Intrepid Studios is taking a huge leap of faith with the development of Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse. While the Kickstarter campaign for the MMORPG Ashes of Creation was a colossal success – “The rebirth of the MMORPG,” the studio brags – there was no way of guessing the current situation.
The ball started rolling with talks of a Battle Royale mode that was going to be used as a quick way to test PvP and would never make it into the final release. Later, this disposable mode turned into a side-project, Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse, a standalone Battle Royale game that will be free-to-play, unlike the MMORPG which is going to be subscription-based. Allegedly created with the intent of testing systems and mechanics to be introduced in the MMORPG, Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse features… a cash shop. For testing purposes only, surely!
But let’s not be too harsh. The fact is that I’ve played Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse for a while now during one of the open beta weekends and I don’t regret doing it. In all honesty, I had a bit of fun once I managed to come to terms with the somewhat confusing UI.
Griffons are man’s best friend
Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse feels very robust right now, with most of the basic mechanics already in place, albeit in need of some heavy polishing and fine-tuning. It is eminently playable, you can have a lot of fun with it, and a hefty dose of frustration as well as you take mental notes of the best places to land and equipment spawn locations.
There is a progression system, with daily and weekly quests rewarding you with experience points. These points will be used to level up your character in the Adventure Path, gaining cosmetic items at regular intervals such as appearances, weapons skins and outfits, among others. These rewards will carry over to the Ashes of Creation MMORPG, which is a nice carrot to dangle in front of everyone who isn’t too keen on Battle Royale but can’t wait for the main game. Let’s hope Intrepid Studios doesn’t pull a Landmark/EverQuest Next on us, right?
Most of the quests ask you to do stuff that you probably would do anyway, so make sure to take advantage of it to get that nice experience boost. Destroying stuff, playing ten matches, dealing damage to opponents, opening chests, killing or reviving players are a few examples, but others can be more specific and harder to get.
Solos and Squads are available, with the Duos option present but not currently working. Guilds are coming sometime later for the Battle Royale mode, as well as the separate modes Castle Siege and Horde. For now, squads are comprised of four players, and the best I could manage regarding the maximum number of concurrent players was 76, but this amount could go up to 100 players per match.
As soon as you successfully join a match, you’re deployed in this luxurious palace area with dozens of other players. My initial reaction was to start swinging away with my axe – the starting weapon, get used to it as soon as you can – but no damage was being dealt, so I realized my wrath was pointless. There are a few potions and chests around, but the items don’t seem to carry over to the Battle Royale map (for now?), so I don’t really understand their purpose.
A few seconds later, this blinding flash carried me and every other player into this sky-high rift where I was changed into a ball of energy. It was a strange sight that became even weirder when it suddenly transformed into my character ridding an imposing griffon, dropping on this striking island.
As it turns out, this sequence is Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse’s equivalent to Fortnite Battle Royale’s battle bus or Ring of Elysium’s airplane. It’s quite impressive to behold, honestly, with all these griffons flying everywhere, castles and huge monuments in sight; a true ode to high fantasy when you decide to go along for the ride.
When you find a nice, cozy spot to land, it’s time to go searching for precious loot. This involves dangerous incursions into houses, castles and wide-open areas. Always be on the lookout for enemies who may be one step ahead of you, peering from windows or patiently waiting for their prey behind a door.
Chests are the primary objects that you should be looking for. They hold several items that will make you stronger, with three equipment rarity types: blue (common), yellow (rare) and red (legendary). You must carefully consider your equipment choices as you only have five slots to carry stuff around. One thing many players failed to grasp, and that makes all the difference, is that you must open the inventory and drag a chest armor and leg armor into the corresponding slots to equip them, otherwise you won’t benefit from its protection and easier skill use. This gesture alone explains how many players can one-shot you before you get the hang of things.
Weapons and armor come with unique skills attached. The Aegis Chest plate gives you temporary invisibility while the Boots of Icy Steps will leave a trail of ice that slows down your enemies. The Greatsword of haste will increase your running speed as you successfully attack, and the spellbook Grimoire of the Fallen Sky summons a nice little meteor. These are only a few examples of the diverse skills that Apocalypse offers, and it’s up to you to find a good balance between melee and ranged weapons, as well as their intrinsic skills.
You can collect mana to repair your armor and fire some projectiles with magic and arrows. There’s also a stamina meter that is consumed as you swing your weapon, jump or dodge enemy attacks. You can sprint without any worries though, as this doesn’t consume stamina.
Fighting in Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse is a bit of a hit or miss in the current state. Most fights consist in wildly swinging your sword, axe or mace until one of you is destroyed in an outburst of shiny item drops, usually the player with the inferior gear. Ranged weapons make for a completely different kind of approach and some of them, such as crossbows, even include scopes. Hopefully combat will be improved as to provide better hit feedback.
The destructible environments play a big role in Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse. It’s not just pots and boxes that can be destroyed, entire houses can be razed to the ground if you want to. Wall by wall, you can carve new pathways and jump on unsuspecting enemies. The destruction model isn’t tremendously detailed, being miles away from oldies such as Red Faction: Guerrilla, but since we are talking Battle Royale here, it isn’t unlike Fortnite’s own system.
Brace Yourselves, A Corruption Storm is Coming
As it happens with every Battle Royale game ever made, the playing area regularly shrinks, forcing the remaining players together. This happens in Apocalypse with the huge and quite frankly awe-inspiring corruption storm, driving everyone to remain within the boundaries of the ever-diminishing circle. If you are caught off-guard outside of its walls, you’ll take some damage over time, but you should be given enough time to run to the newer, smaller circle.
Now let’s talk about graphics. Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse looks good, pretty good at times, and leaves a positive indication to what we should expect from the MMORPG Ashes of Creation. It’s not breaking any boundaries by any means, and it has this overall muddy feel to the visuals, as if bright colors were outruled from this realm, save for some flowers or the bright, ethereal shines of the loot. The use of motion blur as you turn wasn’t a problem for me, but I can see some players getting worked up about that. However, I came away impressed with the high fantasy look of it, had a few impressive sightseeing moments to fondly remember, and loved exploring the map. There are diverse areas to discover, from vast castles to small villages, harbors, canyons, volcano undergrounds and more.
The character models have a nicely defined look and – lo and behold – female avatars wear proper armor, instead of the classic MMORPG staple of ‘less is more’. However, there is a disjointed feel to the attack animations, as if the legs and torso were two completely independent parts, each one acting of its own volition. Hopefully this is a detail that will be made less noticeable in the next builds.
For the sheer amount of frustration that Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse – and any other Battle Royale game, for that matter – could give me, it also provided me with quite a bit of mischievous fun. As I swiftly dealt justice to a reckless player or stole the legendary loot right in the face of another, I was having a good time. There are countless Battle Royale games available and even more coming out soon, but against certain expectations, this one seems capable of standing on its own merits and deserves at least a look from fans of the genre.
On the other hand, it’s understandable how some players are annoyed by its existence, as it could mean that valuable resources were shifted from the Ashes of Creation MMORPG to work on Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse. Such is the risk of a Kickstarter campaign, as a studio’s goals may change from one instant to the other, according to market trends and necessity.
To those I say: give Intrepid Studios the benefit of the doubt. Ashes of Creation: Apocalypse still needs a lot of work, but already shows more potential than most Battle Royale games out there. As both prequel and prelude to the highly anticipated MMORPG, it bodes well for the future of the franchise.