By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Cube World is an open world third person action RPG of sorts. It is built around the idea of exploring a procedurally generated world whilst performing quests, fighting enemies and generally doing all that standard RPG stuff only generated procedurally. The theoretical result of this is that each player can experience an entirely different world with its own unique layout to explore. The game is not finished however and that becomes somewhat evident in the playable alpha, so take that into account. Everything I say here is based upon my experiences with this testing build and everything could change significantly, this is purely an assessment of the current state, the value of the alpha and the potential that I see.
The procedural generation is very well done, where it is done. The world is infinite and the generation of towns, ruins, forests and other such landmarks within the multitude of biomes is nicely done. Many of the pitfalls of non-human content creation have been avoided, buildings are actually generated nicely as opposed to attempts in games such as Minecraft where the dynamic building generation can be a tad sketchy. Inhabiting this world are a large variety of enemies as well as ‘friends’ although they’re more neutral than anything else. These factions will run around, have fights and generally live within the world. Proper questing does not seem to have been implemented yet which is a bit of a shame because it leads into my main gripe of the alpha at the moment; it lacks character and just feels somewhat generic. Whilst there are groups of friendlies and enemies running around they feel very generic at the moment, faceless. This should hopefully change as I believe the alpha is principally a test of the underlying systems such as the procedural generation and basic AI behaviours, however if you’re looking for depth I’d recommend waiting until the game proceeds further in development and gains more content.
The combat is fun and requires a reasonable amount of skill and discretion, especially in the choosing which fights you want to engage in. The game does not hand-hold or level scale, so if you stroll into a higher level area then you will die constantly until you level some more. This is satisfying as it blocks off certain exploration goals until you level a tad more, the only problem is that in the current state levelling is very very slow. It’s not even that the process is slow, it’s that with the current content available levelling equals grinding. This is grinding of the most typical of the MMO variant; bashing on low level creatures for miniscule rewards for hours on end. Eventually this is the ultimate factor that led me to stop playing the alpha regularly as the grinding just became somewhat dull. I’m hoping that with the addition of a fully fleshed out questing system this grind should abate a little. Whilst this is my hope I’m not sure that it will happen. The issue with the procedural generation is that when everything is created following a mathematical formula it has a horrible habit of seeming rather generic. Games like Minecraft managed to work around that as the procedural generation was merely a foundation upon which user created content could build, generating unique and interesting structures within a landscape that whilst is randomly generated, may not always surprise. Cube World lacks this level of user interaction, and it is attempting to create with mathematics what MMO creators spend thousands of man hours intricately crafting. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think that the idea of procedural generation is bad, in fact the procedural generation used in Dwarf Fortress world and history creation blows my mind and creates a deep world with history and character. If Cube World could move towards something more resembling that then it may lose the very shallow and generic feel that it is burdened with. Many people raise the criticism against TES V: Skyrim that it was a sea with the depth of a puddle, and I would argue that Cube World in its current state is possibly more guilty of Skyrim in this. I feel like there has been a great deal of negativity here and I’d like to point out that Cube World is not bad, not by a long stretch. It just isn’t finished and could well be a fair distance from being finished. Cube World has a huge amount of potential and the systems upon which it is built have already been proven by games such as Dwarf Fortress to work extraordinarily well at creating a unique and interesting world brimming with character, how successful it is at doing that is yet to be seen.
The aesthetic is interesting, it follows the recent trend towards a blocky appearance although I’d rather describe it as voxel-based rather than blocky as there is a distinct lack of textures. The landscapes are often interesting and attractive and the procedurally generated landmarks within the various biomes are pleasant to explore. Character models are voxel-based and appear to follow standard fantasy tropes, perhaps with a bit of ‘chib’ added for effect. The interface is attractive yet functional and I’m a big fan of the appearance and function of the map. The sound is functional although not particularly noteworthy, in places it can be a tad obnoxious but I think it fits into the style that was intended.
In short, the game is in alpha so don’t purchase it expecting it to be complete, it is however fairly fun in its current state if not a bit of a grind. The future development direction could be very interesting and the end product promises to resolve many of the issues that I pointed out here. The Cube World alpha is available on Windows from XP SP2 up, with a planned Mac release. There don’t appear to be any plans for Linux support, which is a shame. The system requirements are fairly standard for a low end desktop; Core 2 Duo/Core i3 2.0Ghz, 2GB RAM, GeForce 7800 (not GTX). This is fine for a lower end desktop but those of you with toasters and laptops may want to try out the free demo to test the performance before purchasing. Purchasing is done through the Picroma website which is now stable after having some initial trouble with DDOS attacks (why would someone even want to do that to them?!) at a price of £13.00 (approx $20.00, €15.00). This is an alpha price and the price is set to scale in a Minecraft fashion as development proceeds, so if you see the potential then now is the time to get it. Cube World is interesting in its current form and is certainly one to keep an eye on.