After spending several hours in the recent Crowfall Pre-Alpha Combat Test 1, I can say without a doubt my confidence in this crowdfunded title has never been stronger. For ArtCraft entertainment to take this player-driven MMORPG from a Kickstarter demo in March of 2015 to a playable module in August is nothing short of impressive. Considering that the module was delivered on-time and is actually fun game mode, it’s my opinion that the future couldn’t be brighter for Crowfall. This article will offer an overview of my Pre-Alpha testing experience over the past five weeks.
THE HUNGER DOME
Only five months after the Crowfall Kickstarter finished, many testers were invited to participate in the game’s first Pre-Alpha combat test called, The Hunger Dome. The Hunger Dome is a Hunger Games style single elimination death match with a focus on team-based PvP. It’s important to note that The Hunger Dome is only a small piece of what Crowfall will eventually become. The finished game will feature much longer campaigns, full character customization and dozens of systems that are still in development. One of the risks of having no NDA is that people may get the wrong impression based on a YouTube video or a Twitch stream. I had a number of viewers assume that Crowfall was similar to Smite or H1Z1’s Battle Royale. I would explain to them that this was a special Pre-Alpha testing mode that was built for combat testing and doesn’t represent what the final game will become. The Hunger Dome didn’t even feature environment textures and was completely in grey box. It’s obvious that this mode wasn’t close to what the completed game will be, but it was completed enough to enjoy some PvP!
A Hunger Dome match would feature players randomly in teams of three. Armor and Weapons could be obtained from unopened chests scattered around the map or by looting the corpses of other players. The map would slowly shrink as a giant death cloud, called The Hunger, made its way toward the center. The team with the last player standing would be announced as the winners. In my experience, each match lasted between 10 to 15 minutes and would get quite intense as the map would get smaller and smaller.
The Hunger Dome allowed for the dev team to test several game systems including:
- Patching, login and authentication
- Character lobby (and lobby chat)
- First pass versions of the Knight, Confessor and Legionnaire
- Grouping/teams (up to 16 teams, three people per team)
- Group/team chat
- Environmental effects (i.e. the Hunger)
- Inventory and equipment
- Containers (chests, corpses and looting)
Playtests were scheduled multiple times per week and usually lasted between two to three hours at a time. Varying times were chosen to allow testers from varying time zones to participate. As the test progressed, new players were invited and new servers were added that were located in various locations so that latency and performance could be properly tested. Backers with packages that included Pre-Alpha were invited first and as the test progressed, backers with Alpha 1 access were invited as well. We tested servers in the US (East & West), Europe and Singapore.
LOGGING IN AND CHARACTER CREATION
Upon logging in we could choose between three Archetypes, Knight (Melee Tank), Confessor (Ranged Damage) and Legionnaire (Melee Support). Since I normally play melee dps characters, the Knight was my choice for most of the test. There was no customization outside of choosing an Archetype and name for this test since those systems aren’t complete yet.
COMBAT & EQUIPMENT
in the Hunger Dome, the only way I was able to differentiate myself from others was in the gear I found and how effectively I was able to utilize my skills. When a match began, players would immediately search nearby buildings and towns for unopened chests for equipment. While being fully geared was no guarantee of victory, every item helped, especially when skilled players would clash against one another.
Combat in Crowfall is action based ( similar to TERA) and was fairly easy to figure out, but to be effective it was critical to have situational awareness and have the ability to know when to engage the enemy or run.
In addition, some of the most powerful abilities are only accessed through skill combos. By utilizing certain initial skills, I could unleash some big damage and crowd control. On the Knight, the Onslaught combo was particularly effective. This combo ended with a stun which provided the perfect opportunity to unleash Shield Slam, which is a press-to-charge skill that does massive damage to multiple enemies if allowed to fully charge. On the battlefield, it became clear who was playing with skill and those who were still learning. Recognition, quick thinking, positioning and a good awareness of available skills were all critical to winning in combat.
Because of Crowfall's combat design, many players came up with creative and interesting strategies. For example, the Knight has a move called Chain Pull where the enemy is pulled toward the character. However, I was able to also use that skill to have the opposite effect when needed. I called it the “Chain Fling” where I was used Chain Pull at just the right angle to yank an enemy player out of the fight, off buildings and even into the Hunger to their death. Creativity was rewarded and experimentation unveiled some interesting and effective results. I truly enjoyed where combat was and look forward to seeing it develop further.
MOVEMENT & CONTROL
Before this Pre-Alpha test began, Crowfall Design Lead, Thomas Blair, shared that during Pre-Alpha Combat Milestone 1 movement would be server based. This would cause movement at times to feel sluggish and delayed. After this playtest, the team says that this will be remedied to add client-based control resulting in movement feeling much smoother and responsive. I was relieved to read this fact since even though Crowfall is a smaller indie title, movement will still be compared to larger, more expensive AAA models. Movement has to be done right and Crowfall seems to be heading in the right direction.
During some of the tests, there was also moments of fairly heavy server latency and also a few camera glitches. The latency seemed to improve as the test went on, but overall most were were smooth. Bugs and glitches like this can be more easily forgiven in Pre-Alpha but gamers are much less lenient should these issues persist through launch.
Other bugs included a few UI, sound, occasional animation stutters and even a funny, short-lived bug, where the Hunger did no damage.
I fully expected to see many more bugs, glitches and performance issues, but overall the experience was much smoother than I expected at this stage of development.
Considering that this game went into a playable game mode within five months of its Kickstarter is nothing short of remarkable. This was the first game I had ever backed on Kickstarter and as a Sapphire backer ($500) and after spending a considerable amount of time testing the game, I’m very glad I did. I’ve been impressed enough with Crowfall’s development that I’ve started a Crowfall fansite, Crowbase.com, and have launched a podcast, called The Hunger. While there are plenty of systems yet to be implemented and plenty of bugs to exterminate, the dev team’s ability to deliver a fun, playable module on-time and conduct a well-communicated and attended test speaks very well ongoing development. As long as steady improvement continues, bugs are addressed on a timely basis, I see no reason to doubt that we'll see this title experience a successful launch and a bright future.