Age of Wushu is the quintessential Chinese MMORPG: Snail’s free-to-play title simply oozes Ming-era China. Released in 2012, Age of Wushu attempts to deviate from the standard MMORPG formula, particularly in regard to combat and progression systems. Seven years after its debut, Age of Wushu remains a fascinating experience with a small albeit dedicated fan base. However, is it too late to join a Martial Arts School and float through the sky like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?
Despite a reputation for being time-sinks, MMORPGs tend to be immediately accessible. Following a brief introduction and tutorial, users quickly find themselves fighting enemies and amassing experience. With more than a hundred entries in the genre, most attempt to swiftly reward newcomers in the hope of capturing their interest. Age of Wushu takes a different approach. Instant gratification is not the name of the game.
That being said, permitting a user is willing to immerse themselves in its world, Age of Wushu can be incredibly satisfying. Luckily, Snail’s MMORPG boasts one of the most completely realized sandboxes in the genre.
Unsurprisingly, the graphics show the game’s age. Textures appear quite muddy and larger structures resemble cardboard cutouts when viewed from a distance, although things improve greatly in close quarters. Age of Wushu excels in its thematic consistency, with every aspect of the world reflecting the game’s Wuxia-inspired origins. Though not necessarily expansive, cities produce an illusion of authenticity while promoting total immersion through the various life skills and crafts waiting for you to learn.
Schools are particularly awe-inspiring. Age of Wushu offers PvE and PvP, with the latter shining the brightest during the endgame. Once you install and launch the program, players join one of eight factions. Each class specializes in a different form of Martial Arts. Each form is considered “Good,” “Neutral,” or “Evil.” Regardless of the choice, every School teaches six Internal Skills and five Martial Arts skill sets, with the latter comprising of seven abilities tailor-made for distinct weapon types.
Internal Skills serve as a way to boost a character’s core stats, while Martial Arts skill sets unlock new offensive or passive abilities. Deserting a School to join another is possible, but mastering all of the eight classes is a full-time gig. Depending on the School’s spirituality, Reclusive Factions can subsequently be entered. These groups open up even more Internal Skills and Martial Arts skill sets. Age of Wushu expects students to respect their School’s code of conduct.
Age of Wushu handles progression differently to other MMORPGs. Rather than a reward for defeating random enemies, you gain XP by immersing yourself in the world. Accumulated XP transforms into cultivation points you can invest toward a specific skill, although newcomers should principally focus on developing their School’s Internal Skills.
While this removes the need to grind fodder enemies, cultivation is quite a lengthy commitment. Although ways exist to hasten this process, finding nine other players to conduct a Team Practice is easier said than done in the game’s current state. Thematically, it makes sense for a character to develop their craft through dedication and hard work. However, for the player, this translates to staring at a gradually-filling gauge. Unless you purchase the VIP pass to allow for offline cultivation, be prepared to leave the program running through the night. Otherwise, your character will stagnate.
Depending on the chosen class, Age of Wushu drops players into one of four unique quest lines. Putting aside a couple of neat side-quests involving spying on other Schools, primary missions are undermined by a disappointing presentation. Cut-scenes are filled with barely mobile characters. Conversations typically require repeatedly clicking the NPC following a single line of dialogue. Though some quest lines hold potential, Age of Wushu’s shoddy execution causes the adventure to feel somewhat amateurish.
Once you finish the 30-hour storyline, PvP becomes the main reason for playing. Age of Wushu’s Jianghu system enables you to form various types of relationships among the player base or with NPCs. PvP is a huge part of the experience and fights can occur at any time between members of opposing factions.
An enjoyable PvP is impossible without engaging combat and Age of Wushu is a step above the competition. Rather than spamming the strongest attack and waiting for it to cool down, Age of Wushu utilizes a rock-paper-scissors system that challenges players to constantly pay attention to the opponent’s actions to obtain victory. Color-coded for your convenience, skills are split into overt attacks, blocks, and feints. If the enemy opts to block, then a feint will shatter their resistance. However, feints are no match for a powerful punch to the face. Thankfully, you can parry such attacks by either activating a specialized skill or clicking the right mouse button.
Although the game occasionally ignores commands and animations can be rather wonky, Age of Wushu’s combat is still inherently enjoyable, permitting someone puts in the effort to master its mechanics. Honestly, the same thing extends to the rest of the game.
Age of Wushu is not for everyone and demands a great deal out of its player base. Seeking an MMORPG that grants a way to blow off some steam? Age of Wushu is not the game for you. Martial Arts is a lifestyle and Snail’s title reflects as much.