I don’t think anyone at ArtCraft Entertainment would hold it against you if you haven’t been religiously following Crowfall. Like many successfully backed KickStarter campaigns, Crowfall’s development wasn’t going to happen overnight, and it certainly wasn’t going to be rushed. With AAA MMO development having fallen by the wayside, and with players seeking something more from the genre, it’s no surprise that crowdfunded MMO’s have prospered, and that Crowfall raised the cash it needed.
As someone who backed Crowfall, I’ll happily confess that I’ve a vested interest in the game. I’ve followed its development since 2015, and while I only tend to dip in and out of the client every few months, I’ve always kept a beady eye on how it’s progressing. Not all my friends can say the same, as a handful threw in their money on the premise that they only be woken when something significant happens. I’m pleased to say that not only is something significant happening, but development of Crowfall continues to go from strength to strength.
The first thing I wanted to talk about is its War Stories series that takes a deep-dive into what players are up to in game. While Crowfall isn’t yet ready for release, its core systems and loops are in place, it looks fantastic (and about to get better), plays superior to many of its peers (even if it’s a little rough around the edges), and has all the opportunities needed to make lasting memories. At a basic level, when you provide players with a game world to just have fun in, and fundamental systems to ensure that open-world skullduggery is at the forefront of said fun, it’s little wonder that early backers are keen to share what they’ve been doing.
Blazzen in all his glory.
Blazzen, an early crow and dedicated player, was recently chosen to share his War Story. On appearance and in his brief video, the premise is relatively simple: he and his faction stole a keep from under the nose of opponents, despite being a smaller force. What’s particularly interesting about this, and like many Crowfall stories, is the fact that it’s not only possible, but the method at which they chose was dynamic, and filled with variables. While we’ll publish the interview with Blazzen separately (it’s lengthy, but a brilliant read on the potential of Crowfall’s siege mechanics), it serves to highlight that MMO’s can be something more than a carrot on a stick, if you just provide players with the right tools, and an organic means of doing things.
I recently put the subject of War Stories, and organic freedom to Crowfall’s Creative Director, J Todd Coleman, asking him not only what the wider purpose of these stories is, but whether memories made in game are a cornerstone of Crowfall.
“One of the challenges of this design is that it is just so different that it’s difficult to really internalize what a dynamic world means in terms of gameplay. A lot of MMOs claim to be “dynamic” but really aren’t; very little changes over the course of time; player activity can maybe affect the cosmetics of an area, but the overall gameplay remains 99% the same regardless of what the players do.
He went on to add that, “Crowfall really isn’t like that. The best way to describe it, I suppose, is we are a game where one (or a few) players’ actions can fundamentally change the experience and the outcomes for everyone else. There is a strategy game on top of the traditional RPG that allows players to claim territory, amass resources, build and destroy strongholds, or create a merchant empire.”
It’s near impossible to not compare what Crowfall is attempting to do, to what EVE Online has accomplished. They’re vastly different products, but it’s apparent that the scope of ArtCraft’s MMO is aiming to replicate a fraction of that freedom.
“If you look back over the years that you’ve been playing MMOs, if you ask people for the moments that they will never forget, these moments always revolve around heroic or humorous moments shared with other players,” says J Todd. “No one remembers the 4,117th orc they killed, or wolf they skinned. Everyone remembers the time that Rainz killed Lord British in Ultima Online™. Everyone remembers Leroy Jenkins in WoW (World of Warcraft™). Everyone has personal (similar) stories that begin with “Remember that one time that Bob…” did or said/did something crazy/hilarious/unexpected or awesome.”
And what about PvE encounters that aren’t typically dynamic?
“Don’t get me wrong, PvE absolutely has a place. Questing can be fun. But the moments that really count, the moments that draw us into playing an MMO instead of a single-player RPG, those moments require an unpredictable chaos-factor that only comes from playing in a universe with others where player actions can change outcomes and permanently change the world in unpredictable ways keeping the game dynamic anytime you login to play.
With Crowfall, we’re trying to make a game where those moments are more likely to happen, more often. That’s all.”
I think that’s a completely fair assertion, and while playing against real opponents isn’t for everyone, there’s no mistaking that Crowfall’s use of players to curate these “dynamic events” will - in the long term - negate the need for a constant PvE treadmill of more and more content. Simply put, Crowfall’s end-game is seeking to place players at its heart, by giving them the tools to carve their own path. J Todd agrees.
“This is the most interesting (and challenging) part of our design; we’ve made the world dynamic in a way that not many MMOs have attempted. If you leave the game and come back a month later, the entire state of the universe could be different: castles rise and fall, alliances collapse, kingdoms come and go… even the Worlds themselves disappear and are replaced by new worlds, with completely new maps. The only constant is that the game is always changing.”
So what’s around the corner for Crowfall, besides its attempts to nurture player driven stories? As J Todd explains, quite a fair amount. First up is the 5.90 update, which brings significant improvements to character movement and lighting. Considering how good the game looked a year ago, it’s surprising to think this area is only going to get better (you only have to look at some of the screenshots in this article).
“This update was significant because we really focused our efforts on the core things that make the game competitive: upgrading the dynamic lighting model (so that it looks great at all times during the day/night cycle), fine-tuning character movement in the worlds so that it looks and feels responsive and fluid, improving performance so that combat is more engaging.” J Todd added, “It’s also our stab at creating a “new player experience” that eases the user into the game… we have a LOT of game systems now, so without anything to guide the player’s first session, the experience can be overwhelming.”
Although shiny graphics are always welcome, for me, and most MMO players, movement is key, and as a fan of WildStar, I’d say that Crowfall has a similar dose of its fluidity and use of telegraphing; a coupling that’s undoubtedly welcome in a genre that’s traditionally fairly static. 5.90 attempts to place good-feeling-movement at the forefront, with J Todd acknowledging that Crowfall is competitive game, “This update puts additional focus on the game’s responsiveness, and second, it isn’t enough to get the game feeling “great” for smaller engagements, we need to make sure it feels great in large player fights, such as castle sieges” he says.
And what about The Trials of Maeve? Well, Crowfall is made up of many Gods, and Maeve is the Goddess of War and Ruler of the Oceans. Her Trial - like those before it - has a set of win conditions and a limited duration, with this event running from May 23, to June 12. The spoils of war go to the winning Faction, placing an emphasis not only on participation, but also supporting roles. This isn’t just about defeating opponents, as even crafters and those who want to help in more passive different ways, are all in for the prizes pool.
While I'll cover my thoughts on 5.90 and The Maeve Trials in greater depth in a few days time, it's fair to say that ArtCraft Entertainment's approach to Crowfall is not only unique, but sets out to ensure the game offers something truely different. As it stands, the game fits somewhere between Guild Wars 2, Dark Age of Camelot, EVE Online and Ultima Online. That's a brilliant spot to be in, and one that rightly deserves your attention. If you'll excuse me, I've a throne to take.
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