Age of Wushu is Snail Games’ Kung-Fu sandbox MMO which already boasts millions of players in China and launches today in the United States. The open world PVP setting sets it apart from the standard fare available in most MMOs today. There are no safe areas, and all it takes, even in the sacred places is one evil player to start attacking and the group activity is interrupted.
In this Dynasty era Chinese setting, the powers players are equipped with are martial arts based. Think of the “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” movie from 2006, complete with “flying” skills that characters can master. Although the game has no traditional levels for classes, some of the abilities used can be levelled and rely heavily on a player’s internal skills.
Levelling these internal skills is paramount to success, and players go to sacred places such as waterfalls and caves to increase their cultivation bonus which then levels the internal or physical skills accordingly. Having up to 10 players in one of these training practices or TP groups is beneficial and can increase the learning bonus tenfold, especially if all parties do their part at a button pressing mini-game which gets more elaborate during 25 round practices. It is not uncommon to see guilds practicing together, each player taking a turn at button pressing, while the onscreen avatars do Tai-Chi/Kung Fu forms as the exercise progresses.
At the highest levels, titles next to each avatars name proclaim “Flows with Chi” or “Spiritually Balanced” and can be seen by all. This is how other players can judge how powerful a person is, and how brave or foolhardy it might be to engage them at any time. Achieving the highest rankings in internal skills takes a good long time however, and even longer without the coveted VIP status that is $19.99 for 60 days worth.
With VIP status, your character can gain cultivation points while offline, which makes the highest levels much quicker to obtain. Characters can get random jobs based on the area logged out in, and when the player returns an onscreen summary tells you what your avatar did in your offline time and what you gained.
Being offline is not always safe however, as the savvy evildoer who purchases knockout powder can use it on offline avatars to kidnap them and sell them to NPC townspeople for some nice coin. Everything in Age of Wushu has a counter though, and while kidnapping, the kidnapper has a bag over their shoulder with that person in it and moves very slowly, with a big tag over their head titling them kidnapper. During this time, anyone can engage them and try and bring the kidnapper to justice.
Throughout the game world are opportunities like this for plunder. While there are kidnappers, player killers, evil characters and wrongdoers, there are also constables, heroes, bounty hunters, and good characters like Shaolin Monks who oppose them. Missions can be taken to pursue wrongdoers and bring them to justice, and those captured wind up doing a set amount of prison time (based on infamy level) while online. There’s no logging off to make your prison sentence go by quicker. As a person commits crimes, their infamy level rises, and those who were victimized have the option to post a reward for the criminals capture. The rewards and captures are posted for everyone to see and it’s always nice to see a person who killed you is going to be doing some jail time after being beaten senseless and captured. Redemption for committing wrongful acts against your school, or other players leads to the most tedious parts of the game as your penance must be paid in online time, if you elect not to pay a fee.
Probably the biggest gripe with open world PVP in this style (other than connectivity and hardware issues) is that your avatar can be attacked while in a cutscene or while crafting.
This really takes away from the immersive experience, and quite frankly, some of the enjoyment that comes with questing and crafting. Killers can loot those killed for some cash, and having to wait on a death cooldown timer and then respawn (with a possible fee to resurrect) is not enjoyable at all.
Unfortunately on the PVP side of things, there are still plenty of complaints about some schools being overpowered at certain things like ranged melee while other schools suffer from a lack thereof. More of a balance here would have made the PVP aspects much more enjoyable. The way it stands now, players feel corralled into taking a certain school just so they have a fighting chance in PVP.
The game world itself is pretty at maxed settings, albeit on a slightly outdated graphics engine, and does a decent job of duplicating what life might have been like back in Dynasty China. Players can choose to pursue a skill like cooking, tailoring, blacksmithing, armorcrafting, or even divination and all characters can gather the goods needed in these skills. Those who wish to engage in scholarly pursuits like calligraphy or painting will find that here as well. Farming, fishing, gathering wood, mining, and even hunting are all learnable skills, for a cost. With a player-driven economy, food is a necessity to keep your health up, and must be purchased from other players, unless your character is a cook and can make it anyway.
The game differentiates between PC and NPC funds, so buying something from a PC market stall will use a different slot of coin than buying from an NPC selling supplies for your craft.
This causes a lot of confusion with new players who are curious to know what type of coin they will need for a given activity. In addition, another currency, gold, can only be obtained with real life cash or buying a deluxe edition and can only be used in the online store unless broken down into funds for NPCs which is not a reversible process.
This MMO allows players only one character per account, a detriment to altaholics to be sure.
With eight schools for prospective avatars in the game so far players need to be sure they pick the school that’s right for them first time out. Age of Wushu makes this easier however by including videos of every schools fighting moves on their community website.
There are four righteous schools-Emei (female Shaolin option), Wudang (Yin and Yang balance school), Shaolin (male monks), and Beggars’ Sect (supporters who even have a begging skill to beg coin off other players).
There are two neutral schools-Scholars (musicians to painters), and Tangmen (poisoners).
Then there are two evil schools-Royal Guards (feared due to service with the Emperor), and the Wanderers’ Valley-(opposite of Shaolin and Emei, assassins).
Despite having different alignments it is common to see them all represented in guilds and groups throughout the game, the main differences being their fighting styles.
Creating your character lacks the depth of some of the other MMOs on the market, but this is slightly offset once in-game when your choices in clothing can differentiate you from the pack. By spending gold in the online store your avatar can get rare features like white hair, flashy outfits, etc. As of this writing on launch day in the USA the item shop items are not always showing up in-game and rewards like loot bags cannot be opened. Customer service was available to refund the gold spent in certain instances where this was due to a game glitch. The release date was pushed back to today, April 10th, and hopefully some of these issues can be worked out over time. There is no character wipe from the beta period before launch. New players to this game should be expecting players of veteran status already running around on launch date and a grind to maximum level without cash spent for a VIP membership. With a new server slated to be added for launch, those who want to start on level footing with everyone else have that option.
An important thing to note is that the items you get like bags, horses, books, and clothing items from loot or the online store have a timeframe associated with them. For example, buying a new horse with your online gold might get you 30 days with that mount, whereas purchasing a slower version in-game from an NPC vendor with silver might only be good for seven days. It is always wise to check the item info tab to make sure you are getting the desired time frame before you make your purchase.
The armor bought from NPCs to outfit your character with usually comes in three flavors, with a different armor class and benefit for each. This review from the beta build may not incorporate every armor piece available in this huge world but in areas where players converge, such as sacred places or market stalls, many of the same outfits/looks were evident. Once the game launches it would be nice to see some additions to character looks and clothing to further separate players and individualize them more.
There is so much to see in the fictional China represented in-game, that worrying about your avatar’s looks might not be a top priority once you get immersed in the culture presented here.
Each character has a choice of storylines to pursue, and chapter 1 for each was in beta. Once selected, progress goes from quest to quest with an auto-pathing system which can be very useful for new players who don’t know the maps or areas well. There were still some issues with the auto-pathing in beta and it stops your avatar from progress at certain points and at others, can’t be used at all. As in many imports from other countries the chinese to english translations are a cause for concern. Quite frequently one might have to stop and reread sections of text just to understand what the NPC needs or might be asking for. When in doubt, by opening your journal and clicking on the auto-pathing option of highlighted text this complication can be circumvented, sometimes.
The game has many events which pop up all the time, from random encounters and random chests, to player friend requests sent by the system for your close friends being killed and needing assistance. At times these pop-ups can get annoying, especially the larger ones, but most often they are small enough to easily be avoided if you are in the midst of doing something else. Guild and school war war events happen each week too, and the towns offer PVP and PVE quests throughout.
In towns, there are caravan escorts that players may team for, and escorting the caravans can lead to PVP battles. If the PVP bandits are successful they can rob the caravan, and if not the guild gets silver, and the escorting players get guild influence. Since each guild can have their own guild hall and buildings, doing these activities is highly sought after by higher ranking members, who try and run escorts sometimes with as many people as possible. Players can also beef up their guild by donating their materials from gathering to the guild coffers. Once the right amount of materials has been obtained there are upgrades and new buildings for guild leadership to appropriate.
The best part of Age of Wushu lies in the combat system. It is more interactive than other games and the “rock paper scissors” methodology works well here. Move types are divided into Overts (rock), Feints (scissors), and Block (paper). Overts are the attacks, the blocks are the defense that stops attacks and the feints are the parries that stop the blocks. In addition, each style has a “rage” move. Once a fire gauge has built to three flames under your health bar, you can trigger your rage move, resulting in a nice cinematic (which can be turned off under settings) and extreme damage to your opponent. The fire gauge can be built up by attacking (slow build), and blocking (faster build but your avatar takes damage). Although the combat takes some getting used too, once you have, it is very rewarding for PVE and PVP regardless of style you choose.
Each style has a different internal skill, and once mastery has been obtained in your styles internal skill (currently level 36), you are free to move on and obtain other styles’ internal skills as well. Your character can use the bonuses from internal skills all at the same time, so there is a definite advantage to doing so. The styles all have books associated with them, as do the skills, and there is a nice player market for selling these at player stalls in cities. A search function is in-game and allows players to search for what they need without having to visit every stall in the crowded areas.
All in all, Age of Wushu is a nice diversion from the MMO market space, the fighting and sandbox options come together to make a good game that will be enjoyed by many. Despite the boasting on the launcher screen about how quickly issues should be attended to, the same problems from beta have made it into release. For example, to get full screen and not windowed mode, I had to select and deselect it on the options screen on every login. Age of Wushu is definitely a game that should be tried for free first, the overlapping text boxes in broken English, bugs that haven’t been tended to in months of beta, and story chapters that were never tested in beta at all might drive even the most patient players away.
It’s easy to see why the game is so revered in China, and with time here in the USA it might become the same. For now however, a wait and see attitude utilizing no cash is the safest bet until launch and beta issues are ironed out and a more solid game appears.
|Sound Effects:||[xrr rating=7/10]|
|Developer: Snail Game|
|Publisher: Snail Game|
|Reviewed Platform: PC|