Snail Games

Age of Wushu puts murderers in virtual prison, but encourages a healthy slave trade

Age of Wushu puts murderers in virtual prison, but encourages a healthy slave trade

Age of Wushu is, quite literally, a game with history. Originally titled Nine Scrolls Manual in China, Age of Wushu (also known as Age of Wulin in Europe, Legends of Kung Fu in Russia, and Age of Kung Fu in southeast Asia) is an MMORPG set in China during the Ming Dynasty. It brings in Chinese architecture, lore, and history with high-action, and presents a world where players choose one of eight martial arts schools and experience a rise to martial arts fame.

Want a short version? Ever wanted to mix Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with World of Warcraft? It's kind of like that.

The Report recently had an opportunity to check out Age of Wushu, and was given an in-game tour from John Lynch, QA Manager for Snail Games USA, the game's North American publisher. The results were… interesting.

Crane style! Monkey style! DPS style!

Age of Wushu, for better or worse, doesn't look or play quite like any other MMO on the market. There are no orcs or elves here, no archers or swordsmen, no shoulder pauldrons the size of mini-fridges. The setting is distinctly low-fantasy, meaning the only thing out of the ordinary you'll see are the physics-defying martial arts moves of your fellow players and your own avatar.

Think of movies like Hero, House of Flying Daggers, or even Kung Fu Hustle. Although the game is meant to be historically accurate of the time period, players will be able to double-jump, fly through the air, and pull off insane combos with their fists, staves, and blades. It's an interesting combination, and though player abilities give a sense of almost god-like power, there are still restrictions.

“If you go and you become a Shaolin, you'll have to abide by their rules. So for example, Shaolin are not supposed to drink, and there's a quest in the game where you have to drink with somebody,” Lynch told the Report. “So a Shaolin has to decide, 'Do I follow these ancient rules, these ancient teachings, everything that I've learned? Or do I go off and decide I'm gonna take a little bit of a discipline penalty to do this quest?'” Shaolin are also a gender-restricted school; only men can learn the Shaolin martial arts. Only women can learn the ways of the Emei.

Each martial arts school has three major movesets associated with it, so that you can further define your character and playstyle. The Scholars, for example, can choose to channel their fighting prowess through the falling flower sword, the boundless sword, or leisure kick. If you want to know which moveset will fit you, simply reference the star rating of its attack, defense, recovery, and operation difficulty.

The falling flower sword, for example, is a well-balanced moveset that is “proficient at double strikes and powerful group attacks,” while the leisure kick utilizes “simple and effective moves” aimed at affecting a single enemy at a time. The leisure kick also has a higher attack score than the falling flower sword, but lacks its ability to recover from damage.

Player-driven, player-reliant

Once you've chosen a school and began to learn its moves – from reading in-game scrolls, no less – you're ready to set out on your adventure. Or, you can hang around town and become a renowned craftsman or even criminal. Almost everything, Lynch told me, is driven by the players.

“Normally in MMOs, you would go to fight a dungeon or a boss that would maybe, possibly drop this amazing sword, this amazing dagger, whatever your weapon is,” Lynch said. “In this game, yes you can get some awesome weapons from that, but the way you get the best weapons in the game is by the player economy.”

Players will have to rely on each other for much more than combat gear, however. Lynch also pointed out that, since players have a nutrition score that will damage their character's life and ability to regenerate health should it hit zero, they'll also have to purchase or trade for food. There are no chef NPCs, so all food is made by other virtual Kung Fu masters.

“There's a really high emphasis on a player-driven economy,” Lynch said. “This is a player-run game.”

Capital punishment

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. The game world is open PvP, with no way to abstain from combat unless you're a new player who hasn't left the starting area. Players can – and often do – die by another player's hand, so I wondered how Age of Wushu protected its players, if indeed it did at all.

“Let's say you run up and kill somebody,” Lynch told me. “You gain infamy. When you gain a certain amount of infamy, there will be a message that goes out, and it's like, 'So-and-so player has committed crimes,' and there will be new NPCs called constables that will spawn and come after you. If they're able to kill you or another player is able to kill you, you'll go to jail.”

Jail in Age of Wushu is no picnic. Each crime committed carries with it an amount of time a player is sentenced to rot, and you can't just poof yourself to the end of time served and be released back into the world. So if you go on a murder spree and accumulate a “bounty” of five hours, your character has to stay in jail for five real-world hours. That's five hours that have to be spent logged in, mind you.

If that's not punishment enough, or should you become particularly notorious, things can get even more interesting. Instead of serving your time in jail, your character will be publicly set into stocks and beheaded – the animation itself is quite tame, no blood, no actual decapitation. Your character will also recover, though you'll be saddled with a 50% debuff to your abilities for 24 hours.

Players seem to have caught on to the rules. “For the most part, it's been really well-received,” he told me. “During closed beta one, when there was a character wipe and so it didn't really matter what happened to your character, we would see massive groups of people wiping out entire towns of people.”

“Now that it's at a point where certain servers have been able to mature, people have learned to work with it. It's like a game within a game, because you have to balance how much craziness you want to do with how much is the game and the game mechanics going to allow you to do?”

Kidnapping! You know, for fun!

The philosophy of letting players control their fate extends beyond the time you're logged on. Whereas many other MMORPGs allow players to gain rest XP, Age of Wushu goes for something a bit different, provided you're a paying VIP member. Instead of logging off and disappearing from the world, you can choose to keep your character in the world, where they can cultivate their abilities and practice their profession.

So, if your character has training as a chef, as long as there's a chef job slot available when you log off, you can have your character become a chef NPC in the game. You can even set up stalls and earn a little money on the side. Huh. Neat.

Lynch told me players can also earn money by kidnapping players which have logged off but chosen to let their avatar remain in the world, and then selling them to various businesses, forcing the character to be a waiter, or entertainer, or another of Age of Wushu's professions. That… is not so neat.

I asked Lynch how the system was moderated and kept from abuse. He told me that, like most of Age of Wushu, it's up to players. A kidnapper gains a mark that identifies them as such to everyone around them, and any player logged on can put a stop to their scheme. Once the kidnapping has been foiled, however, there's nothing stopping the would-be hero from simply selling the kidnapped player themselves and taking the money.

This kidnapping system is a glaring oddity. Sure it might be historically accurate, but game play that allows virtual slavery? It may be a tame, harmless way to prank someone, but the principle of the act makes my skin crawl. Even though I know that when Lynch says “entertainer” he doesn't mean anything dirty, I still get shivers thinking my avatar could be sold and forced to… entertain.

Look, World of Warcraft had an unofficial brothel at the Goldshire Inn on its Moon Guard server, and its reputation was so notoriously smutty that Blizzard started patrolling the establishment in-game. If a fantasy game about leveling up and completing quests can have a brothel, why wouldn't a game that allows kidnapping and an entertainment-based profession have an equivalent? The fact that Lynch said kidnappers won't earn infamy – and thus, won't earn the ire of NPC town guards – makes me even more nervous.

Age of whew this is some heavy stuff

Age of Wushu is a complex MMO that requires patience and an ability to cope with a steep learning curve. I've been playing for a week and I still don't understand everything. The UI is a major problem; information swallows the screen, and the anemic presentation makes it feel like a chore to follow along with what's happening. Tutorials are a nightmare to navigate, and the game is a complex beast that will bite you in the ass if you try to play it like most MMORPGs.

Example: When I first created my character, I figured I would run to the edge of town and start fighting some wild animals to level up. Only, there are no levels in Age of Wushu. That's okay though, because you can just get to punching and double-jumping your way around the world, right? Nope; I ended up limply punching at a wild dog for a good 5-10 minutes before it eventually killed me. As for the overflow of information, the above image is the first thing you see when you log on with a new character.

The game is nigh impervious to the casual player, and even Lynch admitted that one of the major problems in translating the game from its native Chinese origin was how overwhelming it could feel. Right now my student of the Beggar's Sect is going through the motions, punching and kicking her way across the land, but I'm still not sure I know why I'm winning these battles.I'm still coming back though, at least for now. There really is nothing quite like Age of Wushu out there, and despite the daunting task that lies before me – and everyone else who logs in – I'm eager to learn the game's secrets and strategies. There are some strategies and guides that Snail Games has provided, should you get lost or want to learn more about making the most of your time.

Age of Wushu is free-to-play when downloaded from the game's website, or you can purchase a $20 physical copy exclusively through GameStop starting today. The physical copy is much the same as the download version, though it also comes with a special mount and unique outfits, $20 of in-game currency, 30 days VIP access, experience boosts, and a single-player adventure that puts your character side-by-side with a digitized version of Jet Li.