I started this game confused and, in many ways, I still am. As was mentioned in my review in progress, I was lucky enough to have a walkthrough/question-and-answer session with some of the folks at Snail Games. And while their assistance certainly cleared up some of my questions, it wasn’t enough to make the game the fluid experience it should be, and I’m ending my tenure in the game exactly as I began it: Lacking Understanding.
This is one area where Age of Wushu excels. The environments and atmospheric effects are absolutely stunning. The diversity of NPCs (in the cities, at least) is impressive, and the costuming is both pleasing and true to the genre, (if not as varied early on as I would like.)
While there are no voice-overs, (currently deemed too expensive) the music and environmental sounds are pleasant and relaxing enough that, even if don’t have time to play, I could log in just to hear them play in the background while I work.
One of the problems with non-linear, undirected gameplay is that it can be easy to get lost. In AoW, one of the things I should have done early on was learn all available styles of martial arts within my school. Having completed that is supposed to trigger the homesickness quest that sends you back to your starting village. Unfortunately, I didn’t know all that at the time, and somehow, that quest was triggered for me after mastering only one of those styles, thus locking me in “lacking understanding” for ages and ages and ages... I only realized the mistake by reading an outside guide. I’m certainly grateful for the many fan-made walkthrough sites out there, but when you have to go to an outside guide to understand a game, the game’s publisher hasn’t done its whole job.
Another point of confusion involved quests that I assumed were group-only (because that’s how they were worded) that turn out to be soloable if you dare. Actually, you have to dare, because the game doesn’t make that in any way obvious. For example, team cultivation (a skill building mini game) doesn’t actually require a team, so there’s no need to stand around begging for a group to get it done.
One nice thing I did notice though, is that opening the task tracker will give you a list of all locally available side quests, so there’s no need to hunt around for NPCs with scrolls over their heads.
The wide open world and lack of both levels and character classes are certainly innovative compared to what we’re used to in terms of many western MMOs, but I’m not sure that those innovations don’t come at a cost. There is so much packed into AoW that to understand it all means taking in a LOT of information, and without the budget for voice-overs and cut scenes to illustrate some of that information (making it easier for many of us to parse) said information must be conveyed through endless menus filled with endless, forgettable text.
Localization is an ongoing issue that is also undergoing an ongoing corrective effort, and I have nothing but praise for that part of the Snail Games team. That said, I wish the publisher had put more of a focus (or perhaps just more team members) on that effort, expanding it beyond the usual translation and syntax. It’s just not localized enough.
Learning the ropes should be an invisible (or as near to it as possible) process. The basic mechanics of a game shouldn’t assert themselves more than the gameplay itself. Alas, with the localization still a work-in-progress, and the text-reliant delivery of a complex system, that’s not the case with Age of Wushu. Players shouldn’t have to spend so much time just trying to dope everything out that gameplay becomes like a second job.
From a sensory standpoint, the game is gorgeous, but from a logistical standpoint, it needs work.
AoW has a definite appeal and undoubted potential. I have no difficulty understanding why players love it as they do. I think the current dev team are on the right track and that given time, it may just be that AoW improves like a fine wine, getting better with age and refinement. Or it could all go sour, like an expensive vinegar that one has to acquire a taste for. Time alone will tell. That said, there is plenty to see and do in Wushu, given you have the fortitude to endure its rough spots.
This might be said to be the heart of the game. Guilds and groups being necessary to really unlock all the secrets AoW has to offer. PvP is certainly a more open-ended affair, going beyond the usual buff-tank-heal scenarios of other MMOs. Players also interact with others who are offline, either by kidnapping others, or rescuing the hapless from sacks and bringing their kidnappers to justice. But whatever path you choose, valorous or villainous, your actions have an effect on others and consequences for yourself. In this way I think AoW elevates the social aspects of gameplay to a whole new level.
This is a tricky one. Players can certainly play for free indefinitely, achieving much with no cash shop items required. ViP access functions more or less like a subscription, so no real surprises there. My difficulty lies with the cosmetic items and mounts that, while purchasable from the cash shop, are all only temporary items. Yes, you can also buy them with in-game gold, but that takes a lot of time and effort to accumulate, and as many gamers are functioning grown-ups with lives and jobs, that time is often at a premium. Therefore, if players are going to lay out real money (or real time) for virtual goods, those goods should last as long as those players choose to use them.
While there’s no doubt that AoW has levels of intricacy that are unusual in MMOs today, those intricacies are numerous, and the localization an ongoing effort, making the whole experience difficult for many. Not everyone has the time or the patience to read through scads of text, assimilate and apply those many, many lessons. For those that do, power to you. Here’s hoping you find plenty of gold at the end of that complicated, text-heavy rainbow.