By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Swordsman Online is a game offering by Perfect World Entertainment, where you as the player become absorbed into the world of “The Smiling, Proud Wanderer” by Louis Cha (penname Jin Yong); the story revolves around an ancient manual of swordsmanship, and everyone who wields a blade covets it. Your home is destroyed in a violent battle and now a wanderer, you set out on an epic quest filled with interesting characters, action, adventure and piles of swordsmen to leave at your feet, defeated by your superior style. Swordsman is an interesting game to say the least, and my beta impressions are a really mixed bag. While I love ancient China in all of its myriad forms, this was a story I was (until this point) unfamiliar with. There is player versus player combat in terms of small scale duels, as well as guilds doing battle with one another to establish dominance in the world.
I will admit, the idea of having three different types of controls was at first interesting. But all three modes of control didn’t really feel right to me. The one that was the easiest to use was ironically the Neverwinter control scheme (which, when I played I did not really care for). But I found it did lend itself well to this type of gameplay. Each of the styles of control have their pros and cons, so find the one that is right for you. At character creation, you do not get to pick your class, just gender, and physical attributes. Since I knew there were swordstyles that were gender specific, I made one of each and let me tell you, I laughed like an immature goon when I saw the options. Yes, you can make a woman with thighs like Chun-Li, and a chest like Morrigan (for all you fighting-game fans). They really do give plenty of options to make the character shaped like what you want. And I will have you, the viewer, know I did not give in and crank most of the notches up to eleven.
It is apparent to me that a trend in Asian MMOs now is the ability to auto-walk to a quest target. Three games I have reviewed have had this option: Monkey King Online, Swordsman, and Legion of Heroes. In some instances (say a browser game) I did not care for it, because it also fought for me. On Legion, it was delightful as it was a mobile game, and it made playing/enjoying the game much easier. You do not have to do it in Swordsman; you can easily maneuver and find the next person or persons to speak to/kill. There were times when there were simply too many players and it was very handy to have the game mount me on my stallion and ride off down the road to the next master I needed to become acquainted with.
Diversify Yo’ Bonds
Swordsman, steeped in rich Chinese tradition and culture offers ten different martial arts styles to choose from! I won’t lie that I chuckled when I saw “Wu-Tang” was an offering. Each style is different and has its own skills and uses; as stated earlier, one or two are gender specific. Shaolin only take men into their style while only women are devious enough to tackle the arts of the Five Venoms. Each school is interesting, and honestly, I was sold the moment I read “Five Venoms,” as the Five Deadly Venoms is easily my favorite martial-arts film of all time.
Each school offers plenty of customization options to make you feel unique even amongst your peers. Skills do not change between PVP and PVE (RE: Less CC, less damage); this is both a curse and a blessing as it stands. Classes/skills that do exceedingly powerful amounts of damage will no doubt dominate PVP. I do however appreciate that stun-locking (stacking stun after stun to immobilize) is not a possibility. Stuns can be interrupted by launcher-type moves, rendering the stun-lock non-existent. Below I will give mention to each school you can pick from:
Wu-Tang: Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to … you get the idea. Wu-Tang use larger blades, but wield them as though they were light and weightless. There are a lot of Crowd-Control skills to use, such as Herded Hew (pushes away and then together, dealing large amounts of damage), Sword Flight (Sweeps targets together, dazes with Weakness state), and Hand Bash (Knock opponents back).
Sun and Moon: An evil style to be avoided or battled (unless that’s your thing). Dual-blade style that reflects the shadow cast by the moon. It relies on powerful attacks like Hook Claw Pull (chain your blades together and pull dazed opponents in), and Death Chase (Teleport behind your target, immobilize and damage).
House Tong: A gun-kata style, they dual-wield Tong Guns to deal rapid damage to enemies. Skills that you can expect to see are Dodge Trap (Make a clone of yourself; dodge to safety), Venom Bomb (Venomous Mist to target, others in cloud take damage too) and Bullet Hell (Leap into the air and deal massive damage and daze targets). This style sort of surprised me, and I might go back and try to play more of this.
Shaolin: Aligned with the good schools, they are steeped in defense, and the Earth Element; but they are still strong and capable of dealing damage where it’s needed. Earth Shield (Def. boost and HP boost depends on skill level), Raging Blows (Grab target and rapidly hit, throwing them at the end) and Tiger Slash (Strike enemies in front of you and slow them) are earmarks of the male-only Shaolin style.
Five Venoms: Mastering the whip takes practice and patience, but it rewards with poisonous, explosive damage to anything in their path. Skills that exemplify them are Sky Cracker (Rapid strikes hit everything in front of you), Venom Doom (Spin in a graceful circle, poisoning and luring in enemies, doing so while boosting your speed and ignoring speed debuffs), and Arachnida (Ensnare with a whip and pull yourself behind opponent; counts as a grab). Fun at parties, without a doubt.
Zephyr: Zephyr contains a great deal of magic and chi palm attacks. AOE and ice seem to be the order of the day. From Frost Wave (Use chi to blast opponents before you with frost), Icicle Rain (Summon hail of ice from the sky to freeze/cause icebound on a group of enemies) and Ice Chaos (Raise your Shapeless Shield and dart forward, freezing all in your path); they use a great deal of crowd control to keep things in their favor. They wield a combat-fan to lethal effectiveness.
Splendor: The Splendor style is very flexible; it’s a longsword style that offers a great variety of skills to use in different situations. Dual Cut (Attack the same target twice), Swordblast (Use your blade to blast everything in a lane before you), and Phoenix Prey (Dash forward, damaging and pushing away all enemies in the path) are just a few of the many talents you can utilize in the Splendor school.
Harmony: A school that devotes itself to the element of poison; they pack a crazy amount of status ailments and control, but it comes at a cost; you have to stand still for most of it, leaving you vulnerable to other attacks or leaving you prone. Hurricane (strikes random opponents around you and stunning them), Eagle Dive (tapping this repeatedly keeps damaging and pulling them in again and again), and Predator (Tapping allows you to stab 3 times, causing a bleed; holding it dazes your foe, leaving them susceptible for a triple kick knock-down) show off just what this class can really do. They wield long/short swords.
Infinity: One of the Five Great Schools, they follow the teachings of Buddha. Despite primarily being nuns, men are also accepted to this school, unlike Five Venoms. Dual Rapiers are the calling card of Infinity. Skills they use follow the lines of Tsunami (Stab the ground and unleash a great wave of energy, knocking enemies back), Fate Lightning (Immobilize opponents with a blast from your weapons) and Death Spin (Charge and then spin, attaching enemies and causing a bleed. More powerful the longer the charge is held).
E’mei: E’mei are disciples of Taoism Nuns, but again, males are accepted here. They are a balanced group capable of supporting friends and allies. Polaris Touch (Strike that does physical and spirit damage, lowering Endo attack and defense), Synergy (Soothing chant that heals and helps them recover) and Chi Pool (Create a pool that all who stand within heal) are hallmarks of the E’mei Nuns. Their weapon of choice is the staff.
So obviously there is a great deal of variety and differing skills you can use. This is only a smattering, a meager offering of what each can do. There is something for all styles of combatants, and there is fun and excitement to be had no matter what you choose. Some people could say that ten styles are probably too many, and a few could be combined, but I feel that it creates more specialization in a game that’s clearly trying to capture the customization niche that Perfect World International originally dominated in the MMO market so many years ago. Beyond just strength specialization, schools also specialize in a variety of elements; not all can use the same ones as well. Earth is the most commonly found element, but there are Five Venoms who utilize Earth, Fire, Ice and Poison (more than any other clan!) while Infinity only really gains a boost to Fire skills. So there are several factors to keep aware of when choosing a clan.
In A Thundering Herd, We Feel A Lot Like Cattle
So, you’re a lone swordsman/woman, wandering this ancient land, visiting one of the Four Great Cities that lay ahead of you. Do you keep going at it alone? Well certainly, you’re welcome to do that if social interaction really isn’t your thing. But there are some things that solo players simply cannot do. That leaves Guilds. Guilds can claim territory and have “Turf Wars” where guilds battle each other for land. This domination can be gained in doing quests for your guild. At level 20 you can join a guild; this makes it easier to play the game with others, and participate in fun and interesting activities that people on their own cannot. There are two types of guilds, each with their own focus:
Mercenary Band: If being a hero and keeping the peace is for you, look no further. Investigations, escort missions, and defeating outlaws are just some of the tasks they focus on.
Bandit Camp: Money makes the world go around! Hijacking mercenaries, kidnapping and rescuing criminals from execution sites are some of the things these folks get down to. (That sounds more fun to me anyway.)
Guilds level up to 9, so if you’re searching for one, this is something to keep in mind. Guilds can have multiple branches around the game world, so the more of these the merrier. These can give more rewards for Escort/Hijack missions. But what if you aren’t a follower? Of course not! You want to lead the charge, be the head honcho, call the shots! You want a horde of swordsmen to do your bidding. At level 35, you can be the guy! If you complete a series of quests you can lead your own guild. If you decide to quit a guild, be aware there is a consequence, similar to World of Warcraft. Any Guild Credit you might have earned will be cleared, so you will have to start from scratch in that department. To start a guild though you will need at least a party of four players at 35 with affection that reaches 150. Chang Pin, in Fu Giu will set you on the path to being a guild master.
Anything-Goes Martial-Arts: 3/5 Good
As far as free-to-play MMOs go, I was very impressed. I did not feel pressured to buy anything, nor do I think there was anything to spend real currency upon. That may simply be a matter of the beta, although most free games in the beta show off the types of things one can purchase. There are lots of things to see and do even in the beta, I’m pretty excited to see what the full game will have when it releases. I’m sure big things will come from them. It is not ground-breaking but it is certainly a satisfying and enjoyable experience for me as a fan of Chinese culture and literature; I feel like others who are not as vested in the style will enjoy it as much as I did. Overall Swordsman is going in the right direction; there is more to see yet, and I would like to perhaps see more content based on other books in this era as expansion material. That could make for some interesting expansions/updates.
For what they were trying to do, the game was very physically appealing. Sometimes it felt a little cheap and cartoony, but I really enjoyed the folksy charm it had. A lot of the cut-scenes were interesting and well thought out. However I did find it a little annoying that the mouths of characters did not move in cut-scenes. As far as we’ve come in terms of graphics engines to see nobodies’ mouth move during cut-scenes was a little disappointing.
Though I did not personally care for the controls, they were still very sharp and responsive. You have three styles of controls to pick from, depending on what way you want to play the game as I stated earlier. I feel like this could be a title that benefits from a controller in the way that Final Fantasy XIV does, but for now, I’ll just have to acclimate myself to sort of awkward, but crisp controls.
The features on offer are very fun; joining a guild and hijacking caravans is something I can really get behind. But I feel like more needs to be here. I do not know enough about end-game content such as big raids, challenging instances and more PVP. There is world PVP in wild zones, which should be interesting but I do not think it will see a lot of balance at this point. As this was a very short Closed Beta (about a week), I did not see much in the way of PVP but I know it is there.
The music was appropriate and felt very folksy; it had a subtle charm that feels authentically Chinese. It did not take much to make me feel immersed in the game. All of the dialogue is in Chinese with English subtitles which does not especially bother me. I actually appreciated this. It reminded me of a lot of movies and TV series I have sank many hours into and as such I was grateful it did not get an awful English dub.