I love medieval European fantasy as much as the next guy, but I?m perfectly willing to admit that, at the current juncture, it?s been done completely to death. Sure, you?ll occasionally get a brilliant world like Tamrael, or an incredible author like George R. R. Martin, but at the end of the day, I?m well aware of a rather uncomfortable truth: European fantasy is to literature and role-playing games what World War II is to first person shooters.
That sad reality is the first reason why Age of Wushu caught my eye: in light of the ennui surrounding Western mythology, a lot of folks have been looking towards Eastern mythology to fill the void. That the title drew not just from the East, but from Medieval China (typically a highly underrepresented setting in Western games and literature) drew me in almost immediately.
It also helps that it?s a damned beautiful game. Matter of fact; that?s probably the first thing many of you noticed about it. As a matter of fact, some of you might be worried that the title might end up being all glitter and no substance. I?ll put it simply: stop worrying. You?ve nothing to be concerned about.
Loosely based on the Ming Dynasty Period; Age of Wushu draws heavy inspiration from the ?Wuxia? genre of Chinese fiction: while you?re not going to be fighting off dragons or demons, you will find yourself running across water, scaling buildings, and even exercising a bit of limited flight. See, that?s the first area in which Age of Wushu distinguishes itself: the combat system.
In order to fully understand combat, you?ll first need to understand the game?s class system; or rather, it?s lack of one. Age of Wushu tosses the idea of rigid, pre-set roles and classes out the window. Instead, each character can join one of the game?s eight ?Schools.? Each school has its own martial style and skill-set, and laws by which each player needs to abide: these laws can include profession, inventory, and alcohol intake, among other things. Coupled with this, each school has a special ?internal skill? which impacts your character?s personal stats and abilities. The best part about this system is that you?re not locked into any particular school.
If you decide, for example, you don?t like the Shaolin?s distaste for public drunkenness, you can bid them a less-than-civil goodbye and join the Beggar?s Sect, where you can drink to your heart?s content. You?ll retain everything you learned in the previous school save for its internal skill. With this system, you can literally train yourself to perfection in one martial school; then hop to one that you feel will complement what you?ve already learned.
The combat system is completely action-oriented, and works on what?s best described as a rock/paper/scissors concept. Each move in your possession falls into one of three categories: Red signifies Attacks, which cause straight damage; Green represents Parries, which deflect, block, and redirect damage; and Blue indicates a Feint, which will confuse your enemy or confound their defenses. Each character in a battle further possesses a rage meter which fills up based on how many opponents you attack; it basically functions as a ?super? meter. You?ve nine skill slots at your disposal, with a number of different weapon options: select carefully, because changing between weapons and styles will require you to withdraw from your attack.
The PVP system in Age of Wushu allows for a huge array of different battle types: engage in a friendly sparring match with a friend or rival, duel an opponent who insulted you to the death, or show your school?s superiority (or your own) in an organized tournament. Coupled with this, players may steal from one another and place bounties on each other?s head: each player has both a friends list, and a list of ?blood enemies.?
Oh, and those of you who want to go around casually murdering other players? Expect the law to come down on your head.
Combat isn?t the only way the game defines itself, either. The developer stated on many different occasions that they set out to create a living, breathing world: and it shows. Everything ? and I mean everything ? that exists in the world, save for a few NPC settlements, is created through the robust crafting and manufacturing system, which is so in-depth that it?s entirely possible to play the game without joining a single school. The best part about it, of course, is that Want to build a fortress along with your Guild? You can do that: but you?ll have to be aware that there?s limited land available for the endeavor. You?ll need to compete, and turn to craftsmen and manufacturers both from within your guild and without to actually get anywhere. Even the craftsmen themselves will have to trade and barter with one another to realize their full potential.
Another exciting element ? and one I?m sure you?ve all heard of before ? is that when you log out, your character remains in-game as an NPC, taking on a role based on where you logged out. Maybe they?ll set up a stall and sell stuff to other players. Maybe they?ll guard their Guild?s fortress, maybe they?ll sit around training up their skills, or maybe they?ll simply stand on a street-corner playing music. Take care, though: depending on where you log off, your character?s vulnerable to kidnapping attempts. If you?re not careful (and you don?t have a list of trustworthy friends at your back) you may well log in to find yourself sold to a brothel or held for ransom.
There?s also a bunch of story content, as well, which fleshes out the open-world, sandbox feel of the game nicely. Like any MMO, Age of Wushu features a wide selection of dungeons; each one a self-contained narrative with a series of unique challenges, puzzles, opponents, and obstacles.
Age of Wushu is a promising entry in the free-to-play genre, and from what I?ve seen so far, it?ll definitely be worth playing once it finally does go live. Don?t believe me? Pick it up yourself when it comes out: it?ll be well worth the price.