Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Pax Dei: Wilderness Alpha Feedback

 The Pax Dei Wilderness Alpha has come and gone and I put a few hours in so have feedback to share.

Welcome to Pax Dei!

 First, the world feels immense in scale and that is apparent from the moment you start out picking where you are going to put down roots in the world.  The size of the world is reinforced as you begin running around looking for resources and realizing hours later you still haven't left your own starting zone let alone reached any of the many other zones on your server.  

My starting zone; one of many, many zones.

 The next reality that hits is that you can claim any piece of this world (at least the zones I was playing in) as your own and begin building a home.  Pax Dei is a survival crafting game where you carve your spot out in the world.  Err well maybe not so much a survival game but definitely crafting and building your place in the world.

 I did find it confusing what my purpose was in the game.  Was I meant to just plunk down a claim and build a house? Or was I building towards producing armor and weapons to go on an adventure?  The game leaves this open ended which may be fine for some players but personally I found it unappealing.  I felt like the game should have nudged me in some sort of direction.

 There was no tutorial so I had to spend some time on Discord asking how to get started.  Part of the issue was that when I started the beginning materials were not abundantly available in my area.  It seemed like that may have been a bug because they were more easily located later in the test.  A tutorial that assures resources to get started would be ideal for launch.

 Once I had starting materials I was off and crafting.  The game was on par with any other crafting survival game except there is not a pressing survival component (i.e. I didn't starve to death immediately).  I built a campfire.  I built a starting workbench.  I built the next thing and the next thing and...

 ...then I hit a wall.  The crafting progression has some bumps.  As I mentioned early on in the test some of the starting materials were tough to find.  My first day I couldn't find clay so I couldn't make a kiln and thus everything past that was blocked.  Later in the test I encountered recipes for starting crafting stations that had steep material requirements and little help guiding me to where to get them. I think the progression can be smoothed out with a pass on what recipes require what materials so they fall in more logical order.

Eventually I was able to get a kiln.  Don't ask where my clothes went.

 Gathering was also bumpy.  Again there was clear issues early on where some resources didn't seem to be available or weren't re-spawning (at least that's my guess).   However, part of the issue is the game seems to have a "node" system so there were times where I was surrounded by rock but I couldn't actually gather any of that rock for recipes that needed rock.  I got used to games in this genre, like Enshrouded, where you can just go bash a rock pile to get rocks.

Rocks, rocks, everywhere but I can't gather any of them.

 One thing that I had hoped would happen naturally was that if I hit a bump in progression that I could rely on a neighbor who maybe had made further progress but I found it very difficult to interact with players in the game.  In fact I don't think I once was able to communicate or interact with anyone even though we ran past each other numerous times.  I had to jump out to the Discord server and even then couldn't find folks in my area and I wasn't up to run long distances to get to them.  The game needs to make it simpler to find and interact with other players.

 Crafting in the game features both station crafting where I stood at a station and crafted as well as factory crafting where a station took inputs and some time later provided an output.  When crafting there is a chance of success or failure that improves as skills improve.  Personally I didn't like this as there was only a "down side" (i.e. failing the craft) and no "up side" where if you got lucky you got a bonus or some masterwork version of something.  

 Also each individual item has to be crafted by itself and the success/failure bar has to fill up for each.  Unfortunately this meant a lot of time just watching the bar go up and not a lot of time playing. Add in the progression of recipes and a massive quantity of inputs required and players in the alpha found themselves spending hours just standing at stations doing nothing.  I would recommend they get rid of the success/failure mechanic and just make bulk crafting instant.  Don't waste players time.  It is fine to have "factory" stations that are time gated  but once I have materials just let me craft with one click.

 As I continued to play I made progress and eventually equipped myself with a weapon and shield.  This brought me into combat.  My first encounter was with a bear which ended with me dead.  I opted to pick on a boar next which... also ended in my death.  Each death meant a run back to get my corpse to get my items back.  Corpse runs are fine I suppose.

 Boar or bear there is risk to fighting with the basic weapons and part of the problem is combat is... how should I say this... bad.  It is just bad.  As it was an alpha I feel like I owe more words in feedback so I'll try to give some here but don't let these words lead you to believe there is anything to this combat system.  It is really, really bad even for an alpha (note: they have also said this is the combat system they expect to have for early access).

 The first issue with combat is there isn't anything to it.  You left click to attack.  That is about it.  Combat feels floaty and your actions lack weight which is odd because combat is terribly slow.  Animations are... not good... making it hard to connect with what is visually happening to what inputs you are providing.  Add in desync situations with the client/server connection and it's a poor experience.  I can't see myself playing a game with a combat system this poor.  New World combat has spoiled me.

 Visually the game offers stunning views, but I found the details to be less impressive once you were up close.  The mountains are stunning at a distance but generic up close with no character.  The world is clearly procedural generated for the most part and thus lacks any points of interest unless you walk for long distances to somewhere hand crafted.  I suspect player buildings will make it more interesting once the game is live but player buildings currently don't offer much of interest aside from "oh cool" or "not sure what they were building" moments.

 For an alpha test the game offered a lot of pieces and I really liked day one where a little neighborhood started popping up.  Crafting and building are in a good spot and can get better with more reviews of progression and recipes so they are more logical.  Seeing other players share their builds there is a lot of potential out there in seeing the world come alive.  If the game can then add in some better reasons to seek out and work with other players it will hit a sweet spot for some gamers.  However, combat 100% needs a do-over. If they cannot massively improve combat this game is going to miss for many players. The crafting/building is NOT better than other games in the genre and the only advantage Pax Dei has is it's massively multiplayer with the promise of thousands of players building in the same world together.  If they an figure out combat and interesting content to go with it this game will be a winner.

Some more screenshots:

Swim two feet, die.

Amazing views.

Again, don't ask about the clothes.  No, I didn't finish my house.

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