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V Rising makes me wonder: is it time to rethink the survival crafting template?

When Minecraft smashed down like a meteor all those years ago, the idea of chopping down trees in games – to make wood to make shelter – felt excitingly new. Before then, games weren’t particularly concerned with the mundanities of survival, presumably in the name of what they thought was fun. Games were for extraordinary adventures, not ordinary ones. But Minecraft changed that. It made a feature of finding food and keeping yourself fed, and not thirsty, and it introduced us to a gameplay loop revolving around it. Make a shelter to survive the night, make a set of equipment, and then when you’ve got a stable footing in the world, you can find myriad ways to upgrade every part of that.

To say that the idea caught on would be an enormous understatement. Minecraft was an era-defining moment. It propelled the whole gaming movement on YouTube, and YouTube with it, and helped launch the careers of so many gaming influencers there. It showed that there was a massive, captive audience for this kind of open-ended, multiplayer, crafting survival thing, and a stampede of other game-making companies rushed to follow it. Years later, there are many really successful games in this area: Ark, Rust, Terraria, Valheim, Palworld, Grounded, The Forest, Enshrouded, Don’t Starve, to name a few. The genre has become so influential it’s spread to brands like Fallout, and elements of it can be found in huge games like Fortnite. The concept is now so familiar it’s understood implicitly wherever it’s used. We know the loop, we know what to do. But why have I never questioned it?

Everything in the V Rising trailer looks marvellous – it just takes a long time to get to it.Watch on YouTube

This rushed to mind while playing V Rising, which just fully launched in version 1.0. You might remember it having a moment a couple of years ago in early access. Time has passed but even now, it’s got a really compelling pitch. You are a newly arisen vampire who must build a castle and make your Castlevania-inspired mark on an unsuspecting world. A world in which you’ll worry about the daytime rather than nighttime and where you’ll suck blood to absorb powers and wield powerful magic. A land filled with bosses to beat and where a PvP endgame awaits, based around territorial dominance, should you want it – there are private servers and PvE servers if you don’t. V Rising has bulked out in early access and is a full package now. The problem is, it locks its really good stuff away.

You can see there’s a deep magic system full of exciting powers but you can’t get at them before you’ve done X, and to do X you need to do Y, which also involves doing Z. Whatever you do, your forward momentum always seems to be blocked by some inevitable need to harvest a resource of some kind – another tree of some variety, another rock of some type. You’re forced into progressing at the game’s pace. Really, it’s donkey work, and I’m not sure I find it fun any more.

A screenshot from V Rising, showing a vampire player character standing on the balcony of an enormous castle they've created in the game.
This is an example of the kind of structure you can work towards in V Rising. Lord knows how long this might gake: hundreds of hours I presume. | Image credit: Stunlock Studios

It’s doubly apparent in V Rising because of the way the game plays, which is much more like an action role-playing game than a stately building game. It actually reminds me a lot – to use a topical example – of Hades 2. I know this makes for a daunting comparison and I know they sit in slightly different genres, but glance at them and they’re not so far removed. Both games have similar visual styles and are viewed from a similar perspective, and broadly they behave the same way in combat. You hack and slash at enemies and use special attacks when they’re available. The difference is in Hades 2, it’s punchy and exciting the moment you begin, whereas in V Rising, it’s not. V Rising feels dull and glacially slow by comparison. What irks me about it is the game has the solution to the problem – the speed increases, the better weaponry, the magic systems – it just won’t let me at them. Yet.

In order to get there, I have to follow the game’s specific route of progression, and it’ll probably be a dozen hours before I really make any headway. It’s as though I’m being held back for the sake of a sense of progression, as though the game is purposefully slowing me down so I don’t wear it out. This isn’t a new concept and I don’t want to unfairly level it at V Rising alone, because MMOs have had level grinds since their inception, probably for the same reason, and RPGs have used similar power-scaling ideas for decades. But it’s when it’s matched with a laborious survival crafting loop it becomes exacerbated, and it has the opposite effect in that it wears me out instead. I look at V Rising and the time I’ll need to get anywhere meaningful in it and I feel tired.

To open it up a bit, I felt the same way playing Nightingale recently, which admittedly was a less matured experience than V Rising, because it only just arrived in early access. Again, though, the tediousness was caused by having to endlessly chop trees and smash rocks in the name of progression, like some kind of glorified labourer. Worse, the game seemed perfectly content to keep making me do so, as though the game’s makers believed it was in some way fun – that that’s what the players in this genre like. What I’m now increasingly wondering is: do we? Is chopping down trees actually fun?


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