The MMO scene has been shifting over the last few years. Only the truly ambitious and different titles are able to brave an industry ready to scuttle those unable to stay afloat. It’s my view that without offering tried-and-tested gameplay, or something unique by playing to specific strengths, the old subscription-based theme park MMO has run its course. New and exciting experiences are what players want because static worlds with loot grinds at the end have not only been done before, but have been finely tuned. It's why I’ve been keeping a close eye on Everquest Next and Landmark (although recent events have me worried, but that’s another story) as it is attempting to do something new in terms of its Storybricks system.
However, at the end of 2014 a new project emerged from the shadows, headed by industry veterans J. Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton. At the start of the year we found out its name – Crowfall – and over the last few months ArtCraft Entertainment have been slowly dropping bits of information, giving us a sense of what Crowfall is, and how it will do things differently. There is plenty of info to go through, but with its Kickstarter campaign now in full swing we have the whole picture in front of us for the first time. With that in mind, having gone through all of the available information, I’ve summarised what Crowfall is all about, and will be discussing exactly why you should be paying attention to it, regardless of whether you are tempted to back it or not.
So, what is Crowfall? Described as a War Throne Simulator, Crowfall is a mix of strategy and MMORPG gameplay. While there will be PvE elements to it, the main aspect of the game is that of PvP dominance, as players take sides in a battle for ultimate glory. However, unlike other games that have similar modes, Crowfall’s campaigns do not last forever. Instead, there are victory conditions and / or a time limit, ensuring that the board resets once a game is over, much as it would in Risk or Civilization.
You may be asking yourself “If the board resets, how can you measure progress when the game is over?” The answer is through persistent character progression and rewards for completing a campaign, regardless of the outcome. This way, veteran players can feel like they are making progress, and newcomers have an opportunity to make a name for themselves once a new campaign begins. Artcraft call this concept “Eternal Heroes, Dying Worlds.”
This allows for two important things. Firstly, the maps for each campaign will be different thanks to procedural generation, allowing for new experiences each time. Secondly, seeing as the maps will be removed forever once the campaign is over, the entire world is made up of destroyable voxels. The best comparison would be Landmark, which uses the same VoxelFarm technology that Crowfall will be using, but that isn't the only interesting aspect about the game engine. It has been stated that everything in Crowfall will have a mass, affecting gravity and where it can fit into the world. This also includes the players, meaning a well-co-ordinated defence (or trap) could effectively block an opposing player from reaching certain positions. Admittedly, in the case of the voxel-based destruction, they could always just make a tunnel to get out, or if they have a powerful enough character, charge through the lines.
While the campaign worlds will eventually die, that isn’t to say that there won’t be a permanent place to call your own. The Eternal Kingdoms will allow players to build up their own kingdoms using resources found during campaigns (as the Eternal Kingdoms are void of them.) It is here that players will be able to show off their trophies, but they will also be able to rule over vast areas of land, setting PvP rules and tax rates within them. There’s also the chance for politics and betrayal, meaning the opportunities to make it all very Game of Thrones are very real.
The final main aspect of the game to know about is character creation. While players will select an archetype to begin with, they will be able to tailor their characters with advantages at the cost of disadvantages. For example, to gain the Eagle Eyes perk to improve firing with a bow, you might have to select something the lowers endurance and possibly another that increases your hunger rate. Beyond that, each archetype will be able to specialise in three different ways to gain more abilities. So, in the case of the Knight, they can become a Swordsman for tank-like abilities, a Crusader to focus on melee damage, or a Sentinel for ranged abilities.
That’s Crowfall in a nutshell, and for more information I would strongly suggest heading over to the extensive FAQ section on the official website. Topics such as economy (and how crafters will matter) alongside examples of possible power struggles are covered, as well as server rule sets and loot dropping upon death. It’s quite clear that in a lot of ways this is a game aimed at the hardcore audience – those looking for an experience where the thrill of the initial rush always comes around again, yet with enough variation and strategic opportunities to allow for different outcomes in different campaigns.
For me personally, this is probably the closest to my dream MMO that I am ever going to get. An online experience where battles will be fought, where no tyrant or benevolent ruler will be at the top forever, and where unique stories will unfold that are entirely player driven. Of course, without knowing how the gameplay handles we can’t know for sure if it will be any fun, but I absolutely have faith in this project. For starters, the caliber of the team is almost second to none, with ArtCraft founders Waldon and Coleman being responsible for some of the MMO genre’s defining titles. On top of this, names such as Raph Coster – who literally wrote the book on online game design – helping with the development assures me that, given the chance, the team at ArtCraft could deliver an enjoyable online experience that has the capacity to be deep, challenging, and rewarding.
Of course, only time will tell if Crowfall reaches its crowd funding total of $800,000. With over $250,000 pledged in under 4 hours, it’s a great start, and I certainly hope it reaches its target. That said, the team have stated that should the Kickstarter fail they will be seeking private funding, but they have admitted that doing so will most likely compromise the vision of the game. Regardless of the outcome, I will continue to keep a very close eye on how Crowfall progresses.