A New Look at the Chinese Veteran
Perfect World International is a fantasy MMORPG that has been around for a while. First published in China in 2006, the game was later brought over to North America and has enjoyed several expansions and upgrades since. It was developed by the Chinese company Perfect World, who also publish the game through their North American publishing arm, Perfect World Entertainment. The game is set in a rich world which draws heavily on Chinese folklore and mythology and features unique races and classes which distinguish it from many of its competitors. Are these unique facets enough to overcome the age of the game? Does it have enough interesting gameplay to live up to the promise of its distinct setting, even seven years after its original launch? Read on and let’s find out together.
AESTHETICS - 5
The graphics in this one are beginning to show their age. While the designs are distinct and the color palette is fun, whimsical, and evocative, the low polygon count and limited character animations make PWI a lot more difficult to get invested in. If objects come too close to the “camera”, the lower resolution textures begin to look like someone glued wallpaper on to a flat surface. I started characters from the more recently added races, the Earthguard and the Tideborn, and I will say that those areas of the game looked nicer. The creakiness of the underlying technology still showed through, though. This is not a game you’d want to play if you are looking for something to test your graphics card.
The audio was functional but nothing exceptional. The sound effects for the monsters and the characters in combat are fine, but unremarkable. If anything I would say that the sound effects were used sparingly and served in a very functional capacity to give feedback on gameplay, but didn’t do much to immerse me in the game world.
The music is cheerful and hypnotic, but I ran into some strangeness when I was near a border between two geographical areas of the game. The themes of the overlapping sections would be triggered, and interrupt each other as I moved around. It seems like a feature that is working as intended, but as a player I’d rather not notice little mechanical seams in the game like finding the exact spot where the theme song for the area will start.
GAMEPLAY - 4
The first thing that struck me as I entered PWI with my newly minted Untamed Barbarian was the sparseness of the action hotkey bar. The game started me off with one basic attack and one special attack on a cooldown, and even as I gained levels it wasn’t as though the spaces started filling up. The leveling process is slow and finding and adding new special actions takes a bit of work. Once I found my trainer, I was able to add one new special action to the hotbar, but in order to learn more I had to increase my spiritual cultivation which required a different series of quests. This slow leveling process is a critical gauge of how much fun you’ll get out of the game; if you have difficulty getting on board with killing wild monster in multiples of ten the early levels of this game won’t hold your attention for very long.
Moving between quest-givers and quest hub zones is mainly negotiated via an auto-routing system. Clicking on the name of the person you’d like to speak to or the monster you need to kill will set your character on a path directly towards that person/monster in a straight line. If there are obstacles in the way, you have to either use the WASD keys to navigate around or the double jump feature (which is actually pretty fun) which can send you way up into the air to jump over houses and high walls. I’m generally not a fan of auto routing features in games because it feels a bit like the game is playing itself without me. In this case, however, there is a level of engagement because the auto-routing is a tenuous thread that can be easily broken by even the most minor obstacle.
These details, among many others, make it clear why these types of systems have been abandoned or improved upon. The mini map in this game is pretty close to useless if you are not standing within a few dozen yards of the person you’re looking for and even then all different NPCs only show up on the map as differently colored dots. At first these systems tried my patience, but as I played more and let myself get caught up in the setting and the music I began to find the experience very relaxing and almost hypnotic.
INNOVATION - 3
As mentioned before, this game has been around for over seven years. Mechanics and systems that may have been innovative when the game was released are now either standards of MMORPGs, or lead to evolutionary dead-ends for the genre because they didn’t capture the players’ imaginations. There have been several expansions to the game, including the recent Crimson Imperium content update. The list of features the latest update adds, however, seems to be playing catch-up to systems that other games already have in place, like in-game mentoring and the opportunity to earn titles within the game that provide a buff.
One feature that might (should) fall under the evolutionary dead-end category is the idea of having classes locked to specific races. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this in a game, and it struck me that in this game having the class options tied to specific races keeps each race/class combo feeling distinct. Each race has its own starting area, so players get a sense of the culture that the character is coming from. I wouldn’t call it an innovative feature, but in this case it created a sense of “what’s old is new again.” One unfortunate consequence of the elder status of the game is the gender locking of classes. The implicit idea that female untamed characters can’t possibly be barbarians or that male untamed characters can’t be venomancers is cringe-worthy and something that I haven’t missed in more recent games.
POLISH - 8
One of the big advantages of the game’s relative age is that the developers have had plenty of time to iron out technical problems. Based on the length of the past few patch notes posts on the website, the people making the software are diligent about addressing bugs introduced by the new content.
My experience was relatively bug free, although the game didn’t seem to get along well with my graphics card setup when I had SLI enabled. Once I disabled SLI in the NVIDIA software, everything seemed fine. The game ran smoothly at the highest settings, and I didn’t run into any technical issues while inside of the game.
LONGEVITY - 4
The longevity of this game depends a lot on how much you buy into the core mechanic of the early game which, let’s face it, amounts to grinding “kill ten rats” missions. There are some nice carrots dangling from the end of the stick, in the form of Territory Wars and PvE raids which seem heavily attended (if world chat is to be believed), but the stick holding those carrots can be a long one.
Of course, there are options in the cash shop for XP boosts, and there is a “Friendship Quest” system that allows low level players to level faster with assistance from other players. Interestingly though, when I talked to other players in the world and in the Faction I joined, players generally discouraged leveling too quickly because it was important to get to know how to play your character.
So while there is quite a bit to do, this game is slow-paced and grindy so it might have a hard time holding on to players who are looking for more action and variety. I found myself getting into a hypnotic groove while playing, but it’s not something I could see sticking with for a long time.
SOCIAL - 6
The mechanical social components of the game are all here: there is local chat, whispering directly to other players, world chat, and guilds which PWI calls factions. The factions seem largely social club style chat rooms, with little mechanical effect on the game that I could find. Factions can vie over control of zones via Territory Wars, which sounds like large scale PvP battles or PvE battles if the territory is not already controlled. I did not get to participate in any Territory Wars, because one has to be a faction member for at least 100 hours(!) before joining in the fun. The PWI website has info about the Territory Wars system, but I didn’t see anything about what benefits come from controlling territories, apart from opening up the opportunity to declare war on a higher-tier territory.
The chat system seems robust enough, and the world chat was surprisingly active on all three servers I dipped in to. I was also pleasantly surprised by the absence of gold spammers in world chat, which seem like a bit of a staple in free-to-play MMOs. This could be due to the fact that accessing world chat requires a purchase from the cash shop. It seems like a sensible measure. The fee, if I understand the conversion rate between Perfect World Entertainment’s Zen currency and the game’s gold/silver currency, amounts to about five cents. Of course, it looks like you can only purchase Zen $5 at a time, so players might have a difficult time forming groups for low level content without some monetary investment.
One oddity I came across in terms of the social systems was adding someone to your friends list. It seems like in order for me to show up on another player’s friends list, I have to add them as a friend as well. This might go a little ways in making it difficult for people to keep tabs on someone who doesn’t care for their presence to be known, but it was more complicated than what I’m used to.
VALUE - 6
There is a lot of entertainment to be had in Perfect World International without opening your wallet. The items on offer in the cash shop mostly consist of XP boosts, mounts, cosmetic items, and materials for crafting. There were two parts of the game that felt like a hard sell, ushering me towards the cash shop; there are “quests” for expanding bag space and vault space that amount to buying space expansions in the cash shop then turning in to the quest-giver for XP, and the slow leveling process combined with the lively world chat of high-level players looking for raid/dungeon groups making the “leveling aids” in the cash shop that much more tempting.
The “quest for the cash shop” is a device I’ve seen in games before (the day one DLC from Dragon Age: Origins comes to mind), and apart from being a little annoying and taking me away from the story, it’s hardly a huge issue. The quest givers use the same text when they require a cash shop purchase, so once I recognized them I quickly learned to ignore those quests. So, they’re quickly identifiable and easily skip-able, but if you plan on making a cash shop purchase anyway it might be worth checking in with one of them first to get some XP for your trouble.
In the second case, as I mentioned before the players I came across discouraged finding ways to level too quickly so that I would be prepared for higher level play with my character class. That seems to run counter to the common culture of “race to max level” that I’ve seen in other games. The community in this game seemed to want to see me work for it, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Perfect World International is an older game that holds its head high with a dedicated community and a unique setting that stands out from its competitors. The spots where its age shows up made it too difficult for me to get fully engaged in the game, however. The archaic, hypnotic repetitive quest system might hold my attention in short bursts for a little while, but after a couple of marathon sessions the lack of variety began to wear on me. The graphics in terms of animations and character design are pleasant and passable, until the camera gets a little too close and the seams start to show. I might go back to PWI if I feel the urge to zone out in a novel and unique setting, but at the moment there are so many more compelling and engaging experiences to be had in other games that PWI keeps moving further and further down the priority list.