A great evil has befallen Earth. The world is a shattered and desolate wasteland and evil pours through a void that hangs ominously on the horizon. This could describe a hundred opening scenarios but chances are you have not seen scenario quite like this one. Soulworker is an online action MMORPG created by Lion Games in South Korea and coming to western shores, as a Free to Play PC game, before the end of 2017. It blends a kinetic action combat system, MMORPG elements, and some striking aesthetics into a package that stood out form the crowd when I faced the void at Gamescom 2017.
First impressions of Soulworker have to take it’s visuals into consideration. An exuberant anime style that is either going to endear or repulse players dominates this post apocalyptic world. Cell shaded animations, bright colors, overly accentuated features, and weapons that would be wildly unwieldy in the reality are all present as the game opens and introduces its protagonists.
Four customizable title characters are available at launch, each driven by their own emotions and with a corresponding power. This physical manifestation of these emotions is a fairly common trope in anime and manga that fits this world full of monsters. While the characterization is great, customization is not fantastic. MMORPG players have become accustomed to millions combinations and creating some ludicrous avatars. Soulworker’s character creation is somewhat restrictive, allowing players to tinker around the edges with hair, eyes, skin, and clothing color schemes to a limited extent.
Despite the lack of real depth in character creation, each of these four teenagers does handle distinctly differently as they decimate the waves of enemies that pour out of a massive void that hangs over the horizon. Haru’s greatsword, Erwin’s guns, Lilly’s scythe, and Stella’s guitar all provide a good range of options from crushing melee combat to ranged support. Stella is also the most inventive take on a bard class that I’ve seen for some time, crashing into the fray with a wave of sound from her guitar.
The majority of content in Soulworker is situated around a series central hubs. Each of these city areas are populated with the appropriate vendors, banks, and quest NPCs that lead into a plethora of dungeons. Available in various difficulty modes, each dungeon tends to consist of a series of stages filled with waves of monsters, finally culminating in a boss battle. WASD controls navigate through these waves of enemies with a mouse controls used to target attacks. This fluid combat system focuses on building combos to crush enemies and has as much in common with modern hack and slash games, like DmC, as any MMORPG.
Progression in Soulworker focuses on skill unlocks and building these combos. As players level up they are able to train new skills and hence build a variety of combos. This should provide hundreds of ways to change the way characters approach combat. It’s a stark contrast to the constrained character customization but one that makes blowing away opponents feel intensely satisfying. Faceless spider minions aren’t the only advisories either. District 6 provides an opportunity to engage in PvP against other Soulworkers and although we didn’t have specifics on the rewards or scale in this type of content just yet.
Content specifics are still in flux at this time and Gameforge could not say too much about what will stay in the western version, or indeed how cosmetics will be monetized. What they did confirm is that the game’s original soundtrack and audio will be available in the western release, with subtitled voice acting. Just like the overall look and feel, this will remain fairly divisive. It will either encourage players to log in and play or repel them even more. For the target audience, like me, it is a definite positive.
Soulworker is probably going to be a fairly polarizing game. There is a fairly mixed history of similar games relying on particularly stylized aesthetics without getting the fundamentals right. Soulworker has certainly got the potential to get these fundamentals right. Combat feels responsive and engaging, there appear to be the right guild systems in place, and the team at Gameforge seem to understand the audience this will appeal to. Until later this year, I’m guess going to have to just brush up on my Japanese if I want to be a Soulworker.