You Have Much To Learn, Young Grasshopper
Free-to-play MMOs are a dime a dozen these days. The F2P model has become the retail standard for the genre, with most developers trying to nab our dollars through in-game purchases that exploit the gameplay with unfair advantages, or leave the real meat of the game exclusive to those who pay the premium. Age of Wushu, however, is a breath of fresh air from Chinese developer Snail Games, delivering a full experience to everyone and a whole lot of style.
This martial arts MMO inevitably uses many of the conventions we’re familiar with, but presents it in a unique way with new combat styles, unorthodox professions, and a gorgeous and authentic Oriental backdrop. Not everything is a Zen experience, but it’s enough of a twist to the formula that it’s at least worth a trial run.
Unlike most fantasy MMORPGs, in Age of Wushu there is only one race—human—and no classes. You choose one of four storylines to pursue during character creation, customize the appearance of your avatar, and are then whisked away to a village for your training.
Since there are no classes, every player has the freedom to choose their own path, tailoring combat skills to weapons of preference and their own play style, whether it be melee, ranged, supplemental, and so on. In fact, Snail Games believes so strongly in a singularly fulfilling experience that players are only allowed one character slot in the game. This was designed to accentuate the idea of choice and consequence, but will likely turn away gamers who prefer multiple experiences.
Another prominent element that separates Age of Wushu from the rest of the pack is that there are no character levels in the game. Instead, experience that you gain from completing tasks can be converted into cultivation points, the essence of gaining strength. As your cultivation pool grows, you spend these points to improve your combat powers. There are different methods of leveling up these skills. Internal Cultivation works on a skill in the background so you can continue with other tasks, though higher tiers can take many hours to upgrade, and the progress bar only fills while online. Practice Martial Arts allows you to quickly build your progress meter by spending coin on training. Of course, the higher the skill level, the more silver it will cost you. The best way to improve your skills is with Team Practice, where you play a minigame and must accurately input the button prompts to gain cultivation. It’s a time-consuming process, but the more players that join the practice, the more cultivation points you will reap. Overall, the cultivation system is a welcome improvement on the standard leveling up process. It engages you into actively tracking your progress and making customization choices, rather than simply gaining experience points and having attributes raised automatically when you “ding” a new level.
Every combat move has an affiliation with martial arts, either with bare hands or wielding a weapon. Choosing from the many powers is ultimately what makes your character unique. Although you have the option to remain independent, joining a school has many benefits, such as granting exclusive combat powers, gaining repute, and partaking in special spy and kidnap missions.
There are six good factions and two evil, each promoting a different combat style and favoring certain weapons. Some schools have specific requirement—one accepts only females and another requires you to choose the path of a beggar. Most also follow a specific credo, so choosing you ideal training grounds is about personal doctrines as well combat preferences. When you’ve developed a full range of moves and trained sufficiently, you are ready to tackle the hazards of the open world.
Journeying through the land of Jianghu will be more tranquil than imposing. Instead of evenly spaced hostiles dotted throughout the area, enemies are concentrated into a cluster that remains neutral until you initiate combat. Though you’re bound to find enemies beyond your strength, those that are evenly matched aren’t exactly exciting to engage. Age of Wushu instead favors the PvP concept, with duels and guild rivalries aplenty.
Combat follows a rock, paper, scissors logic. Overt (straightforward) attacks overpower feints. Feints break through parries. And parries reduce the damage from overt moves. As the battle continues, a rage meter builds, which can used to release devastating combos. Finally there are flying moves, where you literally defy gravity itself and gain abilities such as running across water. When two skilled players intertwine in combat, the flying skills mixed with perfectly timed attacks could allow the action to persist for several minutes. In the end, the player who flinches is the one who falls. It’s a simple combat system in principle, but incredibly tough to master, and certainly more of a challenge than simply spamming axe slashes or magic missiles like in other fantasy MMOs.
Outside of combat there is still plenty to do. Crafting, called life skills in the game, is a prominent feature in Age of Wushu. Along with the more standard professions like mining and smithing, there are some interesting uncommon career paths such as musician and painter. Fishing, farming, and the other gathering professions are available to everyone, but you are limited in the amount of production jobs your character can be trained in. Instead of simply throwing your created goods in an auction house, the marketplace allows you to bid for a stall where you can sell your goods and customize the look of your shop. Like most elements of Age of Wushu, it is a more complex system than simply slapping a random price on an item sending off to the digital auction house, but once mastered, it’s a much more thrilling experience.
Like every MMO, Age of Wushu is not without its share of bugs. I’ve found myself running through hillsides and hovering above the ground after performing a flying move. Text boxes frequently overlap each other and cover other important information on your HUD. The auto-pathfinding feature is a useful way to have your character run to a target location, even if it’s clear across the continent, but sometimes the pathing has you taking the scenic route. The biggest annoyance for me was having to adjust the mouse sensitivity every time I entered a new zone. So far I haven’t come across any game-crashing bugs, but when the developer explicitly brags about Age of Wushu being bug-free, not making good on that promise comes as a disappointment.
There are plenty of other features I’ve not even touched upon, and as you progress further into the gorgeous land of Jianghu, the expanding options allow you to play Age of Wushu your way. There are many cosmetic quirks that clearly indicate the smaller budget Snail Games has at their disposal, but overall this is a successful blend of familiar MMO concepts with plenty of unique twists. If you’ve grown tired of sending your orcs and elves on fetch quests filled with humdrum combat, you’ll definitely want to give Age of Wushu a try.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
It’s a gorgeous and authentic representation of Chinese culture, with some great water and weather effects. However, like most MMOs, close inspection of the surroundings reveals rough details. 3.7 Control
It’s a complex system with hotkeys galore and skillful timing. If you’re willing to train, you’ll marvel at your own mastery once you’ve got the controls down. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A nice blend of Asian orchestrations and Wuxia-inspired combat effects. There’s no voice acting though, and the sound quality on the effects is a little lacking. 4.7 Play Value
You’ll be familiar with the MMO format almost instantly, but there’s still a ton of new things to discover, and all for free! 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|