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Wolcen Lords of Mayhem – Review in progress

Wolcen review part 1 – the early game

For our official Wolcen review click here.

During this two-part Wolcen review I will cover my experience of the early, mid and endgame. I will discuss the gameplay, graphics, sound and narrative of each of these sections of the game and summarize my experience at the end of my journey with a summative review. You can find our official rating when we post the final review in part 2.

This post will explore the Wolcen early game and my experience during the first five hours of the game until the start of Act 2 after the Act 1 boss (no spoilers) has been slain. Without further ado, lets jump straight into the Wolcen review part 1.

Wolcen release

You would think in this day and age gaming studios would have figured out a way to not botch a release. Sadly, no one has figured it out yet, so it is still a good idea to save your leave for the week after the release to minimize your level of saltiness.

Wolcen’s release was certainly no Diablo 3 fiasco, but the first day was still unplayable for many people. Wolcen’s servers were hammered as a huge number of players showed interest in the game, and this resulted in authentication issues keeping people from connecting to the game. While the authentication errors were bleak, the massive number of people rocking up for the Wolcen Lords of Mayhem release is a big win for Wolcen Studio and Indie gaming in general.

Launch Servers
Players charged the Wolcen servers like these health globes charged my character [Image: Wolcen Studio]

Moving on, once the developers fixed the authentication errors and upgraded the server capacity, we came to face a new enemy, creating a game session. This was a nightmare, but if you were persistent enough and kept clicking the play button, you eventually got into a session. Suffice it to say the release was a rocky ride. But enough of that, now on to the gameplay part of this Wolcen review.

Gameplay

Wolcen is like a Ford Mustang. Cheaper than the competitors, looks fantastic and is a brute. Unless you are talking about the 2.3l model of the car, then it’s a different story. Unfortunately, playing Wolcen online is more akin to the 2.3l model than the V8.

Until the online issues are sorted out, the gameplay experience will be sub-par. While playing the game, there is a definite feeling of lag and input delay. This is especially noticeable during combat and makes it feel much less responsive than it should be. Games such as Wolcen thrive on the impact of your abilities on the enemies, and with the subtle lag it loses much of this impact. The visual effect of your abilities and the corresponding experience of using them is not quite on the same level because of the lag.

However, when playing offline, the game performs like the beast we expect it to be. When you play offline, the lag issue is eliminated and abilities and spells feel superb to use. Combat is a brutal experience, and your actions are rewarded or punished accordingly. The game offers two difficulty options, normal and story mode. Story mode is much easier and normal is the experience as the developers intend it. I like it when games are challenging, so I played on normal. On normal mode, I was punished when I didn’t move out of danger areas or I got myself stuck in groups of enemies. Because of this, it was rewarding when I beat a strong group of elites.

I love the huge passive skill tree and all the possible builds that it offers. This adds a welcome layer of complexity to character building which incentivizes you to care about the different paths you take when you spend your passive skill points. The passive system is like the one we find in Path of Exile, but Wolcen adds segments to the tree which you can rotate to create different paths. Time will tell, but hopefully this leads to hundreds of viable builds and not just a handful of overpowered combinations.

Being overpowered isn’t always a bad thing [Image: Wolcen Studio]

As a companion to the passive skill tree, you also have your active skills. The game includes around 38 unique active skills at launch. As the game doesn’t have classes, the weapon you currently have equipped determines what skills you can use. So if you are wielding a gigantic two-handed sword, the game limits you to a certain set of skills. If you want to use more skills in your build you can also opt to equip a one-handed mace and a catalyst (magic offhand) in your offhand as an example. This means you will have access to both the melee focused skills and caster skills. Mostly, the skills are useful or spectacular with only a few being lackluster to use. The melee focused skills have satisfying impacts, the ranged skills are crafty and the magic skills are powerful. 

During my first few hours and writing this Wolcen review, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay. While the offline was a much-improved experience, I still had fun online.

Graphics

Cranking up the Wolcen graphical settings to 11 is a feast for the eyes. The game has some amazing visuals and we have the CryEngine to thank for this. Discussing the graphics, let’s start with the character models.

Wolcen Review Graphics
The cutscenes are a sight to behold [Image : Wolcen Studio]

The base player character models are the worst part of Wolcen’s graphics. The textures look flat and they lack the detail one would expect when you look at the rest of the game. Luckily you quickly cover the character with armour, which looks much better.

The game has a comprehensive transmog system allowing you to customize the look of each piece of armor. You can either change the appearance to resemble another piece of gear that you have picked up or use dyes to change the colors on the piece itself. The detail on the armor pieces are delectable and inspires you to take pride in the look of your character.

The graphics of the different environments and zones are beautiful and create a marvelous ambience for the player to experience. During act one, players traverse a variety of zones including caves, forests and even a crypt. These environments are visually pleasing and some are even spectacular such as the crypt area. As you enter the crypt area, the visual palette  noticeably shifts and the entire experience elicits feelings of foreboding and danger.

Wolcen Review Graphics
The environments look absolutely fantastic [Image: Wolcen Studio]

Of course we don’t just stroll through these areas, we are here to slay and loot! To get a hold of the sweet, sweet loot, we need to kill enemies. The enemy models are a pleasure to behold, and each type looks unique. There are some bland enemies such as the ghosts, but most of them are rendered beautifully.

Slaying the enemies look even better. The active skill effects are on point, looking good while not cluttering the screen space. When an enemy dies while an elemental ailment is active on it, the corpse disintegrates with a satisfying fading effect. Almost like pixie dust being swept away, but just more brutal.

Overall, the first part of the game is simply a pleasure to play due to the fantastic graphics on offer.

Sound

The game has an impressive audio design. The music and sound effects play a big role in creating ambient and believable locations for the player to explore. Wolcen’s soundtrack can be bought separately from the game and is a high-quality production. Along with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, choirs and solo artists, Wolcen Studio created an epic soundtrack. Because of the high quality of this soundtrack, the game comes to life and players are drawn into the different locations and scenes.

The sound effects are also of good quality and add weight to the abilities and events in the game world. Apart from one or two awkward sound effects, the game delivers a satisfying audio experience.

Wolcen Review Sound
Its challenging to post a picture of sound but here goes [Image: Wolcen Studio]

It is also a nice surprise to find that the game is fully voice acted. Yes, even the player character has a voice. Wolcen is still very much an indie game, and it is rare to see such a high-quality audio production coupled with stellar graphics in this genre.

Narrative

ARPG’s are not known for their complex narratives. Just look at the Diablo series as an example. The narrative loop is quite simple, revolving around a lonesome hero beating some unspeakable evil. You will find this structure in many ARPG’s but some of them manage to squeeze out a little more to enhance the narrative.

Wolcen, at least during the first act, adheres to the same formula. A lonesome hero stumbling into the middle of an apocalyptic event with no choice but to react and save the world. The Act 1 boss offers a slight twist in the narrative, but it is certainly nothing special.

Wolcen Narrative
Image: Wolcen Studio

Because of the pace of ARPG’s, world and character development is difficult to fit into the mold and Wolcen does a decent job developing some semblance of narrative weight. During the first five hours it does however not make me care about the characters or the world, I just cared about the loot.

Onward and upward

For those of you contemplating whether to buy Wolcen and join the hundreds of thousands of players already slaying, hopefully our Wolcen review in progress helps you decide. My early experience would suggest that your money won’t be wasted! We have also covered Wolcen’s endgame and starter tips for those interested. Stay tuned for our full review, which will include the last two acts and endgame.