The Steam Summer Sale is in full swing, and although I'm snapping up great gaming deals left and right, just about all of my play time is being consumed by a single blocky little game full of hacking and slashing, charming as hell and still only an unfinished alpha shadow of what it will become. Cube World, developed by adorable German couple Wolfram and Sarah Von Funck, is shaping up to be my favorite game of the summer (even though it's still far from its official release). I play it solo, I play it with friends, I've played it on a stream, and I've even written about it here before. Suffice it to say I'm a fan.
Now as much as I could gush about this game, I can already anticipate a lot of the counterarguments I'd hear. They're the same ones that have been following this game through its development, and that have only gotten stronger since the alpha was released. Of course there are plenty of reasons not to play it, but most of the reasons I've heard are... Well, they're just not very good. If you're simply not into RPG-style exploration and adventure (the core of Cube World gameplay) that's one thing, but it's another if you find yourself saying things like...
"It's just another Minecraft clone!"
Stop me if you've heard this one, because I have. Just about a million times. And it never gets old.
I'm lying. It got old at fucking lightspeed.
This has become the critical starting point for any game that uses a voxel or cube-based viual style, and while the proliferation of that style is due in large part to the success of Minecraft the similarities end there. At its core, Minecraft is a game about building with some RPG-adjacent elements tacked onto the surface. Cube World is the exact opposite. Even with plans to add blueprints and user-made buildings in the future, Cube World has far more in common with 3D Dot Game Heroes than Minecraft. It plays a bit like an action-oriented Diablo-style dungeon crawler (while we're on the subject of awkward and somewhat unfair comparisons) with a much wider and more open world. Frankly, it's difficult to describe Cube World solely in the terms of other more familiar game franchises... And that's good. All visual or mechanical similarities considered, Cube World is still doing its own thing.
"I can't get over the blocky graphics!"
It really gets under my skin when people complain about graphics outside of the mainstream 3D-modelling styles, especially when they complain that it makes the game look dated or like a title released on an antiquated system. In a lot of ways it's like when people say they can't appreciate black & white movies, contemporary or otherwise -- it just kind of makes them sound ignorant for not being able to appreciate the artistry that came out of that technical limitation.
Even when new games imitate or twist older graphics styles, they are generally still doing so on modern hardware, with modern limitations. This allows game artists to make creative choices that might have been impossible in earlier generations and really turn the style on its head.
Cube World is utterly gorgeous, and the procedurally generated landscapes have honestly left me breathless more than once. If the fact that these environments are made out of blocks truly keeps you from appreciating them, then... God, I don't know. "Pity" is a strong word, but I certainly don't envy you.
"It's way too hard!"
Now we're getting somewhere. This is actually a pretty valid issue, to the point that I think everyone who plays Cube World feels this way at first. Your character is dumped into the middle of the world with very little equipment, and although the world gets more difficult the further you go from your starting point, there are difficult enemies and locations scattered all over the place as well. If you drop in at level 1 right next to a Squirrel... Well, that's your ass. Don't laugh; Squirrels, Raccoons and most insects are serious foes during your first few levels. Enemy names are color-coded according to their levels as well, but some blue-level foes may have skills that make them much harder to take down than, say, an orange-level cow. This is probably why it can be so intimidating during those first couple levels, especially if you have little experience with the game and don't know who to fight.
The good news is that this period of the game doesn't last long, and with an utterly negligible death penalty there's plenty of room for trial and error. Having gone through this myself, here's my advice: Get equipment and tame a pet as soon as possible, then focus on fighting livestock like cows, alpacas, and horses until you're a bit more confident. Once you learn who you can and can't tangle with (and have the equipment to withstand a few mistakes here and there) the game becomes significantly easier, to the point that you should be ready to tackle a white or blue-level dungeon with a team by level 5, or level 10 if you're all by yourself.
"It's still in alpha!"
Yes, it is still in alpha, and it costs approximately $20 to buy your way in (and there is currently no Mac version, though one is planned). I often have mixed feelings about buy-in alphas, since paying full price for an unfinished product doesn't always work out in the consumer's favor. However, considering that this has been a passion project developed by an adorable married couple for the past two years I don't really regret giving them that money. They're doing something cool, they deserve to succeed, and I'm happy to help them with that in any way I can... Even happier if it means I get to play their product now and see it grow firsthand, rather than waiting another year (or longer) to finally get my hands on it.
It also helps that Cube World rarely feels like an alpha. There are already 8 races and 4 classes (each with 2 subclasses to choose from) with more on the way. Your character has tons of equipment to choose from, while the world itself has boundless landmarks, biomes, and bosses to offer. Although features like quests and building have yet to be implemented, the daily challenges and weapon customization have been enough to keep me quite happy on both fronts.
"I can't even buy it!"
Picroma, the developers' website, has been experiencing a lot of problems since the buy-in alpha launched. The volume of registrations and purchases has been hard on their site, and alleged DDOS attacks certainly haven't helped. Thankfully things are stabilizing. A week ago site registrations and the Cube World store were available on average less than 5% of the time but, according to this super useful tracking site made by an avid fan, uptime has risen to nearly 70%.
Cube World has had a rather bumpy alpha launch, but hopefully that's all in the past. Whether you're ready to buy in yet or not, I'm expecting great things from this blocky little indie title.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Timesand has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan andwith pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.