It's rapidly becoming difficult to find a niche in the fantasy MMO genre, so it's surprising to unearth an entire genre of films and books that hasn't been tapped. Wuxia works, including iconic Chinese film classics such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," center around ornate martial arts demonstrations, including the beautifully performed acrobatics off walls and over water. Age of Wushu takes many Wuxia tropes, rolls in some clever tweaks on MMO norms, and puts it all together. A chat with some of the developers, followed by a chance to play the game the next day, led to an unexpected highlight of this year's E3.
Age of Wushu's core MMO scheme is skill-based combat that is most easily comparable to City of Heroes, except much faster and more tightly melee-based, with an active rock-paper-scissors element between various skill types. There's also an active counting of combos when you can land them and some impressive visual effects as you land more complex skills. The game does several things differently — starting with movement. There are no travel powers, mounts, or the like; instead, players can freely move between zones for travel across a planned map that spans China. Players can also explore with surprising freedom using the game's movement physics, including a wonderfully animated triple jump and the ability to run up walls or over water while dashing. The crazy exploration that can ensue is a major part of the game's fun.
The game also eliminates the concepts of level and class to an extent, so any player can learn any skill, with appropriate effort. The easiest way to learn most skills is to join one of the eight martial arts schools, which conceptually serve as some class and faction roles. The schools interact with one another, including school-versus-school PvP, often with the objective of stealing skill books to learn each other's techniques. Skills are developed using Training Points, which you acquire through typical MMO play and can be invested to enhance skills toward a state of mastery. Mastering all possible skills is possible, but it's not something the developers consider feasible.
The game's alignment and job mechanics actively integrate in a clever way. You can practice an array of crafts in Age of Wushu, but to sell your wares, you don't go to an auction house. You simply set up shop somewhere and log off, becoming an NPC while you do. Players who wish to be evil (a requirement to join at least one school) can drug and kidnap your character to force you to work as a farmer. This causes no harm to your character, and they don't take your stuff. Very considerate villains are the norm in this setting, obviously. Characters who seek to be good, however, can see this kidnap attempt and stop it by beating up the would-be villains, allowing you to keep selling goods and making money.
These variances make Age of Wushu a highly distinctive — and potentially very cool — game. Closed beta testing is being worked on now, with release planned for Q3 or early Q4 2012. Snail Games isn't sure about whether the game will use the free-to-play or single-payment model, but whatever they choose, Age of Wushu has some great potential.
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