The Martial Arts themed MMO continues to be a hot commodity in the industry, largely in part no doubt to the popularity of the genre in Eastern countries. But with the exception of Snail Games’ Age of Wushu, there haven’t been many to make a dent in the West (even a modest dent). Perfect World hopes to change that when Swordsman releases to open beta this summer. The closed beta begins this week, and while we were in LA we sat down with the PWE team for a walkthrough of character creation, some background on the story, and then a brief hands-on demo.
The character creation in Swordsman is bound to delight folks who enjoy tweaking everything from their character’s girth to the color of their facial hair and makeup, the size of their ears, and the protrusion of their cheekbones. For those less patient? PWE thankfully put in a randomize feature. The visuals in Swordsman are fairly decent, though they’re starting to look a little aged even before launch. The flowing of clothing, hair, and lighting effects used in the environment are all stellar, but the character models themselves seem a bit blocky and uninspired. That’s one of the main issues I have with Martial Arts games. In their historical fantasy setting, they tend to come off as generic, and I’m hoping the gameplay of Swordsman pulls the setting into its own.
But the best part? Ragdoll physics on the mobs you beat down. It’s priceless to watch your hero fling peons about the map. I’d play the game for at least a little while based on the PhysX engine use alone.
Based on Louis Cha’s world famous novels, Swordsman has a fully narrated storyline complete with cut-scenes told in the game engine (PWE’s own Angelica III)… and they’re voiced in Mandarin no less. Whether a shrewd localization cost-saving move or a style choice (PWE claims the latter), I have to admit the Mandarin VO is a nice touch that gives Swordsman a Kung-Fu movie flair all its own. I just wish the characters’ lips actually moved. The fact that they don’t is a letdown.
For our hands-on portion, I stepped into Swordsman as a female master of the Wu-Tang style… meaning I hit things hard with my two-handed sword. Perfect World’s not aiming for historical accuracy here in their martial arts moves (though all moves were motion captured in China by real martial artists). Instead think of Swordsman’s action as something akin to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Your character can double and triple-jump, glide through the air, and dash forward wall still in midair as well. You’re capable of superhuman maneuvers, and it really does feel good.
There are three styles of control in Swordsman. The first is Action (a mix of GW2 and Neverwinter’s aiming). The second is Traditional (think World of Warcraft’s WASD movement), and the third is the default Swordsman style, which ties both modes together. All three worked perfectly well in practice, though I think for my part I’d stick with Action of Swordsman, as Traditional just felt a little dated and clunky.
The dungeon was fairly easy to power through, even though it was mid-game with none of us having played before. I’m tempted to say it’s because many of us in the room were MMO journalist types, but I’m more concerned that PWE either over-powered us (they said they did not) or that the game’s going to be incredibly easy. Throughout the whole dungeon, which could be played with one to four people and scaled with the number inside, there were bits of story laced into the gameplay. It’s clear that Cha’s novels are the driving force behind Swordsman, as the LotR novels drive LotRO.
I had quite a bit of fun dabbling in the dungeon, despite the ease of cutting through enemies and the lack of knowledge I had going in. At this point, my biggest concerns for Swordsman remain the auto-pathing feature in questing (yes, another Eastern game that can’t seem to get rid of this), and the ever-present worry that Swordsman will wind up another grindy-feeling theme-park MMO without enough content. And let’s not forget what tends to happen in cash shop games too – if the prices of items in Neverwinter are anything to go by, Swordsman is going to charge a lot for things like mounts and it won’t be a good thing.
Are you playing Swordsman’s closed beta? Let us know what you think so far in the comments.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.