Thanks to a PCGamer demo DVD, I installed Sword of the New World over the weekend to give it a go. Seeing as how the game is Free2Play (stupid marketing trend word) and got a 90% review in the same issue, I figured it was at least worth a shot. Amazingly when the install completed and I logged in, the patching took less than 30 minutes (compared to EQ2s 5 hour marathon) before I was ready to play.
I’ll be honest, the first impression SotNW gives is great. The graphics are fantastic without being a system hog, the music gets you into the theme instantly, and the character models look great in terms of detail and style, with good animations. Character creation is as simple as choosing one of five classes, picking male or female, entering a name, and picking how your character looks out of 10 or so outfits. That’s it, a few easy clicks and you are in the game, on a ship starting the tutorial.
So for the first 15 minutes or so I loved SotNW, which is a major plus for any game in today’s market. I hated the next two hours. And now, perhaps four or five hours in, I’m back to loving it. If you look at a site like gamerankings.com, you will see SotNW has gotten a varied mix of reviews, from 40% to 90%. Both low and high scores have come from fairly reputable sources, and in a way both are correct. Let me explain.
As I mentioned above, the graphics are great. The view is Diablo-like, but with a good range of zoom and tilt features. The camera is also easy to manipulate and never gets in the way. The style of the graphics is where the game will either gain or lose points with people. Personally I like them, if nothing more than a change of pace from the usual dwarf/elf stuff I’ve been looking at in WoW/EQ. The style is a mix of anime and renaissance. Yes, it’s an odd mix, but it works for me. The characters are highly details, if a bit on the pimp/hooker style, with the males sporting some fur lines jackets and the females wearing gravity defying dresses. Again your taste might vary, but at least it gets away from the ‘level one potato sack armor’ you usually find yourself in from level one to ten in most games.
Up next is the sound, and mainly the music. The music separates itself from most MMOs (other than EVE perhaps) in that it gets in your face and makes itself a very noticeable addition. It’s a crazy mix of techo/classical/opera/other, sometimes all mixed together into one track. As the game is separated into large zones, each time you enter a new one another track plays, and the variety so far seems to be great. It also sets the pace of the game, as the music is quick and upbeat, as is the gameplay, but more on that later. Again you can either rate the game very high in music if you like it, or it will be a huge pain if you don’t, since it’s so loud and in-your-face. Personally I like it, and again it separates SotNW from the ‘traditional’ MMO.
Finally we have gameplay, which I guess is a big deal. In short, SotNW is Diablo on crack. Actually it’s more like cocaine, very pure cocaine. SotNW is VERY confident in itself; it aims to be a certain type of game, and does not cut any corners to achieve that, good or bad. In a world of ‘mass market’ and ‘broad appeal’, it’s nice to play a game that up front says ‘this is how I play, hope you like it’. Another huge plus of course is that the game is free, so if the games very distinct style is not for you, you don’t end up feeling cheated by having to drop $30-$50 on a box. The major feature the game boasts about is its Multi-character control (MCC) system. Instead of just one character, you control three at all times, very similar to a single player RPG like Neverwinter Nights or Final Fantasy. It’s nothing major for an RPG, but in an MMO, it’s something new. Finally you can have a tank, a healer, and dps all in one, without it being some bastardized hybrid class that we all know is going to get nerfed and buffed weekly from release to the day they shut the servers down. With a three member team, and five classes, a good bit of variety exists in terms of how you want to field your team. I’ve so far seen everything from what I will assume is a basic team of a fighter (tank) scout (healer) and one of the three dps classes, either a wizard, musketeer or elementalist. I’ve also seen some oddball combos, like three wizards, or a scout and two musketeers. The nice part is that many of them ‘work’, and making changes is easy enough, as you can create new characters and switch up as you go.
Now, here is why I hated the game in before I hit a certain point. Due to the games fast pace, normal mobs go down in 1-3 hits, and a well placed AoE can often kill 10+ mobs. In a normal MMO, that would mean you clear an area and wait for respawns, in SotNW the respawns are already on you, the rate is that fast. Many reviews have stated that you could park your team in a room, go afk for the night, and come back to find yourself up a few levels still happily killing away. This is true, you could do that, as the game will indeed play itself if you so choose, and fighting mobs your level or slightly below is almost never a contest. Mobs die so fast in fact that it almost makes it impossible to use any character skills; before you can target something its dead. In the very early game, you get the sense that you do nothing more than move from one zone to the other, collecting item x and going back, with whatever might be in your path being an afterthought. It looks good, sounds good, but it’s very shallow and unrewarding. If you don’t push on and continue, you can easily get the impression that SotNW is a mindless grind fest.
Fast forward to level 15, and my opinion changes. I was mowing my way through another dungeon still thinking nothing can stop me and whatever I do really does not matter. You wade into a room with 30+ mobs, grab agro, hit an AoE, repeat in the next room. Then I died. To be honest I don’t even know what happened, but somehow my scout got killed, and shortly after my fighter and elementalist go down as well. I figured something oddball must have happened, and quickly went back into the same dungeon and again started the mass slaughter on my way to the final room. I guess I’m a bit slow here, because once again in one of the rooms my party goes down. This time I was paying more attention, and I noticed that my scout had agro on him, stopping his healing, and enough mobs were attacking everyone to interrupt my AoE. I figured it was just a case of pulling one too many mobs, so the 3rd time I came back I made sure to pull only 20 or so, and things went better, I made it to the final room with the boss mob. I got destroyed. Horribly. Here was this ‘easy’ game kicking my ass left and right, making me look like a noob. It should be noted that the boss was level 13, my team was level 15, so it’s not like I was going after something out of my level just to raise the challenge, if anything I was a bit ahead on levels for the area. I had to go back to the final room and you know, actually use some strategy to come out on top. Using all three characters individually, and using all their skills, I was able to clear out enough space to get the boss into a manageable situation, where my tank could hold his attention long enough for the elementalist to take him down. And when he did go down, it actually felt very rewarding, my characters striking very silly ‘we win’ posses before being warped out, Final Fantasy style.
I guess if I had to sum it all up, it would be something like this. SotNW is NOT a traditional MMO. It does a LOT of things very different, and you will either love it or hate it. Looking around the net, it seems very few reviews are middle of the road as well. It does contain a level of strategy and skill, but that depth is hidden behind a very thick curtain of mindless killing with flashy effects going off left and right. It does bring a lot of new features to the table, many of which I have not touched on today (I think this post is long enough as it is), and like I said above, it’s very confident in itself, not cutting corners to appeal to more people. I’m looking forward to putting in more time with SotNW to see if it indeed does get deeper and more complex. It has crafting, enchanting, and PvP, features I have yet to even touch.
In other ‘games I play’ news, no EQ2 this weekend and EVE is moving along nicely, saving up ISK to get a battleship. I’ll give level 3 missions another shot shortly in my Ferox, as my skills are finally catching up with the ship and it seems to be putting out the dps it SHOULD have when I bought it.