After a successful Kickstarter and years of post-MMO-Kickstarter development, Crowfall, the “throne-war simulator” has finally launched.
Wait! Come back! I know my audience is primarily PvE players, and Crowfall’s reputation as a PvP game probably means that it’s easily dismissible, but because it hasn’t peaked on my peer’s radar means there’s probably a good deal of misunderstanding about what Crowfall is about.
Note that the title says “first 25%”. That’s an allusion to the fact that I have yet to get my hands dirty in PvP, and have only completed the PvE tutorial which is designed to get you to level 25 while showing you the ropes and providing you with the backstory of the world you’re inhabiting.
There are no guides in this post. There are no strategies or pitches to join my guild as cannon fodder. This post is primarily aimed at people who know nothing about Crowfall or for whom a game like Crowfall isn’t their normal cup of tea.
Crowfall is, as stated above and by the official website, a “throne-war simulator”. In less oblique terms, that means its primary focus is on faction-versus-faction and guild-versus-guild PvP encounters. If you’ve played Dark Age of Camelot or Warhammer Online, or ventured into RvR in Guild Wars 2 or The Elder Scrolls Online, then you’ll be familiar with this situation.
Crowfall is an MMO. It features a lot of MMO tropes like class and race selection, harvesting and crafting, gear and numbers, and guilds. It also has housing of a sort for homebodies. That being said, Crowfall is also uses a “lobby system” of sorts, with four different types of “game modes”: the Eternal Kingdoms, which are personal housing zones, God’s Reach, which is primarily a PvE zone, Faction v. Faction, and Guild v. Guild, colloquially known as “the Dregs”. When you boot into the game, you can select from any of these. In the first 25% of the game you can also jump between servers within God’s Reach, so you’ll never be cut off from friends who are playing.
The Starting Worlds are designed to teach players the ropes within the confines of the world’s narrative. I’m a little fuzzy on the canon, but here’s my best shot: in this world, the gods are dead, dying, or have gone missing. This would throws civilization into chaos, and to make matters worse there’s a dark force called the Hunger which is corrupting life in the Universe.
Rather than go out and band together to fight the Hunger, the sentient creatures decide to fight over the scraps of the dying Universe. As things progress from the farthest reaches of the Universe inward towards the corrupt center, things get more out of control.
You are a Crow, a warrior-soul pledging service to the remaining gods and whose body can die, but whose spirit returns to inhabit another Vessel, or physical form. When you create your character, you choose a Vessel which is (unfortunately) class-locking, but each Vessel imparts specific benefits and passive skills. When you want, you can change your vessel in the Temple, meaning that you’re never locked into just one race. Once you reach level 30, you will need to upgrade your default Vessel in order to continue progressing.
Combat in Crowfall isn’t super-revolutionary. It’s action-based and not tab-based. Left mouse button is your auto-attack (glue it down to keep spammin’) and the right button is a secondary action, depending on the class and/or race. The action tray offers access to skills gained through leveling up or through slotting discipline runes. Some classes and/or races have a secondary action tray which can house different skills. For example, my character has its primary “combat” tray, but also a “stealth” tray that I can switch to (compliments of my Guinecean race).
As we’re talking about action combat, it’s key to keep the targeting reticle on the thing you want to kill, which can get hairy in the heat of battle. There are targetable AOEs, proximity effects, and a lot of the standard types of combat ephemera you’d expect from an MMO.
When a target dies, you can loot their possessions, and if they’re of a particular type, might be able to skin them. If you die, you head back to the respawn point and get to choose a Vessel to inhabit so you can get back into the fight.
Here’s a fun fact: there is decay in Crowfall, but there is no repair. When gear falls apart, it’s gone. This is to pave the way for the importance of harvesting and crafting which is a sight more involved than the usual “click-n-build” mechanics most MMOs use.
Resources are ranked, meaning that in the PvE zones you’ll find resources of lower rank, and in the furthest PvP zones you’ll get the materials of the highest ranks. As this is primarily a PvP game, this is how Crowfall aims to get harvesters and crafters into the more dangerous parts of the game (a la EVE Online). And because it’s dangerous to go alone, it’s also how Crowfall nudges players to join forces in order to do so. I’ve never been a fan of this line of thinking, but it’s the game’s rules and I’m only here to play, so away we go!
Harvesting usually involves clicking on a resource until it’s depleted. In order to harvest, a harvesting tool must be equipped, and these suffer from the same durability issues as combat gear, but are far, far less durable as a rule. Basic tool manufacturing is easy and can be done in the field. More complex, useful, and durable tools can be made at workbenches.
Crafting reminds me a bit of crafting in Wildstar, albeit without the variety of UI and minigames. Once the recipe is present, right clicking the proper items in the inventory window will slot them, allowing for a build. Some recipes allow for different types of materials in the same slot, and the choice of material used there will impart a different result. When making kebabs, for example, using wolf meat will give a buff for skinning, while using Auroch meat gives a buff for mining. This also affects weapon and armor manufacturing, as the ores used have different stats for the final product. Some recipes are multi-staged, meaning you need to create constituent parts which serve as the materials for the final products. Advanced items can use “experimentation”, which is represented in the assignment of a pool of points to increase stats on the final item.
Here’s the best part: Don’t like being a miner any more? Switch it up! Everyone can use basic tools, but to use anything more advanced requires slotting an “exploration discipline”. These come in the standard “level rainbow” of white, green, purple, etc. for more advanced bonuses. When in the PvE zone Temple, you can swap out your current harvesting and/or crafting discipline for something completely new, allowing you to wield advanced harvesting tools and to make different recipes available to you. No training, no long hours grinding for a single, locked-in job, and no need to alt (although you can if that’s your mindset).
I feel that necromancy deserves a shout-out for “the creepiest yet coolest crafting in an MMO”. The harvesting discipline for necromancy is gravedigging which is what it sounds like: when you come across graveyards in the game, you can dig up body parts. When you have enough body parts, you can use the necromancy crafting discipline to create new Vessels. Crafted Vessels will be better than store-bought Vessels, making necromancers vital to any player or group who wants to min-max the hell out of their characters.
As you move through the PvE zone tutorial and level up, you’ll get the chance to upgrade your attributes or select your talents in a round-robin style. Attribute boosting handles aspects like strength, intelligence, and spirit. Talents are either passive or active, with the active choices manifesting as skills for your hotbar. There are apparently only so many attribute points and so many talent points that can be spent, so no Crow can be a complete master of everything.
Every player gets a free plot of land in the Eternal Kingdoms (EK). Here, you are completely safe and (if you desire) completely alone. The free land comes with a respawn statue and two outbuildings which house tutorial info on how to use the EK. After that, its up to you on how you use your neighborhood.
EKs can be expanded. Expansions are craftable items. When new land is obtained, it can be plugged into the existing EK landmass so long as the edges of the white squares touch. Land comes in different varieties, offering low-level harvesting nodes, different landscapes, and even some built-in-buildings.
On that note, buildings can also be crafted. Each EK plot has a certain number of building slots, broken out into different classes for normal buildings and defensive structures. These buildings can house decorations, storage chests, crafting tables, and vendors.
Yes, vendors. See, if you’re in a guild, you can contribute your land and buildings to a single EK, expanding it to massive proportions. Then, the guild can build a village there. Crafters who have excess items can hire vendors to sell their goods, and when the EK is made public, other players can visit and shop for more advanced gear, resources, and vessels. The EK owner sets a tax, so all commerce can benefit the guild. Searching for “shop” or “market” in the EK listing can reveal public markets (assuming the owners named them as such; hit up Reddit or some other outlet for more targeted suggestions, I’m sure).
If you’re of the cetacean-persuasion, you can use the premium currency to purchase land and/or buildings through the cash shop. As land is purely cosmetic and does not provide instant wealth or even opportunities for wealth, it is not considered pay to win so don’t even start with that.
For those who are unsure about their desire to get involved in PvP, Crowfall kind of eases players into it through the God’s Reach zone. For the Earth faction (for example), once you leave the Temple you arrive in the Arborium, which is pretty much guaranteed to be held by Earth in perpetuity. Half of this zone is PvE and the other half is PvP, although since launch I’ve only seen one single player from another faction in this area. Harvesting nodes increase in rank up to 5 (I believe), and “motherlodes” start appearing. These require a group to work on, but spit out a lot more resources in the end.
Beyond this 50-50 zone is Skypoint, which is fully open PvP. Here, factions can band together to take outposts. Targets range in size from simple structures to walled forts. After taking out the defenders, attackers must occupy a central location while the capture bar meter fills. Once filled, the location belongs to the victor and is protected for a certain amount of time before it can be attacked again. During that time the owning faction has any bonuses that the location offers applied, and can use any of the amenities that the location provides.
In order to get into the more lucrative, far less safe zones, one would need to switch to the Faction v. Faction or Guild v. Guild zones. These aren’t always available due to Crowfall’s unique “campaign system”.
Campaigns are themed events that have a specific run-time before they are shut down, or if one side achieves the required victory condition. Each campaign can have different land structures, different internal populations (PvE mobs), and each campaign can feature different objectives and victory conditions. ArtCraft can spin up campaigns at will (though they are announced and scheduled) with whatever configuration they think is interesting, meaning that no two campaigns need be the same.
When selecting a campaign, either as a soloist or as a guild, you are locked into that campaign for the duration, meaning you cannot jump into another running campaign. You can, I believe, move between the EK, God’s Reach, and the campaign at will, but with some restrictions. In the deepest campaigns (GvG), extracting loot requires it to be transferred to a holding vault, meaning you can’t just load up with spoils and walk it back to your EK. Also, in FvF, you can be looted of up to 1/2 your carried gold while in GvG you can loose 100% of it. I unfortunately haven’t heard about your gear situation, although I suspect that can be looted too because it would fit in the mindset of other decisions the game has made.
My time has been spent in the PvE zones, leveling up to 25 and figuring out the ropes. Now I spend most of my time in the Arborium PvP-half, harvesting and taking care of what remaining tutorial missions I can. I am in the guild Trust, which has had several active members on at similar times, and we’ve tried group harvesting, EK building, and coordination of materials for a slow but steady build out. We are not large enough for GvG, and I don’t know that we have enough PvP minded folks to make a solid push into FvF quite yet.
That begs the question, then: if you are vehemently opposed to any and all PvP, is Crowfall for you? The only answer to that is that it completely depends on your support network. If you do have friends who love PvP or are interested in joining up with a larger PvP-centric guild (that aren’t complete ass-hats who demand 23 hour a day fealty), then yes, you can make Crowfall work. Harvesters and crafters aren’t afterthoughts; they are what make the PvP possible. Without them, PvPers will be beating each other silly with cardboard. To that end, any guild serious about their PvP game must respect harvesting and crafting, escorting them and protecting them into the zones where the best materials can be found.
However, if you’re used to soloing and dislike working with others, Crowfall will offer you absolutely nothing. The only gameplay you will endure is the EK (which will be limited as you won’t be able to amass the mats necessary to build land or buildings, leaving on the cash-shop) and the limited space of God’s Reach and it’s cap on useful materials. There are other games which favor soloists better.
When Crowfall was first announced, it was done so with a bombastic promise to “return MMOs to an age when they were fun” and that it would remind the genre “what it had lost”, and similar backhanded assertions that the MMO landscape, in being PvE focused, had somehow betrayed its audience. I’m never a fan of such chest-beating, especially when it’s an opening salvo fired before the actual siege engine has been constructed, but as time went on and the Crowfall message mellowed, specifics emerged which made things sound less confrontational. Some folks that I know had backed it as a Kickstarter and were starting to talk about it during alpha, so I picked up a basic supporter package and started playing. It wasn’t bad for what it was; it certainly wasn’t the wholesale repudiation of contemporary MMOs that the initial presser promised it would be. Besides, I had really enjoyed my time in Warhammer Online, and maybe Crowfall could bring me back to a similar time of enjoyment considering that in a strange turn of events, the current live crop of MMOs like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV weren’t piquing my interest in any way any more.
The question now is: can Crowfall put its money where its mouth is? Or, more specifically, is there the market for a PvP themed MMO in 2021 that J. Todd Coleman and crew claims there is? PvP has been successfully serviced by Battle Royale and only FPS games as of late, and that’s not what Crowfall is. There’s been a recent brouhaha over a Tweet claiming that only 3000 people were online at launch, out of the several thousand of Kickstarter backers, asserting that Crowfall has “already failed”. The official account rebutted that unsourced Tweet by claiming they were taking the slow and steady approach, which should really be the least any service game should do, but I admit that I am keeping one ear to this debate. If there’s an untapped market for PvPMMOs, why did the whole market shift towards PvE in the first place? We could very well be entering into an era of PvP in which case Crowfall is the vanguard and the territory relatively uncharted. Needless to say, the success or failure of Crowfall will cheer or worry other PvP MMOs like Camelot Unchained which are still in development. It might very well be that modern PvPers prefer the high-octane conflict of Fortnite or Apex Legends (this week) rather than that offered by a genre that requires a large network of friends and a large investment of time and effort.