Spiral Knights, a free-to-play MMORPG by Three Rings Design, has been with us over a month now since its release date on April 4th. When the Knights first landed on the planet Cradle, we were there to check out their progress exploring and mapping the Clockworks—the vast industrial machinery that seems to run the entire world beneath its fragile skin—and now we’re going back in to see how things are going.
One of the best barometers of where a game is going happens to be how the community is taking to it. So, in an attempt to get a cross section of how the design is affecting the population, I went to see how people were using the game and what their experience has been. So far, for a month out, Spiral Knights has already become an interesting ride for many.
For those looking for fun reasons to get into the game—you’ll get to fight a giant, pink Jello cube wearing a crown. Also, Three Rings Design is looking to include an Auction House in the game, which should change the way the economy works forever.
The Guild Cap Seems Too Small
First and foremost, It’s obvious that people are already taking the community seriously and have been forming guilds. Since Spiral Knights seems to have a limit of 100 people per guild this has actually been causing some friction—I’ve been seeing coalitions forming between guilds to offload people, and players who feel that they’re leaving the game politely ask to be removed so that it opens up slots for new members. MMO games such as World of Warcraft allow guilds up to 1,000 members (after 500 proved to be too small.)
It’s unknown why Three Rings Design decided to go with such a low cap, but the strain is showing for those pre-made communities who would push a lot of people into the game. Depending on how popular the game becomes in the next few months, we might see that cap extended to accommodate this gathering audience.
The In-Game Economy Still Finding its Ecological Niche
The disposition of Mist Energy (ME) vs Crystal Energy (CE) is also catching on with casual groups as a sort of encouragement to casual players to keep it casual. The business model literally forces hardcore players or those who want to spend more than an hour a day to buy into CE simply in order to keep rummaging through the Clockworks. Rumbling among the fans suggests that they feel the burn when they’re running low and those unwilling (or unable) to purchase CE with cash feel left out.
However, the current system really causes people to think about where and why they intend to descend into the Clockworks. Debates are currently raging in the fan community about how Spiral Knights could implement a subscription system ($/mo) to either provide a higher daily allowance of ME, a monthly allowance of CE, or even free elevator access. Much of the discussion revolves around how each approach would bend or outright shatter the current CE economy in game as it stands.
Much can be learned about how people are playing the game, in fact, by watching the CE prices (which can be exchanged for in-game crowns) rise and fall through the week. According to people in the know who play the marketplace, CE prices are at their lowest in the middle of the week and peak during the weekends. This is probably representative of how casual users use their free-time play.
The Game is Fun, but Certainly Can Get Grindy
People are starting to discover that the game is a little bit grindtastic as each new layer deep into the Clockworks on the way to the Core happens to deliver more-of-the-same-just-tougher. The variant Clockworks levels, however, seem to ease a lot of that sort of squeezed-in feeling but to keep up with the voracious appetite of their players, Spiral Knights may need to find themselves delivering a greater variety of Clockworks challenges.
The highlights of a raid-style battle with the Royal Jelly (a monstrous, pink gelatinous cube with a pink crown) have done a lot to give people a reason to glom together to go take it out. If the game can produce at least a few more raid-like encounters in the Clockworks it might give people a lot more reasons to burn through the too-similar labyrinths that they’ve seen twenty times before. Of course, there might be more—teams descending into the Clockworks just haven’t seen them yet due to gate configurations.
As with any game, the community has immediately taken to understanding the crafting system and the tactics behind customizing equipment loadouts. Already there’s been a lot of discussion about the difference between going sword-bomb or sword-gun or gun-bomb (and even picking the best gun for sniping menders—those annoying guys who heal the enemy.) By expanding the arsenal delivered to the Knights in late April, Three Rings Design has poured fuel on this burning curiosity.
Although it looks like an entire family of “Piercing” damage type weapons was added and for some reason that damage type receives an across-the-board disapproval.
The game seems to split itself between people who raid the Clockworks for heat and people who carefully examine all their gear in order to get the best-possible-design. Because crafting in the game requires a lot of different elements, from drops in dungeons, proper upgradeable weapons (upgraded by dungeoneering), crowns, and CE the game is extremely punishing to crafters in general.
As the game posits that Cradle is a desolate crash-land for the Knights this actually fits well. Reserves are thin, time is thinner, players must ask themselves hard questions about how they’re going to band together with their guild and provide for one another with the limited resources.
Auction House Coming
An auction house would really round out this game, especially for the crafting professions and recipes that run the deeper levels of the Clockworks. Looking at the way that crafting, limited time resources, and CE-for-crown exchange works within the economy, an AH would really shake things up.
It would also give individuals looking to roll their way through crafting trees in order to gear themselves for deeper and deeper Clockworks a way to recoup much more of their resources as they descend. The cast-off of previous heroes who no longer need previous equipment could generate an alternative secondary market, which would open up a lot of room for crafters and adventurers to take advantage of.
No date yet on the appearance of the Auction House.