There are many studios aiming to successfully recreate the ARPG formula popularised by Diablo — which is no easy task, especially considering Diablo III struggled to satisfy players.
Some, such as the deck-building hybrid Book of Demons, have more niche appeal, despite their undeniable qualities. Others have seen a lack of success despite being tied to prestigious franchises, such as Warhammer Chaosbane — with which Wolcen shares a similar artistic direction.
- Genre: Action RPG
- Release date: February 13, 2020
- Plateform: PC (Steam)
- Developer: WOLCEN Studio
- Publisher: WOLCEN Studio
- Price: $34,99
- Tested on: PC
Playable Characters & Story
Wolcen lets you play as two of the the three children of Heimlock, the Grand Inquisitor. You can choose male or female models, and are then asked to choose a 'class' — melee, ranged, or magic — although this is a token choice.
While it will have some impact throughout the campaign and in dialogue, it only really determines your starting ability.
The game uses CryEngine, and is beautiful. The models and item sets are full of details, and look great even in 4K resolution. It also allows for some very impressive cutscenes, although as a small studio, Wolcen has implemented any kind of real cinematics a la Diablo.
Our only complaint in this regard is the inability to adjust the camera zoom.
The trio goes to war with their father, but as always, things degenerate into chaos almost instantly. We find ourselves caught in a web of lies, betrayal, the return of a demonic entity, and worst of all, family disputes.
Fortunately, every problem has a solution, especially when one can freely use violence — and and you'll find many such solutions during your adventures.
The campaign, which lasts about twenty hours, is a good introduction to the game's mechanics and to Wolcen's original universe, which has its own charm. It's a rather classic and predictable world, but it still has its moments.
If you're a veteran of the genre, you'll quickly see where the developers sourced their ideas, which isn't a bad thing when implemented well. Wolcen doesn't reinvent the wheel, but offers us a fun alternative to the likes of Diablo and Path of Exile.
The core gameplay is quite simple — there are no set classes, strictly speaking. Instead, there are just three archetypes (Melee, Ranged, Magic) to start with, which come with a piece of equipment and a starting skill. Thanks to the nature of the skill tree, you can easily change your path later.
You left click for a basic attack with your weapon, right click to use a more powerful skill, then use keys 1 to 5 for the others. It's a simple and effective system. However, resource management is unusual — you have to juggle Willpower and Rage, depending on your skills.
Casting a spell uses your Willpower and fuels your Rage. Crushing a bunch of enemies with an ability depletes your Rage and regenerates your Willpower.
It's actually deeper than it sounds, and it opens the door to a hybrid "class" system that combines different types of skills to exploit the two ambivalent resources.
You will soon discover that you can, and must, do everything to your own tastes. Forget about the automatic distribution of stat points at each level and the appropriate spells to progress at the pace the developers expect.
It will be entirely up to you to choose how to allocate your attribute points, and you'll have to find or buy your skills from a choice of forty possible options — each with sixteen modifications to unlock.
The only limitation is your choice of weapon. you'll have to compromise if you want to use both mage and warrior skills, such as wielding a sword in one hand and a magical item in the other.
The Gate of Fates
Many may hesitate when allocating their talent points on the Gate of Fates. As the skill tree system in Wolcen, it is composed of three sections that can be rotated to create new paths to explore in order to create a unique class.
This is a twist on the talent tree from Path of Exile. Each section of the wheel here corresponds to a more-or-less specialized class archetype, such as paladin, necromancer, or assassin.
As you level up, you are free to forge your own path from one end to the other, in order to activate special talents that will radically define your gameplay.
You'll have more than enough points to combine several concepts in your own way, but not enough to unlock everything. It's highly satisfying to plan your character and think about the super-powerful combinations that will come as a result.
On the other hand, there's very little visual help, and you have to take the time to move your cursor over several hundred spheres to see what they offer individually. It's not an exercise that will appeal to everyone, but for fans of optimization, planning and min-maxing, it'll be a lot of fun.
From Child to Regent
Although it's easy to get to grips with, the gameplay also knows how to be punishing when necessary. The campaign bosses are no joke at all, and each wouldn't feel out of place as final bosses in other games.
There are several phases, techniques to avoid in every direction with the dodge roll, and instant death can happen if you don't dodge the right attack. That's also what makes Wolcen fascinating.
Once the story is over, a huge amount of farming waits to keep you busy. You'll then be able to unlock certain powers and high-level bonuses linked to the restoration of a city under your watch.
It's not revolutionary, but it's pretty well thought out, and it rewards risk-taking and progression.
You'll also be able to participate in expeditions that are similar to the Greater Rifts of Diablo III, with the difference that you can choose to apply different modifiers.
For example, enemy champions may have more health, your roll recovers more slowly, you're hunted down by annoying bosses on a regular basis, and more — with great rewards in store if you succeed. You can also activate special map modifiers to hunt for chests, gold beetles, and even bosses.
However, we were disappointed to find that we couldn't replay the campaign at a higher difficulty, or even go back and explore your maps. To do so, you'll need to create an entirely new character.
We've mentioned a lot of good things about Wolcen so far, but the game is not without its flaws. We found many bugs, fortunately minor. However, some players have been less fortunate, and their save files have been wiped. The problem should have been fixed in a patch, but Wolcen is victim of its own success.
On the weekend of its release, the game was literally impossible to play online. Luckily, there was still the solution of creating and playing a character exclusively offline, but that character cannot be used to play online co-op afterwards.
Since it takes more than 50 hours to raise a character to max level, it can be frustrating to have to deal with this loss.
Overall, the game still suffers from a certain lack of polish. The interface isn't always very clear, and you often have to go and look for information one by one.
Sorting items on the ground or in the inventory can be really time-consuming. Items get stuck in the vendor interface, and have to be removed manually. The summoning AI is also problematic.
These are just a few examples, and even if there's nothing really significant preventing play, don't expect a gameplay experience as comfortable and intuitive as that you find in a AAA title.
The development of Wolcen has been long and full of uncertainties, but it has managed to surprise upon release. It should appeal to veterans of the genre, and although it can be intimidating with regard to the Gate of Fates and huge number of statistics, it also has what it takes to attract the general public. It offers an instant hook with efficient gameplay, a design uncommon to larger studios, solid play time.
Unfortunately, we feel Wolcen was released prematurely — the bugs, server unavailability and a rough interface have cooled our enthusiasm somewhat. If these can be quickly fixed and the developers offer new content on a regular basis, then Wolcen should be able to forge a home for itself in the genre.