Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Usability Review

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WOLCEN Studio's Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem is a hack and slash action RPG strongly reminiscent of Diablo II, Path of Exile, and Torchlight. Currently in early alpha, the game is rough-hewn stone -- it has a good shape, but little polish. 

Wolcen has gone the safe route, mostly, by not reinventing the wheel of the main UI. Compare the following images:

Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem Ability Bar
Diablo III Ability Bar
Torchlight II Ability Bar
Path of Exile Ability Bar

But where Wolcen does diverge, usability concerns follow.

Usability Concerns: Skills and How to Add Them

Where Wolcen struggles the most is how it displays and explains to users how to allocate and understand their skills. There are two types of skills: passive and active skills. The player gains active skills by finding and reading ability books -- and active skills gain 'experience' when used that then level those abilities up. Passive skills are acquired whenever the player levels up, and are not leveled up by use

There are a few issues with how Wolcen explains and displays its passive and active skills.

Adding To Shortcut Bar

Shortly after finding the first ability tome in the starting area, the player is presented with tutorial text that reads: "Lightning attacks are effective in water. Use the (S) key to assign Hands of Power in your Skills Bar." When I pressed (S), I expected the game to then allocate the lightning attack to (1) in my shortcut bar automatically. (It didn't.)

What happened was that the game opened an Active Skills pane, shown below.

Active Skills pane
Since the Tutorial box was still open when the Skills pane opened, I didn't see the skill bar behind it. So, when trying to assign the Hands of Power skill, I was clicking on the main skill bar, not the one hidden behind the tutorial pane (which is the correct way to assign). Thus it took me longer than I'd care to admit to correctly assign abilities to my skill bar.

  • High Priority: Consider heavily redesigning the Active Skills page. Instead of having users click on any of their abilities, and then click on the skill bar, explain to them that they need to click and drag (or something) the icon into their skill bar.
  • High Priority: Remove the copy of the skill bar from the Active Skills pane. The duplication of the feature is more confusing than it is helpful.
  • High Priority: Make sure that your tutorial panes close after the player has completed that action! Part of the reason I didn't see the skill bar here at first was because it was hidden behind the box.

Unexplained Active Skill Elements

When an active ability is ready to level up, the player has the choice of leveling up that ability's Power Level or Utility Level.

... I have no idea what this means, and what in-game effect it has. Does upping its power level make it do more damage? What does utility even mean here?

In addition, the ability explanation pane, on the right of the "Active Skills" pane below, has other elements and icons that are not elaborated upon. For example, what are the three numbers above the ability description? Why is one of them red? Why is there an 'axe' icon on the screen? An hourglass icon?

These elements are not explained anywhere, so far as I can tell. And they should be.

  • High Priority: You really need some kind of tutorial that explains or teaches all aspects of the leveling process (what is the difference between power level v. utility level; what do the icons mean; why are there many different numbers shown on the description pane, etc)
  • Low Priority: Explain why the ability types ('Brutality,' 'Frost,' 'Lightning') matter; why do you have separate tabs for them?

Passive Skill Navigation

At the moment, there are five categories of passive skills: Protector, Rogue, Warrior, Wizard, and Utility. Since the game aims to allow players to have as much character and class customization as they want, players can choose from any of these categories. As such, if a player wants to compare two options, they need to tab back and forth in order to compare. 

What I'd recommend is doing something closer to Path of Exile.

POE shows all abilities on the screen simultaneously. The player can mouse over an icon to read its ability. The nice thing about Path of Exile's approach is that it allows for immense customization, and also enables the player to select and view an ability path before they confirm it completely (so if they decide they don't want to take two specific abilities, and haven't yet pressed "Apply" they can undo their choice.)

The other recommendation I have is to make your categories "Offense," "Defense," "Survivability," and "Utility" instead. The game can give a character a class based on their passive selections; but players can choose whichever abilities they want without choosing a class themselves.

Final Thoughts

The game is promising to be a good combination of Skyrim and the Diablo series. With the goal of ample character creation options (currently unavailable in the alpha) and the beginnings of an open-world layout, I'm excited for Wolcen to progress.

Health on top of character panel
  • High Priority: Currently, the player's Health bar blocks out content on the Character information panel. Consider changing the screen such that the Character panel is always on top. 
  • High Priority: Implement an openable "objective" pane that more fully explains what the player should be doing.
  • High Priority: If implementing an objective pane isn't possible for the near future (too resource intensive), consider having the main character give some exposition as he's starting the dungeon (he got captured by ____ for _____ reason). Or something. The exposition should come before the objective is given.
  • High Priority: Add the 'Shift' key's role into the control map. Like in other games, pressing the Shift key roots a character in place for attacking. This isn't on the control map; if you've played a similar game before you know it -- but it's not explained here.

  • High Priority: Consider making the Ability Score (+) button more prominent on the character screen - it's currently hard to find.
  • High Priority: Consider allowing players to press "Apply" or "Confirm" when adding new skill ability points after leveling up. They might want to see how increasing/decreasing a certain stat will affect their other stats. If they do not "Confirm" their selection, the points are not allocated.
  • High Priority: Get someone to edit/proofread your English translation & grammar. There are a lot of errors & strange translations that need to be addressed.
  • Music settings bars.
  • Medium Priority: Consider un-hiding the arrows next to these settings bars and having them always be visible next to the bars; the interaction will be far clearer and less error-prone
  • Medium Priority: The font of the 'Mission Successful' pane is hard to read. Consider changing it.
    The shadowed font here, especially the white outline around grey, makes this pane difficult to read.
  • Low Priority: As you have on other settings pages, give the active settings bar (whatever you've most recently selected) an orange/yellow/whatever you have treatment
  • Low Priority: I'm not sure if this is a translation issue, but "Intelligence" is typically the word games use that influence the player's access to and efficacy with magic. "Power" is a synonym of Strength, and to a degree, Constitution, so in-game I wasn't sure which attribute would increase my mana pool. I'm consider renaming that to "Intelligence" just to be consistent with user expectations.
  • Low Priority: Add quest/merchant symbols to minimap. I saw that there's a merchant with a blue * above his head. Make sure that emblems like that also appear on the minimap.


Apologies for missing my second post last month, folks! I was busy with my sister's wedding. It was an outdoor wedding in Florida, and it rained the entire weekend (Thursday, Friday, Saturday [wedding], Sunday). It was beautiful, though. Thanks again for reading!


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