By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF), OnRPG Journalist
A while ago DizzyPW asked me to do a write-up on Swordsman Online. I had heard the game compared to Age of Wushu quite frequently and so I was interested in giving it ago. Of course, Swordsman Online is only available in China at the moment, so I had to call in a favor and get an account made for me by someone I knew from Age of Wushu. And then there was the whole issue with getting the client to work on my computer... But that's not what you guys want to read about. Anyways, here is my write-up from my time playing Swordsman Online.
Usually, one of the most important aspects to a gamer when he's deciding to play a game or not is the customization options he gets for his character. Most often, this mostly pertains to the looks of the character, but also means the skills, stats, and other ways to make your character more unique and tailored to your play style. In Swordsman Online, you can certainly make your character look unique, but that is quickly hampered due to areas of the game that do not allow (or fail to promote) uniqueness. Seeing as the game is in Open Beta, though, I feel that these issues will probably be resolved before released (or at least shortly after).
At least in the first twenty or so levels, progression seems to be very linear. I didn't notice the ability to learn any new ability through my own choices. I only had to follow quests (which I will get to later) and I got what I needed. This isn't necessarily bad, especially in the beginning of the game, but I am hoping that this isn't foreshadowing how much choice we'll have in our character development later on. I've honestly had enough of linear character progression from this industry.
As for the character creation, there are a lot of options for customizing your face. You can either choose from a bunch of presets for each part of your face (nose, eyes, lips, etc...), or you can make use of sliders that will allow you to change just about every dimension you could want to. This means you can create a true beauty, or a horrible monster. This caused a dilemma for me because whenever I'm given this much freedom with character creation tools, I tend to lean heavily towards monster rather than beauty. Fortunately I was able to push off my urges and went with a female character and used presets for everything but the nose (it seemed like just about every nose preset was hooked, which I didn't like).
I didn't notice any options for changing my body, but it's very possible that I just missed them. However, needless to say, I was quite happy with my characters massive breasts that went very well with the physics engine. There's no doubt in my mind that this game was designed to cater to the taste of young men. Oh, and the hair uses cloth simulation (as well as your clothes), which really brings the characters to life in ways that most MMOs just can't. Which brings me to the graphics...
How Does the Game Look?
Pretty amazing, actually. The shadowing is decent, and the cloth/hair simulation makes everything feel more "real." The art style is pretty bright with a slight lean towards cartoon-y, but still keeping a realistic overtone. Of course, as with all good things, this comes at a price. The optimization isn't very good. You will probably have no issue with the game when you're in a zone that doesn't have to many people, but if you enter a major town during launch week (like I did), you will see an immediate FPS drop. Thankfully there are only a few places where this is an issue and I imagine that in the NA servers there won’t be so many people playing as there are on the Chinese servers. The other issue is that the maps are pretty small, which is a personal gripe and most people probably won’t mind it.
How About Questing?
Oh boy, I really do not want to discuss this part of the game. Why? Because I was so disappointed. I had high hopes for Swordsman Online when I started hearing people hyping about it. I was devastated when I found out it was just another quest grinder. If there's one thing I hate about an MMO it’s crappy, generic quest to get experience and loot. It's the bane of MMOs, as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, at least for the first twenty levels (and it seems like there is no end in sight), you will be mindlessly grinding quest.
The devs did have the decency to implement extremely lazy questing, though. All you need to do is talk to NPCs and then click on the quest in the quest tracker and the quest will auto-path you there. It will even begin interacting with whatever NPC or object the quest requires. And, if it's a kill quest, which most of them are, the game will even start killing the NPCs for you. It honestly would not be hard at all to create a macro or script that would play the game for you. You would only need to be there for the story-line quest that has mini-instanced boss fights or something along those lines. I didn't want to say it, but I am severely disappointed in this aspect of the game.
Another gripe with the questing that I had was that it uses the archaic "first come first serve" system. That is, if you hit an NPC first, it's your kill no matter what. However, if someone hits a mob before you, you can't get credit for the kill even if you do most of the damage to kill it. This system promotes kill stealing and spawn hogging, something I ran into very frequently during my time in the game. With games like GW2 having come out, it has almost become the norm to promote cooperation among players by giving full credit to everyone that had a hand in a creature’s downfall. It's sad to see such a good-looking game with a lot of potential go down this route and I hope they decide to change it before the open beta ends.
Even if the system used is one that has been with MMOs since the start of World of Warcraft and has been done to death, I have got to say that the quest can be pretty fun at times. The game world has a rich and detailed lore thanks to the several different series of books that have been written in the Wuxia setting. The game makes great use of this and has some incredible cinematics that it uses for cut-scenes, and just questing in general. When you go to a new zone, it's very possible that you'll go to a grey-scale flashback with some nostalgic music playing in the background while you explore, before coming back to reality to do quests. The familiar and deep story, combined with the creative use of cinematics, and the quest that have you interact with the world can make for a compelling questing experience.
Well, How's the Combat?
The combat is the one redeeming feature about Swordsman Online so far. While a majority of the game is a generic quest grinder with very few choices in your character’s progression, the combat is certainly action-packed and gives an epic feeling. While you may be one of a thousand dopplegangers that is dressed in the same exact outfit as the other guys that are leveling up, you can at least feel like a true badass as you unleash your Kung Fu onto your foes. And speaking of Kung Fu, there are currently ten different schools to choose from when you start the game. They ranged from the Shaolin Monk types, to the evil assassin types.
Combat can be done either using traditional point-and-click, or you can switch to an “Action” mode that uses an aiming reticle. Combat is smooth for the most part, but there are one or two things that took a bit to get used to. First was that whenever you use an ability, unless the ability itself moves you, you will stop wherever you are to attack. This was a bit annoying at first because the atmosphere of the game made you feel like you should be able to run around and jump, all while throwing epic punches, kicks and whatnot. But after a while you forget all about it and the combat becomes natural.
The fighting seems to have a lot of AOEs, leaps, and other epic moves. Similar to the Age of Wushu combat system (and this is about where the similarities end), there is a sort of “rage” bar that, once filled up, will allow you to do epic moves. By default you have the ability to do double jumps that can allow you to get pretty high. There is also a mechanic in place that gives you the chance to recover from a knock-up by quickly choosing a location to leap towards. Overall, I would say that the combat feels and looks more impressive than Age of Wushu, but it's still too early for me to tell if the combat is more balanced, or even more fun, than skill-and-timing based Age of Wushu combat.
Does it Compare?
It sucks having to compare this game against another one, but there is no denying that Age of Wushu will be a direct competitor of Swordsman Online. They are both set in the same Wuxia lore, and both will attract almost the same crowd of players. The main difference between the two are the ways they are meant to be played. Age of Wushu is a sandbox-themepark hybrid, the focuses on giving you freedom to create your own story while having a fairly weak story itself. Swordsman Online is almost purely themepark and strives for a deep and interesting story by using lots of cutscenes, voice acting and beautiful graphics. When it comes down to it, both games have something to offer people and when you are trying to decide which to play, you will need to ask yourself what it is you really want from a game.
I've got mixed feelings about Swordsman Online. It uses very linear character progression that makes you feel like just another cog in the machine. One that can be replaced at anytime by any number of other players. On the other hand, the game looks great and some of the clan features look very promising. Clan bases, with the choice of either becoming the good-guy cargo escorts or the evil bad-guy raiders, should help propel epic player driven tales. Though the concept itself is also linear and generic, with the awesome combat that I experienced, it should be pretty fun. Honestly, though, if I do end up playing the game, I will probably get bored of it fairly quickly unless PWE makes some major changes and content updates.
I livestreamed my first two hours of my time in Swordsman Online. If you need help figuring out if you want to look into the game or not, feel free to check it out here: