I spent most of last week nursing the cold from hell, so Expendable Bo’s adventures didn’t progress as far as I had hoped they might. Though, to tell the truth, I’m not entirely sure I’m making any progress when I do play. I admit, without levels to use as a basic yardstick, I feel adrift in a sea of fetch/fight quests, random story elements and whatever the hell Jianghu is all about.
I tried to get into the game midday on Friday, but couldn’t as all the servers were packed full. The good news is that Snail Games does seem to be aware of the in-game population crush, as they opened a shiny new server by the end of the weekend. That kind of on-the-fly problem assessment and correction a big point in their favor, and something to be emulated by other game publishers.
Further investigation revealed that the “one character only” that so many players have been complaining about, is a bit misleading. The reality is that there is one character allowed per server, which can mean several characters per account. (The beta test character that I just assumed had been wiped before launch, is actually still there.) Just don’t forget which character you have on which server.
The gold spam continues to clog the chat. It’s so annoying that I usually close the chat window as soon as I’m logged in. Of course, that doesn’t stop the bots from standing around town, shouting their endless offers of easy gold for not so easy cash.
Thanks to a computer upgrade and a tip from a reader, (nod to TheOccult) the game is prettier to look at then ever. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous and the sound effects are spot on. Unfortunately, I’m finding it hard to care.
I’m told that AoW is really all about PvP, and I have to assume that’s the case, as the PvE questing is unutterably dull. Personally, while I do like a wide open game world, I also enjoy a well delivered storyline, even if it makes some games more linear. Sometimes a direct path along a narrative can be a very satisfying thing. But the overarching storyline here makes little sense so far, and the side quests, while somewhat related, are still pretty random. (Because a five-year-old on a swing says so, I’m suddenly running around, beating up monks. Go figure.)
As boring as solo PvE is, I was unwilling to try pick-up grouping until I had a better handle on what the hell I was doing. The last thing I need is to be ganked like a tourist by my own team; especially since there are times when you have no choice but to form a team. Which, frankly, irritates me.
While I understand the whole multiplayer part of massively multiplayer, don’t hold my progress hostage by forcing me to team up with strangers in order to move on. The purpose of that forced grouping is, I believe, to teach me the mechanics of creating a team. But if that’s the case, why bother with the incredibly pedantic tutorial? If, however, the purpose is to build community, then insisting players start teaming up with, and/or friend-listing every avatar that isn’t actively spamming about gold, accomplishes nothing. It’s artificial, and any true player alliances that come from it will be rare.
The localization issues that were such a problem in the beta, while improved, are still not resolved. This leads me to the main problem I think I’m having with Age of Wushu, one of assumed knowledge.
AoW is an import, and as such carries with it a whole set of cultural and pop-cultural references and situations that often seem inexplicable to a non-native audience. These can be all but impossible to recognize by the original development crew, (you don’t know what you know, ya know?) let alone adjust for a different cultural situation. Even with a western team sorting it all out for a western audience, not everything translates. And that western team is presumably so familiar with the game’s references that even they might have trouble recognizing what truly needs to be adjusted for a new audience.
So it happens that new players are not just learning a new set of game mechanics, but also a whole new vocabulary along with those mechanics. And that vocabulary is integral to both playing and progressing.
This is where I think the lack of voiceover really hurts the game. Text can be hard to slog through at the best of times. While it may technically convey more information, it just doesn’t have the same impact as a good voice-over. And all the information in the world is no good if it doesn’t stick, or players get so sick of it that they give up.
In AoW, along with endless text lessons about grouping, friending, fighting, questing, crafting, guilds and teleporting, there are inventories full of inexplicable items, tokens and a thousand different “pills” for players to figure out. On top of that, AoW also pesters players about cultivating their character’s Jianghu, (online and off) but does little to really explain what the hell Jianghu is in the first place or why it even matters. Or if they did explain it, I’ve lost that information amid the hundreds of other Important Lessons that have flashed across my screen only to be quickly forgotten in a haze of menus and combo memorization. For Pete’s sake, I want to play a game, not perform rocket surgery.
Age of Wushu has a thousand things going on at once, and yet nothing is really happening. Someone should tell the devs that having more to assimilate and remember isn’t the same as being deep. Sometimes more is just more.
My review in progress (and the not so adventurous adventures of Expendable Bo) continues next week. Will he still lack understanding? Will he ever graduate Shaolin School? Will my opinion change with more game-play? Tune in and find out!