Despite having been in the public eye for more than two years Gala Networks has been keen to deliver a constant stream of information from Age of Wulin. For many videogames this could spell disaster: player fatigue before the launch date is never a good thing, but thankfully Age of Wulin can bear the strain. Even at this point, Age of Wulin is looking fit and healthy enough to endure several more months of titbits, screenshots and trailers, as in those last two years we’ve really only just scratched the surface.
Age of Wulin is a huge endeavour for both developer and player. The range of activities is remarkable, more so than almost any other massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). As there is still one obviously dominant leader in the genre – as has now been the case for nearly a decade – the MMORPG is often thought to have remained at a standstill with very little innovation being offered by developers. Nothing could be further from the truth, as it has perhaps inevitably become a case of inverted gestation: it’s the smaller productions skirting around the outside that offer the biggest steps forward, and once such techniques have been perfected we see the likes of Guild Wars 2 and World of Warcraft adopting them as their own. Runes of Magic, Rift and now Age of Wulin: these are the titles that true MMORPG fans consider the pioneers.
Age of Wulin’s core experiences play out on three fronts: schools, skills and guilds. The videogame features all of the expected MMORPG traditions – trading, combat and exploration – each of which has been specifically tailored to suit the eastern theme. However, it’s the unique progression mechanics that make Age of Wulin such an exciting proposition.
Telling the tale of a character that becomes a hero in martial arts, the player begins Age of Wulin as a bold yet inexperienced fighter with a limited moveset. By selecting a school to join players immediately gain access to a small repertoire of specialist skills, but must hone their efforts in order add them to their own available manoeuvres. This can be done in a variety of ways, from ‘studying’ and ‘meditating’ to taking on specific quests. Players can evolve their character as they see fit, and as such only a few different skills need to be earned before a unique creation is formed: it doesn’t take twenty levels for you to make your character your own, in fact for many players it won’t even take twenty hours to notice the difference.
The school that you join determines not only your fighting style but also a series of rules which affect the way the player plays the Age of Wulin, but you don’t need to stick to it. Players will earn reputation points for adhering to the established code of conduct and lose points for both themselves and their school for breaking these rules. Players have a significant amount of freedom to decide for themselves whether they wish be the good guy and a bad guy, but be warned; being bad guy may stall your progress by way of having to repent to be allowed back into your school. That being said, players aren’t restricted to a single school, able to leave at any time and join another at the cost of sacrificing select skills.
The guild aspect of Age of Wulin is set apart from the schools almost entirely, providing second call of allegiance to players that is concerned more with friendship and finance than it is with progress through the videogame. Guilds are built with hard work and investment from all of their members – two hundred and fifty for new guilds, building to six hundred maximum – and can eventually acquire land and build housing. The areas available for such constructions are limited however, so expect heated battles to be waged between guilds as they attempt to take control of territory and expand their opportunities to gain resources.
Each guild has one specific leader who is in charge of many aspects of the guild, such as the resources produced and their distribution. Guild castles have a lot of buildings which can be upgraded by acquiring materials, and each building has a purpose. The leader may also hire non-player characters (NPCs) to patrol the area and alert guild members of invading units from other guilds or even set traps for enemy units. Managing a guild is a difficult balance between finance, expansion, rewarding members and assuring the protection of your investment; and that doesn’t just mean external invaders.
Age of Wulin features a significant player versus player (PvP) element which will surely push the mechanic further than any other MMORPG has yet dared. PvP battles can begin anywhere, with fights begun simply by striking another player. There are several different fight types, from street fights to duels and arena battles, each of which offer different rewards for the victor and penalties for the loser. The combat system is based on a rock-paper-scissors style of play, with moves and combos having balanced timing and cooldown requirements, while special attacks demand the use of the rage meter. Different special moves require different amounts of the rage meter to be filled and also consume a small amount of health. Players can also parry and use defensive skills to break opponents’ parries. There’s considerable depth in the fighting system, to say the least, and given that it all takes place in real-time players will need to know their characters inside-and-out rather than simply having a rough strategy designed for any and all encounters.
With the design based on Chinese fantasy stories, players will witness an aesthetic quality that is unique in the realm of MMORPGs. From exaggerated skills such as super fast dashes and high jumps to running over water and floating safely from great heights, these skills are difficult to earn but offer great rewards. Age of Wulin continues the effort of this heightened reality by including actual real world landmarks in the videogame, though their locations are of course not accurate. Some moves are pretty impressive short animation sequences, further presenting the idea of superhuman abilities in an exaggerated world.
There’s far more to Age of Wulin than can be summed-up in a single article, while the core experience revolves around schools, skills and guilds, there’s other more traditional opportunities such as basic quests and raids. What’s more, players can take on a profession to earn themselves additional finance (complete with specific mini-games and promotion opportunities), as well as perform reputation-improving actions with any and every NPC in the videogame. The scale of Age of Wulin is imply phenomenal, and that’s before even looking at the underlying assets of being set in an ever-present universe: actions will continue to have a cause-and-effect even when the player is offline. There’s so many unique ideas in Age of Wulin that any MMORPG player would be foolish not to have it on their radar by now, and that wait for the closed beta in January 2013 could not come to an end soon enough.