Hands-on Preview: AGE OF WULIN is the latest free-to-play MMO from Gala Networks, set in the Ming Dynasty. The martial arts RPG has no levels or classes, but skills that you learn from schools. We investigate this MMO to see if it does enough to differentiate itself from the competition.
In its pre-beta stage, Age of Wulin feels gigantic. Gala Networks claim its considerably bigger than World of Warcraft, and the world map reveals the large area of the Ming Dynasty to explore. The world’s visually striking at times, with the light finding its way though trees as you walk through the wilderness, exploring the historical world. The MMORPG draws inspiration from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. The world of Age of Wulin appears to have potential, but whether the world will stay populated long after its launch isn’t clear.
Age of Wulin features everything you’d expect from a 2012 MMORPG: PvE, PVP, crafting, professions, guilds, group battles and a progression system that unlocks new skills. There isn’t a traditional style of progression in Age of Wulin. Instead of levels, you learn skills to upgrade your character’s abilities. These skills are obtained by completing the main story line and sub quests.
You choose what group your character is aligned to, with 8 schools to choose from, including Shaolin, Royal Guards and Emei. There’s been no mention of a Wu Tang Shaolin Style school, unfortunately. Each school has different specialties, like the Emei who fight primarily with twin-spears. Players are encouraged to also raid other schools to unlock more abilities.
Some abilities in Age of Wulin are whimsical, such as running on water or jumping to incredible heights. Gala Networks said that some abilities are very rare to find, adding to a sense of aura that will surround players with such skills. It’s one of the more interesting parts of the game, which left me wondering how far they’d be willing to push the fantasy aspect.
Age of Wulin’s combat system features a combo system as you switch between the skills assigned on the numbered keys. It feels very close to the traditional MMO layout, to the extent it felt relatively safe. However, the ability to block incoming attacks by holding the right mouse button was a nice touch in making the combat feel slightly more interactive.
During the quests of Age of Wulin, I experienced involved a lot of running. You were either asked to fetch a certain object or speak to a particular person. One quest I played involved attempting to assassinate a key target. As Age of Wulin has no level or class system, every fight is a substantial challenge, which I experienced while aiming to complete this quest. Defeating the boss was very difficult, as I barely dented the target’s health bar.
Age of Wulin doesn’t feature any voice acting, requiring you to trudge your way though large sums of written dialogue, all with no vocal support. Gala Networks said that this was due to the large amount of content in the MMO, and that as it was in Chinese, it would require a ton of man hours to translate it all into voiced dialogue. The problem here lies in that reading text from a quest character doesn’t add to a sense of a thriving world: it’s more that you’re quest has become a chore.
In a world where The Old Republic is a fully voiced experience, this seems like a substantial flaw for an MMO launching in 2013. It’s a make or break feature of the game. It will mean the quests you do embark on will have to be incredibly engaging, or Age of Wulin will lose its audiences’ attention quickly.
In its localised state, cluttered and awkward menus can be forgiven, but need to be urgently addressed prior to open beta access. Menus and dialogue would clip through the world, making it difficult to read text at points. Quest objectives will float haphazardly against the world with no background, making it difficult to read. It’s hard to criticise this aspect of the game too heavily while it’s still in development, but it’s an issue that hindered my time with the game.
Your character can also have jobs. There are 17 professions to choose from, featuring the standard Woodcutter and Blacksmith, but also Beggar and Chef. Ranking up in professions involves mini-games reminiscent of Bejeweled. Age of Wulin boasts the ingenious idea of when you log out, your character will become an NPC, populating towns with collective offline players.
Age of Wulin screams of potential, but you feel the minor hindrances need to be addressed before launch. Gala Network said the game in a technical viewpoint is finished, and that their biggest task at this stage is localising the game. A bigger issue with the MMO, however, is even with the impressive stat of 5,000 unique NPCs, the world can sometimes feel lifeless. The bustle of Beijing is lost without any voiced dialogue, or any environmental sound effects for that matter.
Players populating Age of Wulin is on the horizon. Fans of other MMOs probably won’t be disappointed with the beta early next year, but for those who still can’t find their MMO time-killer, Age of Wulin probably won’t be the introduction that changes their mind.