Wolcen Is A Diablo Clone With Big Potential And Bigger Bugs

Image: Wolcen

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem, an action role-playing game for PC in the style of Diablo that’s been making waves on Steam recently, has a lot going for it. There’s the gargantuan skill tree whose rings you can physically rotate to create near-limitless build possibilities. Eye-catching graphics that put it in league with upcoming genre megaliths like Diablo IV and Path of Exile 2. A rock-solid base of compulsively-satisfying smacking. Unfortunately, instead of drowning in loot pooped out by the legions of the damned, players are currently under a tidal wave of bugs.

I’ve played Wolcen for about five hours now, and I’ve had a pretty good time. There’s been some server lag, and an issue where sound repeatedly cuts out. But other players have had it worse, dinging the game fiercely and repeatedly for problems that affect later chapters: features that cause your game to start crashing on launch, endgame bosses that go haywire, passive skills that don’t actually do anything, quest monsters that don’t spawn, item maths that doesn’t add up over time, and unstable servers that delete items and progress.

In an update posted yesterday, developer Wolcen Studio said it is doing its best “to resolve all these problems as fast as possible” and has temporarily limited online server capacity in order to take the edge off some of them.

Right now, however, it’s probably best to steer clear. That’s a shame, because Wolcen is a hot rod of a game hampered by some rusty, sputtering parts. Its story and setting—a mishmash of fairly derivative grimdark overtones and undead crises—won’t have you frantically clicking through dialogue to find out what happens next, but it’s all presented impressively. More importantly, smashing open loot pinatas like a kid at an endless occult birthday party feels good, and I quickly found myself helplessly absorbed in the satisfying rhythm of my sorcerer’s abilities.

In Wolcen, you juggle three resources: rage, willpower, and stamina. Rage and willpower are intertwined, with rage powering attack-based skills and willpower giving spells their juice. You can fill up your rage or willpower with standard attacks, but they also react to skills of the opposite type. If you cast a fireball spell, you’ll drain willpower but gain a respectable helping of rage. This leads to a unique, fast-paced skill rhythm that encourages variety and thinking on your feet. By pairing this with a dodging mechanic (powered by stamina) and powerful enemies that ever-so-slightly telegraph their attacks, Wolcen emphasises the “action” part of the ARPG formula.

You’ll also discover new abilities at a pretty steady clip while slashing and looting your way through monster hordes, and you can learn (or sell) them as you please, regardless of whether or not they fit your currently-equipped gear loadout. These level up with use and can be repeatedly modified over time. For example, I started by giving my fireball spell a 10 per cent damage boost, but then, after levelling it up some more, I added another modifier that drops its damage by 30 per cent and splits it into two separate fireballs. I’m only just getting started, too, so I’m eager to see what happens when I unlock modifiers that add lighting damage, explosion effects, and a buff for myself and all allies.

Then there’s the skill tree, which further encourages you to mix things up. It’s broken up into rings, each of which are interconnected and represent different tiers of stat upgrades and abilities. The twist is that, at any given moment, you can shift the position of any ring such that the ability nodes align differently. So you can, if you want, use the first tier of magic abilities to progress to one of the second tiers of melee or ranged abilities.

For example, right now, my sorcerer is kind of a glass cannon, but I’m just a couple nodes away from getting a big boost to my toughness stat from a branch of the ranged tree that I specced into after moving the first and second circles around a little bit. Well, assuming that node works right now, anyway. I’m honestly not sure, which is a bad way to feel about a game that’s trying to offer me so much flexibility.

But even setting aside the looming spectre of severe bugs, Wolcen makes some decisions that artificially limit the freedom its systems otherwise encourage. Balance tends to favour melee builds right now, and the resource you have to spend to reset the skill tree is hard to come by. The former issue is fixable, but the latter is puzzling given the overwhelming sprawl of the skill tree. It takes ample experimentation to sort out which hybrids are for you and which ones aren’t, but it’s hard to feel comfortable playing skill-tree mad scientist when you might end up stuck for multiple hours with a wacky, sub-optimal build that you don’t even enjoy playing.

Wolcen, in other words, has issues. This would be excusable if it had just entered early access, but last week marked the launch of its long-awaited 1.0 build after nearly four years in early access. As is, it’s hard to recommend picking it up when there are so many significantly more polished entries in the crowded Games That Are A Whole Lot Like Diablo genre. Unless you’ve thoroughly exhausted Path of Exile, Torchlight II, Grim Dawn, Titan Quest, and of course, Diablo III, then you might as well wait until longtime Wolcen supporters finally give it the all-clear. It’s got oodles of potential, but even after all this time, it’s somehow still an elemental damage modifier-providing diamond in the rough.


Comments

    Purchased the game years ago as soon as it hit steam so have seen it go through most of its changes to get to where it is now. But having finished the campaign the game now feels empty. Sure you can upgrade the city which are just words and token bonuses, extra skill slot, bank tab. Not really enough to keep you coming back. Keep running the same things over and over to get a tiny bit more powerful and kill things stronger, rinse repeat.

    The end game is just not there atm. Needs more something, anything.

    Shocking launch from this company. Horrible bugs/glitches that have existed since their "early release" alpha, I did not pay 56 AUD to beta test this game for them, and what's worst is that I've spent too long in game trying to either find a server/create a game or deal with issues that I can't refund it.

    Such a shame because the game is quite good when it finally gets working, but the amount of bugs going on doesn't warrant this full release, let alone the price. A few friends picked it up a while ago for 20 bucks, that seems to be a more reasonable price. There's on going duping and gold glitching, to deal with the drop problem they removed magic find entirely from the game, player stashes are disappearing/resetting, and even complete act progress is randomly getting rolled back.

    I hope the devs can come back from this and I'm sure in a year or two this game will be what it was meant to be.

    This sounds good. I look forward to trying it out if it releases on PS4.

      You're going to be waiting a very, very long time.

        I read that the devs are willing to port if it's successful. Hope they're good.

    The game looks good. But i cant see myself giving up path of exile to play this.

    I picked the game up and played for almost two hours before requesting a refund. As someone coming from PoE, I feel there are some baffling design choices made that leave me unable to continue with the game, at this point in time. Like, currently, it seems impossible to set left click to move only, while also being able to pick up loot. You either have to hold a button in order to force move without accidentally attacking instead, OR hold a button in order to pick up items while force move is on. The hit boxes for models seems punishingly bad, especially flying creatures, combined with the fact that your default skill, especially, requires namelocking in order to execute an attack. Being body blocked by mobs that prevent using your dash skill just feels horrible.

    Not to mention the disturbingly large amount of exploitable bugs. I don't even own the game and I know how to generate infinite money and cause essentially all of the end game loot to drop from a single boss.

    This game was not ready for full release.

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