A little over six years ago, an indie game called Cube World blew up on the internet. When the public alpha was released in July 2013, a swarm of people (including me) rushed to check it out and see what all the fuss was about. It was a breath of fresh air in a gaming landscape dominated by uninspired rehashes. A joy to play in every sense, it felt intriguing and interesting, which created a fervent hype culture that in the end, disappeared very quickly.
Not because of the game itself, it was great. Playing Cube World’s alpha gave players the sense that there was massive potential in the format. This was a time when Minecraft was arguably at the top of the gaming world, but even then, it didn’t attempt some of the ideas that Cube World did. Questing and progression was resemblant of games that had come before, but the overall idea, combining Minecraft’s iconic artstyle with traditional RPG mechanics, was impressively executed.
No, it was because of all the things that happened outside of the game. Not long after the alpha launched, the developer, Wolfram von Funck (better known to his fans as Wollay), completely disappeared from the internet. No updates, no social media posts, nothing. It was like he had vanished off the face of the earth. Naturally, people began to grow suspicious. Over time, suspicion grew to anger about the fact that the game they’d paid for in alpha just wasn’t being updated or even mentioned anymore.
Over the six or so years from that alpha release, there would be spells of activity on Wollay’s Twitter. However, whatever fans were expecting, they rarely got. A screenshot here, a Tweet about a feature there; they were appreciated, no doubt, but they didn’t lead anywhere. No updates, just Tweets. After a time, even the initial excitement that came with the Tweets quickly faded, and it became a non-event. Every single Tweet was met with sarcastic surprise and the usual questions of when the game actually would be released. Little did they know that eventually, they would get their answer.
It was a day like any other. I was on Twitter, scrolling over random tweets as I tended to do. I don’t know exactly why I did it, but chance took me to Wollay’s Twitter once again. Something was different this time. There were loads of recent tweets, far more than the usual two or three he would post before going dark again. The usual suspects were there; screenshots, short videos and feature tweets, but one in particular caught my eye. It read “Cube World is coming to Steam.” I have to be honest, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Did this game, trapped in development limbo for six years, finally have a light at the end of the tunnel?
Finally, the hype was back. Memories of playing the alpha demo came rushing back, and suddenly, I couldn’t wait for the game to release. If it was going to expand on the features that were in the alpha, and flesh out content, there would’ve been little to no complaints.
Unfortunately, the Cube World released in 2019 is not that same game.
My main gripe with it is the changes made between the alpha and the full game. I thought the base formula in the alpha was the perfect platform to build off of. Apparently the developer had other ideas and changed entire systems, and in my opinion, for the worse.
I started out in a random village area, with no idea where to go. This is reminiscent of the alpha experience, where the objective is to explore. However, this sense of wonder is instantly culled when I meet the first enemy I come across: a low level lemon beetle. Thinking this would be an easy fight even as a complete starter, I charged in, mage staff at the ready. Oh, hang on, I’m dead. Yes, this simple beetle dude manages to wipe out my character in a matter of hits, Dark Souls-style.
The new spike in difficulty comes in part to the new character progression system. Gone is the traditional experience system of the alpha, where killing enemies is rewarded with your character levelling up and gaining skills. In its place is an equipment system that seems to go against everything this game promised at the start of development. Because you can’t get stronger by fighting enemies, there’s no incentive to engage with them, and they become more of a hassle than an important part of the game. Often, equipment that would make you able to hold your own against the starting mobs is located on the other side of the area you spawn in. In between you and that is a horde of creatures that you can’t kill easily, so it turns into a stealth game of sorts as you traverse the beautiful voxel landscape, attempting to avoid anything remotely alive, in fear that you’ll die in a matter of seconds again and be sent back to the spawn point miles away.
Eventually, after a painful few hours, I acquired a piece of armour my mage could equip. I’d got a hint from a villager in a nearby town that another piece of decent equipment lay to the west of me. It crossed over into another area, an arid desert that made for an interesting contrast to the comparatively quaint woodland biome I’d started in. Between here and there I’d noticed a massive improvement to my character, in that he wasn’t dying within a matter of seconds. In fact, I actually managed to get a kill. Now, I shouldn’t be having the same amount of relief playing Cube World as if I was playing a battle royale game, but I felt like I’d finally got to where I should’ve been when I started.
And then I crossed into the desert area.
It was like déjà vu. I was being bodied by trash mobs again, as if my progress up until this point had been for naught. In a way it was. I’d come to the cruel realisation that everything was area specific, and my equipment was no longer effective as it’d been in the starting zone. This is where I hit the wall. I’d come so far, finally getting to the point where I could hold my own, only to realise I’d have to do it all over again. Granted, I’d gained a couple of useful crafting recipes that would make my second climb to the top a little easier, but the game had finally lost me.
It’s a massive shame. This game was so promising at the start, and everyone was so excited for it. For this to come out of over six years of development time is a disappointing reminder that long development times don’t equal good games, they just create more time for hype and expectations to build to the point where the game could never reach what had become expected of it. The Final Fantasy VII Remake has become one of the most highly anticipated games ever made, and I have no doubt that it will leave a few fans disappointed. But that’s the culture we live in now, where a game’s quality is expected to match expectations, rather than the other way around. There’ll be more games like Cube World though. Maybe not in the exact same way in terms of development history, but they’ll have the same feelings of hype, impatience and eventual disappointment. Can someone break this cycle? That would be an interesting (Final) fantasy.