It must say something about Age of Wushu that even though I haven't yet deciphered all of its myriad gameplay systems, I find myself compelled to keep playing. Snail Games' new wuxia-based MMORPG has been compared to Eve Online for its sandbox elements and player-driven economy, and similar to CCP Games' flagship title, getting into Age of Wushu can be initially intimidating.
The premise of Age of Wushu is relatively straightforward: you begin the game as a humble student and must align yourself with one of eight schools to gain in knowledge and power. Each of the schools has a different focus, from the Taiji Sword styles of the Wudang to the Long Style Boxing form of the Shaolin. There are no levels to grind or classes to choose in Age of Wushu, and progression is handled through a time-based Cultivation system that allows you to direct your focus towards different skills as you please. The game also offers open PvP and a deep economic system, both of which encourage community interaction.
Looking at Age of Wushu's features on paper is the easy part. Trying to figure out what the game wants you to do is another story. You can very much go anywhere and do anything in the Age of Wushu's open world, which is beautifully painted and delicately crafted, but the experience can be initially overwhelming even for veteran MMO players. Your character starts out with a handful of tutorial hints and story quests that are meant to guide you through gameplay basics, and they're quite thorough, but don't manage to explain the context of all of the overlapping systems Age of Wushu seeks to introduce.
It doesn't help that at this point, the localization is an absolute debacle. Translations of quest text are generally competent at conveying your tasks and a bit of humor, but most things related to the user interface and tutorial tips are poorly written, don't text wrap properly, or have some other issue. The UI itself is archaic, clunky, and uneven, presenting you with beautifully designed backgrounds for some game systems and drab interfaces for others. Most importantly, whereas the user interface is meant to help facilitate your learning and playing of the game, it's currently the greatest hindrance to Age of Wushu's accessibility.
Even with these caveats, Age of Wushu keeps up the enticement to play more with features like its combat system and sandbox elements. The game employs a cleverly implemented rock-paper-scissors combat system where "overt" attacking moves overcome feints, feints beat blocks, and blocks, naturally, defeat attacks. It's a system that is vaguely akin to what a Virtua Fighter game could look like if corralled into an MMO enclosure, and can be quite fun. Snail Games has done well to recreate the look and feel of martial arts techniques found in popular Chinese wuxia culture and movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and this martial fantasy theme pervades the entirety of Age of Wushu.
The sandbox nature of Age of Wushu is probably its greatest asset, even if it can take some time and out-of-game research to understand all of its elements. The time-based progression system is pretty neat and still works for you when you're offline, crafting encourages player interaction to buy, sell, and trade components and gear, and the open PvP seems like a beast that requires a good deal of factional espionage. I'm hoping that Snail Games will be able to clean up the UI and explain Age of Wushu's systems more clearly by release, because there's a lot of good stuff here that can easily be overshadowed by poor localization.
I'm also interested in seeing how Age of Wushu's monetization model progresses as the game nears launch. As it stands, the game is free-to-play, with an optional $9.99 monthly subscription and a cash shop to boot. There's currently a strange 1-hour-per-day limitation to F2P users, although I've heard that this restriction will be lifted in the release version of the game. I'll need to spend more time - and real money - in the game to investigate it more, but the monetization of Age of Wushu is another aspect that Snail Games has to get right for the game to succeed, and I really hope they do. If done correctly, it can allow a lot of players to try out Age of Wushu and foster a lively community, but if done poorly, it'll be just as much of a deterrent as the UI.
All things considered, Age of Wushu is still in beta and has a solid month and a half before its release in mid-February. My preview of the game has intrigued me to play more, and I feel encouraged to look past the clunky UI and poor localization to explore Age of Wushu's stunningly crafted world. I hope that Snail Games is able to smooth out the game's issues before launch, because they're currently unnecessary deterrents to an otherwise standout sandbox experience. We'll keep covering Age of Wushu as the beta progresses and through release, so be sure to check back and let us know if you're playing!
You can follow Som on Twitter and try to convince him to join your Age of Wushu faction @sominator.