– Gamescom 2012 – Age of Wulin exclusive preview
Set in Imperial China you take on the role of a lone Wulin; a hero of the martial arts world and a master practitioner of your art form. Before the game was loaded up Amini gave me a small presentation, the first thing he broke into was an explanation on how the game was designed to be as realistic and true to life as possible, there would be no orcs, elves or dragons in Age of Wulin but you may find yourself doing battle with a monk atop a mountain peak or mass combat against a rival clan. That said there is a flexible approach to their “realism” as your characters can still leap through the air, scale walls with ease and run on water, so in terms of reality it is more akin to films such as Crouching Tiger; Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers.
The way players can learn these different abilities, along with their combat techniques is to seek out different schools and align themselves to it, different regions in the world having different martial arts forms. Players are able to mix and match the different art forms to their own preference and combat style once they have learned them, the game being completely skill based you aren’t locked into a specific class or fighting style.
Along with your expected skills players are also able to learn up to 17 professions that break down into four categories; Collecting, Manufacturing, Marketplace and Civilization. Whilst some of the professions are stables of MMOs such as learning an instrument to buff players, fishing to gather poisons and gathering ore to manufacture weapons, there are other skills such as Calligraphy, Farming and Begging. Using a skill will of course level it up and in some cases can give bonuses to your combat styles; with enough invested time it is possible to master every profession with your character.
With 16 different “Scenes” (their term for zones) exploration will be a key part of the game while players travel around seeking out new schools or questing; the game is essentially a sandbox type game giving players complete freedom of choice as to what they do. Players are not locked in regions or areas and no part of the world is unreachable; if you see those mountain peaks in the far distance then all it takes is time and effort to reach them. From the demo we’ve seen the game graphics look impressive and the scenery is both beautiful and atmospheric and really captures the feel of the era. The areas will be well populated with NPCs, both static and traveling, and if you find a particular area you are keen to return to then you can simply save it as a point of interest on your personal world map.
There are two really interesting features within the game that really caught our attention, the first being how GalaNet are handling NPCs within the game. First of all every NPC within the game has an alignment to each and every player depending on your interactions, both good and bad, with them on your travels. Helping the NPC beggar or trying to beat him up can have interesting effects once you find out that he is actually a Grandmaster Monk, one action resulting in him offering to train you and the other him demonstrating his abilities to your face. As well as this are the NPC Grandmasters who run the schools that other players learn their skills from: they can be replaced by players. That’s right, if you are strong enough to challenge the Grandmaster of your school if you defeat him then you take the NPCs position earning a very prominent position in your faction.
Finally is that when you log out of the game your character actually becomes an NPC, they stay in game and wander around living out their own lives as you intended instead of sampling disappearing in the tavern or dojo where you logged them out. An interesting development from this is that other players can interact with your character, attack and even take them prisoner, the character defending themselves with the skills you have learned. Though there is very little drawback from being kidnapped other than loading up in a location you didn’t finish in when you logged off the even more impressive feature is the knock on effect this has on your kidnapper/mugger.
For those players who simply like to watch the world burn and enjoy the thrill of playing the bad guy, roaming the land and killing the innocent, this won’t go unpunished. Rack up enough crimes and you will ultimately get a bounty on your head that other players can cash in, yes; player bounties. Once captured (whether in game or as a logged out player turned into an NPC) the criminal will end up in jail, which can be for anything up to five hours. In this time an imprisoned character is simply unable to leave jail until their time is served, but they can train skills and meditate and chat with others; the system to us feels as much like an anti-grief mechanism as it does a realistic consequence to a players/characters actions.
The second big feature, though it is as much a fluff feature as it is a core mechanic, is the ability to film your characters story. The developers of the game want the players to feel invested in their characters, to watch and record their journeys and so have armed with the tools to do so. Players are able to drop cameras (though not physical items that will appear in the scenery) throughout the world, choosing the characters angle and how long it films for to create your own in-game movies, which is often a popular pastime with MMO players. You can check out our recorded video of our meeting to see Arash’s own cinematic (the first 3 minutes 40) that he made using the in-game filming feature.
In our opinion this is going to be a game that is attractive in a big way to roleplayers who are interested in the period setting, albeit there won’t be any designated RP servers at launch. However, from what we have seen and heard the game should find a place in PvPers hearts as well with the multitude of PvP options that are going to be available from world PvP, duelling systems, instance based PvP (where you can arrange to meet someone on the temple roof for a cinematic battle between the two of you) and even guild warring; alternatively you don’t have to be involved in PvP at all. The combat approach is interesting in that it is a balance of character skill and player skill to be successful; quickly identifying an opponent’s martial arts form and using the appropriate defences to combat it.
For those who are a fan of massive PvP there will be castle sieges where players and guilds are able to fight against those guilds who own their own castle and either conquer and claim it or simply turn it to rubble. On top of this Amini mentioned that the developers have operation tools where they intend to run PvP contents for the players and can organize massive 400 player battles!
The game is a free-to-play MMO and the only elements of monetization we have been made aware of so far are extra vanity items players may purchase for their characters and also small advantages such as when a player dies if they have paid for the feature they will be able to respawn at the point where they died unlike other who may have to respawn in a local town.
Age of Wulin it's to be expected to be in closed beta three months from now with no release date available as of yet. When speaking to Amini he freely admitted that there have been delays due to the localization of the game. Translating into various languages while at first may seem a fairly simple task one of the things they are taking into account is the number of poems, proverbs and other literary elements of the game that need to translating and ensuring that they correctly translate the words but also the meaning of these elements. There will initially be three European servers; English, German and French, though players will not be region locked to these servers and can play on any they wish.
One of Amini’s hopes for the run up to release, but in no way a definite, is the option for people to be able to log into the game and start designing their characters before the game actually launches. Whether or not this will be implemented will depend on how close they are to simply launching and whether it makes sense to put extra time into this feature if it isn’t needed.