Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem PC Review

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem's lack of polish detracts from the great hack-and-slash ARPG found at its core.

By Woozie, Posted 20 Feb 2020

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem has one of the most imposing campaign starts in recent memory, let alone among hack-and-slash ARPGs. Your character, a trainee of the Grand Inquisitor of the Republic, decked in plate armor that channels both Warhammer Fantasy and 40K – and which screams badass –, follows Republican cohorts into battle against the heretical Brotherhood of Dawn. Loud and boisterous, this first sequence establishes Wolcen’s world-ending threat, concluding with a showdown in which you not only face a Demon hell-bent on sowing chaos but also temporarily tap into your inner power to transform into a massive angelic avatar.

But as memorable as those first moments are, Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem’s story begins to falter shortly after. Your newfound power lies at the core of what seems to be a major conflict, however, events move forward at breakneck speed, throwing multiple factions, characters and various fantasy MacGuffins your way without taking the time to properly establish their significance. Characters fail to stand out, the only portion of writing that doesn’t rush things being found in some of the game’s tooltips. Wolcen’s story feels like it was part of a much grander puzzle but ended up being torn apart as the team narrowed its ambitions, and the cliffhanger at the end – which ends up being glossed over once you go into the endgame – doesn’t do much to help. This is also reflected throughout the hack-and-slash ARPG.

While its story fails to pull you in, Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is one of the most visually impressive ARPGs you can find out there. From its excellently moody lighting to its standout art style, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Its aesthetic combines fantasy with a pinch of technology, making for a unique offering that taps into Diablo, Warhammer and some of its own magic juice. Taking on the form of a massive angelic, demonic or bestial avatar instantly fills you with awe – even if the forms themselves can lag behind your regular build in terms of damage –, while demolishing packs of foes with powerful shots from a turret or with devastating beams of light looks and feels fantastic.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem PC Review, Screenshot

Overall, fights in Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem are an absolute blast, especially if you get a couple of items that directly enhance your build. Combat is not only flashy but also emphasizes speed and movement which, admittedly, makes some of its slower skills a bit of a chore to use. There’s a decent amount of enemy variety that brings different attacks to the table, from agile pouncing beasts to lumbering constructs that charge you while firing miniguns and homing rockets your way. Learning their patterns and anticipating when you need to dodge is key to staying alive. But this is easier said than done, as Wolcen’s combat is at odds with its controls. Mobility skills and the Dodge ability linked to the Spacebar can be quite unresponsive at times, especially in larger fights when they’re most needed. From what I could gather, they can’t be used at the same time as using other skills, which means you’ll often have to stop attacking in order to be able to get to safety. But even then, on some occasions, my Aether Jump skill – a teleport of sorts – simply wouldn’t trigger after repeated pushes, leaving me helpless and surrounded by foes.

One thing that sets Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem apart from its peers is its dual resource system. Characters make use of Willpower and Rage to cast spells and use attacks. Basic attacks with weapons other than staves build rage, while staves help build Willpower. Skills that require Rage to be cast transfer their cost into Willpower and vice-versa. Thus, you not only have to take into consideration the simple generator-consumer relationship from something like Diablo III, instead, having to juggle two resources. It’s an interesting system that shines the most when you’re playing a hybrid build makes use of both resources or if you tap into passive nodes that create explosions around you when Willpower is low.

Wolcen’s nightmarish end act bosses will likely be the first hurdle you encounter while progressing through the campaign, as they’re unbalanced compared to the rest of the content, especially if you’re running more fragile ranged builds. While I had no issue progressing through the story quests leading to Wolcen’s first two boss fights, both of them initially proved a bit much for my character. The boss design itself is fine, emphasizing diverse mechanics that, alongside their visual design, do make them stand out from the rest of the baddies. But the first boss’ ability to move very quickly and the second’s tendency to spawn endless amounts of foes as it turns 90% of the arena into deadly fleshy lava felt a bit much. On the other hand, getting a Unique item that catered exactly to my build close to the end of the third act simply melted the game’s end boss, making for a surprisingly anticlimactic ending.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem PC Review, Screenshot

When it comes to actually building your character, Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem takes inspiration from both Diablo III and Path of Exile, resulting in a blend of familiar elements that end up working greatly in its favor. While you do select a weapon type when first starting, the game never restricts you to a class, letting you build your character as you see fit. You can roll a classic sword and board tank just like you can play a gun-toting mage/ranger hybrid, or a damage-focused warrior that also poisons enemies with his strikes or applies stasis to slow and weaken opponents. Build variety is, without a doubt, something that Wolcen has plenty of.

Every time you level up you gain 10 stat points which go into any of your four stats and a passive point which you allocate to a node in the Gate of Fates, Wolcen’s Path of Exile-esque skill tree. The stats themselves also do things a bit differently: while Agility focuses on attack speed and Toughness on health, Ferocity enhances your ability to deal critical damage, while Wisdom makes ailments (debuffs) more likely to trigger. Wolcen’s passive skill tree is massive, starting off with the three expected archetypes – warrior, archer and mage –, but quickly branching off into more specialized segments the further out you go. The tree is also made up of three rings which you can rotate to bring specific segments closer to the position you’re currently allocating points to, further opening up possibilities.

The third pillar of building your characters is represented by the many skills, which you learn through items called Enneracts that you can either find while looting foes or purchase from a vendor in the hub town. Wolcen’s skills cover a good range, from summoning pestilent golems – whose AI, admittedly, is sometimes lacking – to deadly melee whirlwinds, an amazingly powerful turret, and beams of light that bring death from above upon enemies. As these skills level up – either through use or by investing Primordial Affinity earned from consuming already learned skills –, they not only become more powerful but can also be modified in various ways. These modifiers include flat damage increases and damage type conversion options, but also feature modifiers that greatly change the way the skills behave. The turret I ended up using from start into the endgame couldn’t rotate initially. In its most advanced form, it not only rotates but deals large amounts of critical damage that pierces enemies, while allowing two turrets to fire at the same time. Massive thrown shuriken can make their first target explode, dealing area of effect damage or orbit around you instead of following a linear path.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem PC Review

Lastly but not least you've items. They drop in varying rarities as you slaughter mobs and complete quests. Their stats are similar to Diablo’s while adding Path of Exile’s force shield to the mix as a defensive option. Legendary items usually providing greater buffs than Rare ones and Unique items end up defining your build. The unique pistol that plays straight into my ranged pierce-based build is still my character’s main weapon, well into the endgame. While Uniques generally have a low drop rate, a vendor selling random Uniques does pop up at times during runs. All these elements blend together into a package that, while it doesn’t quite revolutionize the genre, not only keeps you constantly occupied with comparing items and deciding where to invest points, but which also offers a large amount of build potential. On top of that, Wolcen lets you fully respec your character rather easily, by simply spending some currency you’ll inevitably earn as you play, encouraging experimentation.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem’s campaign isn’t very long, clocking in at somewhere between 10-12 hours and, considering its rushed story, you’ll likely be happy to hear that you don’t have to run it twice. Once completed, it opens the Champion of Stormfall endgame mode, which becomes available as a leveling path for new characters in the same mode. Wolcen’s endgame revolves around completing its many building projects which end up granting various bonuses. These include a fifth skill slot, the fourth apocalyptic form – you unlock three of the four during the campaign –, but also stuff like NPC-led expeditions that can yield resources or items while you’re out doing some adventuring of your own.

Each project has a resource and productivity cost. You dump resources into it when you start it and earn productivity by completing Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem’s two post-game activities: Mandates and Expeditions. Mandates plop you into a map with a random objective, much like the many side-areas you encounter during the campaign. They’re shorter affairs that offer a random item as a reward at the end but aren’t very lucrative in terms of productivity. Expeditions, on the other hand, are the mainstay of Wolcen’s endgame. Not only can you tackle different difficulties and pick monster levels, you can pay to add modifiers that further increase difficulty but also the chance to find better items and multiply the productivity you earn. Default Expeditions have three levels, reaching the end rewarding you a great chunk of gold, experience and productivity. You can also add maps to Expeditions – and hop into a small arena with only a Boss enemy – or lure Untainteds to open the Wrath of Sarisel mode for a single-level Expedition that has a powerful foe hounding you on top of the usual assortment of baddies. So far, I’ve dipped back in quite frequently to level my character further, even if gaining productivity is a bit of a slog as you’re building Palace upgrades that increase the amounts that you gain.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem PC Review, Screenshot

Wolcen’s launch won’t land on any list of smooth releases. The lack of online servers in the first few days – now fixed –, was just one of many issues plaguing the title. Odd balancing choices, awkward cutscenes which often saw characters T-posing during would-be dramatic dialogues, sound effects that would play doubled, untargetable flying enemies, exploits that let you get insane amounts of gold – all these small issues compounded into some rather noticeable frustrations. I still dread to think about dealing with the final boss without getting the Unique pistol that trivialized the final portion of the story. I also wish I didn’t have to click half of the items several times to pick them up or that the UI would make comparing them easier.

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem bears the signs of an ambitious project that proved to be a little much for its developer. A story that feels put together in a rush and lacks flow, coupled with all manner of small and large issues ultimately compound into an experience that, overall, comes off as uneven. The title could have definitely used more polish before leaving Early Access. And yet, even so, I enjoyed leveling my character, trying out various skills and figuring out how to put together a build. The sheer depth of character customization has enough fuel to propel Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem for a decent time following its release. It also most certainly makes for an experience that’s very much worth trying, as long as you’re a systems-driven ARPG enthusiast or one that simply likes the idea of melting hordes of enemies and getting shiny loot while traversing a gorgeous world. As for its longevity, as long as developer WOLCEN Studio stamps out the current bugs and adds polish at a rate that doesn’t undermine new content that refreshes the title’s endgame, Wolcen has a good shot at becoming a staple of the genre alongside the games from which it draws inspiration.

Note: This review is based on Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem's offline mode due to servers being down in the first few days.

Bogdan Robert,
Senior Editor, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): WOLCEN Studio
Developer(s): WOLCEN Studio
Genres: Action, RPG, Hack And Slash
Themes: Fantasy
Release Date: 2020-02-13

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