Soulworker officially made it to western shores earlier this week. Originally developed by Lion Games and already a well-established commodity in eastern markets, Gameforge’s anime-inspired MMO surprised us all by going into open beta on Monday. This news comes hot on the heels of En Masse Entertainment’s Closers. So after investing time on kitting out Yuri did I really need a new waifu?
Soulworker is an online action role-playing game with over one hundred dungeons for players to try. It features a heavily stylized anime aesthetic, some impressive action combat, and a few special teenagers carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Despite quite obvious similarities, Soulworker is distinctly different to En Masse’s side-scrolling beat ‘em up. While both titles hail from Korea and take aesthetic inspiration from Japan’s favorite pop culture pastime, Soulworker’s animation is just gorgeous. Each of the main characters, Haru, Erwin, Lilly, and Stella, are drenched in rich color and bold outlines that would look comfortable in any top tier Shonen adaptation. The surrounding environment is rendered using more traditional video game techniques and dark dungeons create a fantastic contrast to the brightly colored creatures that populate the world. Heck, even the cell shaded corgis that lazily canter around the center of town seem to be filled with an undeniable charisma.
Central towns are the main player hubs for Soulworker and open upon Rocco. Based in a world on the edge of destruction, Rocco provides players with an opening glimpse of an apocalyptic war, acting as a location to organize, resupply, and launch into the game’s content. Each of the game’s content hubs contain the requisite NPCs for a fully formed MMO and as you skirt around the edge of each town, you’ll find quest givers, bankers, blacksmiths, vendors, mailboxes, and dungeon portals all easily accessible.
Stepping through these dungeon portals starts a repeating series of dungeons, which form the main bulk of Soulworkers PvE content. Each of these comes in at least three modes. These tend to consist of a series of instanced rooms, or gated environments, bristling with brightly colored enemies, contorted dolls, spiders, and all sorts of wonderful creations. This configuration will generally conclude with a boss, or Malevil, encounter and is ranked based on individual performance. Loot is of course, more than adequate for this and each instance gives the player an opportunity to complete a number of story and side missions. Almost all of the game’s narrative content takes place between these instances and NPCs loitering around town. While this means that players are likely to see a good deal of running back and forth from dungeon to NPC, Soulworker does try to keep things engaging, with a satisfying mix of bizarre creature encounters.
When players do step into a dungeon for the first time, Soulworker really begins to shine. From the instant I clicked the basic attack keys, during the opening moments of the game’s tutorial, through to the last swing of my sword, I was absolutely hooked. Soulworker’s combat mechanics are worth logging in for alone. Each of the four Soulworkers has a distinct fighting style. Haru wields a massive sword and excels in close quarters combat. Erwin is a great ranged DPS character, while Lilly and Stella turn up the difficulty somewhat with their Sythe and magical guitar. Yes, you can crush monsters by shredding a guitar.
Taking a third person approach to combat, it places the player squarely behind the main protagonist. WASD maps basic movement, while the mouse can be used to control the camera and take aim. Players can jump in and engage in aerial combat and even dodge incoming attacks. However, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious block function, even for melee characters. Basic and secondary skills are controlled by the main mouse keys, while a limited skill set furnishes the bottom of the screen. This probably seems terribly familiar, but Soulworker builds on come common concepts and fuses it with a free-form combo system.
Skills which reside in the bottom bar can be enhanced, customized, and chained together to create devastating assaults on enemies. The reactive UI telegraphs these combinations accurately for players, and movement feels responsive. Combat in Soulworker sits somewhere between Black Desert Online, DmC, and Wildstar, meaning it feels fast, fluid, and devastating, and is ultimately a great deal of fun.
Dungeons are not something that you have to complete solo either. Guilds open up almost immediately and include an entire progression system of their own. While we didn’t get an opportunity to get our own guild started, we did see more than a few right away. Community systems, in general, are relatively straightforward here, open up the panel, add a name and invite them to play. Like much of Soulworker, none of the UI systems felt obtrusive or convoluted, and beating giant spiders is always better with help. Rewards from these encounters are a fairly standard mix of gear, crafting materials, tons of HP pots, and gold. The ridiculous number of HP pots aside, it is hard to comment on the final balancing of the reward structure as the game is in its initial testing stage. Still, at no time did I feel particularly aggrieved by the loot, and the flow of weapons, armor, and consumables was sufficient to keep me appropriately geared in dungeons.
While I had a fantastic time swinging my sword, content can feel a little repetitive at times. Entering the same instanced environment to complete content repeatedly, across various difficulty levels, could strike some people as a little off-putting. Soulworker does manage to mitigate this using some ingenious design, and a variety of mobs, but it will not satiate everyone.
This is probably not Soulworkers most devise problem, however. While it has a strong narrative core, this means that the number of options for character creation feels a little limited. While games like Black Desert Online arrived on our shores with millions of individual facial expressions and the ability to manipulate strands of hair, Soulworker has only four prescribed characters and a barely noticeable number of options. While Haru, Lilly, Stella, and Erwin all have their own storyline and individual attributes, differentiating yourself from a gaggle of Haru is somewhat challenging. For every Soulworker thrust into battle, only a few eye or hair colors exist, and body types are entirely inflexible. This leads to a slightly forced experience.
While these issues are intrinsic to the way Soulworker plays there are plenty of other things still in the balance. The game’s fatigue system for one. Imported directly from the Korean model, where this stops teenagers losing their life to MMOs, the energy system really just tends to split communities and disincentivize players. Thanks to the rather shaky nature of beta server, this did not end up having a major impact on my experience, but it is already a hot topic across the official forum and cannot go without note.
In the end, the Soulworker beta is a mixed bag right now. Gameforge has made a few strange decisions and caught everyone unaware with the launch. Servers have been a bit inconsistent, I continue to write this while waiting for the servers to return again, and frankly, the community still has not had a huge amount of official feedback. On the other hand, Soulworker is great fun when you start hacking down mobs, and I've barely scratched the surface. With the right steps it could end up being a solid, fun MMO, with the sort of flashy anime style that makes all the waiting worthwhile. If you want to check out the open beta head over to the official website or take a peek on Steam.