Publisher: Infocomm Asia Holdings / K2 Network
Developer: IMC Entertainment
Release Date: Q3 2007
Being the ultra-liberal fool that I am, I usually reject outright any such nonsense as blanket generalizations. After all, as a sadly aging ex-Goth, I’ve been victim to more than my fair share of flippant dismissals based on little more than surface impressions. However, that said, there does seem to be an almost cultural predisposition for Koreans towards a certain style of gaming. It seems to break down into three basic elements: a stunning sense of ultra-detailed style, a ruthless system of repetitious grinding, and (eventually) a great deal of player-versus-player action.
Lineage is like this, Lineage II is even more like this, and RF Online is just like Lineage II except it has really cool looking anime-robot-mechs. While I have always admired the aesthetic accomplishments of these games, I have yet to enjoy any of their play elements. It is for this reason that I was reluctant to even try Granado Espada, a wildly popular Korean game that is gearing up for a North American release under the title Sword of the New World. However, “mine is not to reason why”, and soldier on I did. Without getting too far ahead of myself, let me say at least this- I’m still playing it a week later.
The basic breakdown is this: Sword of the New World is a 3rd person perspective massively-multiplayer online role playing game set in a highly detailed recreation of Baroque-era Europe. Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? Well it does if you have even a passing interest in history.
Unlike all other MMo titles, you don’t start a singular character and level it up. Instead, you have teams of three that all fall under the same family name. This is an interesting twist on multi-classing, and it also allows you to tweak whatever kind of group you wish. If you like high-damage groups, then start a team of three Fighters or Musketeers. Is balance more your style? Then mix it up with a Fighter, a Scout for healing, and an Elementalist for range attacks. Initially, this system takes some getting used to, but once you’ve had some time to wrap your head around it the experience feels quite comfortable. This structure also happens to open up more quest rewards.
You see, at first you can only start a team of three avatars that fall under five basic classes: Fighter, Wizard, Musketeer, Elementalist, and Scout. You can choose only their name, their gender, and class. Seems limited, doesn’t it? Throughout the course of the game though, you will be rewarded with “cards” that give you things like raw experience, new hairstyles, new clothing options, and even new classes. In this way, you can keep adding new characters to your family and keep your team dynamic.
I will ashamedly admit that I didn’t put a months worth of steady play into Sword of the New World, but I feel fairly certain that I took in enough to get an idea of what the overall mechanics are like. My impression is that it is very much like its contemporaries: an excess of grinding peppered with some quests and the occasional dungeon crawl. What helps separate this game from the likes of Lineage 2 or RF Online is its pace: the action in Sword of the New World is very fast. Instead of a lengthy fight involving as many different skills as you can muster, most combat is nasty, brutish, and short. As a result, you will go through five or six concussive melees in the same time that you would normally do one in other MMo titles. If you yearn for arcade-speeds, then this is probably going to appeal to you.
During this frantic period, you will level up like mad. However, you will quickly see that you actually level two separate elements of your characters, and then things start getting confusing. Basic experience, that’s easy enough to figure out. Kill things, get stronger. However, you generate experience for your stances separately. Stances in Sword of the New World dictate what special skills you have, and they play a big role in group strategies. The clearest example I can think of is with the Scout, who has stances for combat and stances for healing. If you leave your dagger-wielding band-aid man on healing exclusively, you’ll find his ability to shank monsters is lacking. Also, if you rely on skills excessively, you’ll find your stances out-level your base level.
Remember earlier when I said you’re occasionally given experience cards as quest rewards? This is where those become handy. Stockpile them, and if you need to boost your family members in base level you just eat the cards like candy. So what importance does base level have compared to stance level? Well, for starters, all equipment is locked to level pre-requisites. As a result, it won’t really matter if you have excellent stance skills if you’re wearing a canvas sack and monsters can kill you with a dirty look. It’s a quasi-overwrought system that (like so many other aspects of this game) takes some getting used to but feels elegant and comfortable once you have.
One interesting thing I noticed while dabbling in this beta is the option to let the game play itself. If you so desire, you can get right into the guts of the action, but there are also options that allow you to just slick a blanket control option and let the game take care of itself. For example, you can click an ‘assault mode’ button in your interface and then click on an area in the distance from where your group is. Your avatars will then travel to that spot, attacking anything they encounter along the way. You can also set commands to loot everything on the ground in the exact same manner you set the assault mode, so you can just run a gauntlet killing everything and then run right back picking up all the treasures dropped from the initial run. Your involvement in the entire process is minimal, serving mostly to just make sure the AI hasn’t tripped up on itself. Is this system good, or is it sanctioned “bot” play? That’s a matter of perspective really, but I found it interesting that the option is even available.
Sword of the New World has an exceptionally vibrant visual style. If I had to boil it all down to one word, that word would be “opulent”. Never mind that the setting itself, Victorian-era old-Europe, was rife with decadent detail- try mixing that with the Asian flair for anime-exaggeration and you should hopefully have at least somewhat of an idea what I’m trying to get across. I’ve seen some people in-game bring up comparisons to Final Fantasy, but as I’ve never dabbled in that franchise I can’t confirm their veracity. Personally, the graphics make me think “Lineage 2-meets-Guild Wars”. That’s more than “ok” in my books.
After all is said and done, I was quite surprised with Sword of the New World. It has some interesting twists on traditional play elements, and appears to have found a novel way to make grinding more palatable. I see this game as being poised to make a big splash in North America, more so than any of the other titles that fall into the “Korean MMO” category. Now that I’ve made myself feel terrible for repeatedly using blanket generalizations that I usually avoid, I think I’ll go spend some time hacking and slashing. I imagine I’ll see you all doing the same soon enough.
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