MatchUp: Age of Wulin vs Swordsman
Whilst many people are familiar with films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Hero", "Seven Swords" and many others, most won’t be aware that the genre itself is considered Wuxia ("Martial Hero") and is extremely popular Chinese fiction. It focuses around the adventures of various martial artists, the Jianghu or Wulin, from ancient China and has been a very popular genre in literature for decades. For the most part it is only been touched upon in the gaming world in a few places, but now with two Wuxia inspired MMORPGs on the market it seems to be a genre that is gaining more and more interest.
For our MatchUp we check out Age of Wulin / Age of Wushu (published under different names for different regions [Webzen/Snail Games]) and Swordsman from Perfect World Entertainment. Both focuses on the Wuxia fantasy with players taking on the role of one such Jianghu martial artist setting out on their own adventure, similarly both games allow players to join various historical/history inspired clans to gain access to different martial abilities. Honestly, that’s pretty much where the similarities end as both games offer a completely different style of game to each other.
AoW takes its cues from the worldwide available literature and Wuxia history available and creates its own content, whereas Swordsman’s storyline and world is directly inspired by a well-known (to those that read these types of novels) saga The Smiling, Proud Wander written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha), who many consider to be the most accomplished Wuxia author around. That said, of the two, AoW does have much more of a traditional Wuxia feel to both its quests and gameplay whereas much of the time Swordsman feels more like a classic fantasy based MMORPG simply set in ancient China where “heroes” can perform inhuman feats (which feel more fantasy based as opposed to Wuxia based). This is further accentuated by the combat style of both games; Swordsman is a classic hotkey bashing MMORPG that focuses on intense action combat, whereas AoW relies on players using their environment more by running up walls, flying through the air, sprinting across water and building up combos.
Both games offer roughly the same number of available Martial Arts Paths (AoW  and Swordsman ), primarily broken down into various schools including the Shaolin, Wu-Tang, E’mei and a variety of other historic and inspired organisations. Again, both games approach the system very differently; Swordsman treats the schools more like traditional MMORPG classes and players choose which school they wish to join at character creation, once in your school you learn a variety of abilities unique to that school as well as specialised gear. In Age of Wulin/Wushu players choose their School/Clan during the game, able to speak to various NPC’s to decide which School will be best for them, and in joining they too will learn school specific abilities. The major difference is that first of all players in AoW don’t actually have to join one of the eight schools and can instead follow the newly added Vagrant path; similarly they can leave their School at any point (and will subsequently lose their learned School skills).
One of the key elements of being in a School, other than the obvious combat benefits, is that players will have certain storylines and quests as well as having to conduct their character to the rules and philosophy of a specific schools e.g. as a Shaolin if players kill a fellow Shaolin, drink wine (an in-game item), commit evil (kidnapping players, taking raiding missions) or even kill too much (having a high kill value) players will earn Rule Points, if they reach 100 then they get major debuffs for their character for a set amount of time, encouraging players to either play their character in the spirit of the School or leave and find one that may better suit the type of gameplay and philosophy they like.
Whilst Age of Wulin/Wushu has been released for a while longer than Swordsman, the game is considerably more feature packed (Swordsman from its list of features really doesn’t seem to offer much that is innovative new), with AoW offering more involved crafting/lifestyle skills, in-depth player driven quests, and with their intricate Marriage system players are able to throw a huge public event and actually marry another player for boosts and benefits (ain’t that always the way!) as well as having a huge open sandbox world. In contrast Swordsman focuses on a more streamlined/railroad theme park style MMORPG that many players will be considerably more familiar with and in many cases prefer; our only concern is that Swordsman offers a fairly easy levelling progression rate so players can burn through most of the content available, whilst AoW sits at the other end of the spectrum with an arguably slow and arduous rate of levelling.
For players looking for a more traditional MMORPG experience, with fast levelling, familiar combat and gameplay then Swordsman will most definitely fit the bill if they want a taster of the Wuxia genre. For more die hard Wuxia fans who want to wander the world (which is pretty much what Wuxia is about) then the huge sandbox world in Age of Wulin/Wushu may be far more appealing as well as the more detailed features that are available.