ZAM takes a look at the recently launched Wuxia MMO from Snail Games
There is something about Age of Wushu that refuses to be cowed, even by its own idiosyncrasies. The MMO by Snail Games is such a departure from the hand-holding “everyone’s best friend” approach that most games in the genre adhere to, I find it in turns both confusing and thoroughly endearing.
It is very easy to completely misunderstand what Age of Wushu is for a variety of reasons. At first glance, it may appear to be a very simple, straightforward MMO.
Character creation is quite rudimentary; the fine adjustments you can make to the given archetypes do not make a massive amount of difference in making your character look individual. Your avatar will look pretty, regardless of gender. That is virtually guaranteed.
There are a series of back stories to choose from (including a handy indicator of which one hasn’t been taken up by most players) which will decide your character’s narrative direction. These will have consequences, even if on a minor level to begin with. My student of all things Wuxia has no memory (got to love the amnesia trope) after being left for dead by a pair of black garbed assailants. I sporadically received a debuff that slowed my movement due to a lingering injury to my leg from the incident.
Upon entering the game world itself, the environment is distinctly charming. I would advise you to check your graphics settings and choose Ultra if you are able as it makes a big difference in adding a glossy sheen to the world. The architecture and undulating lands around it smack of authenticity and are quite immersive, even if some of the textures are a little basic in patches.
The main barrier to immersion that must be overcome is the sub-par writing for quest text. At times a lot seems to be lost in translation when characters speak and the thematic threads between stages of quests can evaporate confusingly. There are times when you are not entirely clear on what the next step is in a quest, but I soon learned that returning to the quest NPC would solve most issues; it was simply a case of the text not explaining that there was another stage to complete, or the greeting text from the NPC didn’t follow logically.
The initial quests lead you through the tutorial, the protected phase. As you are reminded upon entering the game, Jianghu is an open world PvP area so beware attack at any time once you have passed the initial introduction.
To make navigating the many quest NPCs easier, clicking on the green highlighted text in the quest tracker will auto-pilot your character to your required destination. A handy function, particularly with so many characters milling around, be they players, or the many NPCs. What is very encouraging is the number of players who have jumped into Age of Wushu. This is not a game where you will rarely bump into other folks. In fact a new server, Red Phoenix, was launched in the last few days, to meet demand.
The starter quests teach you about the basic forms of progression by giving you guidance from mentors who deposit books in your bag for you to use to study martial art abilities. Once learned and put into your hotbar, you will be asked to practice the move by defeating an NPC of one kind or another.
Quest, learn, practice and repeat. It’s a logical way to introduce the combat abilities at your disposal and you will soon discover there are indeed many of them. This barrage of questing is what is misleading about the game. At first it seems to be a simplistic, somewhat confusing version of most MMOs, but give it some time and you will quickly realize there is a lot more scope to what is on offer.
At first, the way to progress your skills and abilities is through Inner Cultivation. Think of grabbing a book and then spending the time to learn it in EVE Online and you will have the crux of the system of cultivation in Age of Wushu.
The next method of being more proficient is by using Practice Mode Cultivation. In this way you spend currency (up to 50 Liang each day) and use medicine to soothe the mind and speed up learning of the skill you choose. The more efficient the ratio of experience to cultivation offered by the medicine, the more it will cost in Wen/Liang.
What this also does is add the sight of players moving through some really quite balletic forms in the middle of town squares (which is apparently a good way to get guild invites from my experience).
Speaking of interesting sights, there are few more enjoyable than the synchronized dance of Team Practice. You can instigate or join in a group practice with 10 or more people as you all follow through a set kata by pressing buttons in a series of increasing complexity to pull off each move (it isn’t difficult). Head to a sacred area as they are the best spots to find people practicing in large numbers (sacred areas increase the effectiveness and speed of your learning).
The combat itself is a mixed bag. The animations are mostly smooth and some of them are a lot of fun. For example, the series of grandiose kicks known as Step Backwards Over Seven Stars unleashes a combo within an impromptu cut scene with dazzling attacks. There are a huge number of moves and you can learn them even if not from your school through stealing books form rival schools, a specific mission type.
In practice, the Rock, Paper, Scissors system expressed through the Parry, Feint, Overt categories of attack and defense styles is a little clunky. The button press to execution delay makes the action too soft at the moment and can too frequently devolve into button spamming. I’d advise new players to turn on the Auto Parry function in particular as timing blocks (with the right mouse button) can be very unintuitive. Making the function automated leaves you to focus on attack, which is less frustrating.
Still, combat can be fun, particularly when you combine attacks with flying abilities. Short term flight, double jumps and wall running can give combat an enticing freedom. Leaping through the air to meet a flying opponent before crunching into a nicely timed move is very satisfying and not something you would find in the combat of many MMOs. Those Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon moments are there for you to find.