Age of Wushu is a pretty looking game, but it’s atypical in many ways, so don’t judge it just by the way it looks or the free to play model At New York Comic Con, publisher Snail Games USA showed off just why it’s bringing the title to North America and it goes beyond pretty visuals. There’s a huge emphasis on interdependence and on community, bringing back a level of gameplay your way that we haven’t seen in a while. There’s something for all, but the sandbox fans should pay special notice.
Age of Wushu is inspired by and loosely based on the historic Ming Dynasty period as well as movies and tales featuring the practice of wuxia. So the game world takes place across the entirety of China of the era and is more or less grounded in reality with a few fantastical elements. To borrow a literary term, it’s a kind of magical realism. You won’t be hunting down dragons or goblin mobs, but you will dance upon the water, jump, twirl, and even fly a little bit. But the world itself is rich in detail and resources. One of the first things I noticed, aside from the environments, was a school of fish. This was the introduction to the sort of old school meets modern feel you get from this game. You can indeed go fishing, and lots more. The thread that kept running through my preview of the game was an emphasis on people and their impact upon the world and greater community.
Age of Wushu doesn’t have a traditional class system. You instead can join one of the game’s eight schools, each with its own requirements. For example, the Shaolin represent certain values and you’ll need to abide by those to progress. They frown on excessive drunkenness, for instance. The Beggars’ Sect not only embraces it, but you’ll go further with them. Progression within a school may be hampered by what you pick up, so finding your fit is key. There are also certain schools whose requirements you might not fit until later.
You’ll be able to level up skills within each school as you gain experience, and if you find that one school suits you more, you can switch over to another. You will, however, retain what you learned in your previous school, except for the custom Internal skill unique to each one Experience points earned will go toward your skills, but points put into your internal skill will affect your personal stats, like HP and stamina. Otherwise, you will be able to learn weapon skills and abilities that you’ll put to use in the game’s combat system.
The combat system in question works based upon a rock, paper, scissors system. The moves you’ll need are color coded, and you’ll want to use your Attack (red) for straight aggression and damage, Parries (green) to block and deflect damage, and a series of Feints (blue) to confuse or break down an enemy shield or defenses. Each character also has a rage meter that fills up when fighting and goes up faster the more enemies you attack. When full, you’ll be able to unleash either a strong attack or a very helpful buff. There are nine skill slots and you’ll also have several weapon options, though these can affect your attack speed or other abilities. For example, if you choose to use a fist and a dagger, switching back and forth will incur a delay in the form of a short cool down to reflect a realistic time needed for such a change. The choice, however, is still going to be up to you how you decide to fight.
PvP will be available in multiple forms, from casual to duels, to a tournament mode. There are no built arenas for these, it’s all up to the players where to run and hold their skirmishes. Tournaments are a special organized way of holding a competition with help from the AI. Schools can face one another as well. Players may also steal scroll books from one another, often leading to a potential fight, and there is a player bounty system. Been taunted long enough by a certain player? There’s a friends list, under that a list for enemies, and below that, one for “blood enemies”. That bounty system might come in handy there. Reputation plays a role too, with friendlier players perhaps earning green titles showing as much, while those with more flexible morals might earn a “Murderer” title, letting others know who they might be dealing with.
The game, in all its sandbox trappings, does feature story content. These are often in the form of “Forbidden Instances”, which may be set to one of several difficulty levels. The instances can last for hours, depending how hard they are, and feature self-contained stories told through challenges, puzzles, and other obstacles and devices. The prizes are, of course, better the higher the difficulty, but if you perish during a harder run, your reward will scale with how much of it you’ve completed.
When you log out of the game, depending on the location, your character will become an NPC, fulfilling certain duties. Location matters, since if you are by your school, your NPC self can be a guard. Log off in the city, and you might be a busker. Players may also log off as vendors that others may buy from. Oh, and if you log out in certain places, you’re vulnerable to kidnapping and being sold off into servitude or a brothel. You might log in only to find yourself a little worse for the wear, having taken some losses, and potentially having to buy your way back to freedom. If anyone witnesses your in-process kidnapping though, they can choose to try and save you or to defeat the kidnapper and kidnap you for themselves. All of this while you’re offline.
These types of player interactions are not the only features that make the game different. There’s a big emphasis on crafting and manufacturing disciplines. A character may have one active manufacturing profession at once, along with multiple gathering abilities.. Resources come from appropriate places – wood from trees, meat from animals, fabric scraps, books, and broken weapons from other people—and the skills are trained. As with schools, you can switch professions and still retain the skills you learned previously, leaving room to experiment. You can also achieve ranks, along with special unlocks the further you go in your crafting endeavors, but you will always need other people in order to truly be successful. For the sandbox gamers, yes, you can play the game entirely in crafting mode, creating and vending items all the time if that’s how you want to gain your experience. Professions include blacksmith, calligrapher, cook, and more. There are cultural professions as well, like painter, musician, and beggar, which will supply you with useful buffs. Cooks will be very important though, as there’s a nutrition mechanic in the game. You’ll need to replenish yourself by eating to fuel your endeavors and will lose health if you run out.
Crafting interdependence stretches to all aspects of the game. Even master blacksmiths will have to trade for hilts to finish creating fine swords. Calligraphers will be needed in order to craft the finest skill books. And so on. If you choose to take more time to craft a better quality item, you’ll play a minigame, and take a little longer, but potentially get items with great buffs. The game seems to be encouraging people to truly interact with each other once again. Even if that blacksmith buys from a player shop, those hilts were still gathered and then crafted by actual players. You’ll need to trade, barter, and otherwise deal with others in order to complete the items you need.
Age of Wushu will also feature Guilds, with support for guild land ownership. There will be a limited amount of territory in the world that will be able to be built upon, so get ready to collaborate or compete. Once you’ve managed to secure land, you’ll have to build upon it. For this too, you’ll have to turn to local craftsmen (and women) among your guild or in the outside world for items you’ll need to construct structures and for making improvements to existing ones.
So how will all of this be supported? The game is set for a free to play model, and careful consideration has been taken to avoid the potential to “pay to win”. Certain perks, like the ability to have an offline vendor stall with extra room, a certain cultural professions, and certain customization options are among the items that will be for VIP members. There will be a shop offering some of the same unlocks you can get in game, but not power items or advancement. The closest thing seems to be a limited time bonus to Cultivation speed. Cultivation is a system by which you can level skills up in-game. You can spend in-game currency to level up a little faster, by converting earned experience, with cultivation often taking at least a couple of hours to complete. A VIP perk can reduce this by a few percentage points. The system was not completely finalized during the preview, but developers and publishers do hear the pay to win complaints and concerns from gamers and seem to be making an effort on that front to remain both community and bottom-line friendly.
Planned VIP is $9.99 and will get you into the two planned betas in November and December. A special early access period that will last for 90 days is VIP only and begins in February. Crafting will be available from the get-go and guild lands will be purchasable, so if you’re looking to stake your claim in the game early, you might find this to be an advantage you want. Everyone else can begin playing in late spring, with a target of May.
All in all, Age of Wushu looks to have many qualities to watch. Since the game is already out in China, these features aren’t pipe dreams. So if you’re a sandbox fan, someone that likes graceful martial arts combat, a crafter, a fighter, or all of the above, you should keep an eye on this one.