For fans of ARPGs, the news that Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem finally launched after four years in early access comes as a welcome occasion. The dearth of stellar-quality ARPGs in the last several years has been noticed and players have been clamoring for something new. We managed to spend several hours in the game to give you our hands-on preview of Wolcen.
Suzie’s Thoughts on the World
To say that Wolcen has had a rocky launch is to understate things greatly. The game launched on February 14th but was immediately plagued with disconnects and overburdened servers as over 100,000 players scrambled to log in. But that was only the beginning. Larger bugs began to appear such as the inventory bug (still present, by the way) that caused stashed items to disappear between sessions. Rubberbanding, lag, and a nasty bug that deleted characters and endgame progression ultimately led to the servers being shut down for the entire weekend. That, as you can imagine, went over like a lead balloon with many in the community. In fact, Wolcen’s issues even reached meme status.
By Monday morning, however, servers were back up and things seem to be going better for players. For me, the inventory bug has been annoying, though not catastrophic. After the two things I’d stashed away disappeared, I decided that, nope, I won’t be storing stuff for the time being. It’s worked out well so far. Other than that, generalized lag and some rubberbanding are still present but the game is playable and is quite fun.
There is no question that Wolcen has its roots firmly in the ARPG genre. There are clear nods to the Diablo series. In fact, there were times when the first act of the story and environment made me feel as if I was in some alt-version of Diablo 3. The passive skill tree is heavily inspired by Grinding Gears’ Path of Exile and some of the artwork looks as if it has been ripped right out of Warhammer.
The game’s environments are top-notch. There are breathtaking vistas that provide a sense of grandeur in a huge world that has descended into chaos. There are times traveling through the world when I found myself stopping just to take in the view. Descending into caves or into abandoned ruins brings about gorgeous lighting effects accompanied by the lonely sounds of dripping water and howling winds. There’s no question that a lot of love and attention was placed on creating the right mood for Wolcen and it pays off.
However, all that beauty aside, the player character models feel out of place. While beautifully done in terms of armors and weaponry, the movement of characters is somehow janky and stiff. It’s like there’s this gorgeous game world that is hyper-realistic and then a puppet is used to depict what is arguably the most important character on screen. Movement feels stiff and run animations, at least for female characters, is awkward and unnatural.
In the end, however, I can overlook the awkwardness of my character thanks to an amazing passive progression system, the gorgeous game world, the ability to transmog my character’s look, and fun, if laggy, combat. Wolcen is definitely a must-have for fans of ARPGs, especially for those looking for a familiar experience with some nifty new tweaks to known systems.
Xen’s Thoughts on Combat & Progression
For an ARPG such as Wolcen, combat is one of the more important elements of gameplay. Considering the sheer amount of time you will spend fighting against the hordes of beasts, undead, demons and what have you, if the combat is not fun or feels off, it can spoil the entire impression left by the game. Thankfully, the combat in Wolcen is fast-paced, brutal and perhaps a bit lacking of its own take on the genre.
If you have played Path of Exile, Torchlight or Diablo 3, you would feel like returning home. In fact, sometimes one has to wonder at what point following in the footsteps of the legendary competitors becomes simple copying of the various successful elements from other games in an attempt to find a fresh mix that doesn’t always work. Wolcen fails to invent something that will set it apart from already existing popular ARPGs but it is not necessarily a bad thing. The classic Diablo-esque gameplay loop works wonders, even if its pace sometimes stutters and the rough edges of the title show themselves.
Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem invites players to reach level 90 through battling hordes of enemies, doing quests and more. Each level gives characters a few rewards:
- A number of characteristics points that you can spend between Ferocity, Dexterity, Wisdom, and others that affect your health points, shields, damage and more. The game provides a detailed chart of how your characteristics affect your damage output.
- Passive skill point that can be applied to a wheel also known as the Gate of Fates, choosing the 21 sub-class sections to customize your passives and make them fit your play style. Do you want to be a Warmonger or a Ranger? Or something else entirely? There are enough options to fit any type of player, be they ranged, melee or caster.
There is a variety of ways to unlock and level active skills. First, you can find enneracts scattered around the world – those may drop from chests, be looted from monsters, awarded for successful completion of a quest or bought from a special vendor. Roughly, enneracts are split into three categories to fit the player archetype: Fighter, Rogue and Wizard + the type of weapon you are using. Using an enneract for the first time allows you to learn the respective ability, for example, “Deathgazer” Railgun. Using the enneract of an ability you have already learned will instead provide you with a special currency – primordial affinity. Similarly, if you know for sure you have no use for a skill, you can sell enneract for this special currency without learning the ability.
You can spend primordial affinity to level up your skills, the higher the skill level the higher the cost. Increasing the level of ability grants it modifier points and access to those very modifiers. For example, at level 30, Wailing Arrows has access to 5 modifier points and about a dozen total modifications. The simpler ones, such as lowering the cooldown a bit or increasing the damage of the ability, take a single modifier point. More interesting effects such as the ability continuing to move after being used or switching the damage type take a larger chunk of points to activate.
This system allows for a huge variety of options in combat, including switching builds and modifiers on the fly to adjust to boss battles.
The second option of leveling up your skills is simple but elegant: simply continue using the abilities in battle and over time your active set of skills will gain experience and levels.
Besides the developers not being ready for the success of the game and the players’ interest in it that resulted in server problems for the first few days, my stay in Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem has been enjoyable. I can see that the game will only become more interesting as the characters gain levels, new abilities, passives and more, introducing additional complexity and depth to the game. I hope the team considers adding a higher level of difficulty for the hardcore crowd to require more strategic thinking in battles.