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Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Impressions

Poorna Shankar Updated: Posted:
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Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is the debut effort from WOLCEN Studio just having recently left Early Access. Priced at $40 (40 US Dollars), this crowdfunded game clearly wears its ARPG inspiration on its sleeves. And what beautiful sleeves they are. Having playing roughly two hours at the time of writing, here are my initial impressions of Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem.  

First, the bad. Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem (henceforth, Wolcen) has experienced serious server issues since it launched on February 13. Extreme player interest saw player counts exceed 100,000 as of Saturday, February 15. To that end, the online servers are kind of boned and have been taken offline for the past several days as of this writing. You can read the official update here.

This is a damn shame, as there is clearly high interest for Wolcen. However, those players aren’t able to play online, thus potentially deterring their interest. Wolcen does have an offline mode, but any progress you make there won’t transfer to the online mode. This is sure to frustrate many who want to play online. Here’s hoping servers are brought online soon.

For me personally, I’m fine playing offline and experiencing the game and story for myself. I’m taking my sweet time with Wolcen. I want to explore every nook and cranny. I’m not one to rush through games like this. In fact, I absolutely detest even entertaining the thought of doing so. Fortunately, Wolcen, like any good ARPG worth its salt, is happy to oblige.

I’ll say this upfront. Wolcen is unquestionably the best looking ARPG I’ve ever played. It’s built on CryEngine and is happy to flex its graphical muscles. No, there is no ray tracing, much to my disappointment. But the standard rasterized visuals on display are still quite pretty.

Texture appear sharp and hold up even when zooming the camera close. To my eyes, there appears to be parallax occlusion mapping applied to the stone streets in the cities. Particle effects are used liberally and are extremely colorful and beautiful. Character detail is quite good for an ARPG. Lighting is top notch. Vegetation and level of detail of objects are good, but could be less aggressive on the highest setting, especially given the hardware I have.

And, unlike any ARPG I’ve played, Wolcen features giant backdrops which scroll in parallax providing that crucial sense of scale so many ARPGS simply don’t seem to convey. It gives the sense of a much larger world, and it works.

Ultrawide monitors are supported, however, some cutscenes appear letterboxed to 16:9. Full key rebinding is present, as are decent options for audio and graphics settings. Performance is quite good, as I’m consistently at or above 100fps when playing with maxed out settings at my native 3440x1440 with an i7 8700k and RTX 2080 Ti.

The voice acting is also quite good. There’s a tendency for such dark fantasy games to wade dangerously into tropey waters which result in hammed up performances. So far, the voice acting in Wolcen appears to have avoided that.

As I stated above, I’m only two hours into the game. As such, many systems and mechanics are yet to be introduced. What I have experienced so far has been positive. Wolcen is class-less. Instead, you determine your playstyle through your weapon choice and your passives.

I’m currently playing a magic-type equipped with a staff. As such, my active skills are primarily based on staves. However, you can further tweak the exact focus of your play style through your passive abilities, presented to you in a giant web.

What’s unique here is that this passive skill tree has three rings. The middle and outer rings can be rotated, providing entirely new and different routes you can take to build the exact character you want. So even though you’re a magic character, you can focus your build on more tanky passives so that you’re not the archetypal glass cannon. I’m still very early in the game, but this is one area I’m very keen to explore. I feel the possibilities here are truly awesome to enable some unique builds.

The combat itself is quite satisfying. It’s not a slow slog, nor is it super fast. It hits that sweet Goldilocks middle balance. And man, it feels just awesome. You have a dodge ability with liberal uses before your stamina must recharge. This dodge combined with your normal skills allow you to dart around the battlefield tactically to gain positional advantage over enemies.

The combat is a deliberate dance, one driven through thoughtful design, careful positioning, and tactical planning. The cooldowns on skills are long enough to where you can’t just cheese them, nor are they short enough to make them feel too powerful. You need to actively think in combat, and I like that.

You also have two resources: willpower and rage. In short, using willpower skills builds rage, and using rage skills builds willpower. I’m still figuring out the best weapon and skill combination to use to balance these resources, but this is yet another layer of thought and planning you must consider when building your character.

There looks to be an entire system dedicated to gems, slots, etc. and I have yet to progress to that point in Wolcen. Like I alluded to at the top, Wolcen is a very deep game with very deep mechanics which rely on the interdependence of systems. From what I’ve seen thus far, these systems are working in concert to create something truly magnificent.

Wolcen is a damn good ARPG. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to posit that it’s the best ARPG I’ve played based on my time with it so far. I love the graphics. I love the visual design choices. I love the skills and passive systems. And I’m very excited to continue my adventure in the CryEngine-powered beauty.


Poorna Shankar