Developer: Suzhou Snail Electronic Co., Ltd. / Publisher: Snail Games USA / Platforms: Windows / Release Date: April 2013 / ESRB: N/A
Inspired by the Wuxia-centric lore (vaguely ‘historical’ martial arts and adventure based in medieval China), Snail Games’ forthcoming Age of Wushu is a free-to-play (really) 3D, martial arts-oriented action MMORPG—essentially the North American iteration of a China-published version which hit its last closed-beta phase in 2012.
A sprawling, involved, easy-on-the-eyes and atmosphere-rich game, Age of Wushu takes a Ming-Dynasty MMO spanning the whole of China, and crams every square virtual meter of its world with the stylistic chops of Wuxia productions like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers and Warriors of the Yang Clan. And Wushu is full of clans and factions, all right—and, even more to the point, ‘schools’. Wushu focuses not on character-classes, but on different martial-arts disciplines, offering players a massive—even a bit bewildering, at the outset—selection of gameplay choices amid the game’s eight factions and nigh-countless gameplay options.
Players initially select one of eight schools/factions. They include the powerful, respected Wudang; the oft bare-palmed-but-effective Beggar faction; the renowned Shaolin sect, brutally effective up close but not so hot on ranged defense; the evil sword-favoring Royal Guards; the exclusively-female Emei sect; the ranged-weapon-centric (and poison-happy) Tang Clan; the ‘Wanderer’s Valley’, another of the so-called ‘evil’ sects; and a more-or-less neutral sect, who can also employ musical instruments as weapons. As the game features no traditional ‘class’ scheme, players are free to pursue any mix of skills they choose, but certain skills will not only ‘fit’ but actually serve to identify a player’s allegiance throughout the course of the game.
As only seems fitting in a martial arts-focused game, much of the combat interaction in Age of Wushu is PVP-oriented. The game offers both single-player and party ‘dungeons’, an elaborate mix of item crafting, equipment and profession schemes, and systems for housing as well as mounts.
Another off-the-beaten path, interesting and/or potentially confounding feature of the game lies in the fact that even when a given player is logged off, his/her character will remain active in the game as an NPC—an NPC who can, among other things, suddenly fall victim to kidnappings-for-profit perpetrated by other, active players. Said active player will, or at least can, literally haul your non-playing carcass around in a sack, dump you at the nearest in-game ‘participating location’—say, a brothel, for you female characters out there—and the next time you log in, Jianghu!, you may find yourself ‘waking up’ in a state of in-game servitude (to escape from your character can either pay a predetermined fine, or simply run out the clock on said servitude for twenty minutes or however long it is).
Annoying, right? Perhaps—but the game’s rich, living world also allows players insulted in such a manner to find out who, exactly, the dishonorable buttmunch was who perpetrated said kidnapping, for the purposes of the subsequent, obvious act of revenge; or, if you’ve got your valuable time and sights set on other endeavors, you can always put a bounty out on the criminal cur’s head, and let somebody else handle the ensuing unpleasantness.
Age of Wushu‘s promised ancient land is rich, alive and meticulous. There’s a half-hour or so of ‘tutorial’ gameplay, but that’s not going to see you anything like—ba-dump-bump!—oriented in this vast, new, by which I mean old, world. Long before you ever start to glimpse the horizon of your big, overarching goal, chosen early on—which could be the location of a lost sibling, or the righting of some age-old wrong—you find yourself awash in a sea of sub-goals (each specifically attuned to the school/sect of your choosing) and metric tons of mini-games of ever-increasing depth and complexity. These include a fishing or painting mini-game here, a medieval-Chinese stringed-instrument analog to Guitar Hero there, and even a fully-functioning variant of the ancient game ‘go over yonder,’ with different sizes and hence difficulties of ‘board’, which as some gamers already know, constitutes a mentally-demanding exercise all by itself. Quest and side-quests range probably in the hundreds, and new, daily ‘events’ by the dozen are planned to surface, from story-relevant fetch-quests and escort duties to more demanding, multi-layered objectives. You will be…busy.
While drawing heavily and obviously on the superhuman martial-arts stylings of decidedly-’fantastic’ Wuxia such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the world of Age of Wushu is still *cough* ‘reality-based’ in other respects. Yes, your character can execute frankly dream-only caliber, gravity-defying whirlwind attacks—there are no classes or levels, you just need to learn specific new abilities and skills to progress—and sprightly waterbug-like sprints across the surfaces of lakes (the actual attempting of which would leave your real-world, mortal-coil self instantly soaked, quite probably drowned almost immediately thereafter, and certainly shamed in any case). But you won’t be fighting any writhing, mystical-Asian super-dragons, or any much of that happy-clappy.
What else? Your character gets hungry; and just because you’re currently rolling in roughly-milled coin or script or whatever, don’t be expecting the McChowMein cart to ever be conveniently parked waiting for you inside the next dungeon—you’re going to need to acquire your foodstuffs, at one price or another, from an actual, human-player Crafter.
Age of Wushu isn’t your average-panda-bear MMORPG, that much is immediately clear from a first glimpse of the rich, mostly-realistic, vibrant visuals, the sprawling game-world depiction of ancient China, and the vertigo-inducing range of options and sub-options. Even on a mount or coach, you could spend a good 15-20 minutes in transit between objectives, if you eschew teleporting to experience the world—and this is only the first ‘episode’ in the North American release. Do not, repeat, not expect to just ‘dip’ into this once and know the lay of the land. Age of Wushu is slated—scrolled?—to open its palace/server doors to North American gamers in April 2013.