Starting out my adventure in the Swords of Legends Online alpha, I was pretty excited. This was a game that since it was announced last month has had a pretty intense marketing blitz. And with good reason – it’s based off of one of the most successful franchises in China, and the MMORPG itself is one of the most popular MMOs in the country. Bringing it to the West is a rather big deal, especially as new MMOs are a dime a dozen nowadays.
Stepping into SOLO, though, I was met with a stunningly beautiful world with a story I, more or less, had a hard time following, and combat that felt different, but more by the numbers MMO-fare than its differences betray. Still, though, my time in Swords of Legends Online thus far have been fun, and it’s been interesting to jump into the upcoming MMO ahead of its summertime launch for a quick jaunt through the world.
Swords of Legends Online’s story centers on an Ancestral Blade which kept evil at bay many years ago. A sword so powerful it could “wound the gods” the narrator states in Gameforge’s recent Story and Lore trailer. The evil kept at bay is now back in the world, the root of something called “negative qi” which you’ll spend much of your time investigating early on. You, the hero, must train to eventually lock evil away forever.
Standard stuff, however there are so many characters, branching storylines and more that Swords of Legends Online, at least initially, is hard to follow. There are some main characters to know, as well as who the Qin Mausoleum are (a group of powerful figures who are fighting and protecting the world against the negative qi and the demons it brings with it), but otherwise it’s a crap shoot – at least for now. Since this is an alpha none of the English voice-overs have been implemented yet, and some of the translations feel pretty rough in their current state. Hopefully, with improvements and the addition of the VO the story will be a bit clearer, especially as there is a lot of talking.
However, jumping into the gameplay proper, Swords of Legends Online doesn’t feel like it’s breaking new ground, though the movement feels fantastic. You can control the MMO using the standard design where you hold the right mouse button to turn the camera, or you can simply press CTRL and control it with the mouse itself, your mouse buttons relegated to two of your combat skills instead. Sprinting out of combat is simply a matter of double-tapping forward and your character will speed along, no real stamina meter slowing you down either. You can double jump, and if you’re sprinting you’ll start to float on the air, which you can quickly land by simply tapping Shift, or float down, which sees your character tuck into a roll while landing. It feels really good in practice and oftentimes I found myself just running around the area of Cloudrise, jumping and landing only to rinse and repeat.
Also, running on water is pretty cool.
This movement helps getting into combat quicker also, as I can run up and attack something with ease with my Spellsword abilities. Jumping doesn’t stop you from using your skills either, which meant I would float to an unsuspecting demon, only to rain down an AOE barrage of swords on it and its friends around them.
Combat itself isn’t anything really to call home about – it’s standard MMO fare, really. Skills, though, do tie into combos and learning how to chain your skills for max effect is as vital as any other skill rotation found in World of Warcraft or Elder Scrolls Online. Each class has two masteries, which lets you pick and choose how you want to play – and also means healers aren’t boned for DPS when soloing, thankfully. I went with the Spellsword class myself during the alpha, which sees both masteries specialize in DPS: ranged and melee.
While the combat is more-or-less standard MMO-fare, one of the key things I was happy to see with Swords of Legends Online is just how much movement is required to stay on top of things in combat. Sure, you can stand still and burn something down from a distance with your ranged DPS if that is your choice (and there aren’t too many enemies about), but when you’re up close and personal, movement keeps you alive. There aren’t any real induction timers (at least with the Spellsword, your mileage with other classes might vary) you do have a resource as a Spellsword called Swordwill. This acts as a secondary charge for a skill on top of the mana cost. Some skills build up Swordwill, while others use the charge to make the attacks more and more potent. Learning how to balance building Swordwill and then spending it on a powerful melee attack or strong ranged AOE is key to defeating as many enemies as you can.
It’s not that hard to pick up, and learning a good rotation keeps you alive during instances and other major fights. However, most of the content I’ve been able to do so far (as of this writing I’m level 17, though SOLO also uses gear score like many other MMOs) hasn’t been all that challenging. In fact, my only death other than the one forced on you in the tutorial came because I was running around and floating…only to fall off a platform at Cloudrise.
The environments of SOLO are incredibly beautiful, but if you were looking for a vast open world you might be disappointed. Everything feels like a hub with portals back to your dedicated class area or Cloudrise, where the Qin Mausoleum are housed and many of the story quests come from. You’ll run through ruined villages, graveyards or help venerable elders under the shadow of large, looming stone temples. Some of my favorite moments so far have been just standing in front of beautiful buildings and admiring the art direction and visual design of SOLO. Sitting next to the ponds in the city of Chang’an, the cheery blossom trees hanging over the lily pad laden water gives some respite against fighting the denizens infused with the negative qi. The Spellsword’s icy class area, Sunken Jade Lake, is beautiful to behold as well, giving an impressive backdrop to go and hone your skills.
The music so far in SOLO has been spectacular as well, with a mix of traditional Chinese instruments playing soft melodies when the action is minimal, though rising with tension when things heat up. Attacks feel like they hit solidly thanks to both the animation work and sound design, though cutscenes do, at the moment, leave some to be desired. Some cutscenes sound like whole audio tracks might be missing, though it’s important to note that this is just an alpha and these should (hopefully) be cleared up come Swords of Legends Online’s full Western launch.
There is so much in SOLO as well, it’s hard to talk about it all. There is a companion system you’ll unlock at a certain point in the story, letting you summon a powerful ally to fight with you battle every once in a while. You’ll also work on leveling a pet which plays an important part in the story itself, through feeding and upgrading skills your pet gives you. There is even a Romance-esque system that sees you cultivate a relationship with important characters in the story.
And then there is the store, something Gameforge broke down extensively in its first livestream a few weeks back. There isn’t anything overtly scummy-feeling about the store itself, though we don’t know officially how much currency will cost in terms of real-world value. The items in the store are cosmetic, though they do sell mounts as well. You can also recreate your character’s look (though many MMOs do this through NPC barbers now instead of charging microtransaction currency to do so) as well as name changes for your character or your Alliance, SOLO’s version of guilds. We’ll obviously have more on the store fully when we can test it out live, but right now it doesn’t feel like anything other than standard cosmetic MTXs.
There is a lot to unpack with Swords of Legends Online, that even this is the tip of the iceberg. All in all, so far with about 10 hours into the alpha, I’m enjoying my time. The story is nigh unintelligible in spots, and even continuing the story is convoluted as you’ll need to select the quest chain via a “tutorial” menu that shows your progress versus the next story just appearing in your quest log. There is a prestige/reputation system that lets you buy cosmetics and items from a faction should you have enough money and built enough rapport with them, which you do through questing in a certain area.
Swords of Legends Online is an interesting MMO, something I’m looking forward to continuing to play during this alpha period, as well as in the future when more polish has been added to the experience. For now, I’ll be hopping back as my Spellsword, finding out where all that negative qi is coming from and how to stop it in the end – all while trying not to jump of a ledge again while I glide around while sprinting.