With the recent release of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem, there is an abundance of solid ARPG titles on the market to choose from. I was excited about this release; it had been in development for some time now, and was early access on Steam. As a massive fan of ARPGs, I wasn’t inclined to purchase it with that “early access” label on it however, due to bad experiences with early access titles in the past. When it became a full release on Steam, I decided to try the game out, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was marketed at a cheaper rate than a full-priced, newly-released title.
Just at first glance, the game was stunning. The graphics were akin to Diablo 3‘s style, which has always been one of the more aesthetically appealing ARPGs that I have experienced. Path of Exile compares very differently, reminding me more of classic Diablo games – with its gritty textures and typically dark environments. From the previews into Path of Exile 2 that I have seen, Grinding Gear Games is heading more down the path of these smooth graphics and clean lines aesthetically. All have great style, and Wolcen is not an exception to this. The graphics don’t matter too much to me in most video games, but it’s something to be appreciated – especially when the team behind the game is not a massive one. One nice touch is the detail behind the camera angles used in cinematic sections of the game. Often, when there are no enemies around – and you are walking to the next area – the camera will pan out to reveal a largely detailed background for you to observe as your character runs in the foreground. This takes the focus of your character for a short time (which you are looking at most of the time anyway) and puts your focus onto the environment.
Upon its launch, the game did face some issues however. These were not massive hindrances in my attempt to enjoy the game, but they were little diminishing factors. For one, as much as I enjoyed the aesthetics of the game, I couldn’t help being pulled out of immersion when I encountered numerous types of graphical glitches. Perhaps the most annoying was the one that stopped the flow of gameplay. I found that when switching to the Aspects ability, I had a bug where the game would pause for about two seconds after the Aspect phase ended. When playing a hack ‘n’ slash game, an interrupt to the flow can break your immersion, as you expect fluidity in a game which asks you to sling your abilities around the map at a relentless rate. Since its release (and a couple of patches), the game has stabilised a lot, but this still seems to still be an issue for me.
Along with that, there were intermittent server breakages in the first couple of days, which was a hindrance if you created an online character. The developers stated that they did not foresee such a large influx of players, so servers were being overloaded – a common occurrence for online games within the first week. This wasn’t a deal breaker for me, as the game allows you to create and play characters in offline mode. You don’t miss out on much (or anything really) by doing this, as the game has no online trading system like Path of Exile. To create an online character means you can play through with friends; but, as someone who was playing solo, this did not have a great bearing on my experience.
I’m not well-versed enough with every skill ability within the game (as I haven’t had the chance to try them all yet!) to comment on which builds and skills are over/under powered, but I’ve gotten a sense from the online community that people are favouring ranged and Spellcaster builds at the moment. When I booted up the game for the first time I tried both, but seemed to gravitate towards melee as being more enjoyable for me – specifically the Wrath of Baapheth skill. I found the wide-reaching AOE attack to be really fun to wipe out groups in early game, so I stuck with that throughout my playthrough as my main source of inflicting pain. The game was breezy…until I hit the Act 1 boss. With some research online after many failed attempts at beating him down, I quickly realised many things; I was likely not properly geared, and I was probably under-levelled. And, by this time, I also realised I hadn’t taken on enough varying skills to get the job done. I took on a couple more skills, including Juggernaut (an explosive shield), and – in conjunction with mastering the dodge-roll – I was able to beat the Act 1 boss after many painstaking tries.
Acquiring weapon skills was easy enough in itself, as skills randomly drop in the form of items called Enneracts and you can pick these up to read what the skill does. From there, you judge whether or not you want to add that to your skill library. If you do, you simply right click to absorb the skill, and can then assign it into your action hot bar to start levelling it up. If it’s not something you want, you can sell the Enneract to the vendor in town for 100 Primordial Points. These points can be used to upgrade the other skills in your skill library, and accelerate their strength/usability; so finding Enneracts is a win-win.
The rest of the game flew by quite easily. The Act 2 and 3 bosses were less of a challenge and took a lot less tries. I was excited to reach the endgame; I’m a sucker for progression and late-level mapping mayhem. But to my quick and disheartening realisation, upon entering and completing my first dungeon (just barely) I knew that something was wrong with my build. As fun as it was to play throughout the campaign, it didn’t pack the punch needed to get through dungeons, and didn’t possess the survivability I needed to last without great difficulty. Within the first map I entered, I encountered a tank-y boss with the Regeneration modifier. This meant, despite all of my slashes and buffs, I wasn’t able to do enough damage to whittle his health bar away. I dodge-rolled as fast as I could away from him. Luckily, the completion of the map didn’t require that I killed him, so I completed the objective and headed to the end of the map.
After my debacle with end-game mapping, I reconsidered my build and questioned what to do with it. I wasn’t sure if I should continue with my ad hoc melee build, or respec my whole character and travel down the route of ranged magic. I put the issue down to not enough understanding of the skill tree and the modifiers, as I started the game blindly and did not read any guides or follow any predetermined builds.
Which leads me to one of the best things about the game: the ability to respec your entire build whenever you want! I love this. Yes, it comes at a cost (which increases depending on how many skill points you have invested into the tree); however, if you have been picking up loot and selling it for gold throughout the game, this definitely is not an issue. The game allows you to reset your skill tree and main attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom and Toughness), and with the flexibility of picking up and applying new Enneracts at any time, there is little to stop you changing from a Two-Handed Warrior to an Elemental Spellcaster within the span of a minute. With a rotating passive skill tree (you read that right), there are many different builds and combos to take on. The combination of nodes here is quite large; while maybe not as extensive as Path of Exile, it seems the developers have taken inspiration for the skill tree from there.
The game has a lot to improve. Stability and balancing needs to keep being pursued by the developers, as many have stated that they can see noticeable glitches and drops in the game. By no means is the game perfect, but it’s a new (and fun) addition to the genre. After playing many other ARPGs for a while, this is a welcome refresh to the format. It definitely draws on similarities to other entrants in the genre, but comes across as a much less intimidating entry point into ARPGs, what with the flexibility of class respec-ing – especially compared with something like the complex systems of Path of Exile. With consistent updates and attention from the developers, this is one to keep an eye on, and has a lot of future potential.