Square Block, Round Hole

Cube World, Pt. 2

I sit here, with but one task in front of me, complain. The problem is some issue where I just don’t want to, not because of whether or not there’s value in it, but because whatever value is there, my head is screaming, it’s negative.

So what should be one of the easiest things in the world, is instead, very difficult, mostly as I try to find a way to espouse my observations and feelings, if they’re as a whole largely negative. Which, when it comes to Cube World as it is on Steam Early Access, well.

I guess I should just stop pretending to be Thumper.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The good is that the majority of the core game is still essentially there. Cube World had fairly strong skill-based mechanics driving the “fight stuff” part of the progression loop. First and foremost, the player can dodge everything. Granted, there are some attacks that don’t quite work out that way, but we’ll deal with that later.

One of the main core tenets of Cube World’s combat was a damage system that essentially allowed an under-powered character to take on stronger threats with a combo system. Essentially, the more hits you managed to land, the more powerful your attacks would become – rising from what could be potentially nothing, to the ability to nearly kill an enemy in a single attack supposing the chain kept going. Note particularly how in each of the following, the damage goes from nonexistent, to major chunk damage from chip attacks.

Different classes, of course, had different mechanics. Mages got to play the game like a third person shooter complete with hit-scan beams, warriors were derived not too far from MMORPG stylings, rangers mixed in ranged weaponry with some evasive utility, and rogues, my favorite, had a counter mechanic that significantly enhanced damage for countering incoming enemy attacks, which can be noted by the purple aura surrounding the character and the sudden spike of damage for the thrusting attack.

What makes it even better? This mechanic works both ways. Enemies that aren’t powerful enough to damage you outright can absolutely build a big enough combo to deal some serious hurt to you. With details like that, Cube World, as an Alpha and Beta, has had the solid makings of strong action RPG gameplay, and most importantly, I should note that Cube World is a co-op game. Strong action RPG gameplay, with co-op, and without being an outright shooter, is unfortunately exceedingly uncommon today.

Besides that, the movement systems in-game are equally good, and proving that the game has one hell of a foundation in that regard is Breath of the Wild. The reception which it garnered is something else, even if the game absolutely has some pretty obvious failings, so it is not unreasonable to assert that Cube World, having essentially wrote Breath of the Wild’s formula, could do pretty well on those merits alone.

However, this is about where we start to get into the failings of the game – but we’re talking about the minor. Just the bad stuff so far, we haven’t gotten to the ugly. A good RPG is, at it’s core, a tactics game. Vertical progression in terms of raw damage and health numbers is usually an illusion, given that unless the player is fighting weaker opponents (usually a fruitless endeavor), and the real growth is all horizontal. The player character typically is presented with new skills or attacks which in turn allow for new approaches and strategies. Enemies get “weaker” in that the in that the player is able to exploit and better capitalize on weaknesses that have existed since the start of the game.

Cube World, both Alpha and Beta, significantly lacks a variety of tactics available to the individual player. This is two-fold: the first applies to combat and the second applies to how characters traverse the game. On the combat side of things, there simply needs to be more variety – more attacks with varying uses. The stylish Ninja shuriken throw from the Alpha is gone now, but it’s exactly the sort of move the game sorely needs, along with a repertoire of others that are stylish and fun.

On the movement front, it seems reasonable to me that different classes should approach traversal differently. Mages can glide, ninjas can sprint-jump, but I’m looking for a bit more here: maybe a water mage doesn’t need a boat, maybe a ninja doesn’t need to climb a cliff but instead run right up it, maybe a warrior doesn’t give a damn about going over that mountain because they’re going to mine right through it. That said, nothing truly happens with Cube World’s world generation that fully encourages exploitation of its mobility – which is saying something, because things as simple as pine trees in Cube World are incredibly well thought out.

And the world gen is decent, even though it does have some flaws. Having a boat on a river is incredible, something that thoroughly outweighs the times when it does this, it’s just a bit of a let down when there’s some terribly well thought out objects that permeate the world, but whether or not they’re used to the fullest extent, or whether or not some match the subtle brilliance of others. It’s an incredible shame to wander around a “dark forest” only to completely miss the area’s quest feature because the entire place is virtually empty of any reason for a player to be there.

So, none of the above is really that damning. For the most part, a lot of good comes with the bad with Cube World, and I do mean, a lot. What’s the really ugly, though? Well, I’m afraid we have to sidetrack for a moment and talk about meta things like game’s reception: there is a large attempt (not just by the the game’s white knights), to silence and suppress criticisms or label them as something else entirely (namely, hate).

This is pretty well been my experience with this particular Steam forum as well. I haven’t been banned myself, but I’ve seen people who have been, even though I couldn’t particularly find an offending post of theirs, nor did they seem particularly uncivil or the sort to, you know, get themselves banned, deservedly.

Hell, there’s a good reason why I only feel like expressing my thoughts in long form on my own site where I needn’t worry about them getting washed away with the tide. That said, what this really does, is get in the way of talking about the big problems that Cube World has. It doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, generally in today’s world, covering something up really only makes it more apparent apart from the obfuscation being its own issue.

So what’s really ugly about Cube World’s beta? It’s primarily progression and lack of content. In spite of what people’s very poorly worded opinion might tell you, Cube World’s beta, does indeed, have progression. In fact, it has extremely vertical progression. The problem is that said vertical progression resets almost completely the instant the player crosses a border, which is probably best represented by what happens to a player with a boat, leaving the biome in which said boat was found, to an ocean biome.

Your gear is your real indication of your power level in terms of combat capability and as your armor and weapon improve, your capability to perform actual combat related tasks in a region improves. With low quality gear, you can die to one of your enemies sneezing at you; with good gear, your position changes, immediately, and instead of being a fine balancing act, it ends up a teeter-totter.

Vertical progression itself absolutely isn’t abhorrent, it’s just, usually good vertical progression is more of an illusion than actual progression as the player’s power stays relatively similar the whole time. Difficulty spikes, or difficulty lulls, stand out particularly with vertical progression. Note the enemy above’s blue name; this indicates they’re rare, and thus, should be more powerful, than a green or white enemy.

These hornets are far more deadly on their own, typically act as a group given the mechanic of how they spawn (the player has to destroy the hives to stop them spawning), and all in all, prove significantly more difficult an opponent that by the two clearest indicators (they are a group-based enemy, and their names) should be less of a direct threat than a single crab, but instead, it’s quite the opposite.

And I suppose that’s one of the things about Cube World. Typically, the more benign looking the enemy, the more lethal they are. I’d be lying if I said my experience with the Alpha wasn’t similar.

Besides that, one of the best strategies when unprepared for an enemy is… Leading them into an NPC. Without any real incentives for the player to actually kill an enemy themselves, the best way to play the game is to not play the game, and essentially, trick the game into playing itself – so the player can carrion. That might be a pun. I’m not sorry.

As described earlier, the game manages less of a balancing act, and more of a teeter-totter when it comes to the progression of this balance, swinging back in the favor of the enemies when the player moves to a new region, as the strength of weapons and armor is tied to the region in which it was obtained. It’s possible to receiver (item name)+ which is effective in the surrounding regions as well, but this is highly reliant on RNG. I’ve had plenty of + items appear myself, though none of which were the weapon types I’d use, whereas others have received none.

Prior to transitioning from my starter region, I was pushing almost one thousand health points, afterwards, I had less than two hundred, a little less, I believe, than my actual starting value when I started playing my character. That number was around one hundred and ninety something, compared to one hundred and seventy something.

Oh, yeah, this particular monster had decided to chase me until it was killed in the gif above it by an NPC probably some 200-300m or more away. More relevant to the discussion of difficulty spiking, but it’s really just strange, inconsistent behavior that is exceedingly common throughout this game. Which, I mean, an enemy that chases you a long distance or virtually forever isn’t inherently bad, it’s just important that there’s consistency or logic to it.

That just about covers it, I think. The only thing I’ve omitted is the big loop the player builds towards in the Beta to “finish” an area, and that’s receiving an artifact from a dungeon or other activity in a region. That’s not really good, bad, or ugly, because it’s kind of a combination of all three of those things: it could be good, it’s kinda bad, but it’s not horrifically ugly.

At the very least, though, with everything I’ve said, I ought to offer some suggestions to move forward, but prior to that, I’ll replay the original Alpha since I was made aware of the fact you could still get it – a fact I glazed over when I got my key and forgot about until someone mentioned. Some direct comparison between the two is somewhat necessary, if not just for my memory, and if more for the sake of any perspective audience.

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