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I've been playing AoW since the start of the 2nd "beta". I've seen a LOT of misinformation out on the web about this game, so I thought I would come here to clear it up and give an honest review. I'll do my best to review the relevant information that comes to me, and give a short pro/con at the end of the review. This isn't meant to be a guide, but simply to give players an idea of what the game is actually like. If you are looking for game guides there are a few decent ones on the official forums.
P.S. I started typing this at 1AM and it's now 3:30, so I'm sure there's a few mistates or things I may have left out. I'll fix it tomarrow if I notice anything missing.
Is it a sandbox, or a themepark?
Age of Wushu is being called everything from a themepark to a sandbox by quite a few people on these forums and elsewhere. In truth if falls somewhere between the two.
You can not build houses anywhere you want in the game, in fact there is no in game housing. You also can not change the game world in any real way through harvesting, battles, or teraforming; as you can in some Sandbox games. (the exception to this may be Guild Keeps, which I'll touch on later)
The fist part of the game will lead you around by the hand as it attempts to introduce you to the beginning game mechanics. You will learn the combat system, basic questing system, basic crafting system, and pick a school all within the first hour or two of playing the game. This is a very guided experience, and thus why many people are calling the game a Themepark. Many people do not make it past this guided experience to see how the game opens up after this tutorial period, due to them quitting and uninstalling the game.
The game has quite a few quests (glowing scroll above people's heads) that can be completed for EXP. These quests are repeatable on a daily basis. And they net you a small amount of EXP and in game cash.
While the game doesn't have sandbox elements like housing, teraforming, etc. It does have quite a few sandbox elements that redeem it. It is an open ended skill based game. Meaning you can make your character what ever you want to. This is done by collecting skills from other schools and building a martial arts set tailored to your personal tastes. Anyone in the game can learn any skill in the game given enough perseverance and time.
After the initial introduction levels, 100% of the gear in game is crafted. This makes this a VERY crafting heavy game, where the economy is extremely player driven. The only game I can liken this to is EVE online which has a very similar crafting & economy system. Materials can be farmed out in the game world similar to harvesting in WoW and other MMO's. While patterns for crafting items are found randomly throughout the world and in the in game dungeons.
The PvP system in the game is extremely deep and meaningful. After the initial introduction anyone can be attacked at any time by another player. There is a repercussion system for attacking another player without provocation. But it is not so strict as to make every player act as an innocent angel. You can do anything in the game from becoming a wanted criminal, a kidnapper, to a Constable (bounty hunter). The game is very open on what you choose to do while playing, and interacting with your fellow players.
Once you are past the initial school quest, and well into the true meat of the game it really opens up. How you keep your exp flowing is entirely up to you; you can choose to spy on other schools sects, do a bit of crafting, escort caravans, raid other peoples caravans, compete in arena matches, run dungeons, etc etc. The list is quite long and it is entirely up to the player to decide how he wants to spend his or her time. This is one of the largest reasons this game is called a sandbox by many.
As guilds are very important in any FFA PvP game, the guild mechanics & menu's in AoW are equally important. They are fairly on-par with any modern MMO. I liken the menu aspect of guilds to those present in DAOC & EVE online. You are able to control member ranks, member access to privileges (control), etc as per most modern MMO's. Guild leaders are also able to form alliances with other guilds, through the guild menu's. These alliances allow guild leaders to enter into the political side of the game. Making moves behind the scenes, backstabbing & backdoor deals are common. These alliances become very important when guild wars come into play.
Every map in the game has 2 castles on the outskirts of the map. These castles start out unmanned and empty. As a guild levels up it can take control of one of these castles, and start to pour guild resources into it. As the guild pours resources into their castle they start to gain benefits from it. You can buy a coachman who can sell mounts to your guild members. You can buy buildings that give a bonus to your guild members crafting abilities. There are quite a few different things you can institute into a guild castle, thus as you can see they are fairly important in the game. This leads us into guild wars.
Once a week a guild leader can declare a guild war with another guild. If this happens, both guild's castles become vulnerable to each other. During the course of the week each guild will be able to schedule an attack the other guild's castle. (think Linage 2) While anyone can start a sneak attack on a another guilds castle at any time and attempt to burn the buildings. This will not destroy the castle, only lower the overall value of the buildings.
During the scheduled attack the attacker & defender (and each of their guild allies) square off in the guild castle. The attacking horde attempting to burn, pillage, and destroy. While the defenders attempt to repel the attackers, keeping them from their objectives. This is not a siege type event with siege weapons and walls you can destroy. But more a large scale battle fought through out the guild keep.
Each guild has a pool of points when they create the keep. These control points increase with your guilds influence over the keep. If the attackers manage to burn and destroy enough of the keep they will earn victory points, which will take away from the defenders control points. If the defenders control points drop below zero, the keep switches control to the attackers. Often this change of control will take several weeks worth of brutal, winning, attacks to actually cause the castle to flip. As you can only attack each others castle once per week.
Dungeons in the game are quite challenging. You can run 7 dungeons per week per account. Regardless of which dungeon you choose to run, each run detracts from this total. Each dungeon has unique events and encounters within the dungeon that must be completed within certain time limits. Depending on how your group does compared to the time limit, you will get better rewards (loot). Every dungeon will have one boss encounter (some have multiple) where players will be called in from outside the dungeon to play the part of hired assassins and aid the boss. So not only do you have to engage a boss that may have complicated mechanics, but you also have to contend with PvP at the same time. This adds a very dynamic contrast to AoW's dungeons that I have never seen in another MMO.
Dungeons are the prominent way to get most of the flight skills in the game. They also drop many of the crafting recipes needed to craft the higher end gear. Thus are very popular, and I have yet to have any trouble finding a group for them.
Lastly the game has a somewhat strange EXP/Leveling system that is very sandboxy. Every thing you do in the game earns you EXP. Some things earn you more than others, but all of your exp is combined into a massive pool of points. Slowly these points are converted from exp into cultivation (not farming) points at a rate of 1XP = 1000 Cultivation. The rate (time it takes to convert) this change is based on the activity you were doing when you earned the EXP & your VIP status.
The actual skill leveling system that is very similar to EvE Online's. Where you choose what skill you want to funnel your converted EXP (cultivation points) into and just let it go. Over time it will level up, whether your online or not. The rate that these cultivation points are spent on your skill is a set rate. There are two ways you can speed up this leveling rate in the game.
Once a day you may join with other players in team practice. This allows 10 players to gather together and practice their martial arts together. This allows you to funnel cultivation points into your skills (thus leveling them up) at a very accelerated rate. Thus you can level the skills up much faster than if you le them cultivate normally.
During this team practice every member will be given one round in which they must press a series of keys in a given order (think Dance Dance Revolution) in order to give their team that round's worth of cultivation. This will also give each member of the team a % of fatigue. You start the day with 0% and once your fatigue reaches 100% you can no longer cultivate through Team Practice for that day.
Practice Martial Arts
At any time you can choose to practice martial arts to level up your martial arts skills. Doing this you will spend in game money to level the skills. The amount of cultivation each time you spend money is random, so this is a bit of a gamble. But if you are in a hurry to level your skills up this is always an option. You can use both bound and Unbound silver to do this. (more on this later)
Combat in Age of Wushu seems very clunky at first glance and play through. But the more you play it the more you will come to realize it is one of the best combat systems you have ever played. The system of attacking, active blocking, and feinting to break said block is very simplistic yet at the same time quite engaging. Combine this with the 3D ease of movement provided by flight skills, the combat opens up in an entirely new direction. I have been playing MMO's since 1998, and this is the first time in 14 years that I have actually enjoyed combat in an true MMO. This is the single biggest saving grace for the game, and where they put a LOT of attention.
Miracle Events are what some might call random encounters. These random encounters are rare (I have only ever seen two of them) but can be anything from a wondering merchant selling you a flight skill, to a kidnapped girl fleeing from her kidnapper. From what we are told there are over 6,000 of these random events hidden throughout the world. These random events can be triggered in numerous ways. One of the most published is through affection (favor) with the NPC.
Every NPC in the game has a separate affection /hate rating. Depending on your actions around these NPC's that rating will go up and down. Some NPC's may like hard workers, thus doing a craft near them will increase their affection for you. Others may be lazy and you may gain affection by begging them. Some NPC's will hate you if you attempt to ride over them with your horse, or look down on them from your horse. Other NPC's will find you gallant. Almost every single action you do in the game will chase changes in affection for those NPC's around you.
Depending on you affection/hate with these NPC's they may trigger random events as you pass by. An NPC that hates you may have her older brothers attack you. An npc that likes you may lay all of her problems at your feet and beg you for help.
Regardless of your school of choice. Every week school events are run in which your & the other school's participate. These events cover everything from script stealing (where you must stop other schools from stealing your precious manuscripts), to an all our school war. None of these events are mandatory, but they are quite fun. The only down side to this is that the events are run quite late at night (most from 10pm -1am EST), although they are looking into changing this.
Cash Shop & Bound/Unbound Silver
There are three types of currencies in the game. Gold, Unbound Silver, and Bound Silver. Gold is received through spending RL money via Snail's TOP UP on the web site. Unbound silver is the only currency that you can trade from player to player. Thus it is what is used to buy and sell items on the market & pay for services from other players. Bound silver can not be traded to players, and is rewarded through quest completion, begging, and school tasks. When purchasing services & items from NPC's bound silver is used. There is a cap on the amount of bound silver you can spend in a day, after which unbound silver must be used until the cap is reset.
The cash shop offers an assortment of Costume items, Horses, & scrolls that can be used to double the amount of items you get through harvesting. ALL items in the game have a duration. Once that duration is up the item must be replaced with a different item, as it is deleted. Cash shop items are not an exception to this. Most items in the game have a 30 day durration.
Gold can be converted into unbound silver through the cash shop. This is similar to GW2's cash shop. So you can spend RL money, to get Gold, and convert that gold to unbound silver. Then use that unbound silver in what ever manner you see fit.
By and large the community in AoW is some what anti-social to a point. This stems from the fact that there are a LOT of non-english people playing the game. Many of whom refuse to speak English, or just don't comprehend the language well. This isn't to say that everyone playing the game is anti social. Because that isn't the case at all. There are quite a few thriving guilds, filled with people that are really enjoying the game. Team Practices are usually fairly chatty, if somewhat limited by the language barriers.
There are the occasional asshats wondering around. But there are also quite a few very helpful individuals out and about. But I would feel remiss if I didn't mention that MANY questions asked in school chat are largely ignored or just left unanswered. I feel that this is due to a combination of many people turning school chat off & the language barrier mentioned before.
So far they have run a few different “events” in the game. Now I don't know about you, but when I think of an event, I think of a zone invasion by a bunch of rampaging zombies. Or a storyline that requires you to figure out some clues and engages you in the world in some meaningful way.
Instead the “events” in AoW (so far) have been things like; requiring you to be online at a given time for an hour and half. During this hour and half, you can talk to a specific NPC in town. That NPC has a pool of gift bags that they give out every 5 minutes. Once the pool is empty you must wait another 5 minutes for the pool to refresh. With 60-80 people all clicking on the NPC like crazy that pool goes very fast.
On top of the silliness of this “event” you can only get 6 bags per character per day. Yet in order to get anything out of the event you need to turn in 5000 bags. Yes, that's right. 5000 bags. Given that the event runs two weeks, and you only get 6 bags a day. You do the math on this one. The only way you can possibly win this event is to buy bags from other players or create hundreds upon hundreds of alts.
I had a little chat with our guild's Chinese member that has been filling us in on a LOT of info on how the game works and mechanics. He told me that this is how ALL of the events are run on the Chinese server, and that we should expect more of the same.
Pro's & Cons