Monthly Archives: March 2020

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: The Life of the Spirit Willow.

Strap yourselves in everyone, we’re taking a feel trip today.

Ori and the Blind Forest took out my game of the year for 2015, beating out many other worthy competitors such as The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne. The reason at the time, and it still holds true today, is that there’s been no other game that’s made me care so deeply about the characters so quickly and then used that against me. From the early moments on I was hooked and all the other aspects of the game’s craftsmanship just served to amplify those deep feelings I had. So to say that I had high expectations for the sequel is putting it lightly; I was expecting the kind of near perfection that they had delivered the first time around and was extremely nervous that they wouldn’t be able to match it. Spin forward to the game’s first moments and suddenly I’m back there, 5 years ago, just after the game finished with all those feelings rushing back again. Now here I am today having finished the game and taking a good week to process it emotionally before I could write the review.

Suffice to say, Moon Studios has done it again and I’m an emotional wreck because of it.

SPOILERS FOR ORI AND THE BLIND FOREST FOLLOW

Picking up right where The Blind Forest left off you follow the story of how Ori, Naru and Gumo raised the lone hatchling of Kuro (the original’s protagonist) who they’ve named Ku. She was unfortunately born with a broken wing, rendering her unable to fly. However Gumo finds a feather which he then attaches to Ku’s wing, giving her the ability to fly. Her and Ori then set off on their first journey together and follow a band of owls to the old forest of Niwen. However before they can return a storm hits and the pair gets separated. This is how your journey begins, a simple quest to reunite with your little owling, but the destination is far more meaningful than you can possibly imagine.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps maintains the original’s art styling with a little more emphasis towards the 3D elements than the 2D ones. The environments still have that wonderful dreamlike quality about them with their lavish use of bright colours, unreserved use of bloom and lighting effects galore. The simple fact that I have a screenshot directory with some 34 screenshots in it is a testament to just how gorgeous this game is, every one of the frames it renders not feeling out of place in a concept art reel. The only downside with the heavier focus on the 3D elements is that during some cutscenes the resolution of some models becomes apparent which draws away from the impact those close in scenes should have. There are some solutions for this available thankfully although none of them natively supported by the in-game graphics options. I’m hopeful that these will become available in future patches however as I’d love to play this again in full 4K resolution with all graphics settings pushed right to their limit.

I also have to give a special mention to the soundtrack that Gareth Coker, who was responsible for the original’s as well, created for The Will of the Wisps. Once again he’s managed to create a brilliant set of emotional pieces of music that beautifully match the events happening on screen. For many games the sound track is an afterthought so it’s always great to see when it’s given just as much care and attention as everything else that’s put in.

The Will of the Wisps retains the same core game loop as the original with some of it’s newer elements borrowed some elements from some modern metroidvania titles. The progression system has been significantly increased in breadth and complexity, no longer being a simple choice between a couple different skill talent trees. Instead you’ve got multiple different paths to progress through, each of them with different mechanics for their progression. The level design has also been significantly improved as whilst it follows the standard metroidvania trope (I.E. unlocking new areas in already completed mission with new abilities) not once did I feel like I was missing a significant part of a level because I didn’t have a certain ability. There’s also a myriad of quality of life improvements as well, making the journey to 100% a run through something I actually considered doing for the first time in…quite a long time. With this release Moon Studio has proven that they’re dedicated to developing extremely high quality titles and aren’t satisfied with simply retreading old successes.

The game’s platforming starts off from the basics once again, a good thing considering it’s likely been quite a while for many players since they played the original. Some of my old muscle memory was still there, like expecting double jump and wall sticking from the get go, but it didn’t take long before I had those few abilities and the game started lumping on more things on me to make the platforming sections more varied and challenging. Each of the games…I want to call them biomes… comes with a new ability that will be the main trick that you’ll use to progress through it. That ability then also unlocks other areas in other biomes as well, typically granting access to upgrades and other collectibles that you couldn’t get ahold of. Towards the end of the game this will also get you into situations that were obviously not designed for, like skipping entire sections, but that’s mostly to your benefit. There’s also a bit of emergent behaviour you can exploit here too, like in the main Moki town which you can easily clear out of most of its collectibles before you complete the requisite side quests. Overall the platforming is as solid as it ever was.

Combat feels much the same as it used to although, I admit, this may partly be because I didn’t invest as much time in progressing the combat abilities as I did the other parts of the game. There are new abilities, some of which are also required for unlocking certain areas of the game, but for the most part it’s still a dodge/attack game loop. To be sure there’s going to be some broken skill builds out there that will have you wrecking all sorts of havoc but I played it safe for the most part, favouring instead being able to recover from my mistakes rather than going full glass canon. Still though for a few of the boss encounters I’d switch out to a different build that then made those encounters a lot easier going as without some kind of damage buff some of them could take forever to complete.

Progression comes at a pretty steady clip thanks to the multiple different progression mechanics. For starters you’ve got your simple life/mana orbs which you can easily find throughout the levels and most will be available to you immediately or soon after unlocking the biome’s ability. The main avenue for progression is spirit shards which modify your current abilities or attributes. Initially you can only equip 3 at a time but that can be upgraded to a total of 8 if you complete all the combat shrines. Most of the shards can be found around the place but a choice few will need to be bought. About half can be upgraded as well, although none need to be upgraded to be useful. You can purchase and upgrade new combat abilities from a vendor as well, a couple of which you’ll need to purchase in order to unlock some of the areas of the map. I tried the spirit surge initially but it’s pretty underwhelming. The spear was by far my favourite as it did an absolutely insane amount of damage and is pinpoint accurate. The downside is the mana cost but that can be made up for with the appropriate shard selection. There’s also a myriad of side quests which change the world around you although I don’t believe they have an appreciable impact on how the game plays out (apart from opening up more secrets to you).

There’s also a bunch of time trials scattered throughout the game, pitting you against a ghost Ori in a race to the finish line. I think originally they may have included a wide variety of rewards but they only now give spirit light, the game’s main currency. Whilst this is certainly helpful it’s not like you’re always scrounging for it. Indeed if you complete the side quests and find most of the secrets then you’re likely going to be rolling in it. I usually kept above 6000 as I wanted to max out the damage buff from a shard I had but even when I did go and splurge on something I don’t remember it taking that long to get it back up again. Regardless the challenges themselves aren’t too difficult, especially considering you can just follow the ghost and then overtake them quickly right at the end (doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile, right?).

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all these mechanics would make for a game that’s too busy but they all work together to give the game a steady, moderate pace. There’s always something you need to do but the game doesn’t punish you for taking your time to explore around and uncover all the secrets they’ve hidden around the place. This makes it really enjoyable to simply take your time with the level, figuring out all the tells they’ve built in that lead to secrets or hint at how the current blocking puzzle could be solved. The fact that I only got stuck a couple times is a testament to how well the game is designed.

The same niggle I had with the original makes an unfortunate return in The Will of the Wisps; that being the use of long platforming sequences that must be completed in one shot. There’s more than one in this but they’re thankfully 1) shorter than the original’s final boss fight and 2) somewhat better designed so that you don’t feel like you’re running up against unfair mechanics designed to make you fail. That improvement is then offset by some slight…mushiness in the keystroke detection which makes doing some of the more involved platforming a bit clunkier than it should be. To be fair it could be that I was attempting things you weren’t intended to do as I distinctly remember this grumble coming to the front when I was clearing out the Moki town before I’d done all the plants and building improvements.

PLOT SPOILERS BELOW

The game’s narrative follows a very similar trope to the original but god damn do they know how to find your heart strings and tug on them relentlessly. It wasn’t enough that the game’s opening moments made me remember the original’s tragedy with such vivid recollection that I needed a minute to compose myself before playing they then had to set up yet another tragedy after I had already bought into the game’s premise emotionally. To be sure the plot is simplistic and predictable but I couldn’t help but feel for each and every one of the characters. This is only made better by the fact that it didn’t rely heavily on the story that came before it either, the original’s characters only having a passing role in this game.

Probably the biggest thing that stuck with me, which is possible fertile ground for a sequel, is that they didn’t resolve Shriek’s storyline positively, instead condemning her to misery that she’s known her entire life. That honestly hurt me more than anything else given what you know of her backstory. But, having had some time to process it, I can see it for what it is: great storytelling that didn’t go the way I wanted to. That doesn’t make it bad, just sad for me.

Now I’d usually chide a game for hinting at a sequel but I’m happy with the way it was done here, for a couple reasons. Firstly it’s already established canon in the world and the current story threads (bar Shriek’s) are resolved. That means that any further games in the series will have to stand on their own and, quite likely, lose “Ori and” from the title. Whilst it’s beautifully sad how Ori’s thread resolved I’m glad it did as it’d be all too easy to keep riding that cute little spirit’s goodwill until all the money was squeezed out of him.

SPOILERS OVER

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is an exceptional sophomore release from Moon Studios, demonstrating that they’re exceptional craftspeople when it comes to the genre of metroidvania that’ll make you cry. If you’ve made it this far in the review then you know what I think about the game’s various elements and I’m not going to rehash them again. All I’m going to do is say that, no matter what kind of gamer you are, Ori and the Will of the Wisps is worth your attention. If you haven’t played the original then do yourself a favour and give it the once over so you can play its sequel immediately, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 9.75/10

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is available on PC and Xbox One right now for $39.95. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours of total play time and 43% of the achievements unlocked.

The Division 2: Warlords of New York: You Have No Idea What’s Coming.

It’s been just under a year since I last spun up The Division 2 as whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the numerous hours I dropped into it that initial wall I hit with the raid meant I ended my time with it shortly after the review. The various drops of content between now and then didn’t really pop up on my radar. Indeed I was beginning to get worried that we’d seen the end of expansions or other meaty DLC drops given other games like Destiny have switched to the more regular drip feed of tiny updates, none of which are ever enough to bring me back into the fold. Imagine my surprise when I started to see The Division 2 subreddit lighting up with excitement about the impending launch of Warlords of New York for The Division 2, promising a return back to the place where the original took place and even the return of the main antagonist. Given I’d spent the last couple weeks playing casual-ish games I was ready to get into something a little more engrossing and boy was it ever.

You receive a distress call from Faye Lau who’s still the lead agent in charge back in New York. Agent Keener has unleashed a new and instantly lethal version of the original Green Poison bioweapon which has been called Eclipse. Upon arrival you’re informed that Agent Keener’s current whereabouts are unknown however they’ve identified 4 of his lieutenants and with their SHD watches they should be able to triangulate him. So with little more than that to go on you’re sent out into lower Manhattan to start the brutal search for the rogue agent once again, hoping to find him before he’s able to strike again and put an end to him once and for all.

As you’d expect from an expansion there’s no real changes graphically apart from the differences in the setting of DC vs New York. It’s definitely a major shift in the feel of the game as I distinctly remember DC feeling a bit more flat and open, whereas New York retains its usual high skyscrapers and dense urban environment. The change from winter to summer is interesting too as that, combined with the dynamic weather systems, means that this feels very different to the New York I remember from the original Division.

There’s been a few tweaks to The Division 2’s core game loop since I’ve been away and a few changes which I believe are unique to this particular expansion, although I couldn’t tell you which is which. For starters loot now drops less frequently, with the idea that there should be less trash and hopefully more useful pieces of gear. On the surface that doesn’t really ring true however the inclusion of the new re-roll system, which allows you to extract a single stat roll from a piece of gear and save it for use forever, suddenly means that trash drops with god rolls are no longer trash. The skill power system has also been reworked, now being fixed to “tiers” which each piece of armour can provide 1 of. There’s also now an infinite progression system in the form of your SHD Watch which is basically The Division’s form of the paragon levels from Diablo III. There’s a bunch of stuff I don’t even remember coming across listed here so if you want the full story I’d say head over there and get it directly from the horse itself.

The core fighting mechanics feels identical, save for the fact that skills appear to regenerate a lot quicker but are also a lot weaker as a result. My chem launcher no longer instantly heals me up to full, instead taking quite some time to get me even to halfway health. On the flip side my artillery turret, which use to feel like it was always on cooldown no matter what, was seemingly up every 30 seconds which seemed ridiculously broken given how good it is at clearing out large groups or slow moving elites. That seemed to be counterbalanced by the specialist weapon now feeling downright useless, especially considering my turret seemed to do the same thing and could manage more than 2 shots every 30 seconds. I’m not sure how all of this plays out at higher gear levels though as I haven’t put in the requisite grind hours to get there. Looking at some of the absolutely silly builds I’ve seen online though it seems like there’s a lot of fun to be had mixing things up, which is a good thing my opinion.

I did however run out of puff with Warlords of New York once I got past the missions and started on the end game grind proper. Part of this was a lack of direction for what the grind would be for as in the original game it was clear what I needed the upgraded gear for. With Warlords of New York, even though it’s now got one of the best progression systems I’ve seen in any looter shooter to date, it’s not so clear what I should be gearing up for. The raid? But technically I was already gear for that when I left the game last time, I just couldn’t be arsed manually looking for a group to do it. I did a quick search around to figure out what exactly I should be aiming for but it seems like it might just be the gear for gear’s sake at this point. Well that and the Dark Zone but I’ve never been one to solo in there.

The expansion’s story is what we’ve all come to expect from The Division: linear, predictable and chock full of action. I think my friend said it best when he mentioned that Massive and Ubisoft are known for creating great worlds, but not amazing characters or narratives within it. To prove his point he then asked us to name one NPC in the game and it was honestly embarrassing how long it took to come up with someone (even the main antagonist, this was during the original campaign). Still it’s enjoyable, following the not-so-subtle plot threads through to their conclusion. The expansion does setup the core game for some shenanigans down the line so I’m hopeful for another juicy story expansion in the not too distant future.

So for those of us who enjoyed The Division 2 and have been back since Warlords of New York is definitely a great time to come back. Much like the original release it’s familiar yet different enough to be engaging and all the changes seem for the better. The lack of a clear endgame goal (and a squad of mates also) meant that the end-game grind doesn’t seem like it’ll be for me this time around but I might find myself back in here again should any of my mates pick it up soon. There’s also the 3 episodes to catch up on (which I haven’t) so if Warlords doesn’t satiate you then there’s still enough drip content left to chew on. Overall I very much enjoyed my time with the expansion and hope for another one like it in the near future.

Rating: 9.25/10

Tom Clancy’s The Division 2: Warlords of New York is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 11 hours played, bringing the total time in The Division 2 to 53 hours.

Taur: Defend the Prime Canon.

I can remember getting into the custom Warcraft 3 map scene back in the day, churning through map after map just to see what people had created. This is where my love of DOTA came from but I also lost many an hour on the other, less strategic maps like the numerous variants of X-Hero Siege or Tower Defense. The latter spawned its own genre of games which, due to their relatively low barrier to entry (both in dev and player terms), have mostly remained squarely in the casual/mobile space ever since. That’s the main reason I haven’t played any of them in quite some time as they just don’t provide the kind of gaming experience that I’m usually looking for. Taur however looked to be an interesting blend of strategy and tower defense mechanics so I figured it was worth chucking a few dollars at. Whilst it’s certainly a competent enough game it’s longevity feels somewhat limited as the challenge/risk vs reward just isn’t there to keep you long term.

The setting of Taur is simple: you’re a high tech race focused on weapons development that, for some inexplicable reason, hasn’t invested anything into your own defenses. So when the Imperion comes knocking demanding that you surrender all your technology to them your only hope is to deploy it on your home soil to defend yourself from the incoming invasion. This is what sets up for the game’s main loop: you’re put in control of the Prime Canon and given free reign to build out the requisite defenses to ensure that you don’t lose territory. You’ll do this by building out towers (duh), various small units and upgrading your canon with different weaponry and special abilities to fend off the oncoming onslaught.

Taur’s graphics are simplistic by requirement as whilst initially you’ll only be fighting a handful of enemies at any one time it quickly ramps up to dozens, if not hundreds, of units on-screen. The devs have taken the typical low poly no texture route for the models, relying on the standard red vs blue colour palette to make enemies and friendlies visually distinct. There’s liberal use of advanced lighting effects and particle systems, all of which seem to be well optimised even when there’s a good number of things happening on-screen. The only downside is that your buildings are a little hard to distinguish visually, both when they’re built and even in the build screen itself. Other than that the graphics are wholly appropriate for a game like this.

Unlike other tower defense games where you’re either building a maze or attacking waves of enemies as they walk a defined path Taur instead places you right in the middle of the battle field and enemies will trudge their way towards you. You have control of the main canon which allows you to pick off enemies directly whilst your various buildings either provide support in some way (like units on the ground or a shield for instance) or attack the enemies directly. The blend of units does matter as the various different types of enemies have differing strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll have to have the right blend if you want to take on any situation. The mission structure takes one of a few different forms, most of them wave based but some with specific unit types (like all heavy tanks or just air units). Suffice to say there is a decent amount of variety in how each of the battles play out, even if it is slow going initially.

Progression is a mixed bag as it can come in a couple forms, one of which is gambling and the other is the more tried and true research system. Both of these rely on specific kinds of resources that will drop from the missions you choose. Whilst there’s some correlation between the difficulty of a particular mission and the rewards you get it’s honestly pretty weak and the lack of a system to trade one kind of resources for another often has you in a situation where you can’t make any meaningful progress for multiple turns because the key resource you need just simply doesn’t show up. Worse still should you attempt the gambling part (upgrading the damage of the Prime Canon) you can end up with something much, much worse than you currently have which can gimp your entire build. This is the kind of mechanic that makes me steer clear of Roguelikes as I much prefer having a steady path to progression rather than random chance dictating whether or not I’m able to get the next upgrade.

Which is why, after about 3 hours of play time, I gave up on playing any more of Taur. Once you reach level 50 you get the big bad bossman and he’s likely downright impossible to beat the first time around. However from there it was a steep step up in difficulty but no additional rewards to go along with it. This made continuing on a rather pointless affair as I didn’t feel like I could keep up with what was happening. Sure I could’ve started again but the amount of downtime between missions early on is phenomenal and I didn’t really feel motivated to try again with a more optimised build. For some though I can imagine this is part of the charm but for me I just wasn’t interested in trying again.

Taur certainly delivers on what it promises, giving you an interesting tower defense experience that can be played infinitely if you find yourself getting into it. The graphics are simplistic but well done, fitting both the game and the setting perfectly. The combat is varied enough to keep you going and with the deep customisation there’s obviously numerous strategies to explore for those who wish to. However progress is a haphazard beast, relying on resources that randomly drop and even including gambling mechanics that can set you back significantly if the roll doesn’t go your way. It’s why I’ll say that, whilst I enjoyed my time with Taur, it hit a hard wall once I saw how much influence RNG had on everything and I just wasn’t interested past that point.

Rating: 7.0/10

Taur is available on PC right now for $35.95. Total play time was 3 hours.

The Pedestrian: I Was Strolling Through the Park one Day…

Way back at the very first PAX Australia (which was, gosh, 7 years ago now) I remember roaming through the indie booth and stumbled across FRAMED. I’m ashamed to admit that I never actually got around to playing it even though I was thoroughly intrigued by it’s panel puzzle design that was unlike anything I’d seen before. Since then there’s been a few imitators but none of them really caught my attention. That was until I stumbled across The Pedestrian in the Steam recommender and it’s combination of the panel puzzle design and absolutely fantastic background art design. That was enough to get my attention and keep my curiosity for a little while after however unfortunately I didn’t find much to keep bringing me back after just an hour or so of play time.

The premise of the game is pretty easy to understand: you’re a little man trapped inside the various signs , drawings and other wall coverings that are part of our everyday life and you want to travel through them. It starts off easy enough, you just need to run from one side of the screen to the next, but you’ll quickly find yourself needing to rearrange panels in certain ways to make sure you can progress. Initially this is just a simple task of not dead-ending yourself but it’ll quickly turn into a problem of figuring out which order events can happen and when they need to happen. It’s kind of hard to explain via text but you’ll immediately understand the premise when it’s first presented to you.

The Pedestrian’s graphics are, put simply, wonderful. A lot of attention has been paid to the smallest of details like the metal grains you can see on the outside of galvanised metal pipes, the various textures of the different kinds of signs you find yourself in and even the vast detail in areas that the camera whips past in just a few seconds. That kind of dedication to detail is, to be honest, quite astonishing and reflects the high level of craftsmanship that’s gone into developing this game. It does make you wonder what kind of person loves the minor details of the mundane world so much that they want to make a game that’s ostensibly honouring it in this way. Possibly someone who’s able to see the joy in the little things… 😉

The puzzle mechanics build up over the course of the game, starting as a simple platformer (with an extra step or two) but quickly adding in more and more mechanics as the levels go by. There are some really clever ones in there, like the puzzles where you have a hole through the card that you go through, but for the most part they’re the standard 2D puzzle tropes that you’ve seen before. The rearranging frames part is the game’s main claim to fame and it uses it to good effect, often making you wonder just how the heck things are meant to go together and forcing you to just try things out.

However past a certain point I just lost interest in seeing more puzzles as, whilst the game does add more mechanics and challenge, I just didn’t feel motivated to go back. Part of this could be because of the lack of story, although there seems to be some narrative around somewhere if the achievements are to be believed, as once I’d lost interest in the puzzles themselves there wasn’t anything to fall back on. That’s saying something given the fact that I think the game is probably only 2 hours long total, and really I could probably slog through it, but I just don’t feel like going back to it. Perhaps if I’d played it through to the end in one sitting I’d be singing a different tune.

The Pedestrian is a well crafted game with it’s beautifully realised renditions of the everyday world around us. The mechanics are a solid blend of the traditional and the new, slowly building the challenge as you tick over each of the levels. However for me it just failed to capture my attention much beyond the first hour, the repetitive nature of the puzzles and lack of any other driving factor (such as a story) making it far easier for me to put it down than to pick it back up again. All this being said I still think The Pedestrian is worth playing for those who enjoy these kinds of games, and those with perhaps a little more patience than I.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Pedestrian is available on PC right now for $28.95. Total play time was 78 minutes with 40% of the achievements unlocked.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem: I Can’t Believe it’s Not Diablo/Warhammer/etc.

Ah the launch days of a new online game. They’re almost always filled with bugs, server problems and teething issues the developers and their play testers never managed to come across. You’ll be forgiven for thinking that Early Access would be a solution to this, even if you spent oh I don’t know something like 4 years in it. Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem debuted to an audience that was hungry for a new arpg and the hype it had built up to its release ensured that its release date was not so dissimilar from the AAA games it sought to emulate, plagued with numerous issues that made the game chuggy and problematic for many and downright unplayable for an unlucky minority. However like many of its other brethren after the initial furor died down what was left was an extremely competent arpg, just one that I lost interest in after the real grind set in.

In Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem, you, Valeria, and Edric, are the three only survivors of the slaughter of Castagath. Rescued by Grand Inquisitor Heimlock, you were drafted into the Republic’s Army of the Purifiers at a very young age to be trained in the military academy and become perfect soldiers. You also had the chance to benefit from Heimlock’s occasional advice and training. This special treatment led you and your childhood friends to be named the “Children of Heimlock”. However one day it’s revealed that you’re able to channel some devastating forms of magic, something that’s very much frowned upon in this world. This begins your quest to survive and determine what your true fate really is.

I honestly couldn’t believe that the dev team chose Cryengine as the basis for their game, given its propensity for seriously high end graphics and not-so-great multiplayer support out of the box. However what the team has created is really quite something, making full use of the engine’s capabilities. The environments are massive and filled to the brim with detail although in the later, predominantly procedurally generated levels, things do start to get a bit samey. The game does shy away from the Blizzard/Diablo style of using more bright and varied colour palettes to keep visual interest up but there’s still a good helping of lighting and particle effects to keep everything from blurring into a dark background. All of this runs amazingly well, even when you get a good number of enemies on screen. That’s not to say I didn’t have any performance issues at all but I do have to admit I was trying to see how far I could tilt the thing before it fell over.

Wolcen follows the standard isometric dungeon crawler formula pretty closely with its own spin on the various tropes that I’m sure we’ll see emulations of in future games in this genre. There’s no formal classes to speak of however what weapon you decide to wield dictates which skills you’ll be able to use and, by consequence, which talents and attributes you’ll be prioritising. Skills themselves aren’t a given either, you’ll have to find them in drops from enemies or purchase them with a particular kind of currency from the right vendor. The talent tree is also quite novel, consisting of 3 rings that branch out in a constellation like fashion allowing you to choose your own path to the talents you want. There’s also a rudimentary crafting and gem system although if I’m honest I don’t think they’re actually worth using at all. Finally there’s a kind of rift like system which makes up the bulk of the end-game content, servicing as an endless grind to help rebuild a city which will confer back to you some benefits. Honestly using the term “Diablo clone” here would be a disservice to Wolcen as whilst it certainly draws inspiration from it there’s enough new things in here that I think Blizzard will be taking notice.

Combat is, for my build at least, a fast paced balls to the wall killfest that literally doesn’t stop for anything. Now I’m quite sure that the build I was running has likely been nerfed into oblivion since I stopped playing but suffice to say, when I can 2 or 3 shot pretty much any boss or mob I come across in the game it’s not likely to be long for this world. Still it was certainly fun, especially considering that it was such a glass cannon build that I had to ensure I was actively using particular skills constantly lest I cop a few hits in a row which would see me downed in short order. Of course being basically unstoppable did also mean that there wasn’t a lot of challenge left for me in the game once I reached that point, especially without an end-game grind that was building to something interesting.

It probably also didn’t help that I settled on a skill build and playstyle early on and all other variants seemed to be far, far less effective. To be sure there seems to be a lot of build variance available but speaking with my mate who tried numerous other builds none of them were as effective or useful as the good old slow 2 hander with bleeding edge. Some of the skill modifiers did make for more interesting rotations but most of the time they just allowed me to do the one thing I needed to do more efficiently or with a greater margin for error. I’m sure for those seeking to craft the one true ultimate build there’s a lot to explore and experiment with here but without a goal to work towards I can’t imagine there’s going to be much enjoyment in doing so.

Like most arpgs the progression comes thick and fast at the start but begins to slow down measurably once you hit the end game. When once you’d be able to find an upgrade or two during a dungeon run now you’re likely to go multiple runs without finding anything. Worse still you’ll likely have to spend quite a bit of time sifting through all the gear you’ve picked up to find that one upgrade, a rather tedious chore that’s unfortunately not made much easier by the inclusion of gear archetypes that are supposed to make the culling easier. I found a pair of rogue gloves early on in my endgame grind that were just flat out better than anything else the other types could provide, even though I should’ve rightly been using bruiser or heavy gear. Towards the end I was just looking for gear that appeared to be as good or better than what I was currently using and then saw if equipping it upped my character sheet DPS. A blunt tool, to be sure, but comparisons beyond that just aren’t really feasible.

It doesn’t help that the crafting system is pretty much useless, allowing you to reroll or add random attributes to your gear. Gems are also somewhat moot as you can’t combine lower tier gems to higher tier ones and the effects they provide are minimal at best. Not having a comprehensive crafting system isn’t really a major issue but it does mean that there’s really only one path for progression in the end game and that’s to grind, grind away at those dungeons. For some this is probably exactly what they want but for me? I’d kind of like the option of doing something else with my overflowing pack of loot other than vendoring it all. That or some semi-meaningful goal to grind towards.

All this taken together you’d think that I was somewhat dour on the whole Wolcen experience but apart from the last couple hours I actually really enjoyed it. Tooling around in the campaign was always fun, especially when I teamed up with my mate and we had stupid banter over the dialogue whilst we waited for the next quest step to appear. With loot being so plentiful too it was a no-brainer to share everything as well and the game’s catch up mechanics made questing with my much higher level mate very much worth it for both of us. It’s just that it feels like there’s an expiry date on the experience as once you hit a certain point with the game there’s likely not going to be much going back to it. This was much the same as Diablo III for me as whilst I spent a good lot of hours in it initially after hitting Inferno 1 and seeing the grind ahead I just decided to call it quits. I think I’ve only been back a couple times since.

There’s no denying that Wolcen was a buggy mess during its 1.0 week. For the first few days my group of mates and I would routinely get put on servers all the way around the globe which led to a less than stellar experience, even at 180ms ping. There were also the raft of issues around joining games in progress, how quest progress was handled and just a general set of problems that could only be ascribed to launch week teething issues. To be sure a lot of these got better but for one of my mates the game remained unplayable for a week and when it was useable he’d frequently crash if he used certain skills. Right now though the game seems to be in a good spot so if the initial negative press put you off it might be time to revisit it.

The world and story of Wolcen is certainly interesting although it is somewhat predictable given its use of the standard tropes for many of the game’s protagonists and their motivations. The whole thing is predicated on the big bag thing coming to town and you doing everything you can to stop it. There’s definitely more of this world to explore and I can definitely see myself coming back if they drop any story content in the near future. However for this particular instalment it’s decidedly middle of the road but hey, at least you’re not going to be playing this for the narrative right?

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is an extremely well thought out arpg, taking inspiration from all the right places and then applying their own brand of creativity to provide a game experience that’s quite different to what you’d expect from a run of the mill Diablo clone. The game’s initial teething issues appear to be sorted out for now and hopefully, if you’d decided to give it a miss because of that, this review can convince you that it’s still worth a look in. You might not sink as many hours as you did in Diablo or Path of Exile but it’s still something to tide you over until Diablo 4 releases sometime this year.

Rating: 8.75/10

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is available on PC right now for $56.95. Total playtime was 18 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.