The Early Access Report: Windborne, The Memory of Eldurium and Snow
Welcome to the early access report, a regular round-up looking at the most interesting early access games of the moment. Here we try new alphas and revisit old ones to separate the promising gems from the bug-ravaged time wasters.
Open-world games present an interesting challenge for small developers: the creation of the landscape is easy in comparison with filling it with things to do, and if you put a game like that on Early Access, it means you'll still be adding bits as the players are wandering around. All three of today's games sadly suffer from a similar problem. Windborne, The Memory Of Eldurium, and SNOW are impressive worlds in need of content.
Despite being a significant figure in the "Is this Early Access game any good?" community, I haven't made it into the EverQuest Landmark beta yet, but I'd hoped Windborne's whimsical charm would fill that hole. It comes from Hidden Path, Valve's collaborators on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (the second biggest game on Steam), and it is another game worshipping at the altar of Minecraft (the third biggest PC game since the dawn of time). Have they made something to match those titans?
Well, that's an impossible task. And though Windborne has promise, it needs a few updates before I can recommend it to you. It's a more organic Minecraft-style creation game set on a floating island: a world of rolling plains and lumpier lands. The cartoon smoothness works with the typical digging and placing skills of these sorts of games, enabling the player to dig out and toss down blocks, and then smooth things over. It's block-building with a hint clay moulding, and it works well. You'll be able to do things to the world that should only be possible with God's Ice Cream scoop.
What it's currently missing is an interesting direction, and the tutorial doesn't help: it's one of the most thankless and tedious I've ever encountered, and attempts to teach you the way of the world with tasks like "walk 30 yards away, " or "craft 10 items that have marble bricks as a requirement". If what's made is meaningless, why do I need ten? Why are you asking me to place roof components without first ensuring I've built-up walls? It's so directionless it's mind-numbing.
There are interesting things to learn with the crafting, but it's all underpinned by tasks that are at best boring, and at worst a bit unbalanced: you have a device called a 'shaper' that you place raw materials into and it spits out other crafting elements. I've not quite figured out the maths behind it, but you can get three different elements out of it, and while that might appear generous, when I'm being asked for 60 granite bricks to make 30 roof tiles, I'd rather be able to guarantee I get 60 bricks out of the raw granite I'm putting into the shaper, not a mixture of brick qualities. Particularly when it cuts one shape at a time. It's a slow process that doesn't guarantee success. When I created a second island and it carried my progress and inventory into that, though it didn't bring what I'd built and placed along. At least it tracks that progress.
I thought I could just take off and explore the world, ignoring the prompts, but the island that's currently generated isn't that big (capped to 'small' in this build). It is pretty and interesting: there are square plants, sheep that float like Bloatflies, glowing mosses, and exposed rock with thick veins of ore that show you how it's all been put together, but I walked from one end of the island to the other in just a few minutes. There's a frame here, and a hint at an interesting world that you'll be able to share with friends, but it needs to expand and give me something interesting to do before I recommend it to you.
The same goes for The Memory of Eldurium. This is real seeing-how-the-sausages-are-made game development. It's an open-world RPG, one that makes good use of Cryengine to be functionally pretty. From the moment I started to play, beginning in a non-descript little town in the shadow of a mountain, I've been staring at a huge mountain that dominates the world: I can see the route up it, over Tolkien-esque bridges that span gaps in the range, leading to a castle. I've promised myself I'll visit it, and I'd be allowed to according to the game's rules, but only when the game's more playable. There is a long road ahead for The Memory of Eldurim, and it hasn't even tied its laces yet.
It's a big place, but seeing it all means ignoring a pile of bugs. Everything from sound to quests is currently missing, which was to be expected in some Early Access game: a few problems that I've encountered include swords that connect without a clang, a roaring river's sound that's either silent or completely deafening, and a spot where you can hop back and forth, turning it on and off. I dropped into some water and when I returned to the land my character was still swimming along the ground. Though the villages are in place, some with burning fires roaring away, the buildings are sparse and the NPCs are mostly inert, creepy, mute, inactive peasants (that you'd probably call the police about if they stood like that in the real world) or aggressive guards who attack on sight.
They have the world, but this build is way too shaky for me to be able to recommend it now. Hold off and I'll update at a later date.
That's something I did with SNOW. it's another open-world CryEngine game, though in this case it's a game that's attempting to replicate the bustle of a busy ski-resort, allowing players on the piste together. I tried months ago when it when it first arrived on Early Access, because I love the idea of free-roaming my way down a mountain while people do the same, but it was so broken then that it was impossible to play. The camera didn't even work.
It's still broken, though the camera is now at least tied to the player. The menus are a mess, with options either greyed-out or just not responding correctly: the resolution options defaulted to 1280x720, and when I tried to change it I was forced to click an inch away from where the button was. And there are moments in game when the menus will pop up without any prompting, causing me to crash a few times when I was just getting to grips with the snow.
On the piste things are a bit better, though selecting a place to ski around is unintuitive, and the game insists on promoting a mock-up of the Solchi ski-run rather than the 'learn to ski here' slope they've set-up. But sliding down the hill is a pleasant experience: the mountain is huge, and you really can slide all over it, pulling stunts in the natural lumps and bumps, or attempting to pull trickier stunts off the roofs of the chalets as the sun goes down. It's another world that needs some structure to make it all work, though of all the games in this round-up, it was the most fun.
All three games have promise, but none are worth investing in if you're looking for something to play right away.
Worth playing right now?
The Memory of Eldurium: No