and slammed my $19.95 on the table to join the testing.  Firstly please note the game is very much an alpha build and in my short time playing it I have encountered all sorts of bugs including being hit by a monster a few times and having it teleport me back to base without actually dying.

This is absolutely a buyer beware sort of experience, but for me at least I felt like I wanted to help fund the games development because they have some pretty big plans.  They are even brave enough to post their long term roadmap in the form of a Trello board for the backers to look at and comment on.  Similarly there is a community Discord available as well so folks can leave bug reports, comment on game play and leave feature requests.  The little bit of time I have spent roaming around the chat channels have made me realize that the game already has a super devoted following.  As far as the lineage of this game goes… it is my understanding that it originally started out as a mod for the game Crysis designed to allow folks to create an ARPG on the CryEngine.  From there it turned into a Kickstarter project called Umbra, and then at some point the name shifted to Wolcen which I find insanely awkward to pronounce.

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What makes the game extremely interesting to me is the fact that there are no classes.  You start as either a Male or a Female character with pretty robust sliders and character creation options.  From there your character becomes whatever you want it to be in the form that everything is treated like a spell…  be it a melee attack or an orb of lighting being hurled at the target.  How you begin to spec out your character determines how effective you are going to be in your goals.  Not surprisingly I have largely focused on melee with a sword and shield build designed to get in… dish out a bunch of damage then use the games active dodge system represented by the green pips above the skill bar to get out safely.

Admittedly it does not always work because the monsters in this game hit super hard and involve a lot of movement to be able to take them down successfully.  I spent some time streaming Sunday morning and died over and over to all sorts of silly situations, and with no difficulty slider currently…  it could get frustrating if you are not willing to keep throwing your face against this game.  As far as speccing your character you are given a combination of the traditional stat based system that allows you to allocate points each level into the core areas that you want to be improving.  On top of that each individual skill has its own tree of sorts that largely involves you choosing one of two options…  with one focused on efficiency and another focused on either dealing more damage or increasing the effect of your attacks.

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Lastly you have the “Gate of Fates” or what I tend to call it the Sphere Grid, which is a sequence of thematic choices you make as a character in how you want to build it out.  Now when I said there were no classes in this game… in theory that is probably a lie because you could think of the skill trees presented on this grid as classes.  On the inner ring you have Arcanist, Guardian, Legionary, Thief and Hunter.  On the second ring you have Elementalist, Warden, Maleficent, Gladiator and Trickster.  Then on the third ring they have a single tree so far called Assassin, but I fully expect that their goal is to keep expanding outwards.  What makes this interesting is there is an NPC in town that allows you to rotate the rings connecting up any first tier tree to any second tier tree.  So as a result right now my Legionary tree is rotated to meet up with Gladiator and in theory your “Class” becomes the combination of which trees you choose to mash together.

Admittedly it was in the sphere grid that Path of Exile largely lost me as a player because it kept expanding…  and keep seeming more and more like nonsense.  However with Wolcen it feels more manageable because essentially I am making one of five choices… each time I move outwards on the grid and can feel pretty happy to just stay within those lines.  There are a lot of things not messaged well in the game… including this sphere grid.  So for example I did not realize I could rotate it until I had already started putting some points into Guardian.  That said it doesn’t necessarily feel like those points were wasted either because I am getting the blended effect of both trees at the same time.  I would imagine late in the game you would have more than one tree fleshed out on each of the rings…  and as such keep tweaking the subtle nuance of your character design.

Essentially I broke my no alphas rule… because I really want to see this game come to fruition.  What is there right now… has an awful lot of potential and I can see how it could be turned into serious competition for the Diablo 4 throne.  I will always love Diablo and the action rpgs that have spawned out of it.  I’ve spent many an hour playing games like Titans Quest or even the MMO variants like Devilian.  Already Wolcen has managed to capture the essence of what makes a Diablo style game good… all the while taking this raw material and blending it into something fresh feeling.  They are taking the genre into an interesting direction that combines the accessibility of Diablo 3 with the madness of Path of Exile to produce something that I think will have staying power.  I fully expect that this is going to be one of those games that I keep popping back into as new features are added.  I am sure it is still a few years away from exiting early access, but the product that is there already feels good to play.  If you are so inclined and are willing to deal with a slightly buggy product… I highly suggest checking it out.

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