When offered the chance to take over the evaluation of Age of WuShu, I was pretty excited. From a distance, it looked fantastic, boasting a whole host of innovations it looked to be just the shot in the arm that today’s tired MMO template sorely needs. And, on many levels, AoW does not disappoint.
First, of course, it the overall look of the game, which is drop dead gorgeous. The overall feel of the setting extends not only through the landscape, but to its population as well. So far, everything is clean, pretty and shiny. The bad guys are clearly marked and are, of course, bad, but they’re not too bad; with certain brutish, real world activities thankfully not present in the game. (When players are offline, player characters can be kidnapped and forced into manual labor for a time, but nothing more egregious, if you get my meaning.) Even the beggars are tidy.
But before you start thinking AoW is a martial arts world designed by Disney, know that underneath the peaceful and pastoral surface is an undercurrent of cynicism, as if appearances are just that and little more. From the “child in trouble” that turns out to be a scam artist with no patience for your interfering heroics, to the aforementioned casual kidnappings, the visual beauty of AoW is definitely skin deep. It may look like a house made of candy, but there is a definite whiff of decay behind all that sugar. I like that.
I like the fact that while there are personal storylines to follow, there are several to choose from, ensuring that every character isn’t THE character. The last thing we need is another server crowded with thousands of iterations of The Chosen One.
I also like many of the little touches the devs saw fit to put in; a favorite being that NPCs actually react when you crash into them as you run through town. (In fact, I like that so much that sometimes I do it on purpose just to see it happen. Yeah, I’m a jerk like that.)
Having said all that, there are some areas where AoW could use some improvement. Localization is still problematic. There are translation issues (both text and cultural) that make for some serious head-scratcher moments, but those are almost minor when compared to the social, informational and, for me, cash-based issues.
I don’t know if it’s a servers or layers or story based problem, but when I tried to group up with a friend, we discovered that we were in completely different areas with different maps and never the twain shall meet. We could not get together, period. Hell, the game didn’t even recognize that either of us existed for the other. Pick-up groups have their place, but if I can’t group with friends in an MMO, that’s a big, BIG problem. Also, the incessant gold spam in the chat channel is a constant, low grade irritation.
Next, the sheer amount of play-based information that gets thrown at you is ridiculous. More isn’t always better, sometimes it’s just more. Adding a bajillion specializations doesn’t necessarily add to game-play. In this case it just adds to confusion. Frankly, I neither know nor care what half of it all does. I think AoW would be better served if many of those extra skill options (both martial and crafting) were saved for later in the game.
Speaking of the martial specializations, what’s the point of playing when, as a paid VIP, I can increase my skills while I’m offline? What’s the point of a game if you can essentially pay NOT to play? I’m sick of the Monty Hall approach to gaming. Cash shop cosmetics are one thing; even gear is fine if others can get approximate items as drops. But for Pete’s sake, stop handing the game over on a silver platter in exchange for cash. Stop letting me progress when I’m offline and making no effort. And those continual, automatic rewards just for staying online? Stop that too. If I didn’t earn it, I don’t want it.
In the final analysis, I think AoW has a lot of potential to be great. It certainly is a fresh take on the medium when compared with many MMOs of western origin. But it’s going to take time; time for us (both gamers and game) to become familiar with each other and for each of us to adjust our expectations of, and approach to, the other.
Will it work? The best I can offer is: maybe.
Lisa Jonte / Lisa is a writer, editor, artist, parent. Currently reviewing games and writing the column, Fair Game at MMORPG.com. One time (print and web) comics creator, and former editor of the webcomic enclave GirlAMatic.com; now a secretive and hermit-like prose-writer, (and not so secretive nor hermit-like blogger.) A gamer since way back, like WAY back. On Twitter: @LJonte
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