More 'Hack' Than Slash
The "kung fu" aesthetic in the MMO genre typically acts as a deterrent for me when I'm searching for my next delicious timesink. Still, having given Age of Wushu and similar departures a try here and there, I felt that Swordsman Online could be the breath of fresh air I needed to cleanse my palate for a while of grittier, more frustrating affairs. And while it's certainly not perfect, completely polished, or even difficult (at least as far as the lower levels go so far) it's an interesting alternative to succumbing to games with subscription fees or steep entry costs. Also, you can ride around on a horse colored like a blazing fire. But be forewarned, in many areas it's as basic as basic can be, and will certainly need some work for the future.
Swordsman employs a distinctively "Asian" look, taking a page out of every modern samurai fantasy this side of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. With that said, it still retains a surprisingly elegant look that's pleasing to the eye, as long as you can disregard the overwhelming amount of sameness from player to player. Given the alarming dearth of differences between characters, it's inevitable that you'll run into the same models over and over, as character creation allows for a decent amount of customization when it comes to your swordsman (or woman's) facial features, hair, eyebrows, and immediately discernible physical traits, except body type and other distinguishing characteristics.
With that said, there are at least armor and costumes to choose from that will set you apart, albeit temporarily, from the pack, so if you're creative you can craft a unique look for yourself that wouldn't look out of place from a humanized Pandaren subsect of World of Warcraft.
Unfortunately for those who enjoy dubbed audio over the original languages in most Japanese, Korean, or Chinese-origin MMOs, Swordsman is sub-only, including the cut scenes and in-game voices. The music itself is inherently forgettable as well, unfortunately, though I did quite enjoy that unmistakable sound of gold clinking together, Diablo-style, as I accepted spoils, equipment, and gold for completing quest after quest.
Swordsman could very well be likened to baby's first MMO, especially given its propensity to hold your hand and walk you through nearly every single aspect of the game. Even after completing the preliminary tutorials, where you're given explanations regarding the simplistic combat system, combat disciplines, and elements available for you to become proficient in, simply clicking on the title of the quest you're working on will automatically route your character there.
You sit back, relax, and watch him or her jet to the next area without any kind of difficulty arriving there. Enemies won't even attack you while you're making your way over and running right past them or galloping by on your horse. Mostly they just stand around and wait for you to attack them, but after you aggro a baddie they'll tail you all the way to the next objective.
There's no real sense of "belonging" to the story, either, which is told via forgettable cut scenes. Once you choose your faction you don't quite get the sense that you've made any sort of real decision, other than the fact that you can now utilize different elements like ice and fire, depending on the clan you choose to join. Honestly, most of your time will be spent running back and forth picking up and exchanging items, beating up enemies and slashing through them like a hot knife through butter, and reaping the rewards. Rather, rinse, repeat. You've seen it all before, folks.
It's all about the PvE, and while PvP is rampant, I wasn't truly able to find anyone willing to do that over duels to decide who was the better fighter overall. I plan on more fully exploring this venue in the coming week or so as I rise in level and attain even better equipment as well as additional skills.
Honestly, I'd be hard-pressed to find anything that Swordsman does that isn't cut-and-dry and painfully by-the-book. You've got your typical skill trees, buying and selling economy, people who try to sell gold within the in-game chat, and "kill X amount of baddies to proceed" going on, which would absolutely be a turnoff to someone looking for something a little different. You won't find that "something different" here, despite how entertaining the game can actually be in spite of itself.
I wouldn't exactly lavish Swordsman with a heaping bit of praise when it comes to polish, as it's got very little. Players and items overlap with each other, with the auto-running option finding people running into and over NPCs, through doors, and getting caught on the environment here and there. In one instance I was caught in a loop where my character continually tried to run up a vendor and stand on the vendor while I tried to take manual control. I ended up having to quit the game and enter again, having lost a level or so somehow after doing so, which was endlessly frustrating. Collision detection is off, as well as collecting items. Holding down the Z key to absorb orbs also triggered a massive delay in which it seemed as though the game would crash immediately, but then the action went ahead and cleared. Extremely bizarre.
I was able to very rapidly progress through my first ten levels before I saw any real sign of slowdown, and I surmise with the way things are going even soloing this may turn into an issue. Given that I haven't spent as much time as I would like in the end with the game, I'll almost certainly have to return to this stat in the future after perhaps nearing endgame content.
While it's easy enough to find English-speaking friends, opponents, or players to trade with, there are unfortunately a good amount of spammers and players looking for a free handout more often than usual. In fact, the entire game seems built around soloing given how awkward finding someone to party with actually felt to me. What's more, during my time with the game it simply didn't seem as though anyone was interested in doing anything but dueling for supremacy rather than banding together to tackle something bigger.
The game's free-to-play of course, unless you want to purchase additional cosmetic or convenience items, but honestly given the fact that everyone pretty much looks the same in the beginning, there's no real need to.
Swordsman has a lot of potential, but in order to remain in the game for the long haul, there are several alterations that will have to be made first for it to stay relevant and become a viable contender in the free-to-play arena. I'm looking forward to exploring additional content and putting the later areas through their paces, but as of right now it's looking a little bare-bones, which is frustrating given its potential to be an engaging game, both aesthetically and in terms of gameplay.