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Illuvium Overworld: A game in need of a point

Playing Illuvium has made me realise again how important story is to enjoyment in a game.

Last weekend I fired up the Illuvium Overworld beta and experienced the game’s full 3D environment for the first time. Illuvium is a series of games centred on creatures called Illuviuals, that can be captured like Pokemons and set to battle against each other. The main game is an autobattler (Arena), while there place you capture Illuvials is the Overworld.

While Overworld is still officially in private beta, the chatbot at Illuvium’s website is currently handing out keys to anyone who asks. All you have to do is download the game from Epic, sign up for a free Illuvium account, and then enter the key to play Overworld.

The game runs on MacOS and PC, but our experience at Polemos has been that the MacOS versions don’t run at acceptable frame rates even on recent Apple-silicon machines. On my gaming PC (with a recent Nvidia GPU) performance was good.

So you begin the game standing between two massive spires on a foreign planet. What you are doing there, you have no idea. What’s your aim? Similarly blank. You can run around, jump, jetpack, and glide. The world is very pretty, clearly this is an Unreal Engine 5 creation, and there’s a real sense of place. But the bedrock of gaming is missing: what is the point? Games can get by with the merest scrap of narrative, and it can emerge from the gameplay itself. What I discovered playing Overworld is that it really, absolutely must be there. In this private beta, “the point” is AWOL. 

Is that understandable in a game that is in development?

Actually, no, I don’t think so. I think even a beta, even the alpha, needs to have an aim, and that aim needs to be clearly articulated. Without it, you don’t have a game, you have a tech demo.

In the case of Illuvium, I happen to know a lot about the whole project, so I intellectually know the point: to capture Illuvials to build a deck to battle other people in the Arena, and hopefully, to win. But knowing that doesn’t replace the fact that the game itself doesn’t force its meaning on you. 

There are apparently precedents for “no point” games. Take Minecraft, the best selling game in history (see link below). But I don’t think that precedent applies here. For one, Minecraft actually does have a survival mechanic that strongly shapes the aim of the player in the first few hours of play. Secondly, Overworld doesn’t share with Minecraft any of the building mechanics that allow it to step outside the normal requirements. 

Everything inside the game – the different areas in the world, the creatures that inhabit it, even the main character and her robot companion – is a complete enigma. This is somewhat different from not understanding the point of the game, and is presumably solvable with a few cut scenes and dialogues. Illuvium’s developers say they are going to release the story when the full game is ready. I think that’s a mistake. This game needs every piece of narrative framework it can lay its hands on, now. At the moment it feels like the Illuvium team have cobbled together a bunch of things they think are cool, and are hoping for the best.

Note that the image at the top of this newsletter is a pixelated, AI-generated impression of Illuvium, not a screenshot.

The good news

Bitcoin, Ethereum, and yes, the Illuvium token ILV have risen sharply in recent weeks. Bitcoin has hit all-time highs in many countries (whose currencies have declined relative to the US dollar) and analysts are predicting USD records will fall as supply remains constrained.  

Minecraft is 15 years old this year

Minecraft has sold more copies – over 300m – than any other game, and it’s not even close. Have a look at this video to find out why.

Dookie Dash Unclogged

The toilet humour from Bored Ape Yacht Club creators Yuga Labs keeps coming. In what looks like an effort to bust out of their NFT-gated community, they are releasing a version of their game Dookie Dash to the masses. Actually, though, even this is restricted: you register on their site to play, and 10k people will be chosen to compete. Of those 10k, some will move on to a further competition with a prize pool of a million dollars (presumably in Yuga crypto and NFTs). Link

Polemos staff

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