It is hard to describe the world found in Big Kitty Games' ambitious Solace Crafting because words like "immense" and "gargantuan" just don't seem to do it justice. With a self-described view of 48+km view distance, it would be easy to dismiss this claim as rubbish, since most games have a hard time showing you even 1/10th that distance. Sprinting, you can cover 100m as fast as a world-class athlete (10s). With no stamina drain, covering vast distances is not as daunting as it would seem. Granted, there are currently no quests, NPC towns, or bosses to slow you down, so once these are implemented, getting out of even the starter zone will probably take you much more time. As with in real life, seeing a landscape from far away will lull you into a sense of the ground being relatively flat, and that is where the genius of LOD (Level of Detail) comes into play.
Setting out to test the claim of how far one could see and travel to, I picked a very distinct mountaintop and spent an hour trying to get to it. Only getting as far as 7.5km from the center of the map due to being one-shot by the enemies, I decided to try something else. At your initial spawn point is a mountain that looked to be the tallest around. So I headed to the peak and pulled out some math. From the 7.5km point to the peak was about 12.5km, and I hadn't even got close to the initial mountain I wanted to get to. So based on this, it is safe to assume that in the ideal situation, from atop a mountain, the claim to view distance is more or less accurate.
Now to the LOD point. Many people have seen this at work in games over the years. Items at a distance are not as detailed as they are when you get up close. Sometimes the transition is smooth and you don't really notice the switch to the higher detailed models. Other times, the switch can be jarring and quite noticeable. The latter is true in this case, but while I would normally view this as a negative, it is the only way to achieve the vision for this game. Many people can't or won't be able to get over the fact they can visibly see when the grass or tree's end, only terrain to be seen. If the areas of the game are strong enough, this will just be a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. The terrain is no different though, as it is broken into chunks. Once you near the edge of one chunk and the beginning of another, the terrain will pop in as a more detailed texture. You only notice this when you are scaling mountains or by the slight hiccup or freeze you encounter as the game tries to render everything in.
Don't fret though, teleportation is in the game in the form of Dimension Crystals that allow you to instantaneously travel between any others you have made. These also provide extradimensional storage chest where you can unload your resources so you aren't left with no more room. These also provide something called Facets which aren't implemented as of yet, but from what I understand will tie into the souls part of your character.
Now we come to what even the title tells us what this is all about; crafting. A short disclaimer here, I might be one of the biggest fans of crafting in games. While nothing is absolutely revolutionary, the fact that you will never be able to make the strongest weapon gets me excited. Throwing away the usual recipe function in almost every crafting game ever made, it is replaced with a system that rewards you with better items the further you travel, the more monsters you kill, and the higher level you are.
As you get about 5km away from the initial spawn point, you will start encountering higher tier resources (wood, stone, ore) which have a much greater impact on the stats of your gear than a few levels will. When you open your crafting window, you select the material you want to work with, then which type of weapon you want to make. Once there, you choose what level, which tier resources to make, and the rarity. The item level can only be raised to the level of proficiency you have in that material (i.e. Woodworking 3 can only make a bow up to Level 3). The resource tier can be as high as you have on you, although currently there are only three tiers. This will require you to travel quite a distance and at lower character levels, almost meaning certain death along the way. Lastly is the rarity of an item. While I never did run into any monster that gave me the necessary resources to increase this, you can see what doing so gives you. Along with a boost in the base stats, it also gives you more enchanting slots. These slots let you imbue your gear with special abilities from gems you receive from mining ores.
Taking all this into account, you will see that making a level one sword out of tier two metal and a higher rarity is going to result in a better weapon than just making a level ten sword. In this way, you will never run into a ceiling with what you can craft. Since there is no cap to which level your character or crafting skill can reach, there will always be something better you can make, even if it's just a slight improvement. Having played virtually every game that is renowned for its crafting complexity or popularity, Solace Crafting has me hoping that this method will catch on in going forward. Nothing ruins a crafting game more than reaching that point where you have made everything and there is nothing more to do.
As with most games centered around crafting, having a building mechanic is almost a given. Again, nothing revolutionary here as it is voxel-based, so the inevitable Minecraft comparisons will be made. Currently, there are not many options to what you can build and the developer has opted to not implement a physics-based system. This means you can have super unrealistic castles that should topple over, but this is to prevent griefing and promote a more casual experience. After all, this game is about having fun. A video from the website and Steam show the plan is to make curved wall sections available to make your own wizard towers.
Hopefully, this is fleshed out well enough as I am one of those gamers that loves to just see what kind of structures I can build in a game, especially one that isn't limited to what is physically possible. My only concern here is that doing so will turn into a giant grind-fest for materials. With so much of the game unfinished, this is something I will personally be looking at very closely in the future.
When you level up as a character, you receive a certain amount of points to spend for your stats and a separate pool of points for combat skills. From here, you can choose to build your character however you want. You put your points into one of four initial "classes" for a lack of better word. This allows you to unlock specific abilities in that class, but you are free to mix and match. I initially built a fighter but then I morphed him into an archer/mage combo. Later on, I put a couple points into healing, making an archer/mage/priest hybrid. Under each class is further specialization, which isn't implemented yet, so I couldn't see what skills they had to unlock.
Without any level cap, all you need to change your character's path is XP. Enough of this and you will gain more points to spend in whichever class you would like and the good thing is the differences in damage is more about your equipment than it is about the points you spend here. Well, up to a certain point I suppose. It appears the progression is linear, not exponential, which means that you won't run into someone a couple levels higher that will vastly out damage you. It will take a great deal of time and effort to get that much separation in power.
The last part of an RPG is usually story driven. Usually, this deserves its own section, but outside of the small blurb on the Kickstarter, there is no story to the game currently. While this will be added over the coming months, I did want to at least mention that fans of a living world with quests and storylines won't be forgotten either.
What every good RPG needs is a good combat system. One that lets you wield a sword and shield just as effectively as a bow or magic spell. Unfortunately, this is the one area of the game I am not too keen on. There are a lot of games where you are forced to make the decision of ranged vs. melee, with ranged coming out on top. Solace Crafting is no different, currently. With a basic bow crafted with a fresh character, you will do more damage quicker than you can with any other weapon, including magic spells. Maybe this has to do with only one enemy type in the game right now, but it honestly made me a little sad. I love being a tank in RPGs but there is absolutely no reason to enter into melee combat. Even with full metal armor, you still will have a hard time killing enemies before they kill you, levels being equal that is. One could argue to just fight easier monsters, but then you run into the grind of having to kill vastly more enemies to gain the same amount of XP as one the same level.
Going the other route, you do so little damage with spells that I am concerned that there is little reason to have them in the game. Yes, I know that it is still very early in development and as hard as I try to tell myself over and over that it will change, I have seen way too many games follow this path. Balancing different combat styles is one of the hardest things to do and I am not suggesting they be completely equal. With the monsters getting progressively harder as you explore, kiting the enemies with a bow is leaps and bounds easier than trying to get even two hits in with a sword before dying. There is only hope that with more testing and feedback, this can be addressed and worked out for the best possible outcome.
With Solace Crafting being at such an early stage of development, it would be easy to say it has a long way to go. However, never underestimate someone who has a passion for a game and is trying to make it his livelihood. The Kickstarter launched recently and is one step to making the dream of Big Kitty Games come true, which would let the development speed up. There is enough positive stuff going on that I do have hope that features will be implemented to bring the world to life with an endless supply of quests and monsters to kill. If you are a fan of crafting and/or truly open-world RPGs, Solace Crafting should be on your radar, because it has the potential to be a game changer.
I look forward to the future of this game and will provide a proper preview of it when it releases on Steam in December.