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Some Time With: Cube World (Alpha)

Oblong Play

Tired of our usual excursions in Torchlight II, or Minecraft, or wine, Lady Rossignol and I needed something of a fresh video-distraction for the weekend evenings. Having paid little attention to Cube World, but knowing enough about it to say that I was multiplayer, we decided to embark on the perilous path of the alpha.

This is how we got on.

Firstly it's important to note that the developers of Cube World are called Wolfram and Sarah von Funck. That should pretty much seal its fate as one of the most important games of the year, but it turns out there's more to it that that. Cube World is an RPG set in an infinite world. That means that whatever seed you put in to generate your world, you get a world that is endless. Philosophically speaking, therefore, if the map really is infinite, it is all the same map, since an infinite map made must contain all maps, and therefore you are just on one point on a plane of infinite potentiality that the code has instantiated. That's maths for you. Clever stuff.

Cup of tea.

Maths was presumably also involved in the networking of the game, which we played over LAN (and which can be played over VPN using much the same system) by running a server app in the background to my game, and then typing my network IP into the other client game. Lucky I can still remember how to find my own IP, eh? All those years of mucking about with command lines had its use after all. Won't matter come the apocalypse though, eh? We'll all have to use Linux.

Anyway, we jumped in and made some characters using the lovely character creator. Actually, I say lovely, and mean that, but it was also sort of indicative of the game as a whole: it sticks rigidly to the standard ways of doing things that other RPGs have done in the past. While Cube World is in some ways wholly unlike anything else I have played - in its scope and openness - it is also based unerringly on ideas from mainstream MMOs, and games like the Final Fantasies and Zelda. I know people like that stuff, but it immediately demolished the idea that there were going to be any significant surprises, and so far there haven't been. That's not to say it's not lovely, but that it is very much a work of genre RPG expectations.

And so into the world: Cube World's strongest asset is, indeed, it's cube world. It's beautiful in a clean, perfect, Platonic landscape sort of way. The cubes give the game a superficial Minecraftian look, but the conceit of popping and unpopping those cubes for building is (for the most part, there is mining and stuff) not here. The cubes are, instead, a shortcut to create a world out of that maths stuff. And what a world! Not only infinite, as I said, but ostentatiously artful, like a measured sculpture, made by God's 3D printer: cubey clouds float above flowing valleys and towns. Huge, monster-infested fortresses can be found at the end of winding roads from chunky fantasy towns filled with craftsmen and shops. Exquisite. I could (and did) wander through it for hours. The map is a particular glory, and it made me wish all games would pay as much attention to their graphical abstraction as this does. God, I love maps.

Furthermore, I'm one of the world's greatest suckers for procedural world generation, so it was inevitable that I would be so entranced. Mrs Rossignol, however, is in it for the loot and the crafting, and as such she was not enjoying herself quite so much. Rightly so, perhaps, because right now the game does little to structure its experience in any meaningful way. The complete randomness of drops, resources, and so on, combined with NPCs of various levels being strewn through the world so that you are just as likely to meet an impossible dangerous squirrel as you are to find a band of orcs that you can kill quite easily, or find that thing you actually need. Any plans you might make for crafting that recipe you find tend to be no plan at all, and you just have to wait and see what the grind will bring. Clearly there are plans to round off these rough edges, but for a game world that feels so developed, and for game systems (such as crafting) with such a lot of content, it seems like a daft oversight to have launched with only the name-colour of NPCs giving you any real clue as to whether you should engage, and no good way to search for the things you actually need, other than wander, wander, wanderiiiing.

Cup of tea. Cake.

This bitterish pill is no doubt going to be sweetened by continued work on the game, which is only at the earliest stages of playable alpha, and already contains multitudes, there's so much stuff! It's already brimming with lovely touches – such as the NPC adventurer bands that roam the landscape – and a world of this magnitude (infinity) certainly provides a broad canvas for the devs to burn more detail into. I'm excited to see what they'll get up to.

If there's one thing that might keep me from coming back, actually, it was the fear that I might have already seen everything. If new biomes, new monsters, and new systems – such as PvP, which I hear is promised – spark to life in its cubic depths, then we could actually be in for a long term treat. As such, it might well be worth investing in for the journey. But I'm not yet sure. And it feels like although it has already come so far, this alpha has a long way to go. But perhaps that's simply in its nature.

The posh tea. Expensive.

In conclusion: the next evening we ended up modding Torchlight II and playing that again instead. No offense, Cube World, but we have certain needs. We'll visit again in a few months.

The Cube World alpha is now up.

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