So, it’s been a little more than a week and I thought I would get my impressions written down. Bear in mind that I’m still far from having explored everything, so this is just my account so far and my impressions will keep evolving as my understanding of the game does.
Overall, it’s a positive experience. I haven’t had this much fun with the game since I started playing it. The Isle of Siptah is really a much needed breath of fresh air and I’m glad that all the waiting this year has been worth it.
Look & Feel
The Isle of Siptah definitely looks good. The redwood forest is really beautiful, the sunrise is incredible, and all the ruins and dungeons I’ve explored so far have a really good ambiance. Places like the elephant graveyard and the various cursed shipwrecks blend really nicely with the rest of the map.
The frequent complaint that “there are no biomes” is false, but understandable: the biomes on this map blend naturally and they’re not jarringly different from each other, except where it’s done on purpose, like The Barrens.
So, in general, I like the world. But there are two things that I miss a lot from Exiled Lands.
I’ll start with the smaller, much more subjective criticism: I really liked the aesthetics of the newbie river and the desert in the Exiled Lands. I understand the creative constraints involved in making a map that is based directly on Howard’s source material and real world geography. I just wish I could get some of those palm trees and more of that desert sand with scrub plants.
A much bigger problem I have with the Isle of Siptah is the lack of landmarks. It’s especially problematic in the redwood forest, where it’s too easy to get lost and have to stop to look at the map. In other parts of the world, I can at least get a sense of direction by looking at the Tower, but in the redwood forest there are always tall trees and high cliffs, so if I get lost, I either have to look at the map or look way up at the sky to see orient on the Maelstrom (or the “tentacle cloud”, depending on the time).
And it’s not just about the orientation – the landmarks in the Exiled Lands are just awesome to look at, even from afar. And those that can’t be seen from afar are still spectacular to stumble upon.
Which leads me to the next topic…
I get the feeling that there are fewer landmarks and that they’re smaller, because the whole map is smaller. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel that small because of the lack of fast travel. And that’s something about which I have ambivalent feelings.
On the one hand, it is spectacularly awesome to have to ride from one end of the map to another. Occasionally you run into people, which is always interesting, but even when you don’t, it leads to so many interesting moments on its own. You might be going to a certain destination, but then you suddenly wonder: what’s around this corner here?
On the other hand, I’m getting ready to build my first proper base, and I wonder just how difficult farming will be, especially w/o T4 crafters to lighten the material requirements. Of course, since the whole map is smaller, I’m designing a much smaller base than I normally would, but I’m still apprehensive. I guess I’ll have to try it out before I can have a more concrete opinion.
Speaking of T4 crafters…
Holy smoke! I can’t gush enough about this! (But I also have criticisms, and I’ll get to those.)
First of all, the harvesting multiplier was a welcome change. So was the adjustment of XP gain. Yeah, the journeys are nerfed, but even with that it was actually easier to get to level 60 than in Exiled Lands, and that’s a good thing, because unlike Exiled Lands, reaching level 60 isn’t “I’m almost done with everything”. Because, well, thralls and vaults and stuff. Which leads me to my biggest gush:
For the love of all 7 in-game deities, whatever you do, please don’t put T4 crafters into wild surges. Never, ever!
One thing that always irked me about Exiled Lands was the existence of T1 and T2 crafters. Catching thralls in Exiled Lands always feels like rummaging through someone else’s dumpster in search of an unopened bottle of quality wine. So many T1s and T2s that nobody except true newcomers will ever use, because why would anyone bother when you can run around various camps and get a T4? Getting a T4 in Exiled Lands isn’t a challenge you have to overcome or a goal you have to work for. It’s just running around until you get lucky. In contrast, I’m actually happy to have a T1 crafter on the Isle of Siptah, because I can actually tell the difference.
That said, wild surges really need T2 crafters. Really. Otherwise, just simplify crafters to 3 tiers: T1 would be old T2, T2 would be old T3 and T3 would be old T4. Why? Because once I finally summon a surge, if I get T2s, it will feel just like rummaging through the dumpster again. Take it with a grain of salt, of course, since I still haven’t summoned a surge – you guys might wanna prioritize fixing the Ley Shrine container ownership bug for PVE(-C) servers, nudge nudge wink wink.
The biggest thing I dislike about the progression are the recipes from Exiled Lands. Yeah, I get it, you can’t pack a whole bunch of equivalent dungeons onto the Isle of Siptah. And you shouldn’t, really, because why make things the same. So I’m fine with, say, Khari recipes being locked behind the slot machine mechanics of grinding vaults. But glowing essence? There’s glowing goop all around and there’s the witchfire feat, but you can’t craft witchfire without glowing essence, and you can’t craft the glowing essence because the recipe isn’t there. Yes, I know you can loot it or perhaps get it in a convergence trap, but you shouldn’t have to jump through these hoops just to establish a missing link in the feats.
And specialist cooking and brewing – those could also have been littered around the landscape just as easily as in the Exiled Lands, relics from the time when humans waged war on the elder races.
Of course, thralls and recipes aren’t the only things that I like about the new progression…
New Healing System
I’ll try to be brief here, because I’ve already spouted enough on this topic and I’m just rehashing it here.
In general, I love this change. To use yet again a phrase I stole from Helium3, I love that I can’t Leroy Jenkins my way through all the fights. I love that I can’t let a group of 8 skeletons surround me and stun lock me for several seconds and still bull my way through the fight by spamming the heavy attack and rolling occasionally.
The bandages went through the same kind of paradigm shift as the dodge roll once upon a time: people who keep complaining about them need to understand that they are simply not meant to be used in a fight. That’s really it. They’re very useful, but they can’t be treated the same way as the potions. There are some things that need work here, but I’ll come back to that later.
The sated buff was a bit of a blunder initially, mostly because it was way too low and didn’t show any differences between different foods. Things are much, much better now – there are notable differences between various foods and the buff actually helps – but the cooking system could still use additional work. Not necessarily in terms of healing, but rather secondary effects to reflect the variety of recipes. But that’s really a minor nitpick.
The potions are the workhorse of healing. So far, I’ve only tried aloe extract and I’m switching to concentrated aloe today, to see the difference. In general, they work fine, especially when combined with other techniques, like being sated and having vitality 30. But they also need a bit of work, because of the movement penalty. When I’m fighting a boss or a small group of enemies that don’t move too fast, I can work with potions. But given a group of NPCs from the surge, I have to run away way too far to be able to quaff a potion. Sometimes that’s far enough for the NPCs to get leashed back or to wander into an enemy camp and get slaughtered. So it would be really nice if the movement penalty was lowered from “overencumbered” to jogging or slightly-slower-than-jogging.
And while we’re on the topic of movement penalty, let’s go back to bandages for a moment. Being locked into the animation without a way to cancel it hasn’t been a problem for me, because I try to make sure I’m either far enough to use them safely, or not as busted up that “losing the gamble” would kill me. However, everyone fat-fingers an action from time to time. I dread what would happen if I’m fighting a group of enemies and instead of switching a weapon I activate the bandages.
So not being able to cancel the bandaging animation is a problem. But allowing it to be cancelled opens the door to severe cheesing. What can be done? I’m sure the devs can come up with something better, but I have two ideas I thought I could toss on the table. One is to allow the first 2 or 3 seconds to be cancelled, perhaps signaled by a visible prompt, during which there are no benefits. After that, the player is again locked in the animation and all the healing happens during that time. The other idea is to allow cancelling at any time, but make the bleed debuff return if cancelled and make the healing a curve, where very little is healed at the beginning and the brunt of healing happens towards the end of the animation.
Other than that, the healing system is really nice and it makes fighting much more fun, as long as the lag isn’t abysmal. Which leads me to my last point…
Bugs, Damn Bugs and Performance
Yeah, I know. It’s Early Access, which means it’s beta. I get it. But if people don’t yell enough, bugs won’t get fixed, so this is the yelling portion of my wall of text.
I already mentioned the PVE(-C) Ley Shrine container ownership bug. Yeah, I’ll bring my clanmate to help and do the whole “kick out of clan, do the thing, invite back” song and dance. We know each other from Exiled Lands and trust each other. But it would be reeeeaaaaallllly nice if you guys could fix that sooner rather than later.
Then there are chests. Explore a ruin or a wreck, get jumped by undead or other enemies, fight them off, finally approach the chests aaaaaand… they’re all empty. Sit around long enough for everything to respawn. Kill it all again. Chests are still empty. That’s a bummer, but a minor one. A much more serious one is running through a whole vault to find the end chest empty. That is really frustrating.
But the worst offender are the horrible, horrible performance spikes. The server FPS on the official server I’m playing on generally hovers in the “middle teens” – between 13 and 18 – but it goes down into “orange territory” way too often. And then something happens, who knows what, and it tanks down to 1-3. For an extended period of time.
Yesterday, my clanmate and I went into the Sanctuary of the Snakemen together, and the FPS hit the red and didn’t stop until we were finished. And yeah, the chest was empty at the end, but never mind that. I suspect that the AI is killing the performance. The most common times for the FPS to hit the floor like that Drowning Pool song are: during the Maelstrom and inside the vaults.
So, yeah. Performance. It’s a real joy-killer.
Like I said, I’m really having more fun than ever. Apologies for the wall of text, but I thought that Isle of Siptah is excellent and I wanted to gush about it properly, while still being a crotchety crank criticizing clunky characteristics of my favorite game.