Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Review

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Review

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Review
Conclusion
Wolcen is a mixture of frustration and fun, a product released too early, but providing more content than the leading competitors did at launch. If this game is fixed, balanced and evolves, it could have a bright future; but things don't look good as the developers are MIA and failing to communicate with the community.
Content
7.5
Gameplay
4
Economy
4
Technical
2
Community
0
End Game
3.5
Strengths
The Graphics, Music and Sound FX are top notch.
Core mechanics, end-game expeditions and city builder system have potential.
Very good story and leveling experience.
Weaknesses
Released too early. Was not ready.
So...many...bugs... gets worse the more you play.
Developers are MIA and not communicating with players at all.
3.5
Final Score

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Review Introduction

Author’s Notes
02.24.2020
The next few weeks are critical for Wolcen’s future. I’ll update this review and the score based on the patches as they are applied to the game, which are supposed to be released every week.

02.26.2020
Patch 1.0.5.0_ER was released today. It’s not going well. The community is growing even more frustrated due to new bugs, the once a week patch schedule, and more players are quitting.

02.27.2020
Wolcen released two hotfixes today, showing they are no longer bound to the once a week standard, which is good. Sadly, the 1.0.7 release broke the willpower/rage transfer system for many players, making the game unplayable and requiring a restart. Server lag is now a big problem for many, and many expeditions are so empty of mobs people can’t spawn the boss. The fact they pushed this release with such a terrible bug shows they are simply pushing out builds without testing them. Score downgraded.
02.29.2020
There hasn’t been communication of any kind from the Wolcen team regarding the current state of the game or ongoing server issues. The community doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on.

03.04.2020
It’s been six days and there is still no word or update of any kind from the developers. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say they have abandoned the game, they have certainly abandoned the community. There really is no excuse for this lack of communication, and I have stopped playing the game altogether.
03.06.2020
I saw the 1.0.8 patch was released and spoke with streamers. While bosses were tuned down, they broke quality upgrading for items (it appears they can’t release a patch without breaking a major mechanic) and players are reporting strange combat behavior (unknown 1-shots and invulnerability). Others have also found no portals waiting for them at the end of an expedition, another new bug. They did fix right-clicking on items to sell, etc. but the reality is that shouldn’t have ever been in the release version in the first place.

Launching any new game worldwide while supporting localization for multiple languages is a tedious and challenging task, especially if your team is less than 20 people in size and you sell more than 900,000 copies within 72 hours after launch.

Regardless of these factors, the reality is Wolcen’s launch was probably the worst in ARPG history; even worse than D3. To be blunt, it was a total disaster, and more than a week after launch, the game still has so many broken pieces that it’s hard to justify the positive aspects and potential of this product. But there is hope, so keep reading!

  • Created by: Wolcen Studios (France)
  • Original Release Date February 13, 2020 (PC)
  • Release Reviewed: 1.0.7.0_ER

It’s first important to point out how difficult it is to compete in the ARPG space. Wolcen is up against Path of Exile, Diablo 3 and Grim Dawn, games that have more than 4 years of development, refinement, enhancement and content growth behind them. Some may say it’s quite unfair for Wolcen to be compared to these well-established games, especially when Wolcen offers more content at launch than PoE, D3 or Grim Dawn did. But the reality is these games are what players are accustomed to and will compare Wolcen with.

First, let’s cover what happend. Within an hour of launch, the Wolcen servers were nearly impossible to connect with, and within 24 hours of launch, the Wolcen servers were taken down for nearly two days. The only thing that saved the product was the offline mode of play, which all players were forced to switch to while they waited for the servers to come back up. During this time, it was discovered numerous key nodes on the skill tree simply did not work (or were bugged), and people were reporting lost items, inability to progress through the storyline, and other game-breaking issues. When the servers finally came back online and people really began to push the game, the truly broken state of Wolcen began to show its ugly head. The list of bugs was growing out of control, and even days after the server came back online, players were logging in to find their stash gone, only to be told by the devs to log out and back in until it returned. But here’s the kicker. People were having fun while discovering how broken the game was.

This is actually pretty accurate.

To make matters worse, I found out many of the key bugged nodes were reported as broken nearly a year ago. There is no excuse for this oversight, and the development team should be ashamed for not addressing this and many other issues that players clearly reported during the Beta process.

And on top of all of this, something truly bizarre happened. On Feb 18, 2020 Wolcen Studios said: “We can only perform one hotfix per week and we need to coordinate with our partners to apply it.” Even now, this makes absolutely no sense and is very concerning for those of us who understand hotfixes and deployment of a freshly released online product.

Many people talk about how the Wolcen team is only 14 or so individuals, and the fact they released this game at all is a miracle and they should be given some leeway. I partially agree with that. But then again, the launch of Grim Dawn from a team of roughly a dozen was nearly flawless. So it is possible to release a new and successful ARPG that is nearly bug free.

On the other hand, it’s also worth mentioning No Man’s Sky. The launch was a disaster because the product didn’t offer anything near what was promised, and it flopped hard. But the team stuck with it, and the game is now one of the best sci-fi space exploration games on the market and the team is highly respected. They earned it.

Ultimately, I hope Wolcen follows in the footsteps of No Man’s Sky, especially when the game has so much to offer.

Uh oh…

Content

Character Creation is fairly simple since there are no classes and the goal is to get you in and playing as soon as possible. The game lets you define your gender, basic look of the character and the “play style” you want to start with: Melee, Ranged or Mage. But since Wolcen has no classes, a player can decide how to evolve their character as they progress. This is a core mechanic that Wolcen provides in an attempt to set it apart from the other ARPGs.

While the initial creation system is quite limited and lackluster, I believe that’s by design because the Cosmetic system is where the real visual customization for your character can be found, and it’s quite good (for a first release). As a character progresses throughout the game, every item “type” that’s picked up for the first time is registered in the Cosmetic system. Dyes also drop, which (when used) are also saved in the Cosmetics section for future use (note this is all character based, not account based). The level of color customization is great, especially with the details you can colorize with each item. Overall, the Wolcen Cosmetic system is probably one of the coolest features of the game. Also note the future MTX purchase system will be in support of the Cosmetic system. However, it’s unfortunate the game keeps dropping Dye your character already has. They really need to fix this.

The Story of the game is actually very well-done and most people enjoy it. There are a total of 3 acts, and the cinematics are in-game renderings with dialogue. The dialogue is well-written and the voice acting quite good. The backstory of the character paired with the progression through the world is some of the best work I’ve seen from an indie company releasing their first game. I don’t want to give any of the actual story content away, but it’s very good.

One great feature is once you complete the story-line and unlock end-game, all other characters can skip the story and proceed to end-game mechanics right at level one.

The Environments are beautiful and immersive. Caves, Forests, Deserts, Underground Cities of Death, and large-scale battlefields are just a few areas that will pull you into this world. As the player progresses through the acts, they move through numerous areas representative of the story line key locations. The use of lighting, color, and artwork is gorgeous. Add the visuals of skills, combat, gore and treasure, and you have a very attractive game. Environments also feature mini-dungeons (small dungeons within an area) with random loot and mini-bosses. These mini-dungeons support a good flow to the region a character is adventuring through, giving exploration a more natural feel. There are also Shrines which can provide buffs and even offer legendary items. There is one kind of shrine (the best in my opinion) called the Shrine of Greed. This causes many chests to spawn, and when you open them, a large group of powerful monsters spawn, triggering a race to see if you can open all of the chests and survive the onslaught within a limited tim; and if you do, many valuable items often drop.

And I shall call him… BEEFCAKE SUPREME! … or perhaps just Sauron’s Seeker?

There is also a random Vendor named Fate-Adjucatrix Zeitgeist that is a rare spawn. This vendor sells rare and unique items, and is one of the best sources of unique items during the leveling process. Realms also have Hauntstones. These pop out of the ground and summon monsters until you destroy them. Unfortunately, you don’t get experience from the monsters they summon (because people would just camp the respawns for unlimited experience), but when destroyed, they can drop good items. Areas also have numerous multi-colored chests (colored based on the quality), making it worthwhile to explore all corners of a map. In Wolcen, dead-ends of maps often have treasure, shrines or elite bosses, making it worthwhile to explore every corner of the map! There are also numerous Cursed Chests spread throughout the world which have different levels of guardian monsters.

Wolcen has the best Sound FX I’ve heard for an ARPG at launch. This includes the subtle sounds of monsters off-screen, the ting of item drops, environmental FX, random entertaining dialogue, and every other audio-based representation of the adventure process, including combat. The Music is also well-done, pleasant and passively supportive of the environment.

There is only one Town (it’s really a City), and that’s Stormfall. It serves as the story progression hub as well as the adventuring hub at end-game. This is where the vendors are located, including the jeweler to re-roll sockets and vendor to sell/purchase/level skills. Stormfall is also where the end-game features are found (which are covered later). In Wolcen, vendors can sell very good items (rares), so it’s recommended a player checks a vendor’s inventory each time they return to town. While it takes 15 minutes for a vendor’s inventory to reset, the player can force a reset by returning to the main menu. This technique can prove useful for starting players who want to purchase a specific skill but the skill (Enneract) vendor doesn’t have it in their inventory.

Some of the items are pretty crazy!

The Items in Wolcen follow the traditional quality, modifiers, item and level requirement template we see in other ARPGs. Items are either White (Common), Blue (Magic), Yellow (Rare), Orange (Legendary), or Purple (Unique). Each item (except for rings, belt and amulet) has a quality value between 1-5 stars, and the quality defines how high the rolls can go (in conjunction with the item level). The higher the core type level (color), the more modifiers an item can have.

There are no item sets. Even though there are no classes, items also have tags to represent the general type of character the item is a good match for: Rogue, Sorcerer, Bruiser, and Heavy. Weapons can be either 1-handed or 2-handed, and unlike other games, Wolcen actually features 2 gauntlet and 2 shoulder slots. This includes 2 rings, one amulet, helmet, chest, legs, feet, main hand and offhand. A character can dual wield guns, swords, or use a gun and shield, or dagger and catalyst (this is how hybrid characters are made).

It’s important to note that Legendary items are very rare, and Unique items are ultra-rare. Some players have made it to 55+ without ever seeing either. While items have required levels (at this time the max required level is 60 even though a player can reach level 90), items also feature an underlying Item Level value, which defines (in conjunction with quality) how high the rolls can go. This has an impact on crafting, which I cover later. It’s also worth mentioning that an item’s quality can be raised at the End-game Dark Market, which I will also cover later.

Wolcen also features Gem Sockets and Gems. Weapons/Shields and chest armor can have up to 3 gem sockets (which can be rolled at the vendor, covered below under Crafting), pants can have two, and helmet, belt, rings and amulet can each have 1. This allows the player to socket a total of 16 gems. There are currently 12 different gem types in Wolcen: Emerald (Toxic), Ruby (Rend), Topaz (Fire), Lapis Lazuli (Lightning), Copperstone (Physical), Diamond (Frost), Silverstone (Sacred), Amber (Aether), Alexandrite (Critical), Amethyst (Attack/Cast Speed), Sapphire (Shadow), and Genesis Stones (Damage/Resistance/Crit). Each gem is between Tier 1 and 12 (dropping based on the tier x10, so tier 12 gems drop around level 120 content).

Taking the traditional Gem support design one step further, each gem socket is classified one of three ways: Offensive, Defensive or Support, and within this classification, each socket can be one of three types (I – III). Some items (such as a weapon) can only roll offensive, while a chest piece can roll only Defensive. But a shield, for example, can roll both Defensive and Support sockets, and depending on the type, the gem can behave quite differently. For example, even though a Ruby gem generally provides Rend or Bleed damage, placing it in a Defensive III slot results in Dodge Chance. Every gem has its behavior clearly defined for the category and socket level. As another example, Offensive (I) for a Ruby is Rend Damage for attacks with the weapon while Offensive (II) for a Ruby being Rend Damage for spells. So a melee warrior who wants to stack Rend damage wants 3x Offensive (I) sockets in their weapon, because (II) is for spells. But the good news is (III) generally supports both (in this case, for ruby, it’s Bleed Ailment Damage).

The Gem and Socket system of Wolcen works very well and is a very good design.

One method of power leveling a new character is to put high gems in low level items; there is no level restriction on gems!

A character’s Inventory size is fine; it’s not too small and not too big. It features 10×6 (60) total slots, and standard equipment (swords, shields, armor, etc.) takes up two slots while Enneracts, Maps, Accessories and other small items take up just one. Stormfall features a stash with a total of 5 tabs. Three of these tabs can be purchased and unlocked with gold while the the final 2 tabs can be unlocked through the end-game city building system. The stash is shared with all characters (depending on online/offline mode).

Two great features – first: items stack horizontally when you move them to/from the stash! Second: when you socket one or more gems in a weapon, it will glow the color of the gems! One bad issue: legendary and unique item drops don’t show on the minimap. They need to fix this!

At launch, Wolcen features a total of 40 Skills, and they are learned through items called Enneracts, which drop from monsters, treasure, and other rewards. Players can learn the skill the Enneract teaches by right-clicking on it in their inventory. If they already know the skill, right-clicking it will simply convert it to Primordial Affinity (a form of currency, discussed below). Each skill qualifies as one or more of the 9 core skill categories: Attack, Spell, Projectile, Movement, Summon, Device, Rogue, Warrior, and Sorcerer.

Love Phantom Blades when it leaves a trail of Ailment damage in its wake!

It’s very important to note that skills also have item requirements; for example, Burning Embers (a Sorcerer, Projectile Spell) can only be cast with a Staff or Catalyst. This means if you are using a gun and shield, two swords (or a 2H melee weapon), etc. that you cannot use this skill. But if you put a sword in your main hand and a Catalyst in your offhand, you can now cast Burning Embers because the Catalyst allows it. This is how Wolcen supports hybrid builds. Ultimately, it’s a good design and allows for fairly dynamic gameplay, but a hybrid melee/caster build will never be able to take advantage of shield block or 2H weapons.

The player has a total of 4 skill slots (to start with), having the option of unlocking a 5th slot at end-game. Each skill has a total of 16 modifiers the player can select as they level the skill up (with the last modifier unlocking at skill level 47). These modifiers define how a skill behaves by doing things like increasing damage, crit chance, ailment stacks, more projectiles, or in some cases (for the 3 point values) changing the way the skill functions altogether (e.g. allowing a skill to be charged vs. simply casting with each click). The character acquires Modifier Points as they level (10 in total) which allows them to select multiple Skill Modifiers at at time (and as a character progresses, they can have more modifiers active at once). Some skill modifiers require 3 points and others require just 1 or 2.

The skills themselves work very well; many have great visuals and are quite satisfying to use/play. Skills level up as they are equipped and used, but a character can technically learn every skill in the game. The max skill level is 90, and both Skills and Modifiers can be changed at any time! This means a character can swap skills on the fly. Perhaps a character finds the dungeon too tough, so they need to start using Juggernaut for defense instead of their 3rd support damage skill. A few clicks, and done. There are no restrictions. The game also has a feature called Duplicate Skill, which is used to create different skill load-outs (modifier settings) a player can switch between with a single click of a button. Unlocking Duplicate skills is part of the end-game process (covered below)..

Some builds don’t really need or use a 5th skill slot, so once it’s unlocked, players use it to level up other skills they might want to try with a different build (on the same character) in the future.

The Passive Skill Tree (called the Gate of Fates) consists of 3 wheels that can be rotated; the center wheel has 3 sections, and each section represents a category for the nodes: Red (Melee), Green (Ranged), Purple (Magic). Each section has (on average) a total of 20-24 nodes. The second wheel has 6 sections, and the third wheel has 12 sections. There are more than 400 nodes in total. 63 of these nodes are “major” nodes that have very special modifiers (such as enabling/modifying core mechanics). There are also 12 “mid-level” nodes in the middle ring. At this point, it’s hard to say how dynamic and flexible builds can/will be with this system because some passive skills aren’t viable at end-game partially due to nodes on the passive tree being broken, or systems being completely untested (and in the game as an afterthought) such as Summoner builds (which are utterly useless and an outright embarrassment to the Wolcen team). It’s going to take time to see if the spinning passive system really provides additional flexibility to character customization.

Time to play Connect the Dots and see if the nodes work!

A character can reset their stats or the entire passive tree at any time by spending Gold or Primordial points (the other currency type). Sadly, the game won’t let you respec one point at a time, which really needs to be added.

While there is diversity in the builds people are playing at early and mid-game, there are only a few viable end-game “all content” builds because of the bugs and difficulty scaling of end-game content. As such, most players are running either Bleeding Edge or an Ailment Hybrid Ranged build (Guns or Mage). Whether the limited functional build list for end-game representative of the broken passive tree or core skills is unknown, and we won’t be able to get a real feel for how flexible and dynamic the build system of Wolcen is until the core and mechanical defects are fixed.

There are many Enemies, Monsters and Bosses spread throughout the world ranging from soldiers to spiders, demons, scorpions, specters, zombies, bugs, fleshy monstrosities, large artillery beasts and more. The Storyline Boss Fights are very hard; so hard many builds cannot pass the boss at the end of Act I. This is a big problem because the content doesn’t provide a sloping level of difficulty; the player essentially runs into a brick wall with these bosses and often cannot continue. While some players have no problems with the bosses, many of them were using broken nodes or OP skills that trivialized the fight. I could understand the Act II and Act III bosses being very difficult (to check the viability of a character), but the Act I boss is just too much for new players. Ultimately, the balance of normal (trash) mobs with rares, elites, mini-bosses and even named rares (which drop great items) is well-implemented at end-game. Except for the Act boss difficulties, the only issue I’ve encountered while running expeditions at end-game is with the Justicar of the Republic Boss – it activates its shield far too often making it a boring and tedious fight. I do want to say the Act II boss fight is visually awesome and the design fantastic.

Can’t get past an Act Boss? Go to settings and lower the Difficulty to Story! This helps a LOT.

Many of the environments are beautiful.

Gameplay & Mechanics

While Wolcen follows the traditional ARPG approach for stats, buffs, ailments and resistances, one thing they have done that is unique is the management of Willpower and Rage, the two key resources required for executing actions. What makes this system unique is these two resources pull on and counterbalance each other. If you’re at 25% willpower, you’re at 75% rage. If you use up all of your rage, you have 100% willpower. Some skills require willpower to use, and when used, they cause rage to be regenerated. As such, the Wolcen team created a fairly unique counterbalancing system for skill execution, and the core of the system is solid. It requires players to respond in real-time as to what actions to use based on how much willpower or rage they have built up or consumed. There is also a “black space” that builds up if a character is too one sided and expands too much of one resource, but that isn’t a real issue until end-game, and by that point, the player knows how to manage it.

Potions play a critical role in managing Health, Willpower and Rage, especially early on. A character can equip two potions at a time, and similar to Path of Exile, they have charges that are refilled when monsters are killed. Careful potion management is required for complex hybrid builds that use both Willpower and Rage, but require a quick balance correction if a spell is missed or the character is stunned. When a new melee character starts the game, it’s common to have two rage potions equipped so as the character runs out of rage, they can refill with a potion. The same goes for a new mage, who often has two willpower potions. Other tanky builds focus on having Health. Potions come in tiers, with the highest being “Ultimate”.

The game also has Stamina points, which are used (mainly) for hitting the space bar to dodge attacks, etc. Dodging the telegraphed attacks is quite important during boss fights, so the player has to manage their stamina accordingly. It’s also very easy to get completely surrounded by monsters to the point where you can’t even dodge away from the group. Luckily there’s a passive node that lets your dodge roll go through monsters.

There are four Stats in Wolcen: Ferocity (Crit), Toughness (Health/Shild), Agility (Attack/Spell Speed), and Wisdom (Ailments). Each character receives ten points per level to distribute as they see fit. Stats are just for passive support as there are no stat requirements for items in the game. Most builds tend to focus on putting all points into a single stat, but I think that’ll change as the game evolves and the mechanics are refined.

The max Character Level is 90. At the time of writing this review, the highest online character I’ve seen is 84, and I’m not aware of any players who have reached 90 without modifying the single-player files. The leveling process is actually pretty good; it feels just right, and doesn’t really slow down until the 70’s.

Survival revolves around Health, Force Shield, Resistances, Block, Dodge, Movement Speed, and Stun Chance/Duration. Damage Types & Resistances are broken down into three categories: Material (Physical, Toxic, Rend), Elemental (Fire, Frost, Lightning) and Occult (Aether, Sacred, Shadow). The Damage Types are a big deal in Wolcen as they directly relate to not only flat damage, but also damage over time. Breaking down the above list, the flat damage types convert to the following: Physical (Stun), Rend (Bleed), Toxic (Poison), Fire (Burn), Frost (Freeze), Lightning (Shock), Sacred (Weakness), Shadow (Cursed) and Aether (Stasis). In essence, every type of damage has some sort of DoT/application damage type that it causes, and it’s part of the core game.

Combat is what we would expect in an ARPG. There are some clunky aspects to it, such as being unable to use a potion while an action is executing (which is ridiculous) or cancel an animation. But the core system works, and most of the skills are fun to use. Damage is either Flat, Crit, or Ailment. The flat damage comes from the above covered resistances, Crit is the modifier on the flat damage type, and Ailments are DoT damage (or mechanics) associated with flat damage types, including: Poison, Bleed, Burn, Freeze (Duration), Shock, Statsis (Slow), Weakness, Cursed (Damage+). At this time Crits do not work with Dots, which is a bug that has been in the game for nearly a year.

Learning how to manage, enhance, and use the above damage types is important, and it can get a bit complex. For example, when should a character focus on Stun vs Stasis? What’s the difference between Weakness and Cursed? What causes more damage, Bleed or Burn? It all depends on a target’s core resistance to the base category and subtype (e.g. Material and Physical) and the behavior of each application’s mechanic (what’s the interval or shock, and is the damage multiplier worth it?). Given the state of the game, I think it’ll be a few weeks before people are more confident in representing builds that focus on specific mechanics that are finalized and unlikely to change. For now, the game is just too broken to count on the current mechanics not changing. But it’s sure fun to test different damage types, even with the current state of the game.

Sadly, there is no skill-action/activity queue system. This means the game doesn’t intelligently interpolate your actions while you’re in the middle of executing other actions. This is a big problem, and Wolcen won’t feel truly “smooth” until this interpolation layer is implemented.

Gotta stack that Ailment damage!

One thing I like about Wolcen is the speed of combat and exploration. It’s fast and interactive enough to be enjoyable, but the game doesn’t enable ultra-fast runners that can just rip through content at lightning speed. This ensures the game focuses more on experiencing the content rather than simply completing the content.

Death is handled very well in Wolcen. There is no experience penalty, and when the character’s health reaches 0, they enter a “recovery” mode, which spends 1 of 3 tokens. The death token counter is reset after each map/area, so while on an expedition, the player will reset their death count as they transition to the 2nd and 3rd areas.

Travel is waypoint based while doing the storyline, complete with the common ability to cast a town portal from anywhere except while in an Expedition. Wolcen focuses more on adventuring and exploring than traveling between hubs or towns. This is a good thing.

ARPGs are all about the Treasure, and Wolcen shines in this department. Item drops come from a multitude of sources, including monsters (elites, named, and bosses), chests, mini-events, end-game city missions and more. My personal experience is the process of upgrading gear is very well balanced in the game. As my main character approaches 80, I’m constantly finding gear here and there that’s “just a little better”, and it all adds up. It’s also awesome to open a chest and have 4-5 legendary items pop out; but at the same time, it’s easy to play for an hour (or longer) and have nothing good drop. As mentioned early on in this review, Legendaries are rare, and Uniques are very, very rare. It’s a good thing the end-game city building system lets us craft our own legendary items!

Crafting is available through four different systems, and it’s important to note that players cannot create items from scratch; they can only roll or adjust existing items (but this includes upgrading the tier and quality). The first system is through the reagents you find that can re-roll the stats on an item. Players can control the rolls by using socketed gems (e.g. put a ruby gem in a ring and it has a chance to roll rend damage). The second system is with the jeweler, who re-rolls the jewel sockets on an item, and depending on the socket type (offensive, defensive or support) and level (I-III), the inserted jewel will provide a different bonus. And finally, we have the end-game city system which allows you to upgrade and modify items (covered below under End Game). The third system is using the actual reagents (Ohm’s Echo, Entropy Orb, Erieban Tear, etc.) that allows you to re-roll, add, or replace modifiers. Note there are standard and legendary versions of these reagents; the standard versions work only on rares while the legendary versions work on legendary and unique items. The fourth system is using the Dark Market feature to upgrade the Quality and Rarity of an item (which is covered below under End Game).

One key problem is crafting with reagents and some gems is broken; more than once I’ve tried crafting items with gems to control the rolls, and no matter what I put in, it seems to always be random. This is very apparent on 1-socket rings. This was confirmed as a bug, and it’s a pretty basic one, but breaks crafting entirely for people trying to roll specific modifiers.

Ultimately, the crafting system is solid. I’ve made some great items, but am limited in rolling modifiers I’m looking for due to the gem bug; but once that’s resolved, I think the system is solid enough for most players to enjoy the pursuit of making powerful gear upgrades for their characters.

Now it’s time to talk about the Aspect of Apocalypse, a completely useless “super form” the player gets to use during the storyline, but nobody really uses at end-game. There are multiple forms that can be unlocked and used but the forms are awkward, require you to learn new skills, and almost always do less damage than your character. The concept is good, but the mechanic is simply superfluous.

Magic Find is an attribute that can be enhanced through end-game features as well as finding rare items that boost this value; and it helps! I’m seeing a lot more legendary drops now that I’ve found items that enhance this value.

Useless Apocalypse Powers… ACTIVATE!

Economy

Wolcen features two forms of currency: Gold and Primordial Affinity. Gold is acquired by running dungeons (looting), selling items, and running end-game city missions. It’s required to re-roll item sockets, buy from merchants, and build your end-game city (which is covered below). Primordial Essence comes from selling Enneracts and running end-game city missions.

As it relates to players trading and generating value you can share with others in the online gameplay mode, the economy of Wolcen is Dead on Arrival, killed by gold and item duping and loss has gold and item duping.

However, the end-game economy as it relates to using Gold and Primordial Affinity to run City Missions and upgrade items through the Dark Market is pretty solid. You can never have enough of either as the cost to upgrade end-game items with the Dark Market is quite steep, quickly eating a million (or more) gold just for a shot at making a great legendary item.

End Game

Once a player completes the storyline for the first time, the end-game features are unlocked and made available to all characters on the account. While Wolcen follows the traditional ARPG end-game standards, it has one key feature the others do not have: City building. But first, let’s take a look at the four core areas of focus for end-game progression.

  1. Leveling your character to 90
  2. Running Maps/Expeditions
  3. Building your city infrastructure
  4. Crafting and finding better gear for your character or other potential builds

As mentioned above, we’re more than one week after launch, and even though the online game was down for roughly two days, I’m not aware of any players who have reached level 90; the highest level character I’ve seen is 84, and that’s with power gamers that play more than 12 hours a day. This is a good thing, and shows it takes quite a bit of time to reach max level.

There are two “mapping” end-game systems. The first is Mandates; single-level maps you can quickly run, and the only alternative to story-line progression for characters below level 15. The reality is nobody really runs Mandates after Level 15 because expeditions are just so much better. I hope they make changes to Mandates to provide some sort of bonus reason for running them after passing level 15 other than just having something to do for five minutes.

Wait, you want me to go WHERE?!

The second system is that of Expeditions; the end-game dynamic region farming system where you can roll modifiers, throw in map items, and spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes traversing three connected levels of mayhem. Expeditions are full of monsters, mini-bosses, side-dungeons, chests, shrines, and the occasional vendor that sells unique items. Each expedition has three levels, and each level has a main boss at the end along with a trading unit so the player can clean out their inventory before proceeding to the next level (since town portal is not allowed in an Expedition). The player must slay a variable number of monsters in order for the end-map boss to appear; this design ensures players can’t simply run from one end of the map to the other and bypass all of the trash mobs.

In addition to the above, players can roll modifiers on their Expeditions to make them more difficult while raising the magic find, quality, and production value of the expedition (production is covered below). With 5 mods there is a 100% Magic Find, 40% Item Quantity and 80% production increase. The difficulty of an expedition is unlocked as a player progresses through the levels, which are broken into five categories: Adept, Master, Champion, Paragon and Ascendant. 187 is the highest level currently available, and very few builds are capable of surviving a level 150 map let alone a 187 map.

163 is the optimal level to run for end-game farming because it drops the highest item levels and affixes.

Expeditions also allow a Map to be selected. This changes the behavior of the expedition to reflect the type of map used, which can include additional Wealth Omens, a singular Boss Bounty Hunt, Increased Treasure Chests, a timed Omen Hunt, Cursed Chests, or a Boss with tough minions. Using a map also turns the Expedition into a single level. Note that maps drop like any other items, and the content of a map is selected by the level of the expedition, not the map level (at this point it appears map level has no impact).

One issue with Mandates and Expeditions at early levels (<25) is the player can encounter monsters that use end-game mechanics and are very, very difficult. While only a player who has unlocked end-game by completing the storyline with one character can access this content, the developers really need to look at the monsters a new character can encounter and make adjustments.

The final layer on Expeditions is that of the Untainted. This is a setting you can roll on an expedition once 5 modifiers have been applied. It costs Primordial Affinity, and turns the Expedition into a single level that has tough Untainted bosses (that can be very nasty at level 100+) and won’t drop any gold. The end-level boss causes a ranking screen to display, and the character will be awarded with a set of items along with an exploding chest, all depending on Rank (S+, S, A, etc.). The general rule of thumb is if you want to farm gear, farm Untainted Expeditions, but if you want to farm Experience and Gold, go for 5 modifier rolled expeditions, but do not select Untainted.

Another key feature of the Untainted content is the system can drop unique rolls on items that cannot be found anywhere else, such as +1 Ailments, or support of using a skill normally not allowed due to equipment restrictions (such as Bleeding Edge, which by default requires a melee weapon, but can roll on a bow). This allows for unusual end-game builds that have cross-equipment usage, and it is rather interesting.

Excellent! S+! Wait… where are my legendary rewards?! Wait! Where is my character’s mid-section?!

One important point to mention is the core expedition layouts are all static. Note this just applies to the layouts, not the content. The expedition regions are filled at random locations with monsters, chests, mini-dungeons and other dynamic content. But it is surprising the Wolcen team hasn’t developed a dynamic region/area creation system. Does this ultimately make the game worse? Not really; there’s enough diversity in content at release and as I play the game, I don’t say to myself “this level would be better if it was dynamically generated” because I’m too busy killing the monsters. But I admit, I wouldn’t mind more diversity in level layout as it gets a bit repetitive.

Enter the Stormfall City System, the core end-game mechanic that sets Wolcen apart from other ARPGs. The overall design is solid, and the city serves as the Account-based growth and building structure for the game, as any city progress is shared with all characters. The city is built through productivity, which is applied by the player running Expeditions. Players build and unlock features that can increase productivity, unlock the 5th action slot (for all characters), provide an additional passive point, increase magic find, and provide a permanent gold & magic find bonus. The Dark Market feature also allows for players to craft items; increase their quality or even create legendary items from their favorite rares. You can also unlock and send “townsfolk” on missions to acquire gold, primordial affinity and items. There are also projects to convert gold to primordial affinity and vice versa.

As the city grows, its level increases. The current level cap is 10, and the most expensive feature cost upwards to 5,000,000 gold and 24,000 primordial affinity. A player can queue up to 5 “Active Projects” at once, and the productivity that’s received from an expedition is evenly applied across each active project. So if you have a project (such as upgrading a rare item to legendary) that you want to rush, don’t activate any other projects so 100% of the productivity goes towards the upgrade.

Duplicate Skills are unlocked through the city, and once activated, the Enneract vendor in Stormfall allows the player to create a duplicate of a skill to allow for different rune loadouts.

The synergy between running expeditions and building your city is very good, and one of the best features of Wolcen. Ultimately, the core design has great promise because the system can easily grow far beyond its current design. However, even in its current state, the item augmentation features are fantastic for creating the best gear in the game. This system endorses people to run Expeditions (while pushing the level to get more productivity), collect Primordial Affinity and Gold, and try to make the best gear possible for their characters.

Welcome to your new end-game home screen! City Management Time!

Technical

As many have mentioned, the Graphics of Wolcen are top notch. But it’s not just the graphics, I want to give credit to the Wolcen art and world design teams. The game isn’t just beautiful because of the Cryengine, it’s because the Wolcen team did a fantastic job creating high resolution textures, great environmental colors, FX, lighting and blending. While some of the model animations are bit stiff, others are quite fluid and smooth. Ultimately, the visual experience is top notch; quite an achievement for an indie team with just a few more than a dozen people. A lot of love went into designing the visual world of Wolcen, and it shows.

I also want to mention how smooth the Camera Transitions are. During the storyline, the game does a fantastic job of dynamically adjusting the camera to show the scope and ambiance of certain environments.

Also mentioned, the Sound FX and Music are great, with the Sound FX being some of the best I’ve heard with a new ARPG.

While the game experienced unprecedented online issues the first four days of launch, the servers are now very stable and I’ve experienced only one disconnect in the past few days. My average ping is 20 and my server is located in Oregon. I rarely encounter latency issues with combat, and overall, the game has been smooth apart from the known bugs tied to mechanics and the passive tree.

The User Interface has problems. It’s often difficult to click on items to move or sell them (even after a patch to address the issue), and I’ve had my stash tab get “stuck” to the point I have to exit to the main menu to reset it (usually after rolling jewel sockets on an item). Other than that, everything is pretty standard; there’s nothing amazing about the UI, or terrible. It’s pretty standard. Once the bugs are fixed, it’ll be fine.

I have avoided Multiplayer because duping is out of control, and trading between players is causing items to disappear entirely.

The game does feature an offline single-player mode, but most people play online because they want the option of being able to group and trade with players in the future.

Wolcen is probably the buggiest ARPG to ever be released. We’re talking 1996 Daggerfall levels of buggy. There is so much broken with this game, the list is exhaustive; and the unfortunate truth is the Deeper you get into the game, the worse the bugs get. This includes running level 150+ expeditions often resulting in disconnects and crashes (which seem tied to excessive combat calculations and activity).

It’s… it’s… so… BEAUTIFUL!

Community

Even though Wolcen has an online mode (which most people play), there is really no community system to the game other than connecting to and playing with friends via Steam. This is quite disappointing and leaves me wondering if the team should have focused solely on a single-player experience because there’s really no benefit to playing online. Regardless, the online feature is there, it just doesn’t offer much of anything beyond single-player mode. I wish they would have implemented some level of online social interaction, such as showing other players while in town or placing people in a chat room to endorse people meeting and adventuring together. The reality is the online mode of Wolcen really doesn’t provide anything more than being able to group with friends.

Having said all of this, I’ve watched streams where groups of friends are running Expeditions together and having a great time, so the potential of enjoyment is there. The max party size is 4, and while mobs get harder based on the party, we can’t really tell if drops are any better or if grouping provides more experience. We do know that players can power level friends by running new characters through high level expeditions.

Unfortunately, there is a problem where if a new character joins a player who is much further in the storyline, it sets the progress of the new character too far ahead (without the ability to go back) and causes problems.

Conclusion

Wolcen is fun. There, I said it. Despite its disastrous launch, ongoing bugs and issues, it’s a fun game to play. Yes, there are bugs galore, many nodes on the skill tree simply don’t work, and there are issues with the balance and repetition at end-game. However, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Wolcen launched with more content and features than Diablo 3, Path of Exile and Grim Dawn did; it’s just buggier than all of them combined. The next few weeks are critical as we need to see how quickly and efficiently the developers are able to fix the game.

The Wolcen team recently posted an update showing they are aware of the most serious issues, including key broken nodes, the fact summoners don’t work, and other core issues. The question is how long will it take for them to fix these problems, and will they break anything more along the way?

I want Wolcen to get fixed, be successful, and grow into an ARPG that serves as a viable alternative to the current trio of successful products; and I think the players do as well. We need a new ARPG alternative in 2020, and Wolcen just might be that, but we’ll have to wait and see!

Nothing like enjoying the gory aftermath of combat in the warm morning sunlight.

Resources

More Stories
The Origins of Modern Online Gaming