E3 2012 Closer Look: Age of Wushu Feature Breakdown
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
In yesterday's article I broke down the theoretical history and eight diverse schools behind Snail Games USA's upcoming epic MMORPG, Age of Wushu. Today I'm getting down into the details to explain why this title is so different from the dozen other F2P "martial arts" titles on the market today.
The Flexi Engine
The key defining feature that makes Age of Wushu able to break all the normal barriers is the Flexi Engine. R&D began on this engine as far back as the year 2000, with an earlier version known as Voyager being the backbone of many of Snail's previous titles like The Chosen and Voyage Century. But now the engine has evolved even beyond the reach of the Voyager and the engine was reclassified as Flexi, a fitting name due to the amount of freedom the engine offers lower end PCs.
The Flexi engine is all about lighting, realistic dynamic shadows, depth perception, water animations, and freedom. Through it you will be able to see shadows rendered in real time as a breeze blows through its branches, causing it to sway. You'll be able to see distant mountains hidden by mist and run to them without any form of loading required. Light that hits the water will appropriately bend and refract as it naturally should, and ripples in the water will demonstrate realistic physics as your character runs and does battle on top of its surface. Flexi even goes as far as to offer multilayered space. Have you ever played an MMORPG and been smacked by a monster on a lower level than you in an unrealistic faction? This is due to a major limitation in current technology in which technically all levels of a dungeon exist within one plane. Flexi breaks this limitation by rendering different levels as separate fields of spacing, allowing large PvP battles in a four story castle without any oddities or lag.
The Flexi engine also ensures player on player real time collision detection to further improve the realism of its martial arts combat. Players in team battles will be able to body block enemies to protect weaker allies, and plenty of collision based blow-back skills combined with the amazing sound system in-game will give you a real sense of power behind each swing of your blade and blow of your bo-staff.
Telling a Tale by Story Not Levels
Beyond the Flexi Engine, it's the design philosophy of the Snail Games team that really sets Age of Wushu apart. They sought to create a game where a players' power could be described in words rather than stats. To do this they set up random instances and encounters that one must seek out after completing the basic and intermediate training of a skill in order to reach expert levels. For instance a nearly unnoticeable sweeper in an obscure Buddhist temple may turn out to be the sole teacher of the deepest secrets of the Buddha Palm technique. Or a reclusive mountain lumberjack may know a technique to push your Duoming Sword skills to master levels. Only through exploration and luck will you find these chance encounters, and each player's story of how they mastered their art may differ from the next. In my mind that's certainly more interesting then telling people you grinded the level 50 boss 10 times until you got a lucky crafting drop to make the Robes of the Master.
So what is the secret behind making this system work? Players will have a Emotion System tied to their character based on actions they've taken, NPCs they've befriended (or angered), schools they've joined, and events they've participated in. Only if the conditions come together will certain events happen. And sometimes there is more than one path from point A to point B.
The Connection Between Schools, Guilds and Fame
So in my last article I went over the importance of schools in the game. But in many ways they almost seem to run into the normal function of guilds. So how do the two combine and work with the Emotion System?
Well for one, each school has its own requirements you must meet before having a chance of being accepted to study there. For instance the Beggar's Sect won't just let a wealthy businessman buy his way in unless he's shown dedication to the art of begging. Likewise the Royal Guards are self-serving and ruthless and won't be willing to accept you unless you hold a position of power in society or can offer a unique rare art that creates value for your person.
Now to be a successful guild you need to align yourself with one of the eight schools and take over territory near the school to keep in good standing. This presents a unique challenge as players won't be able to recruit just anyone to their school. You'll need people of similar mindsets and playstyles to join together to be a guild strong enough (or rich enough) to own and maintain land in the presence of a school. Of course you won't be the only faction vying for control of a school so expect fierce competition, including guild territory wars, to be a regular ordeal.
Players seeking to steal your land from you to remove your position of power can initiate a TW war. These take place on your own guild lands and involve a point system in which the attacks must burn buildings, kidnap maids, and destroy stone beast statues to disgrace the occupying faction into surrendering their flag. Meanwhile the defending guild can carry buckets of water to extinguish fires, kill those kidnapping their maids, and station guards at their symbolic statues to maintain presence.
Guilds in high standing with a school will want to take their power to the next step by taking over the school itself. Each school is run by a Headmaster and his assistant, 3 Elders, and 3 Deacons. Each week 50 players will gain the right to challenge each other in a deacon or elder war in which they fight in an open battle lasting 20 minutes. The 3 challengers with the highest number of kills will pass into the next round where they will take on the current 3 residing deacons/elders. The last 3 men standing in this battle will become the new deacons/elders for that week.
To take over the position of Headmaster however, you will have to go beyond the call of duty and rally your guild to support you in the hostile takeover. First you need a player in your guild to reach the status of Elder. Then they must announce their challenge for the headmaster, and battle the other 2 Elders of the school in a last man standing free for all. The winner of the 3 elders will then face the headmaster in 1 on 1 combat. Following the match, all members of the school may vote democratically on who they wish the new headmaster to be. If the results of 1 on 1 combat and the vote are different, a tie breaker battle is initiated in which the headmaster and challenger may rally any willing to fight for their side to kill the other. The first headmaster to fall in this massive brawl will forever be disgraced, and pass leadership of their school to the rival. Once your guild controls the headmaster position of your school, you control the region itself.
So now that you are Headmaster, what's the next step? Why proving your school of Martial Arts is the one true Wuxia of course! This is where you can challenge one of the other 7 schools to an all out battle for dominance, fame, and perhaps even to steal hidden arts from your enemies. Or maybe just to put them down because their headmaster disrespected you. The reasons are endless but let's breakdown the format.
School Wars require confirmation from both headmasters before they are initiated. Though you may look like a weakling if you turn down a challenge, you can do so with no tangible penalty. Once the war is initiated, the headmaster can send our a request for aid to all their school members to defend/attack in the war. After all school members have confirmed or rejected the request, any remaining openings can be filled by any eligible players looking to hop into battle. Other schools can also choose to join as spectators to witness the battle first hand.
The School War battlefield is far more complicated than even Guild Territory Wars. Players can compete for buffs, NPC soldier reinforcements, revival points, secret routes, and boss spawns on a large palace map designed to give defending players a slight elevation advantage. Each time a boss is defeating by the attacking players, one of various beneficial buffs/bonuses will be unlocked to help them in their conquest. If they kidnap or kill the headmaster or vice-headmaster during this battle, the player can earn school fame items as a mini-reward. The ultimate goal is for the attacking school to infiltrate the Purple Cloud Palace and kill the defending team's boss NPC. If they can do this within the time limit, the rewards are great. However if the defending school can maintain their line of defense for the time limit, then they reap the rewards.
Life Outside Combat
In a game without levels like Age of Wushu, it only makes sense that you need an above average profession system to keep players interested. Age of Wushu answers this call with 17 professions (I believe during my interview they said each character can only learn 1) broken down into 4 categories. This creates a large amount of optional sidequesting to improve your professions while also creating a bustling marketplace where multiple players must come together to create final useful products.
1. Miner: Miners both gather ore and smelt it into raw metals for use in forging quality equipment and select items.
2. Hunter: Hunters kill animals for pelts, fur, and skins which can be use in the production of equipment or passed to a chef as cooking materials.
3. Farmer: Farmers of course grow crops used in cooking. However you may also learn to raise silkworms to create raw material used by tailors.
4. Woodcutter: These lumberjacks gather wood used for quality weapon crafting.
5. Fisher: Unlike most MMORPGs, fishing is quite an active sport and great benefits are involved for catching rare and elusive fish.
1. Tailor: Tailors meticulously put together cloth to make basic armor. A true master can even imbue bonus attribute points to armor.
2. Chef: Chefs are multi-talented and can create dishes to relieve your hunger and offer status buffs, as well as sharper the edge on your weapons.
3. Poison Maker: This devious profession involves cultivating special herbs and grinding them into weapons to be used as poisons in food or coating on a weapon.
4. Craftsman: Craftsmen are to accessories what tailors are for armor. With increased skill they too can imbue extra bonus attributes.
5. Blacksmith: Forgers of weapons and collection tools, true professionals can even reinforce equipment and add extra attribute points.
6. Herbalist: For fast acting benefits, herbalists are the profession to seek. They offer pills to dispel disease or strength your health.
1. Musician: Musicians can aid their allies in battle by lifting their spirits, or cultivate the forbidden techniques of the Scholars to deal hard to cure internal damage to their foes.
2. Chessman: Masters of tactical combat, chessman can properly organize your battle formations and bolster your team with their leadership skills.
3. Scholar: Masters of the mind, they can produce beautiful and inspiring calligraphy works as well as help fellow travels decrease the cultivation time required to master internal skills.
4. Painter: Masters of the ancient art, painters are capable of interpreting obscure and advanced manuals.
1. Diviner: These master fortune tellers can increase the conversion rate between experience and cultivation by revealing important future events to a client. They also can acquire bonus treasure chests that hold mysterious items.
2. Beggar: Beggars are a common site in the marketplace. Some say it's good luck to give them money, but if you want something more tangible they can sell you treasure chests or test your fortune.
Those seeking to make it big in their chosen field can even bid for ownership of shops in town. Shop owners can place items for sale that will be visible to anyone passing by in town. You can even hire an NPC to sell items while you go out adventuring and cultivating your arts. It's worth noting that your skills and talents can even be cultivated while offline depending on where you log-out, so choose carefully to maximize the rate of growth of your character. Also be sure to stick with friends as your character is vulnerable to kidnappings and worse while you are offline!
With so many arts to follow, schools to run, and guild land to build up and manage, there is enough semi-sandbox elements to keep you busy for a while. But rest assured a series of epic storyline quests exists for those seeking a more narrated tale with tangible rewards. All in all Age of Wushu is shaping up to be a game for the ages and I can't wait to sink my teeth into the full title at launch!