Earlier this week, I toured the Black Focus, the five-person group content releasing in the new region of The Defile in the upcoming patch. Not all of my questions about the zone as a whole were answered since I didn't get to go through all of the quests leading into this particular encounter. However, I did get a chance to form at least some first impressions and see how well this bit of content holds up. And there's a new trailer past the cut if you just want to watch that.
From a lore standpoint, the Black Focus is pretty cool. It's essentially an Eldan facility dedicated to ramming opposing elements up against one another as part of the usual Strain-based antics, corrupting everything that's decent about the planet. It's meant as a five-person open-world area, with quests elsewhere, boss encounters, and the usual packs of nasties meant to be dealt with in a group rather than solo.
Visually, though, The Black Focus looks neat, but it doesn't look particularly neater when compared to the many, many corrupted Eldan facilities we as players have already seen by this point. That's kind of the problem here. We're now into the fourth zone that uses almost the exact same sort of assets, and while absence does not by necessity make the heart grow fonder, familiarity certainly does breed a degree of boredom.
I realize that's nitpicking, but when we're talking about a three-month delay, you would kind of expect to be blown away by what's on display. What's there isn't bad, but it sure as heck isn't terribly novel.
It's also a region dedicated to what amounts to an open-world dungeon, which is sometimes a dubious prospect. Figuring out the difficulty level during a preview tour is always a rough prospect, simply because you're playing with unfamiliar characters usually kitted out with high-end raid gear, which rather cuts down the challenge thoroughly. It seems, at a glance, to be a suitably complex place with a variety of pulls to challenge players, but it's going to be pretty horrible to work your way in and out with the current respawn rate of various enemies.
The big centerpiece, though, is the fight against Koral the Defiler. Koral is one of the big lieutenants to the Entity, a big corrupted Eldan standing on a high platform above the area as a whole. His fight boasts two main gimmicks, although the first is fairly transparent. Rather than have a set pool of abilities, Koral apparently has some fixed tricks and some tricks that he'll pull out on a random basis, so he'll never quite be the same fight twice.
His other gimmick is more straightforward, As he fights the players, he'll run to the sides of the arena and charge himself with a primal element. Players have to rush to the other end and apply an opposing buff to avoid taking extra damage and hitting for less damage while fighting Koral. If you can't remember which elements oppose which, they're helpfully laid out in such a way that you can just run away from Koral and get the right elemental attunement.
Again, it's hard to really judge the difficulty here. While he's on a high platform, there were no knockback effects to contend with, and I had no problem lasting through his attacks as a tank or keeping him focused on me. I couldn't tell you whether Koral is just tuned particularly low or the gear made it feel that way. Certainly he didn't seem to be nearly as complex as the bosses found in WildStar's instanced dungeons.
The loot from Koral included a sigil and a bag. Apparently, there's more available if you fight him as part of a quest, although we were told repeatedly that it's not absolutely necessary to fight him to participate in the story. You just need to do so to have any idea what he's up to or what's going on with him.
Obviously, it's impossible to tell from one part of the update whether the whole thing is worth the wait, but I wasn't impressed, and not just because it's yet another Strain zone when we as players have already walked through several (although that certainly doesn't help, especially when it feels as if the stories being told in these areas could really be compressed down to two zones with a bit less padding).
No, a lot more of it comes from the fact that without quests or context, the dungeon just didn't seem terribly interesting. As in many MMOs' outdoor dungeons, there are a lot of enemies to take on, but they don't seem to contribute to a whole in any meaningful way beyond providing a wall of meat to chew through. The art is nice, but there's little we haven't seen before, and the differences in layout didn't strike me as novel enough to justify the lead time.
We were told that the patch will include more solo content, although I can't speak to it as I haven't seen it myself. But the problem isn't solely content; it's the reward for doing that content. I'm reminded of Jintha'Alor in the early days of World of Warcraft, which was also filled with enemies to chew through without any particular reason or inspiration. The content wasn't terribly gripping on its own -- it's hard to make pulls in the open world move in a tailored fashion as you find in instanced dungeons -- and it felt more like finishing off a chore than anything. The only reason you did the content was to get the rewards for clearing the quests.
The Black Focus is definitely an attempt to make up the lack of content that's been added for small groups since the game's launch, but it seems to fall short of the mark. It's kind of simple on a content level, and while it might get better with a few dailies, I can see the slow hopping path up to Koral's platform getting really annoying after a couple of days.
So it's not quite what I had hoped for thus far. Perhaps the rest of the patch is better. I really, truly hope so; I'd rather be excited about it than looking at it with side-eye.
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