Age of Wushu is an upcoming martial arts-focused MMORPG developed by Snail Games, and set for release in February of 2013. Den of Geek recently had a chance to punch and kick our way around the gorgeous world of ancient China in the game’s closed beta and by the looks of it, this is one inventive adventure that will not disappoint. After a quick character customization screen, the Age of Wushu beta lets players choose between four different story arcs to set the tone of their adventure. The story I selected involves avenging the death of my sister, but each scenario is just as compelling and just enough of a push to give your character motivation without weighing them down in a longwinded backstory.
From the second you’re given free rein to explore the game world, it’s hard not to be engrossed by the lively and peaceful atmosphere that Age of Wushu creates. The beta uses a soothing music soundtrack of sweeping gongs and chimes that really helps transport you to a realm of the early Ming Dynasty, although I found the other sound effects in the game a little lacking in comparison. But it’s the visuals that really encapsulate the essence of what this game sets out to achieve. Everything in the world of Age of Wushu just has a serene, earthly feel to it, with cotton candy skies, tranquil woods and valleys, and bustling fishing villages and castles. Players could lose hours just wandering the vast countryside and taking in the richly-imagined landscape and I’m sure that many players already have.
One of the biggest selling points used to hype the release of the game is that there are no character levels in Age of Wushu: players advance by simply perfecting their marital arts combat, learning new skills, and cultivating old ones (“cultivating” in Age of Wushu basically means upgrading a select skill gradually over time, without having to do anything extra). And you can gain experience points from just about anything. At one point while I was crossing a bridge, I happened to jump and gained 1 experience point for centering myself and smelling the fresh air. That’s pretty cool, right? But I think by far the coolest thing about Age of Wushu is that even when you have to step away from the game, your character continues to exist within its parameters and can rack up experience or cultivation points all on their own; you’ll be greeted by their independent successes the next time you log on. It’s just another thing that adds to making your Age of Wushu character feel incredibly real and focused.
The beta can seem a little confusing at first, as Snail Games puts so much into the menu interface that the screen feels a little cluttered at times; but most of the menu components are easily customizable and once you learn where everything is and what everything does, it won’t be much of an issue. Age of Wushu puts a heavy emphasis on its unique martial arts style of combat and it reminds me of a weird combination of World of Warcraft and Sleeping Dogs. Okay, maybe that’s a bad comparison, but you’ll still spend the majority of your first few hours in the game learning an onslaught of hand-to-hand moves and other advanced skillsets for all the butt-kicking action that awaits you on the horizon. Granted, all this technique studying makes for a fairly slow beginning, but things do pick up once you’ve learned how to double jump and begin to feel more in control of your character. My favorite move so far involves hooking an opponent with the Ghost Claw Explores Darkness skill (think of an insanely powerful and deadly grappling hook), that lets you latch onto your foes and throw them high into the air. Age of Wushu also features 8 distinct fighting schools, where you can go to learn some of the more advanced and niched fighting styles, and decide what type of fighter you want to become. I wound up joining the feared and evil Royal Guards, you know, because I’m just a badass like that.
The unique fighting style in Age of Wushu really sets the game apart from other MMORPGs I’ve played. Each one of your unlocked moves or abilities can be assigned to a circular slot on the bottom of the screen. When you engage someone in combat, you simply click on the different circles and your character performs whatever action you select. There are cool-down periods for most of these actions, where you must wait for a circle to refill its color before you can use that move again. I found this to be a very intriguing design choice and one I hadn’t really seen before in this kind of context. However, the fighting mechanics can still feel a little rigid at times, as you’ll be inclined to go wild clicking on your enemies, instead of on the tiny pictures of your attacks. From a visual standpoint, it’s still incredibly cool to see all your possible attack moves laid out before you right on the screen, so you never forget some of the more obscure ones as you ascend in your training and add more and more things to your combat list. I do think the combat system could use a little refining though. You can only see 10 of these slots at any one time and for other moves you want to add or quickly use, you’ll need to switch down to the second set of 10 slots and then back again, and so on. Also, frantically clicking on an attack in the midst of a heated battle will sometimes try to rearrange the order of your combat slots, instead of having your character perform the selected action.
My biggest gripe with the Age of Wushu beta is its lack of an effective fast travel system. As you progress in the game, you’ll eventually be able to place portal locations that you can move back and forth through, but most of the time you’ll just be slumming it from Point A to Point B. This wouldn’t be such a problem if your character didn’t move so SLOWLY (unless there’s a “Run” button I still haven’t stumbled upon yet). Riding on a horse can solve this problem a little bit, but once you’re back on foot after riding, you’ll only feel twice as slow. Luckily, Age of Wushu has a nifty auto-run feature, which lets your character move on predetermined paths through the sprawling scenery towards precise quest objectives or other custom-selected locations. However, this can significantly limit the exploration aspects of the game for lazy MMORPGers like me, as we can just click on the next quest objective and wait for our character to automatically (albeit slowly) run there.
The only real noticeable bug I found in my time with the beta came from NPC character movements, when a villager or stray town horse would ditch their walking animations and just start gliding all over the place. I also spotted a few hiccups in some of the visual details. In one tutorial quest early on in the game, I was tasked with retrieving a little girl’s kite that had landed on a rooftop, so I could practice my new double jump move. However, when my character scaled the building and picked up the kite, the image of the kite remained in its place on the screen, even after I returned it. Again, nothing major, but it was something that managed to pull me out of the experience for a minute. While I never ran into any lagging myself, I did come across many other players on my journey who complained of their internet connection lagging, but that’s almost to be expected from someone in an MMORPG these days and I personally thought the servers ran just fine. Still though, there are no glaring flaws that couldn’t be easily patched before the full retail version is released.
As with any MMORPG, Age of Wushu promises to be a massive adventure and I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this game has to offer in all my time playing through the beta. And with the developer’s promise to continually revisit the project and ensure that it’s the smoothest and most polished experience it can be, I am incredibly excited to see what Age of Wushu can really do in the full force of its public release. While players wait to hop in on all the tantalizing martial arts action when Age of Wushu is released on February 1, 2013, they can still pass the time by reading up on their ancient Chinese culture or practicing their aerial kicks up the side of their house.