Monday, July 24, 2017

Thoughts of Citadel - A One-Day Open Beta Review

So, like a lot of you, I participated in the one-day beta test of Citadel: Forged With Fire. There's a bit of drama between Citadel and Dark and Light, and there are enough similarities that players of one game more than likely have an interest in the other. After playing both of them, I'm not so sure on the similarities. Sure, they have the same genre of medieval fantasy, and both are sandboxes. But past that, the gameplay is so different than they fill two different niches and really aren't much in the way of direct competitors.

For example, Citadel is a sandbox but is not a survival game. Dark and Light(DnL) is both a survival game and a sandbox. The closest thing to NPCs in Citadel are the orcs who only inhabit small camps that exist solely for orcs to spawn at so players can get experience and loot, while DnL has three major NPC cities with NPC citizens and vendors. Citadel has an interesting property control system in the form of Thrones that claim buildings, while DnL relies on a claim system very similar to Ark's. Once you get into both games there honestly isn't all that similar. That's my take on it, anyways.

Anyways, more into Citadel. I'll do a complete Citadel vs DnL review at some point, but probably in a week or two when I've had a fair amount in both games. Also, a forewarning, I wasn't as prepared for the Citadel beta and didn't get to play as much as I did in DnL before writing my DnL EA review. I had seven hours in DnL when I wrote that review, I only played five and a half hours in Citadel before the beta ended due to work.

Character Creation
Citadel's character creation, at this point, is... disappointing. This is something that stood out a lot to me. I'm not sure about the Devs future plans for their character creation, but I really hope they add to it. As it stands, you get four pre-made faces, four hairstyles, and a few very standard color selections for hair color, eye colors, and (for some reason) nail color. This, combined with the very limited selection of clothing/armor, means that at least until this portion of the game is fleshed out, you're going to end up with a lot of people looking quite similar.

Not a slider in sight, unfortunately. 

I feel like Citadel is one of those games that would really benefit from extensive player customization. I'm sure it's not high on the developers radar yet, as the game is only in Early Access, but they're still trying to sell a game, EA or not, and Quality of Life 'fluff' is important in keeping players interested in a game.

The Game is Beautiful
Since we talked about the Character Creation, we should also talk about the graphics. Simply put, the game is beautiful. It's incredibly atmospheric, too. When they're not glitching out, the atmospheric sounds really help bring the world to life. Texture seem to be top-notch, the models are great, the spell effects are impressive, there's really nothing I can complain about when it comes to the graphics. Animations... eh, they can be improved. Especially the running animation. Really, play the game in third-person and prepare to face-palm.

I like the light effects!

The only area the game falls short in terms of graphics would be the UI. I'm hoping it's a placeholder, and will be further refined as time goes on. The menu UI is obviously a placeholder, though. Bare-minimum grey boxes galore. But the UI of an EA game really isn't something to complain about. It's obvious that they'll improve and change it as time goes on.

As place-holder as it gets.

Player Progression
First, I want to say that the progression in Citadel is incredibly smooth. It felt... right. Unfortunately, it also feels quite linear. Right now there are some very obvious 'Over Powered' choices in gear. This is an even more glaring issue considering there are only three armor types, with three or so sets within those types, and four weapon types to choose from. I can already imagine what a vast majority of players will look like in terms of equipment and spells once the servers have been up for a handful of days.

 I'm not a fan of straight lines in skill trees.

On top of that, progression in general is very Linear. There's a very limited set of spells you can get for each weapon, and they're all locked by level. For a game that has such an emphasis on magic and 'wizardry' it's disappointing that there's no sense of discovery or learning. You just kill mobs to gain levels to unlock the same exact spells in the same exact order as everyone else. It's a frustrating miss-use of potential. However, I'm not saying the game isn't fun, just that I wish there was more sense of discovery and wonder in the world.

 I will say that the really smooth experience pop-up is quite satisfying to see.

Speaking of killing things for experience... That will be your primary (and essentially only) source of experience after your first few levels. Experience requirements get so hefty later on and non-combat experience is very small. So you're going to end up using your broom to fly from Enemy Camp to Enemy Camp and Cave to Cave, killing enemies to quickly level up so you can hopefully avoid getting stomped by other players because of level-dependent spells and gear.

The gear in the game is restricted to levels. In a sandbox PVP game this is... annoying. Someone who has reached level 40 and has a minimum of preparation will be able to obliterate entire groups of level 20's because his gear and spell selection will simply outclass theirs. When you combine that, with the relatively small world (due to the inclusion of flying), it means that griefing is going to be a major issue and I'm not sure how newbies on servers will be able to cope unless they get incredibly lucky and know exactly what they're doing so they can get on par before they and everything they've built is destroyed.

Combat Woes
Combat in Citadel is both awe-inspiring good and infuriatingly broken. The basic designs of the combat are good. The animations and effects are impressive. It's just broken at the moment. There are some obvious balance issues between the various weapon choices. PVP is going to end up quite repetitive because everyone who actually wants to be good at it will end up using the same stuff. It'll be like Darkfall PVP, but with a lot less going on.

 The spell effects are intense and wonderful!

The biggest issue, I think, are cooldowns. You can spam any number of potions and survival almost anything. Spells also have two options. Fast and charged. But why would you wait the relatively long time to charge a spell when you can throw five or more of the non-charged version in the same amount of time and therefore do a lot more damage? Way, way later down the line it might be that players will get geared to the point where fighting is a bit more interesting, but right now unless you're the same exact level as your opponent, PVP is frustrating and PVE in general is just a bland mess of potion and spell spamming.

There's also inherent flaws in the combat system. You can equip two weapons and switch between them fairly easily. Each weapon can have two spells put on it activated with the left or right mouse buttons. So fights between players are going to be the same four spells over and over. PVE fights are just the same single spammable spell over and over while chugging potions. There's no encouragement to do more than that, and even if actual cooldowns are introduced the PVE combat will still be the same single spell spammed over and over, except maybe players will run around a bit more.

Utility Magic
This is the type of magic that can be used outside of combat and still be useful. Things like the broom, flying potions, the Blink spell, etc... Citadel doesn't have too much of this, unfortunately. That list was fairly complete, honestly. So I'm hoping that developers expand on their repertoire of Utility Magic in the coming months. I'm also hopeful they'll change a few things, too. Right now, riding a broom is really only useful if you are spamming potions constantly. The mana drain is too great, in my opinion. It just isn't fun riding the broom when you have to go through ten or so potions for even a short flight. It breaks the immersion and makes something that should be fun, even at an early level, incredibly tedious.

It may be tedious to chug potions, but damn if it's not fun to fly!

Sandbox Stuff
Speaking of destroying stuff, Citadel is a sandbox. That means you can create (or destroy) homes, castles, bases, fortresses, etc... to your hearts content. Unlike most sandbox games, you don't deal with a handful of tools for specific jobs and resources gathering. No, instead you have the Extract Spell and gathering by hand. With the Extract Spell, you can extract the resources from a node (Trees, Giant Mushrooms, Crystals, Rocks, etc...). This is neat because it's a lot less tedious and the effect when you fully consume a node is fun. However, it's also more tedious in some ways. Such as the gathering speed. The rate at which I got resources in the beta was horrendous and made building a base - when combined with relatively low carry weight - a pain. You will definitely want to group with people if you want to build anything bigger than a small lakeside shack.

It looks impressive, but is quit slow!

There's also an a crafting system. Unfortunately, like spells, all the crafting recipes are locked behind levels. If you're a newbie on an established server, you're going to have to be friends with an established player to be able to have any hope of competing. When I see all this linear progression locked behind levels, I can't help but imagine a bad experience when playing on an established server. The rush of competing against others to level up and unlock things before they do so you can more effectively raid them on a relatively level playing field will be incredible, though.

Basic crafting is done from the inventory, while more advanced crafting requires crafting stations.

Politics... don't really exist, so far as I can tell. I mean sure, you can make agreements with other players or Houses, but the game, so far as I was able to tell, didn't support this in any meaningful way. I said I would wait til my Citadel vs DnL review to compare the games, but I can't help but do it here. While Citadel has a House(guild) system, it's not very advanced and seems to lack a lot of basic options that would make it really flourish. In comparison, the House system in DnL is quite advanced and the developers have made their plans for the system quite clear. It's just a light and day difference and I can't help but be disappointed with Citadel's bare-bones current system.

The only politics I see happening in Citadel will be purely role play, I feel. There's not much in the game to encourage players to have conflict, other than a want for PVP and to raid for the sake of raiding. DnL has systems in place, and plans for future systems, to encourage more meaningful PVP. Working with other players in general seems to be a back-of-the-mind thing for the Citadel developers, and I'm not sure when or how they'll expand on features to encourage in-game politics on servers.

That all being said, I've already seen some advertisements for role play-heavy groups in Citadel, and I feel like that's where the game will truly flourish. Sure, it appeals to PVPers (like me) for obvious reasons, but the most long-term players will be those who build up communities on role play-centric servers who develop interesting lore for themselves within this magical canvas the developers are creating. It's got me excited to see what the players will do, and interested in seeing how the developers will support it.

Is it ready for EA? 
Honestly... No, not in my opinion. Neither Citadel or Dark and Light should have been put into EA in this early of their development. Dark and Light has major performance and stability issues, and Citadel feels like a very bare-bones game that will get boring after the first time you get a character to level 40 or so. Neither should have been released this early on, but they have been. Would I suggest getting the Citadel Early Access? Hell yeah. It may only provide you with twenty hours of fun, but that's twenty hours of fun well worth $25. And there's always the hope that the developers will expand and develop the game enough that you'll have your interest rekindled.

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