author: Hubert Sosnowski
Wolcen Review – Devilishly Difficult Love
Wolcen: The Lords of Mayhem, an independent hack'n'slash, scored a dragon entrance that other Diablo competitors - Path of Exile and Grim Dawn - could only dream of. See why this hack'n'slash has caused so much excitement.
The review is based on the PC version.
Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem can cause a cognitive dissonance between the heart and mind. The mind will notice all these warnings and cries coming from the net. Then it will conclude the game's ridden with bugs. Servers go crazy like Joaquin Phoenix in the Joker. Items disappear from our cache; object collision is a story of its own. And so on, until the next patch. And besides, it was called Umbra during the Kickstarter campaign, and had an open world! Give me my money back! Well, there will be plenty of accusations and controversies. And still, Wolcen hit us with the power of a lightning bolt. Magically, it got into the hearts of action-RPG lovers. Almost a million hearts, right at the onset.
Meanwhile, the market of hack'n'slash games is going through some of the leanest years. Grim Dawn was released quite recently. Path of Exile releases new add-ons, but the level of complexity isn't suitable for everyone – and it is far from launching the 2.0 update. The glory days of Diablo III are long gone. And the next part of the series is still rather far away. And other contestants are nowhere to be found. The tempting YouTube videos – and a Christmas Steam promotion for Early Access – made sure the hypetrain is rolling. It's funny, but it wasn't just blowing its own trumpet. Out of the chaos, bugs, and confusion, emerges a damn fine hack'n'slash. One with a punch. No wonder the players love it. Even if the love is difficult and painful at times.
- Really cool, dynamic combat seasoned with slasher standards;
- Spectacular apocalyptic forms;
- Looks stunning;
- Refined, flexible and complex, but also legible character development system;
- Ton of equipment, and a reasonable distribution of decent legends;
- Proper endgame available since launch day;
- A great story focused on family, portraying interesting relations through good dialogs;
- Val – our stubborn little sister – rules!
- Sometimes it becomes very ominous.
- Fixing all the minor glitches seems impossible (there's so many);
- Problems with servers, difficulties in getting into the game.
- The ending is a mean cliffhanger, and we'll have to wait for the remaining acts.
- Crude animations;
- Some bugs make gameplay difficult.
Let's get one thing straight. Wolcen is not a revolution. This is not its strength. Wolcen Studio first tried this when their project was still called Umbra, but someone came to their senses and understood that about the only result of trying to build a sandbox with such a small team is PUD. So, the creators risked their reputation and took a step back. They looked at the entire genre and cherry-picked the best things about it. The essence of hunting for loot. They mixed it up, levelled it, and added a lot from their own.
Imagine a game with the design and accessibility of Diablo III that's also packed with mechanics filtered from Path of Exile. In practice, this means dynamic and spectacular entertainment, with quite complex modes under the hood. However, there is a difference that separates Wolcen from the work of Grinding Gear Games. Lords of Mayhem is very intuitive and smoothly introduces us to character development, which is more convenient and understandable. This catered to people who were overwhelmed by Path of Exile – as well as those who felt cheated by the latest release of Diablo. This also convinced me (although I invested a lot of time in Diablo III – no regrets).
The combat itself is butcher's poetry. The pace increases with the character's progress, but it seems to never exceed the readability threshold. Blood often splashes all around, swarms of demons (and their chopped limbs) fly in every direction, everything is accompanied by pyrotechnics worthy of a Rammstein concert, but I knew what was going on all the while. Which, by the way, is a mandatory prerogative for getting a combat system that feels like a coherent whole.
The slaughter in Wolcen has a slasher-like quality. It's a bit slower and weighty, but we can almost feel every blow we land – especially when we're swinging huge chunks of iron. This gives you a sense of power and satisfaction. From the very beginning, we have a jump attack and dodge placed under the space bar. This makes combat look more dynamic than in other games. Good stats won't be enough – we will also need dexterity. Without it, you'll get your ass kicked in no time. Wolcen has a steep learning curve, but it's not exactly Dark Souls either. This is just a satisfying challenge.
Path to power
Then, we are not defenseless. The power of the hero or heroine is growing – and we have complete control over their development. This made me more interested in the classless development system. Apart from the equipment, we operate on four planes. We invest good, old skill points in the basic attributes (equivalents of strength, dexterity, etc.). We also develop a passive skill tree similar to the one in Path of Exile, only legible and organized. Then, we have passive abilities inside three circles, which we can turned to create optimal paths of development. On top of that, we have spectacular active abilities, the so-called enneracts. We can unlock them all, but we only develop the ones we use.
The combat is diversified by apocalyptic forms that the hero turns into – Darksiders-style. Thanks to them, we momentarily become one of the four powerful creatures, untouchable for monsters and causing significant damage (smaller than I'd wish, though – the creators intend to refine this).
The mechanics are flexible, and a lot of fun to dissect. If we make a mistake or bow out, we can use a special mineral to re-skill the character as we see fit. You just need the right gear.
The loot system harks back to the glorious traditions of Diablo 2 and Path of Exile. In order to obtain legendary inventory, you need to work a little harder (the first items are awarded for important story missions, and something might occasionally fall out of the enemy), but, despite the randomness, the RNG gods are quite fair in distributing the tools of mass murder. Or at least try to make sure we're not at a loss. Management is, in turn, a development of the idea from Diablo III. This is especially apparent when we look at the backpack. It's clear and legible. The system works like a charm.