Daily Life in a Cartoon
No matter which character you choose or how you play the game, you’ll find yourself experiencing a beautifully animated world filled with colorful NPCs that have one reason or another for you to commit mass genocide on the somewhat harmless looking non-human population. But while most MMORPGs would make this a giant time sink of a chore to accomplish in the name of character progression, Elsword offers a casual friendly approach that lets you see tons of action with little downtime.
Combat regions come in two forms. One is static dungeon layouts featuring normal, hard, and very hard options in the beginning. These can be queued for while in the related town (each NPC filled town has set dungeons in its area related to the story provided in said town) with a user friendly interface that will pair you up with up to 3 other players depending on demand for the dungeon. If no one is available, the game will ask if you want to jump in on your own or queue up and try again.
The dungeons themselves play off as a series of short maps in which you’ll fight baddies, snag huge money bags and power-ups, and collect quest and crafting items, all while being as stylish as possible to rack up bonus rewards and letter grades for dispatching your enemies skillfully. As you get further into the game, Elsword mixes up the usual bag of tricks with diverging pathways, a never ending supply of unique baddie combat styles, and eventually even some pretty challenging platforming elements.
The second option was only recently introduced last month and is known as the Fields of Battle. Elsword’s world was fleshed out into a believable persistent system by a series of maps larger than most any maps previously released. There’s no time limits or grading in these regions. It’s just a free roaming area where players can complete quests, gain experience, and fight to unlock the next area while learning a bit about the backstory of the game through showing rather than telling context clues offered by baddies and the background in general. This update has probably more than tripled the total battle zones in-game and made my experience feel more solid than when I previously played the game at launch.
Overall I found the pacing to be ideal for my casual gaming tastes. Levels flow fast and freely early on and start to stretch out in the late 20s until you’re really struggling to earn each skill point upgrade for your final job class on the path from 35 to 60. There’s a stamina system that keeps your progression in check but it’s so forgiving it almost seems more like an anti-hack mechanism than an actual limiter on normal players.
In terms of challenge I think it’s mostly designed to be friendly to the casual players. If you enter a dungeon with the recommended levels and number of players, your team 999 times out of 1000 is going to stomp through it with no problem. With the addition of healing items you can both bring with you or find as drops, you won’t see the defeat screen too often. A few end-game maps in Chung’s hometown of Hamel and Henir’s Time and Space special instance might knock you around if you’ve been slacking on your gear but that’s about it.
The Fields of Battle update brought the much needed worldwide party feature to life along with some nice UI changes that allow you to see a more visual representation of the various dungeons you’ve cleared. It still seems a bit basic though and I’d like to see more tracking data such as max combo you’ve landed on a map or best rating you’ve scored on each difficulty so players would have a bit more to brag about and strive for.
Bored? Pick a Fight
If you’re tired of progressing your character and are looking for some extracurricular activities… Elsword doesn’t have many on hand. There is a basic crafting system but it essentially exists simply to serve a purpose for all the random junk you’ll stumble upon while playing the game. Rolling the dice to upgrade your gear and weapon can be fun for a time but the only true pastime worth its salt in Elsword is the PvP. As such one would imagine the PvP gets serious TLC from the devs and I can report from personal experience that the PvP is AWESOME!
Much like what one would expect in Smash Bros, there isn’t anything that special in the set-up that makes the PvP in Elsword so great. The only two options are 1v1 and 3v3 fights when it comes to the ranked automatching system. Players can set up their own private free for all and team rooms ranging up to 4v4. There are also plenty of maps that take advantage of Elsword’s well-made 2.5D maps such as pathways that wrap into the background, platforming elements, and other obnoxious obstacles that test how well you know your character in every setting imaginable. But none of that matters once you get into a match and the adrenaline starts pumping!
Characters are tanky in this game (My 2x Rena has somewhere in the 40,000 HP range!) and slight PvP stat nerfs make this even more so. As such fights can last a while by fighting game standards and perfectly executed combos or constant ranged poke harass are the two best bets to witling down your foes. Various rules determine what the winning conditions are but most of the time I don’t even care (or understand) how the winner is chosen and just enjoy the cat and mouse combo game until the clock runs out.
A popular design philosophy I’ve seen popping up recently is that perfect balance begets uninspired gameplay. Elsword is a posterchild of this. No class is labeled as truly OP as the map layout can have a huge impact on the utility of your skills. Some classes are more specialized for group play while others are dueling masters. Granted I don’t have enough experience to straight out say I’ve personally confirmed this but after doing extensive research in-game and on the community forums, it seems the consensus is only three of the job classes are currently not in a good place. Considering that’s three out of eighteen total branches, I’d say Elsword is doing quite well on this front. Plus a recent Korean patch has addressed most of these grievances and should be arriving in the near future to put Elsword in an even better position overall.
Cashing is a Mixed Bag
It’s no doubt Elsword has mastered its core competencies with a smooth combat, beautifully crafted characters and spell animations, a story that helps you flow from 1-60 with only a minor grind, and constant updates to keep the game fresh. The typical MMO features like in-depth crafting and what not are certainly missed, but would just be extra filler detracting you from the quick pick-up and fun play. Still I have some gripes with the game and they are mostly related to limitations pressed by the cash shop.
For one characters can unlock extra item slots and active skill slots this way. While the items aren’t as important, the skill slots can make you much more of a threat in PvP especially at end-game when you have mastered around 8 skills that could all come in handy. This is compounded by the fact that fashion sets also offer stat boosts to give the cashers more of an unfair advantage. Cash items can be purchased from other players but it’ll still certainly be a hindrance until you master the market and learn to make enough spare cash to afford keeping your accessories on.
On that note, with only six characters in the game, you won’t even have customization options at launch. Instead you’ll be reliant on the gear and fashion you pick up along your way. Here I can at least give Elsword props that NPCs sell non-cash shop fashion items that still offer stat boosts to help alleviate the pain of trying to stand out without breaking out your wallet to do so. In addition occasional promo outfits are provided for free for limited durations.
And again to Elsword’s benefit, this was a bigger problem earlier on when hacking was a larger issue in inflating the economy. Since the beginning of the transformation updates last year and especially following the Fields of Battle update, most hacking programs have been blocked, allowing the economy a nice grace period to begin to recover. So long as they keep this up, the overall experience should benefit non-cash shoppers as cash shop items will deflate to more affordable prices.
The Secret Society of El
One final note though not any less important than what I’ve talked about is the community. If you just make an account right now and jump into the game, it might feel a little empty. Sure there will be players running around in every town and all the channels are bursting most of the time, but the world feels quiet nonetheless. Even when you queue up to run dungeons, you’ll find your teammates are typically more interested in nailing the ultimate end score rather than stopping for tea.
I assure you this is an illusion. The Elsword community is surprisingly robust and active. Their community forums see activity on par with our own MMOHuts/OnRPG forums with plenty of the usual min-maxers, nerf plox, and other assortment of MMO tropes lurking about. The guild scene is also quite bustling and where most of your in-game interaction will come from. Just be sure to make some sort of Sword Art Online reference and the Beaters or other obscure Anime reference guilds will say hi.
If anything the community used to feel a bit more active than now and I think all the automated grouping systems combined with the dungeon grading system are to blame for this. When you’re constantly in a rush and then immediately disband after each run, there’s no real incentive to strike up a conversation with the random strangers you get grouped with.
I feel Elsword is on the cusp of achieving ultimate triumph in being the perfect sidescrolling brawler. The content is there. The polish is there. The balance is almost there. The cash shop brings in some issues but they don’t deny the core mechanics from shining through. The community is strong. And boring side ventures like that don’t add to the fun are pushed to the shadows where they exist for those that enjoy them but can be ignored by those disinterested.
With the hackers on the ropes and the final wave of second tier job classes being rolled out, this game is looking to become a staple of my free gaming time going forward. As someone who didn’t see myself sticking to the game for long periods of time in the early days, that’s a huge upgrade I’m giving it. If crisp frantic action combat and over the top animated battles are major selling points in your book, get into Elsword and hold on because the ride is only getting better.
Graphics: 4 – While not on the level of the new wave of Unreal 3.5 and 4 titles, Elsword offers the best aesthetics on the market within the 2D competition.
Controls: 5 – There are a few moments of frustration where I felt my character just wasn’t performing what I meant them to. Gamepad functionality can help alleviate some of these frustrations. Mostly it’s just part of the learning curve and combat is a solid enjoyable experience.
Features: 3 – Upgrading, dungeon runs, field grinding, PvP, and upgrades of various sorts put Elsword at the passing level here. Extra bells and whistles aren’t the primary focus of the game so I’m glad the core features have been so well polished.
Customization: 4 – Granted the majority is locked by the cash shop but Elsword has had a long time to develop a wide array of outfits across the board for all six characters. The fact I had to double take and figure out if I was looking at Rena or Aisha as well as a Chung or Eve a couple times while playing is a testament to the level of visual customization. Players can also follow quite different builds even within a character’s job class which to me is hugely important.
Community: 3 – More held back by the in-game systems than the community itself, I find myself having mixed feelings. It’s there and active but between the “Old Boys’ Network” frowning on new players and quiet chat box, you’ll have to put in an effort to become a part of it.
Overall: 4.5 - Hey Kill3rCombo, hit me up when you roll out the Korean balance patch and finish the Evolution job class roll-out. Cause that’s about the only thing holding you back from being the undisputed king of your genre right now.
Be sure to check out our recent videos showcasing the newest class additions to Elsword:
Infinity Sword, Shelling Guardian, and Code Electra:
Sheath Knight and Battle Magician