By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
I know that open world survival games aren’t Ragachak’s (Jason’s) cup of tea, and that’s fine. It just means more of them for me! There are many things I love about the genre: exploration, the sense of early game urgency when it’s difficult to secure food sources, and often the combat. The PvP and base raiding aspects are something I can usually do without, but again: to each their own. Some folks like it, and more power to them.
That being said, I have 407 hours played of ARK: Survival Evolved, about 400 of which were before it left Early Access. I’ve got another 284 hours on Conan Exiles, 186 hours on Dark and Light, 151 hours on Empyrion: Galactic Survival, and a somewhat embarrassing 1156 hours on 7 Days to Die. That’s a total of 2184 hours of my life (or exactly 91 days) spent in survival games. What does that have to do with the price of beans in Norway? Well, it’s because I’m going to tell you that I think that Frozen Flame is, so far, one of the best survival games I’ve ever seen.
7 Days to Die, and 91 days of my life.
Keeping in mind that this game is still in a reasonably early alpha state, has many features yet to be added, and of course a fair assortment of bugs needing fixed and balance changes to be made, it is, at its core, one of the survival games that I have found to be both subjectively and objectively at the top of its class. Frozen Flame has far less arbitrary feeling grind than many other survival games, and the combat doesn’t feel obscenely imbalanced. Any game that a chicken takes more than one hit to defeat, of which there are many, I feel needs some reworking.
The story of Frozen Flame is still under development, but the fundamental plot is that you’re in an area called the Valley of Dragons. A force called The Corruption is also in the valley, and is opposed by a group called the Keepers of the Flame. You awake under a curse that leaves you a fleshless skeleton. With the help of one of the keepers you’re returned to flesh and blood, and enter the Valley. From here, you’re given directions to a keep where the Keepers have made an outpost, and left mostly to your own devices on getting there. There are entities scattered around the Valley of Dragons called The Corrupted. These shadowy entities actually remind me a good deal of the Heartless from Kingdom Hearts, but not so much that I mind.
Much of the core gameplay revolves around flame. Flame could also be thought of as soul energy or spirit power. It’s used not only as experience, but also as a crafting resource. When you obtain enough flame you can visit a special altar that lets you increase one of the four base stats: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Vitality. Strength increases melee damage done, as well as carrying capacity. Dexterity increases your stamina, which is used for running, aiming down a bow, and climbing. Intelligence increases your energy, which you can think of as your restfulness. If your energy reaches zero, you will actually fall down where you stand and fall asleep. In the wrong circumstances, this can prove deadly. Finally, Vitality simply raises your maximum health.
The glider allows you to fall great distances safely, but there is a stamina cost, and if it runs out, you’ll plummet to your doom!
The way you obtain flame is pretty simple: play the game. Almost anything you do, from killing enemies to harvesting resources, increases your flame. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to lose. Certain crafts require an infusion of flame, especially magic spell gems. Currently you also lose half of your flame when you use a teleport core, which respawns you to your bind point (I heard a rumor that teleport cores are going to be reworked, which wouldn’t surprise me). Finally, there’s death. When you die you lose all flame you currently have. However, if you return to the place of your death, there’s a good chance of recovering the flame.
If you die to a creature it will actually be infused with your flame, and will have a flickering blue fire connected to it. The creature will also be stronger than others of its type. Killing the creature however will infuse its slayer with the flame it possesses, whether this is you or another. I actually once obtained around four-thousand flame from one entity. For context, that was enough to level me up three times, with some flame left over. I’m not sure about all deaths, but I do know that if you freeze to death, you will leave behind a statue of ice that can be broken, and the flame will be released and returned to you.
Here you can see two defeated enemies, one of which was flame infused.
Like most open world survival games, crafting is a large part of Frozen Flame. It’s how you will obtain many weapons, armor, spells, and utility items. You begin with only a couple basic recipes, like a stone axe, but will quickly be able to obtain more. You do this by acquiring memory fragments from obelisks, scattered around the map.
I rather like this mechanic, as opposed to most survival games where all advancement is tied to levels. It also greatly encourages exploration, as many of the obelisks are in obscure or difficult to reach locations, some of which require the use of special items, such as gliders or climbing anchors. As I love the exploration aspect of games, be they traditional MMOs, survival games, or single player RPGs, I rather like any mechanic that encourages and rewards me for climbing to new heights, plumbing the depths, and looking behind every bush and stone. Something to watch out for are little clusters of white butterflies. When you see them fluttering merrily about, and hear a change in the music, it means that there’s some sort of point of interest nearby. Typically this will be a chest or obelisk.
You can see in this gif that there are butterflies over this deep well. At the bottom is an eternal flame, a type of currency in the game. I’ve been down this one before, and there’s no way out except using a teleport core, which I didn’t want to do at the time.
At any rate, once you’ve got a decent number of memory fragments, you’ll be able to unlock a wide variety of things that can be used in combat, as utilities, or in improving your dwelling. One of the first things you’re going to want is a chest, so that you can store your findings. While Frozen Flame does better than other survival games in the requirements to build dwellings, I feel, it’s still going to take you a goodly bit. Plus items like iron and stone are just plain heavy, and your weight matters. After you hit a certain point, your movement is slowed, and you won’t be able to draw a weapon or tool to defend yourself. Thus, better to store your things in a chest. This also prevents you from losing them if you die.
Having objects in a chest does not, however, inherently protect them from theft. To do that, you need a house with walls and a door that can be locked to keep out unscrupulous players. Additionally, having a house gives you a place to stay warm. It gets quite cold at night, especially if you get wet. There’s actually a cold meter, and if it fills up, you begin taking rather rapid health damage, which will inevitably result in your dying if you don’t manage to find a source of heat. Thankfully there are some large torches scattered about the map that can keep you going at night before you get your own base built up.
I also want to touch on the combat of Frozen Flame. I find combat in many open world survival games to be, frankly, tedious. It can take ten shots from an arrow to fell a zombie, or dozens of them to fell a dinosaur. Meanwhile, three or four hits to your person, and you’re dead. I find that Frozen Flame has a much more fluid balance. There is also a lack of enemies that are absolutely indestructible in the immediate vicinity of where you spawn. Boars can be tough, but if you learn how to block and dodge you can take them down even with a basic tool. With spears they’re downright fun.
There are three basic forms of combat to Frozen Flame: melee, ranged, and spells. Most melee weapons have some form of special attack or another, such as the thrusting spear lunge, or the spinning club attack. The spear can also be thrown, and sometimes even retrieved after doing so. Ranged weapons’ primary advantage is that they attack from a distance, and when aiming with them seem to have a pretty much guaranteed critical hit chance. Aiming does cost stamina, however, and can make it harder to dodge if enemies manage to get up close.
Spells work on their own separate mechanic. You don’t equip them in one of your other four quick slots, but instead in their own slot, designated by default to the R key. Spells are very powerful, but they are also reasonably pricey to craft and have a high intelligence requirement in order to use. They also have a cool down between uses, so you want to make sure your aim is right the first time.
Here I show you roughly what the different sorts of combat can look like. I like the fact that you can rather seamlessly blend all three styles.
Given the fact I’ve logged over two-thousand hours in survival games, it should come as no surprise that I think they’re pretty addictive. However, they’re not always actually fun. They’re addictive because you’re tied to the game, such as with taming animals in Ark or thralls in Conan Exiles. It’s making sure your gardens don’t get pillaged in 7 Days to Die, or in most any game making sure your base doesn’t get raided. It’s that constant urge to make sure you have a stockpile of food, so that you don’t starve to death.
That last one is something else that I really appreciate about Frozen Flame, by the way. You don’t actually need to keep food or water to stay alive. Instead, it acts as a method of healing yourself. You can eat certain stimulating leaves and plants to up your energy (sleep) level as well. However, if you manage to avoid getting hit in combat, or have good enough armor to protect yourself, food becomes merely a convenient way of healing up (rather than sleeping in a bed) rather than a constant source of concern. Though truth be told, in most survival games once your base is established and you’ve got a good farm going, food isn’t a concern, but is more just a nuisance, which makes its inclusion in the early game feel rather arbitrary.
Suffice to say, I’m very interested in seeing where Frozen Flame goes. I believe the developers over at Magisterion are planning on going into Early Access sometime in Q3 2019. You can currently wishlist it on Steam or sign up for the newsletter on their website. Also, make sure to hop onto their friendly Discord, where the developer of Frozen Flame likes to post updates, concept art, and more.