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Ashes of Creation looks promising, but the MMO's vision is unclear in alpha

Ashes of Creation alpha one
(Image credit: Intrepid Studios)

There's a lot to wrap your head around when you look at everything Intrepid Studios has planned for its fantasy MMO, Ashes of Creation. The developers' primary aim is to create a dynamic and ever-changing world based on the players' actions.

The main feature—or system—that will shape the world within Ashes of Creation are 'nodes'. These are essentially pre-defined locations where hubs can develop based on player interaction through questing, gathering, or killing enemies in and around the area. Each node can level up, attracting NPCs as they develop. Nodes can progress into simple crossroads and encampments, all the way up to towns and cities. 

Each node has a set 'type' too such as economic, military, or scientific. As a node advances, it will attract different types of services and NPCs. Buying player housing will give players citizenship of that node, enabling you to vote for a leader and other governmental roles. Nodes can also be destroyed during Sieges and you'll be automatically flagged for PvP if your node is attacked. 

Kickstarted back in 2017, there were some concerns around the referral program and the campaign itself. Then the battle royale mode, meant to test several of the MMO's systems, delayed the Alpha back in 2019. But Ashes of Creation's development seems to be progressing, and this is something that the devs are keen to be open about, both through the Discord channel and the forums.

(Image credit: Intrepid Studios)

I managed to grab a few hours in the Alpha One last weekend to see how the game is shaping up, though it should be noted that the alpha's current aim is to test 'technical systems and architectures' rather than content. It's also worth mentioning that PvP wasn't enabled when I played, but open-world PvP will be present in the finished game.

I've been known to lose hours of my life on character creation screens, but sadly, the creator is pretty bare-bones right now in Alpha One—though I believe this will be expanded in the future. Likewise, I only had three of the eight classes to choose from: cleric, mage, or tank. As I generally prefer ranged classes, I went with a mage.

The area where you arrive doesn't look particularly impressive. Still, it fits well with the lore as you're returning to what was your homeland after it was abandoned for centuries following an apocalypse. I wasn't bombarded with a load of quests either, and you're free to go wherever you wish, pretty much from the outset. So thankfully, you're not stuck in a starting area for a predetermined amount of time before you're allowed to move on to greener pastures—quite literally.

Ashes of Creation uses the usual WASD movement and tab-targeting combat present in many current MMOs and offers an action-combat alternative. I was able to toggle between the two by hitting a specific key. The action-combat worked well enough for my primary skill, but I found I still had to have an enemy targeted to use abilities I'd assigned to number keys. I'm keen to see how—and if—the action-combat is developed further as I've never quite been able to get over my love for TERA's original combat or find anything that's compared to it since.

(Image credit: Intrepid Studios)

Each class has basic skill trees too, and you can add points to rank up abilities further. My squishy mage became much more interesting once I'd unlocked a teleport spell and a drain that replenished both my mana and health.

Some of the quests will send you far from the quest giver, and the first of these made me wonder if I'd gone to the wrong place as there were so many red mobs around, denoting that they were too high a level for me to tackle. But as I progressed through subsequent quests that sent me travelling far and wide across the zone, I realised that this was the norm. You can't just blindly run through areas to a quest objective, and even following a pathway can be treacherous if you're not on the lookout.

As there's no real endgame content to rush to max level for, making the levelling experience a little more involved makes sense. It honestly made a nice change to think about what you're doing and where you're going, rather than just killing stuff and completing quests on autopilot. It also means that these areas should hopefully stay relevant for longer, even if you level up quickly.

You'll also find quite a few group quests, and some of these lead to open-world dungeons, while others might require you to take down one formidable enemy. It was a reminder that, while it's possible to play the game solo, it is an MMO, and you'll get much more out of it if you play with others or find a good guild to group up with. Luckily, plenty of people were looking to complete these quests, and I even tagged along with a raid group to kill a boss that was four levels too high for me—let's pretend that I didn't die horribly from one hit as soon as I reached the boss.

You should be prepared to do a lot of running around, so WoW Classic players would feel right at home here. There are no fast-travel options besides the ferries that port you from one island to another. And as far as I know, Intrepid isn't planning on adding any. This didn't feel like too much of a chore, though, as the landscape is so pretty—from lush forests to arid landscapes—you want every excuse you can to explore it.

You can also sprint, though I imagine this will come with some sort of stamina cost eventually. Right now, you can run for unlimited periods—unless you're in combat and running from something that's trying its hardest to eat you. It's also worth noting that you can get access to mounts very early on, or at least as soon as a node has developed into a village. This is when the Stable Master NPC will spawn, and you can buy a mount from him for as little as 80g.

I visited several nodes, all at different stages, to get an idea of how they work. One node site hadn't been developed at all as there was nothing there, while another had progressed into a very basic quest hub. But while nodes are at the heart of Ashes' ever-changing world, it's hard to get an impression of their importance just by looking at them. One of the nodes on my server had progressed to a village, complete with player housing in the form of apartments and houses for sale. Sadly, they were out of my price range, but that didn't stop me from having a good look around.

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Ashes of Creation alpha one

Empty node site (Image credit: Intrepid Studios)
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Ashes of Creation alpha one

Crossroads node (Image credit: Intrepid Studios)
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Ashes of Creation alpha one

Encampment node (Image credit: Intrepid Studios)
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Ashes of Creation alpha one

Village node (Image credit: Intrepid Studios)
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Ashes of Creation alpha one

Player housing (Image credit: Intrepid Studios)
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Ashes of Creation alpha one

Player housing (Image credit: Intrepid Studios)

It's difficult to know what to make of Ashes of Creation at this point. As it aims to be such a player-driven game, it's hard to see how that will be realised until more time can be spent in the world, and more systems have been added. It won't have tonnes of endgame focused content either, making it more like ArcheAge or Amazon's New World, rather than traditional MMOs such as World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy 14.

From a pure gameplay point of view, it feels pretty good. The gorgeous environments are there, the basic combat works well enough—though admittedly, the action-combat could use some work—and I felt interested enough to want to keep playing. But it's hard to gauge how a game based on so many elements will work in a closed alpha, especially when one of those elements is a large, active player base.