In the last few years there have been many new MMOs stepping up to the plate and trying to be the next big hit. Many of these have started to show the first signs of trouble early on especially, to those of us who have spent a considerable amount of time following the development of new MMOs. So, it’s within this context I approached the pre-alpha demo for Ashes of Creation; with a fair bit of apprehension and a side of cynicism. I am quite happy to say the demo exceeded all my expectations for what a MMO in pre-Alpha can be.
The demo consists of a four-player dungeon with each player on one of the four base classes: Tank, Cleric, Mage, and Ranger. In addition, there is also a Dev who went through everything right along with us and helped to point us in the right direction when needed. This was unique way to run a demo and really helped to showcase some of the best aspects of this game.
One of the first things I noticed about the combat is there is no auto attack at all. Targeting is also standard in that I could click on a mob or tab target to them. The main ability for each class is automatically bound to Q and has a limited spamability to it. For example, the Q skill for ranger is to shoot an arrow and if you hit it three times quickly you’ll shoot three arrows sequentially. After that there is a long global cooldown before the skill can be used again.
The 1 – 8 keys all have skills which do something aside from just attacking. Tank has Hatred (builds agro), Shield Bash, a ranged attack that pulls a mob to the tank and stuns the mob, Rush (charge at your target), Wall, and a bubble which protects the tank. All these skills are quite effective, but they each have a long cooldown. While the cooldown on these skills was a bit frustrating it did force me to think about how I wanted to use them and to make sure I was using them at an opportune moment.
Each class also has one skill bound to G and these skills have the longest cooldown and can have the biggest direct effect. For Tank this skill hits each enemy in an area and pulls them in to the tank with stun. This is a skill which is incredibly useful when fighting a boss and adds arrive. Because threat is sort of difficult to build and there is no real taunt picking up adds can be difficult, so it can be a literal game changer.
Through the course of the dungeon we also got to see the utility skills for Cleric, Mage, and Ranger which all played a role in helping us find our way through. The first was the Ranger tracking skill which literally enabled us to see the footprints of the people we were trying to find and led us in the direction to the dungeon. When we arrived at the entrance it was blocked by a cloud of poison which required the Cleric to use their skill and allowed us to enter. The last skill we needed to use was the Mage one which revealed a hidden path behind a wall. It was pretty cool to see each class have a utility skill which was needed to progress however I did feel sort of sad the tank skill was never needed.
The dungeon itself was straightforward and I had a ton of fun. I tend to play tank often in MMOs so I went for Tank here too. One thing which is weird for me, is in some current MMOs getting agro and keeping it is easy if you aren’t doing completely ridiculous things. In Ashes of Creation it seemed difficult to get things on me if they didn’t start on me in the first place. Part of this was obviously due to the fact this was my first time playing this game but also the fact Hatred has such a long cooldown also really limited what could be done.
In addition to the demo I also had a chance to talk to Steven Sharif (CEO/ Creative Director) and we discussed some of the systems as they currently are and where they want to take everything.
One of the bigger selling points of Ashes of Creation is how the world will change and will be affected by player actions. Every area has nodes which start off as little camps and will progress through six distinct stages of development until they become full cities. These nodes progress through players doing various activities in the area. One thing Sharif pointed out was the race of the players in the area will decide how the town evolves. For example, if there are more elves in an area the NPCs in the town will be elves, the architecture with be elven, and the resulting questlines will also have an elven focus. All of this opens a wide variety of options and should make the world feel as if it is a living and changing place.
Now once a node is leveled up you can’t just leave it and go on to the next place… well you can if you want but the city won’t last for long on its own. Other players can come along and lay siege to the city. If they are successful in this, then the city is destroyed, and the process starts all over and depending on the race distribution of the players now it could level up to be a very different city than it was before. Even if no one attacks the city if there isn’t anyone around to do some upkeep the city will decay over time.
Players laying siege to a city obviously means PvP is something which would happen out in the world, so I asked Sharif about how they would balance this aspect with the whole building up an area side of things. At first glance is seems all too easy for this system to become fun for destroyers but not so fun for those who enjoy building things up. The answer was surprisingly simple: there is a corruption and bounty hunter system.
Players are free to kill any player who is flagged for PvP without penalty and if you do this after a short period of time the flag will wear off. However, if a player chooses to kill someone who is not flagged for PvP then the player will gain corruption. How much corruption is earned per kill depends on how close to your level the person you killed was (in other words ganking people significantly below your power level will add a significant amount of corruption). Corruption instantly flags you for PvP and will not wear off. Each stack of corruption gained will also make it more likely when die you’ll drop your gear.
Once a player gains a certain amount of corruption then a bounty will go out on them. At this point any player who wishes to can take up the bounty and if they kill their target not only do they gain some rewards but there are no negative consequences for the Bounty Hunter. Also, if the target of the Bounty kills the Bounty Hunter there are no negative penalties for the target and they in fact do gain some rewards. These two systems work in concert with each other and really help to balance some of the risk/reward choices for players.
We also chatted some about how the class system will work. As I mentioned previously there are the four basic classes to choose from Tank, Cleric, Mage, and Ranger. In addition, you can pick secondary classes and specializations which increases the total possible combinations to 64. Despite this it won’t be a free for all and everyone won’t be able to do everything. There will be some limitations in place to keep balancing possible. In addition to the combining of classes there are also skill points to be earned and spent. Thankfully it is possible to reallocate your skill points after spending them, but players will not be able to do this wherever and whenever they want because they don’t want people to be respecing during raid content.
Overall everything I saw in game looked great and I don’t mean “looked great for a pre-alpha” I mean it looked great. The amount of detail and polish in what is there so far is frankly staggering. Which isn’t to say they could launch it now; Intrepid has just completely exceeded all my expectations for a new MMO which isn’t in a fully playable state. If you are going to PAX East this week you should check it out and everyone else keep an eye out for them. After all, I’m not someone who gets excited about new MMOs easily, but Ashes of Creation has lit my brain on fire and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.