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Crowfall Beta First Impressions

There is a season for everything

Matthew Keith Updated: Posted:
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With so many games attempting to innovate their respective genres, the MMORPG has been in need of some serious love and attention in recent years. Thankfully we’ve moved past the age of every new title needing to be the next “WOW killer”, and have instead progressed to a time where MMO’s are more interested in creating something new rather than the same thing but “better."

One of the fresher titles to attempt to innovate is Crowfall. From developer ArtCraft Entertainment, this title is the self-proclaimed ‘Throne War; PC MMO designed from the ground up to pit factions against one another for ultimate territory dominance. With factions and guilds working together to create the ultimate defence, while simultaneously pushed to advance against enemy kingdoms, Crowfall is hard at work to create an entirely player-driven world.

Along with many of the traditional features one would expect from an MMO Crowfall offers up a unique one in the form of its Campaign Worlds system. Unlike traditional MMOs, Crowfall’s worlds have a beginning, middle and end. In essence, you play through a campaign and either win or lose. It’s an interesting concept that offers up some new and unique ways to tackle the genre. How it works out in real life has been an interesting adventure in its own right. 

So after a week of wandering around inside the beta client of ArtCraft’s flagship MMO, I’ve got some thoughts on the game’s early-level experience. In fact, I’ve made a list just for you. So grab that coffee, kick back and check out this first impression of Crowfall from ArtCraft Entertainment. 

Like #1: The Character Creator

Crowfall boasts a huge selection of races and classes for the player to choose from. With a whopping 12 races and 11 classes, there are no shortages of options for players to try out. I especially appreciate the introduction of more unique high fantasy races to choose from.

It’s great seeing races like the minotaur and Elken alongside more traditional races like the fae and Half-Elf.  Customization of each race is a bit limited and some are gender locked but it’s a small price to pay for having such a wide selection of races available.

The classes are another win for Crowfall as, along with your standard MMO fare, you can try classes like the Myrmidon or Duelist, which offer a unique take on melee and ranged archetypes respectively.

During my first 20 hours of gameplay, I levelled several of the classes to 8-10 just to get a bit of a feel for how each class played. I’m happy to report that each of the 7 I managed to try feels unique and interesting to play. There should be a right fit for pretty much any MMO fan out there.

Dislike #1: Limited Race/Class Combinations

As much as I appreciate the sheer amount of races and classes to select, I’m disappointed at the restrictions in place around the available combinations of the two. For instance, I love to play tank archetypes in MMOs and absolutely fell in love with the Knight class in Crowfall. I also loved the aesthetic of the Minotaur race.

Unfortunately, it’s not an available combo which means I’ll just never be able to live out my fantasy as a Minotaur tank in an MMO. It’s not a deal-breaker but it is a disappointment. One can hope for a shift away from this race/class combination lockdown but at this point, it’s just that, a hope.

Like #2: Progression Feels Balanced So Far

I’ve played a lot of MMO’s over the years. One of the most frustrating things I find in some is the issue of progression balance. Some MMO’s make that grind feel nearly impossible, draining all of the fun out of the experience as you take on your 1500th quest at level 5. The other side of the spectrum sees you at level 50 after killing 10 rats and recovering little Sally’s doll from the ‘meany head’ goblin. Both of these approaches can leave a player frustrated.

Thankfully Crowfall feels fairly well balanced with its levelling and progression systems. Time per level feels right with it slowing down slightly as you gain higher levels. Full disclosure though I’ve only spent about 20 hours in-game so far with several of those levelling multiple characters. My main, A Stoneborn Knight, just rolled level 20 before I sat down to write this.

With that being said I’ve never once felt like I was grinding for endless hours or blinking to find I’m level 50. The pacing feels good and that is something that I cannot appreciate enough.

Every level brings with it some meaningful progression tool in the form of either a skill point for your talent tree or attributes points that bolster your character’s stats. It is crucial for players to feel that their effort brings with its reward. Crowfall seems to do a good job at walking that line.

Dislike #2: Unbalanced Crafting

Full disclosure; I’m not much of a crafter. Some would argue that this makes me a poor choice to evaluate a games crafting system. I would argue that it actually makes me the best person to evaluate it. If it’s great or terrible I’m quick to tell you.

Now to be fair, I’m still getting a full perspective on the crafting system in Crowfall so I’ll have much more to say on this after the game’s official release. At this point in my experience, Crowfall’s crafting feels unbalanced. Some things like armour, weapons and tools feel proportionally difficult to craft. The amount of materials needed to craft the level of the item makes sense.

Other crafting items, like food, for instance, feels disproportionately difficult to the item being created. Even the most basic food items require a ridiculous amount of raw materials. With a player-driven economy, this unbalance is going to lead to some odd pricing on basic materials as the game progresses.

It’s not all bad, however. There are some great little elements to crafting I quite enjoy. When creating new weapons, for example, you are able to roll for additional stats which helps make each item created feel unique. The real issue is the feeling of unbalance between item types.

Like #3: Combat

Combat is actually going to appear on both lists. I love the mix of skills and action combat that Crowfall offers. The synergy that you can build up in your respective talent tree helps a build feel unique and powerful. In the case of my Knight, I’ve been working towards constructing a survival build based around stuns and knockbacks.

Some abilities can actually begin a combo chain allowing you to quickly select another follow-up ability. When combined correctly you receive buffs and heals while the enemy takes additional damage or suffers new debuffs. It’s a lot of fun both in theory and practice.

With so many unique classes to work with, there is no shortage of fun ways to engage in combat in Crowfall. The combat loop itself is a lot of fun and as you build your playstyle you learn quickly just how much punishment your character can take and dish out.

Dislike #3: Combat bugs and Lackluster Visual Cues

As much as I enjoy combat it isn’t perfect. I’ve run into a lot of animation bugs as I’ve been playing. Everything from missing frames to rubber banding has been an issue at some point. Thankfully the servers seemed to have stabilized some in the last few days reducing hwo frequently the latter occurs.

The issue with combat animations, unfortunately, is an ongoing issue. Some abilities seem to be missing key animations resulting in jarring combat visuals. The ability itself still registers but it feels disjointed during combat situations.

The other issue I have is in regards to the spell effects. In many cases, the effects were either quite lacking lustre or non-existent. It was especially noticeable when playing the Confessor class. Many times my poor character was left waving her hands up and down without any visual spell effects taking place. Although the combat itself is a lot of fun the lack of consistency in regards to good combat/speel animations is a bit of a letdown. As this is still technically beta I am hopeful this is something that is resolved by launch.

Like #4: PVPVE

I’m not historically much for PVP in MMOs. It’s not from lack of attempts.  I spent more time than I care to admit playing battlegrounds back in my WOW days and have tried flexing the old PVP muscles quite often since then. It’s just not my thing. Thankfully I’ve been seeing a trend in recent years of MMOs working to blend the PVP and PVE into a single unified experience.

Crowfall doubles down on this idea and, at least based on my experience thus far, is doing a pretty good job at it. At around level 15 I was introduced to the war table which allows you to see how your faction’s standing is in relation to every other faction. On top of that, you can see what your faction is working on to strengthen said standing.

As a PVE player, I can contribute without ever queuing for a PVP battleground. By collecting and contributing specific resources I can bolster defences, reinforce key areas and essentially be a part of the PVP experience that is constantly taking place in Crowfall. At present, I’m just scratching the surface of this whole system so I’ll have a lot more to write about for the final review.

Dislike #4: PVE Narrative Presentation

I mentioned before that I’m not much for PVP. I do, however, love some great PVE experiences. Crowfall does have some interesting narrative moments but I’ve found the delivery of those story beats to be sadly underwhelming.

I do understand that this game is about epic faction vs faction warfare but for a title that is the self-proclaimed ‘Throne War’ MMO, I’m just not feeling that level of tension or engagement in the world I’m exploring.

Granted, I’ve only just reached level 20 so there is still lots to explore but those first 20 levels really didn’t perk my interest in regards to what is actually happening in the world around me. I hope that I’m just scratching the surface of the story of Crowfall but I am concerned that the lack of engaging narrative delivery is going to make it a bit of a slog for me to get through.

Like #5: Visual Art Style

I’m a sucker for an art style that ages well. Games like Dauntless, Borderlands or even the Torchlight series hold up well with time because the art style is timeless. ArtCraft Entertainment seems to be taking a note here and has moved in a very stylized art direction with Crowfall. The style itself looks great and will most likely age quite well.

I appreciated the character models quite a bit as well. They all feel distinct and creative. Despite being quite different physically(the Guinecean and Elken have very little in common, for instance) the team has done a great job at making each race look and feel like they all fit together.

Dislike #5: Optimization and Visual Bugs

As much as I love the art style in Crowfall I find it is constantly marred by weird visual bugs and poor optimization. When I fired up Crowfall for the first time I noticed my frame rate was never getting above 36 FPS. I tried switching off every extra video setting but still managed about the same frame rate. This indicates to me that the team is still working to optimize Crowfall.

Interestingly after a recent update, I noticed my FPS is now holding steady around the 44 FPS mark at the highest video settings. The game is running much smoother after the most recent update so my hope is that this issue will be resolved at launch.

The visual bugs are a bit more frustrating. I came across several issues of clipping, textures failing to load properly and low res textures popping up during my playthrough. Again these are issues that will hopefully be resolved before launch and thankfully didn’t occur all of the time. It was prevalent enough though to take note of. 

Final Initial Thoughts:    

Crowfall is an ambitious MMO. It hopes to bridge together a lot of concepts and have them all run together smoothly. My experience thus far has been, for the most part, fairly positive. The combat is fun, albeit a bit rough in some places. The stylized art direction looks great and should age well. Progression feels balanced and rewarding. It checks a lot of boxes for me as a long-time MMO fan.

I am concerned about ongoing bugs, crafting balancing issues and just how well the PVPVE systems will really work out in the long run though. There is still some time between now and the official release date of July 6th so hopefully, some of these things will be patched up and ready to go when the Crowfall goes live. Be sure to check out all the latest news on Crowfall as well as our official review right here at MMORPG.com


Matthew Keith

Hailing from the Great White North, Matt's been playing games since the Sega Master System was new. About 20 minutes after picking up his first controller he discovered he had an opinion on the matter. Ever since he has been looking for ways to share it with others! Matt's a pastor, gamer, writer, geek, co-host of @Rollthelevel podcast, husband, father, and loving every minute of it!