We haven’t yet talked about Age of Wushu (the US version of “Age of Wulin” which has been available in China for some time now). It has recently launched over here, to very little fanfare, and it’s somewhat of a pity because it’s an interesting one.
After spending a good amount of time with it, I could say Age of Wushu straddles -not comfortably- the line between themed park and sandbox. You fire it up and things seem familiar. Things are where they should be and more or less do what you’d expect them to. The kicker with AoW is that you recognize these things as themed elements but only just enough. Underneath these familiar and clear waters you can definitely see the really sharp coral edges of the sandbox, threatening to scrape you at every turn.
Some more brief thoughts, for good and bad:
- The world is utterly beautiful and the Wuxia setting gives the whole thing a great feeling of authenticity. At no point you see something out of place or out of context (player names notwithstanding). Those who like exploring, hunting for majestic vistas and collecting travel screenshots… this will be paradise.
- And furthermore, something curious: even if you disregard the common trappings of the genre (kung fu flying skills and so on), the game still feels fantastic without the presence of evident magic. China at the height of the Ming period was a truly fantastic place, in the most precise sense of the word, without having to resort to a D&D-esque injection of magic spells or an imaginary bestiary.
- Combat is interesting and it has reasonable depth. Mobility and counters-to-counters seem to be the nature of the beast. It’s fun to do and very rewarding visually.
- AoW is the Yang to most other themed parks’ Yin: Whereas they go out of their way to make sure each player can function as effective islands, AoW does the opposite and brings them in contact. Whether this contact is friendly or hostile is not the point, and it has nothing to do about teaming or adventuring together. It has everything to do with the mechanics in place and how they all require another player at some point or another. It’s a staple of sandbox design which is done quite well here. There is a lot to do, but you can’t do it alone.
- Some of these mechanics and features are things we don’t usually see in these shores: Jail time for offending players, an offline living and reward system, kidnapping of offline players, bounty hunting and quite possibly the best system to track and show your character’s relations to other players, NPCs and world factions.
- It’s got the only crafting and professions system I can honestly say I ever liked a lot. And this is coming from someone who despises crafting.
- It’s F2P, with an option to pay a fee and become a VIP. Also supported by a store.
The not so good:
- The translation is pretty terrible and it needs to be done again, and done properly this time. This sounds tough, but them’s the breaks. It’s just not good. I don’t know if this was rushed or what, but this is an issue that compounds on the difficulty of learning the game. Items, skills and even NPC titles and functions are routinely given two different names. It needs to be fixed.
- The learning curve, while not as harsh as something like EVE (or rather as what EVE used to be in its “because fuck you, that’s why” days) is still quite steep. The basics are easy to master, but the specifics are not. And what’s worse…
- … the tutorial for some of these things is at best confusing. At worst, inscrutable. Most of the time it’s unclear. This needs to be redone as well. As it stands now, AoW does not guide its new players well and it’s by far the biggest source of frustration I’ve encountered around. I totally give it to AoW that there’s just too much to cover. Of course I do. But a bad tutorial is even worse than no tutorial at all. This needs to be fixed.
- PvE is somewhat lacking. Quests are not worth mentioning, so plain and simple they are. They are simply a vehicle to gain reputation and items. Sure, you could say all quests are that and to some extent you’d be right, but it’s quite evident here. There are challenges and instances to be done with a party for specific rewards and such, and that’s fine, but the usual running around, questing, following little storylines is sorely absent here and only paid lip service. It’s just not where the game is.
- One character per account. This soured me pretty bad. Even Big Bad Sandbox Macho Man EVE allows you to have three characters with restrictions. Well, nope. Not here. Just one slot. You wanna try something else? Make a new account. I don’t understand it and I don’t like it.
- Character creation is lacking. The quality of characters is good, and the wearables are quite beautiful, but there just isn’t enough variety. Disclaimer: I’m spoiled by Champions Online so it may very well an excellent character creator for you.
- The cash shop is an unmitigated disaster, with not a single item which becomes permanent to the player. Every item, cosmetic or not, has an expiration timer. Yes, you are basically renting. This system might fly better in Asia, but it just won’t cut it here. I expect it to be changed at some point to accommodate local preferences and quench player outrage, but it hasn’t happened yet.
I went in not really expecting anything more than an unrewarding experience, but was very pleasantly surprised. I think this could be the ideal game for players who maybe would like to advance and try something different from the usual mold of Western MMOs. However, AoW just won’t become that place without some major work.
Or, in other words, maybe when you try it you should put yourself in the mind of a traveler. And there are two kinds of travelers: Those who are ready to absorb, understand, enjoy and navigate the zeitgeist of the new place… and those who endlessly complain about “how they don’t do things like we do at home”. It’s really up to you. I can tell you it is rewarding if you make the effort to identify and work around its quirks and different nature.
It’s not the best game there is, and it’s got many bad spots, but the good points outweigh the bad. Most definitely.