While there have been many video games that delve into Japanese culture, there have been very few that really get into specifics on Chinese culture. In fact, outside of the Dynasty Warriors series (which are based on the legendary Chinese story, Romance of the Three Kingdoms), you’re hard pressed to find a game that reflects on what has been one of the longest, richest cultures in the world. There’s been the official Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon game, but beyond that, not much else. Most other games that go into Chinese culture tend to use a modern-day setting, like True Crimes: Streets of LA, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, Stranglehold, Jackie Chan Adventures, and Rise to Honor. That’s where Snail Games comes into play.
Snail Games are a small United States division of Chinese developer Suzhou Snail Electronic Company, Ltd, who focuses primarily on online gaming. While the US division hasn’t been around too long, the main company has been in business for just over a decade. Despite this, they hit the ground running, winning the “China Cultural Games Overseas Development Award” 4 years in a row, “China Top 10 Game Provider” 3 years in a row, and 30 other awards from various outlets including government, media, industry, and player communities worldwide. Despite this, Snail’s biggest endeavor is yet to come.
Age of Wushu (or Age of Wulin, as it’s known in Europe) is quickly becoming Snail’s biggest title yet. Already one of the highest ranking games in China, it is also only the second original game to secure a celebrity endorsement from a famed Chinese martial artist: Jet Li, who also endorsed and starred in the Playstation 2 cult classic, Rise to Honor (True Crimes was endorsed by Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang by the Wu-Tang Clan, and Stranglehold & Jackie Chan Adventures were based on a movie & tv series respectively). What makes it so interesting? Well for one thing, as the title suggests, it focuses on actual martial arts rather than a hack n’ slash style of combat. In other words, like many single-player games have implemented, there is a system for actively using dodging & parrying techniques rather than rolling the dice as it were and hoping the opponent misses. Another is something of a revolutionary idea in MMOs: your character does not level. Instead, as it has been seen in single-player games, skills will level. From jumping to dodging, to weapon proficiency, the more your character does an action, the better they will get at it. Not only that, but many of your character’s skills can be customized as well.
Another difference between this & many MMOs is the fact that there are no classes. In their place are 8 schools including Wu-Tang (or Wudang), Shaolin, Royal Guard, and Emei. As with reality, while your character may primarily know techniques from their initial school, they can go to another school and learn skills from there. However, there may be times when learning a skill from a different school would be counter-productive for your character, such as a Shaolin-based character (who value their bodies as temples) learning Drunken-Fist skills (which as the name states, requires the character to be drunk for maximum effectiveness). The result would be self-destructive moves which would liken any battle to that of Krillin vs Perfect Cell. In true martial arts fashion, there are a myriad of weapons to choose from, such as bare-hand, single-blade, dual-wielding, daggers, hidden weapons, throwing knives, staffs, bladed staffs, and many more. On the other hand, like many modern MMOs, there are professions which characters can learn in order to make in-game money or items. Some of these include beggar, scholar, royal guard, and fortune teller. And in true “my kung fu is stronger than yours” form, you will be able to challenge your profession skills against other players. This is in addition to combat-based PVP tournaments which will be held regularly and random challenges which can be made at any time.
And what of the missions themselves? Age of Wushu, like the RPG game Dragon Age: Origins, will feature a main storyline mission that will vary depending on what your character’s background and hometown are. And much like many RPG games, there be a large number of side quests. To gain access to some side quests, your character will have to have certain relationships with NPCs, usually some level of trust. An extra interesting feature this game will have is that while the player is logged off, they will have the option of leaving their character still in the game doing some sort of autopilot activity including working at a shop for in-game cash. As with an MMO, one could imagine that there a risk involved with taking this option, and there is. Malevolent players will be able to kidnap these characters and sell them into slavery, so that instead of logging back in with a surplus of money, they will have to buy their freedom before being able to go anywhere. But do not fret – kidnappers will be easily identified by a special icon over their heads and a large sack on their backs while they are in the process of doing so and do-gooders will be able to foil their plans through a battle.
Age of Wushu looks to be a fresh, exciting change to the MMO genre. The world of ancient China has captivated much of the world’s population for decades. Now, for the first time, fans of China and the martial arts will get a chance to join that world. As with all of Snail’s games, this will be 100% free to play, however, there will be an online store for special items and gear as well as the opportunity to preorder the game with special items & bonuses for just $9.99. Age of Wushu is currently in its first Western beta test and will start up a second beta in December before its official release in February of 2013. See more about it at http://www.ageofwushu.com.