This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem.
Hey, kids! Are you making a fantasy game, but are having trouble coming up with a title? Try this simple trick: take a word from Word List A and one from Word List B, stick "of" or "of the" in between the two, and you're ready to go; if you're really advanced, smash together the names of your two favorite pieces of IKEA furniture and stick that on the front with a colon on the end. What the fuck is "Wolcen"? Is it the protagonist? The country that the game happens in? The name of the medication your character gets prescribed for his chronic pauldron-chafing? Who fucking cares? Maybe it's what the dude on the cover art calls his beard; seems like the sort of beard that has its own name, and post code.
Anyway, Wolcen: Beards of Mayhem is a top-down Diablo-esque PC RPG that, apparently, is supposed to have some kind of multiplayer component, but the moment it came off early access, it was like when the waitress puts the dinosaur steak on Fred Flintstone's car, and it immediately falls over and the wheels fly off. This will certainly date the review if they manage to fix it, but Wolcen: Issues of Connection only successfully got me online once, and could only keep it up for half a tutorial mission before abruptly pulling me out and exhaustively swearing that this has never happened to them before. But when it did connect, it wouldn't let me use the character I spent three hours leveling in the offline mode, and I was buggered if I was letting that go to waste, so fuck it; here is my review of recent offline single-player game Wolcen: Lungs of Mayonnaise.
You are a warrior in the kind of po-faced dark fantasy world whose attempt at a grim atmosphere of perpetual war and seriousness is massively let down by the character design. I mean, look at this fucking dude again; why has he got Castle Grayskull playsets glued to his shoulder pads? Does he keep up his troops' morale with his variety act, the Human Pick 'n' Mix Dispenser? What happens when he needs to scratch his arse? Do they need to erect scaffolding?
Don't worry, this isn't you; you are a blisteringly generic person created in an extremely token character creator, where the face options only have four extremely similar flavors of "plain", like the world's worst frozen yogurt shop. Most of the shoulder pads your character is permitted to wear in-game are fairly sensible, and would still permit you to enter buildings with the revolving doors. This character is your mentor, which does make for some silly moments when you have to interact with them, and your comparatively soberly-dressed avatar appears to be trying to chat up a treehouse village. The game's a mashup of bad costume design choices, 'cos there's also a main female character in skintight armor with a neckline that goes down to her kneecaps.
You're an orphan who's raised to be part of a fanatical puritan army dedicated to fighting demons and witchcraft, but during a battle with a demon, you suddenly turn into a giant glowing man with huge glowing wings and a halo and holy armor, who proceeds to kick the shit out of the demon, and all your puritan friends immediately draw the obvious conclusion that you must also be a demon; not the sharpest claymores in the armory, these lads. Now sporting mysterious witchcraft powers that you don't fancy explaining at your next quarterly review, you are cast out and throw in your lot with a convenient nearby city-state who are having the usual cult and bandit problems, and your former army keeps showing up to call you a heretic and embarrass you in front of your new friends.
Honestly, I had trouble keeping track of the plot, because everything that happens is just another excuse to traipse through a sequence of sprawling dungeon floors full of little throngs of mobs in the traditional Diablo fashion, now and again fast-traveling back to the town store in a great big garbage truck full of unwanted weapon drops. So I was playing most of it kind of zoned-out, and the plot was just something that occasionally shook me awake like a boring maths teacher suddenly popping out a tit.
As I said, it's a PC RPG, and it's not fucking around with that; I did tokenly try to use my controller, but all it did was make the cursor move around, and none of the buttons worked, as if the game was saying, "Ooh, look at that shiny-whiny cursor you're moving around all by yourself with your magic lump of colorful Fisher-Price plastic! Do let us know when your daddy gets home so he can play the real game with all the other grownups. Yes, console peasants to the tradesman's entrance, please; we want to hear that mouse clicking like a pistol shrimp taking a course on native African languages." So it's a "click on the enemy to fight the enemy" sort of affair, and you have to be very exact with your clicks, because if you miss the hitbox, your dude will interpret that to mean that you want him to run right up to the hostile foe and lean in for a snog, which is very annoying for a ranged character, especially when you're trying to fight those fucking tiny bats, and putting a strong contrast between what's an enemy and what's an un-mopped floor would, I guess, have gone against the artists' vision of a dark fantasy world where housekeeping doesn't come around very much.
But eventually, I realized you can hold down "Ctrl", and your dude will park his bum down and attack where you click, which helped with that problem, annoying as it was to have to keep it held down with my pinkie while casting spells with the number keys. But in a way, I resent the game for having a simple solution to my gripe; it meant the game could go back to being a perfectly smooth production line: Advance, kill things, harvest equipment, go back to town to flog it for more money you have no fucking use for, because the best equipment plops out of the bodies of dying enemies, counter-intuitively. I mean, you'd think some of it would need a wet wipe first.
The big boast of Wolcen: Corduroy Trousers is that it doesn't have a character class; there's just a big, undisciplined splatter of stats, skills, and passive upgrades that let you build whatever custom class you like, within reason. I mean, really, it's a choice between slow melee weapons, fast melee weapons, or ranged; it's not like you can be a pastry chef and win an enemy around with your wonderful profiteroles. I went for a magic and ranged weapon focus, 'cos every enemy can attack you close-up, but not every enemy can attack you from a distance, so that's just logic, that is; soon, I fell into a routine, freezing enemies with ice spells and backing up to zap their butts off, which worked well. Too well, really; there was this one spell called "Annihilation" that projectile-vomits a fucking wall of death, which must've been overlooked by the balance monkeys, 'cos it used significantly less mana than my poxy starting fireballs that can just about worry a sloth doused in gasoline.
So I was merrily cheesing my way through the game, when the difficulty curve suddenly brick-walled my ass at a certain boss fight, largely because my freezy spell didn't work on the bastard, so that sent my whole routine out of whack, and I had to rely on the fucking stupid dodge mechanic where your dodge stamina is tucked away in a tiny, barely-noticeable part of the interface, and if you don't have any, your character just stands there, daydreaming about pencils as the enemy carves up your buttocks like birthday cake. But I knuckled down and eventually managed to get through the second stage of the boss; unfortunately, it was a three-stage boss. When his health inexplicably came back a second time, and the game looked at my exhausted ass and went, "What now, Mayor McCheese?", I decided that was enough for me, thanks. Wolcen: Bored of Playing, as a single-player experience, is like working a data entry job where your outbox is linked to a pressure switch that will, at some undetermined point, set fire to your armpits: it prompts little beyond boredom and complaints to the temp agency.
- The apartment block that walks like a man: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Oh I just realised I forgot to put "Damned" and "Fallen" on that second word list
- Note: if they do end up nerfing that spell, please disregard the preceding