A few days ago, I got word from a forum I frequent that Cube World had come back into existence and was receiving a full release October. Like many, this caught me completely off guard, as I haven’t seen the game around for quite some time, barring the rare tweets from the game’s developer, Wollay.
Through some research I found that I had closed beta access to the game as I was an early supporter of its Alpha, so with this knowledge in hand I input the key into my Steam and began a new journey into this charming little title. I was greeted with the same game but also a very different one.
Familiar and Completely Different
I loaded into the game and was in the middle of the woods as a Frogman Rogue. I waltzed around picking things up and explored the forest and encountered some beetles to get immediately crushed. After another test, I recognized that these beetles were way, way more powerful than me, so promptly avoided them and spoke to a travelling NPC, who gave me a quest to liberate a beach from Steel Empire enemies.
Going there was a death wish however, as these blokes had ten times my health pool and essentially deleted me in a single hit. I sat there, a little confused and thought that I should probably look for a town, as there I can get access to gear and other essentials. I explored the map and eventually found one, and through this process learned quite a number of things about the game – as well as identifying many of the changes it went through in its long development cycle.
In the alpha, the game had a leveling system similar to other, traditional action RPGs, where killing things would give you a level up as well as loot, and you’d unlock new abilities. It was a simple and well known process of progression. However the game does not play like that anymore.
Essentially, upon starting the game you are very frail and don’t level up at all – so the first thing you ought to do is get to a town, collect items on the way, avoid any enemies that have a coloured name barring white ones, (order of difficulty is white, green, blue, purple, yellow) and eventually get some gear and quests from speaking to NPCs you meet along the way and inside the village, and progress from there.
The progression here is now completely up to you. You can explore freely and find events and quests, or you can follow the trail that NPCs may provide you, but be wary – often the quests they give you may be coloured and beyond your current capabilities. Through some trial and error I figured this out quite quickly, and eventually went around completing quests that are the same star or colour as my weapon/armour tier (which you can see in your character stats). From here, you’re rewarded with equipment that may be higher tier, which subsequently allow you to combat enemies of a higher tier, too.
Okay, the game was starting to click and there was a certain motivation and flow that had begun to manifest.
Dynamic Quests, Artifacts and Items
I kept moving and figuring out how my class worked, too, mainly through experimentation. I realized that certain button combinations would lead to different results, as well as the little quirks that made the rogue unique. Stealth is actually incredibly important with this class and utilizing it properly allowed me to decimate groups of enemies quite quickly with high damage strikes and hit and run tactics. It’s a tonne of fun actually – there is a certain flow to it and figuring it all out on my own was very satisfying.
As I was progressively taking things down with the higher tier gear, I was also able to approach other quests that I was now sufficiently fit to work against – and again, upon success it further improved my gear loadout, and gave access to more quests.
Some quests even gave special items, too. For example, by exploring an ancient ruin I ended up receiving a harp that allows the opening of specific doors hidden throughout the entire region (and the regions are enormous). This harp simultaneously gave me access to better gear and secrets and more progression through gear acquisition and quests. There are a bunch of items like this that you’ll get from completing quests, and they all synergize with the region so that you get into somewhat of a cyclic flow state, where things “click” into place in your head and you systematically complete more quests, craft better gear due to higher tier unlocks, etc.
Furthermore, throughout all this I realized that I hadn’t leveled up at all. Checking the character stats screen showed that I was still level 1, so gear and monster killing does not actually do anything of the sort – they’re simply obstacles and rewards that lead you to larger goals – and through exploration of ruins, reading lore and speaking to NPCs, I deduced that it had something to do with artifacts, which are different to the special items and gear found.
Over time, and after a long trip around the region I was in to gather up top of the line gear, I ended up going down some sewers in one of the towns, which led to quite a big dungeon and very high level enemies. After slamming through the entire dungeon I fell upon my first artifact, a ring – which ended up leveling me up to level 2 and increasing my sailing speed. So leveling up is now figured out – but what now?
Regions, Artifact Hunting and Incentive
I continued exploring the region I was in and found another dungeon which I am yet to fully explore as of this writing, but I also went exploring to an oceanic region next to my current one – and suddenly all my gear was reset to nothing, and I even lost my glider and boat. Huh?
This part was the eye brow raising aspect of the game, and is very much dividing Cube World fans. From what has been understood, gear is “region locked”, so that the top of the line gear that you find in one region does not translate over to the next. In essence, they lose all their stat bonuses and you’re back to rags – and there’s even a different ‘tab’ specifically for items found within certain regions.
My initial reaction to this was somewhat of shock and disappointment, but I ended up nearly completing that ocean biome and going into another flow state again, surprisingly enough. The game is still a lot of fun, but that gear reset is something up for discussion (as a note, there is + type gear which translates over to other regions, but from reports it doesn’t cross over to ALL regions).
This region lock was not in the alpha – in fact, in the alpha you simply continued to level, and upon acquiring very powerful gear you can keep it on and travel the world freely. This design structure has a flaw though, and that is replayability and maintaining challenge.
In the alpha, the world was much more barren and earlier days, but the gameplay loop was evident – level up, acquire gear, explore things, kill things, repeat. The problem here though was it did eventually get boring – not because the fundamental mechanics were unfun – quite the contrary, it’s mechanically fluid and enjoyable – but because nothing really posed a challenge once you got good enough gear. I remember getting bored of the alpha after a day or two of playing, because it simply wasn’t challenging anymore. Granted I had a lot of fun playing it with friends, but it didn’t have a sustaining factor.
It looks like, from what myself and other players have so far understood, that Wollay’s solution to this is to reset gear when entering new regions, which includes all the special items (ie. gliders, boats, harps), so the player has to go through the same game loop in the previous region. Now, you DO keep the artifacts you have acquired, lore is also globally known (and with enough lore discovered, the game will provide you with locations of artifacts), your level is higher and the stat boost from the artifact is present – however they are quite small, and you’d be nowhere near strong enough to fight enemies higher than the white tier.
This design seems to try to alleviate the gear creep problem by resetting the gear altogether, and while exploring new regions is fun, the initial hurdle of “I’m doing this all over again” is hard to shake off. The gameplay loop is solid, but the end result when traveling to new regions is that you lose all the gear and items you initially found.
From a behaviorist point, there are a few things going on here – one is the aspect of positive reinforcement, in that you’re being rewarded for overcoming challenges in a region, finding an artifact with a permanent stat boost and given lore from distant lands to explore.. but then there is a negative punishment, where gear and all items found are removed on a new region.
Now the reaction that I’ve seen from a lot of people regarding the region lock on gear has been more negative, and I think it’s because the overall impact of it is much larger than what the artifact stat boost is, which doesn’t seem that big. The incentive to do the same gear acquisition and exploration aspect isn’t big because the permanent boost you get from it does not really match the effort needed to get it. On the other hand, you know for a fact that on entering a new region, all the effort applied to get that minor boost is now set to zero, and sans some + gear being found, you’re back to square one but with minor boosts.
Thoughts and Early Days
I must give Wollay credit though, because he’s got an interesting system in place here that is very different from other, similar games on the market. Sans the roguelikes I play, most titles on the market follow very similar gameplay loops and systems, and it gets quite boring. I can appreciate a developer trying for new ideas and challenging traditional mechanics.
Do I think it’s a good system? I’d say fundamentally it does work, but perhaps it could use tweaks to reduce the feeling of punishment, while increasing the positive reinforcement aspect. I still enjoy the game quite a lot and intend on playing it for the time being. However, perhaps players can keep their boats, gliders and reins when entering new regions – while I think searching for new items isn’t that big of a deal, transportation seems like a bit much at this point in time. When entering an ocean biome, for example, you immediately lose your boat, which not only immediately kills the exploration aspect, but doesn’t really make sense – unless there’s some kind of invisible border patrol confiscating your goods.
But on the other hand, I suspect there may be more to the game than meets the eye – over the few days the beta has been out, people have been discovering more and more about it, and both Wollay and his wife have been completely silent on revealing anything barring basic starter hints. There’s a sense of mystery to it and I’m interested to see what else is discovered, so I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt on a number of points for this reason.
Though one thing, mainly for QOL purposes – tooltips and item descriptions, please! More often than not you get buffs and items that have zero descriptions. While I appreciate a game letting me learn on my own, some tooltips for things such as the ones mentioned would be very appreciated.
Otherwise, fun game. Will see how it fares over the next few weeks.