The End of an Age (of Wushu)

I wish I had been able to experience Age of Wushu when it initially launched. So much of what has been missing from my experience would be alleviated by the presence of other players yet I’ve seen only one, and that in Shaolin, the entire time I’ve been playing. I really enjoy the setting, the world building, and the clunky yet strategic combat system but for a sandbox world intended to be played with others, the loneliness is palpable.

Perhaps there were others online, but they were all on some end game continent that I would eventually reach in a few months, but with the way Age of Wushu plays, I desperately needed other players right away. Or perhaps if I had found a player run stall or marketplace where I could have purchased some of the items I needed, I would have been able to manage, however if such stalls were available I was unable to identify them and the only marketplace UI I found appeared to have nothing in it.


Maybe I’m just missing something all together, something that would readily be fixed with a little research but to what end? Ultimately that’s what lead me to the decision to pass on Age of Wushu and give Black Desert another try, the realization that I was fighting an uphill battle with a game that apparently did not want me to play it for an experience I could have been getting elsewhere and easier. Yes, that’s right. Age of Wushu makes Black Desert’s systems appear simple and user friendly by comparison.

So what lead to this realization? A few things really but it all began with bag space. After the 48 hour waiting period my Shaolin character was finally deleted and I was able to start over as a Tangmen. With the offline cultivation from the Jianghu VIP service I was able to elevate my inner skills to 10 which along the way opened up my school storyline. This meant that I was not left feeling quite as directionless as I had been before.

At this point I was having a good time with the game despite feeling the limitations from an 18 slot item bag. I had learned from my first play through not to open any of the bags of goodies I received for leveling or being a new player because they quickly crowded my inventory space. Better to hold onto them until later when additional bags become available and my inventory was expanded. I even checked the cash shop for bags and they were available— $12 for 36 additional slots in all four tabs— but the price was for a 30 day rental of said bags so that was not an option.


A little research and I realized I could either make them as a tailor or buy them from another player. With no other players in sight I went to town to learn to make my own. Here in lies another problem though. I also needed to be able to cook my own food to keep my nutrition levels up and already had the skill but I was not able to learn both cooking and tailoring. What’s more, my cooking profession and the farming skill required to harvest cooking materials plus the quest rewards I was receiving created a never ending mini game of “what else can I discard.”

Suffice it to say, the combination of having to be self reliant in a game built around cooperation and the lack of sufficient storage lead me to the realization that despite my interest in Age of Wushu, the end result was not going to be worth the struggle, not on an apparently dead server anyway. And with Snail Games tying the Jianghu VIP service to the server and not the account, switching to see if another server was more populated was not an option. I would have even considered buying the baggage space were it permanent at that price but not as a rental.


Instead, I decided to cut my losses and give Black Desert another try. They’re vastly different and as I said I would have liked to have been apart of Age of Wushu when it first began. So much of what I experienced would have been different when other players were prevalent and trading, guilding, and mutual protection was readily available. I will miss Grandma Tang and seeing the beggars and street sweepers in town, and I’ll have to go elsewhere if I want to kidnap another player whilst they’re offline, but otherwise Age of Wushu simply made it too difficult for me to get into the game. From the limited baggage space, the lack of other players, and a subscription style service tied to a specific server, the effort wasn’t going to be worth the reward. And that’s unfortunate, because underneath it all Age of Wushu appears to be an MMO that I would really like have liked to explore.

Dual Wielding LFG Edition: Creating Community, Developer Side

Dual Wielding: LFG Edition— sometimes a topic is just too big for a couple of bloggers on their own. That’s when we send out the call, and see who steps up to help us with the challenge. This week, in a special LFG edition of Dual Wielding, we’ve put together a four person team to tackle the question, “what can developers do to foster community?”

And make sure you also read what Mersault, SylWolfy, and Aywren had to say on the topic!

A few weeks ago a conversation that began with my frustration with games like Tree of Savior and Black Desert that fail to explain key gameplay elements turned into a discussion about community—what creates it, binds it, and what developers could do on their end to foster it. Sure, this burden isn’t completely on the shoulders of the professionals working on the MMOs we play, but neither should it be ignored by them during the development process. Ultimately, I think it comes down to encouraging community by greatly rewarding group play without punishing solo players. It’s that simple.

Before getting started, I need to make a confession. To some extent, I don’t really care one hoot whether a game encourages group play or not because I prefer to play solo in my MMOs. Yes, I’m one those people who insists on playing a massively multiplayer game largely on my own. That isn’t to say I never interact with other people; I enjoy running dungeons using a group finder tool, queueing for battlegrounds, and if I see someone who needs help with a mission or elite mob I’ll jump in and give them a hand. However I’m just as happy the other 90% of the time when I’m playing by myself.


Secondly, I want to address the subject that started the conversation, which is whether or not MMOs should bother explaining the intricacies of gameplay or if that should be a matter of crowdsourced information and thus a means of fostering community. To the latter I say poppycock. Yes, it’s true that when games are confusing or complicated and require relying on other people for answers that they can bring people together because of it, but that’s just lazy. If I’m playing a new MMO I expect the game itself to provide me with all the information I need to understand what it is about and how it is to be played at least for everything required in the first ten to twenty hours of gameplay. Higher level systems can be figured out by the community but fundamental gameplay should not have to be.

That said, there are other ways to create inherent difficulty within an MMO that requires people to work together in order to overcome the challenge. Take Black Desert for instance. Ignoring the fact that it’s one of the games that does a terrible job introducing new players to the intricate systems that make it such an amazing title, even once you have figured out these systems the game does not require reliance on other people. If anything, the game’s design encourages players to go it alone. For example, during my brief time with BDO I was helping out with a guild mission one evening that was meant to be accomplished by a group. The goal was to harvest a set amount of lumber as a team, however we were all in different places on the map and we all kept the wood we personally harvested. There was nothing about it that required a group, it was basically a single player mission on a larger scale.


What Pearl Abyss could have done to create difficulty and necessity in that situation would have been to turn the mission into a group effort requiring multiple roles. The mission could have read, “collect X units of lumber and place them in your guild warehouse within Y minutes.” To reap the rewards a guild would have to divide the work—one team to gather and a second team to haul the lumber to the warehouse. To make it even more interesting (and challenging) they could include a combat element, either PvP or PvE in which a third team would be required to protect the other two. The rewards for completion could benefit both the guild and the individuals involved so that everyone is encouraged to work together to meet the common goal. Here the difficulty is not poorly designed tutorials (or complete lack thereof) but an actual thought out system that rewards groups working together.

On the other hand, I do not want to see mechanics that punish solo play because most of the time that’s how I’m actually playing and I’m selfish like that. Tree of Savior is unfortunately one of those games that does just that with its “last hit receives the kill credit” mechanic. What this means is that I, as a slow damaging Cleric can bash a cluster of cute little pigs on their collective heads for several seconds only to have all XP and other rewards stolen from me by that Ranger who thought he was being helpful by using multi-shot. The incentive to group then is to avoid losing credit for a kill, but this approach, where solo players feel punished for being alone leads me to resent the game’s design, not relent and group up.


However in that same MMO, dungeons are a much better example of how it should be done. Well, almost. Once you’re able to enter the first dungeon, there is a huge XP bonus for joining a random group and a smaller one for entering the dungeon as a premade. Personally, I would have done the reverse so that people are rewarded for actually talking to one another and entering together. Considering players have to physically stand next to the entrance to use the random group finder it would be fairly easy to do. But I always ignore the cries of “looking for one more” by those forming a premade group because I know the XP is better queueing alone. Regardless, the XP buff encourages me to group up with others one way or another and if something similar were applied to grouping in the open world in place of the terrible last hit mechanic, you better believe I’d be looking to join others there as well.

I know none if this is a novel approach to solving the problem, and yet there are enough examples of MMOs that fail to encourage group play at the most fundamental level that I still think it’s worth repeating. And even as someone who isn’t always looking to turn MMOs into a social affair, I would love to see MMO developers get more creative in encouraging group play. Not the lazy kind that comes from bugs and broken systems which force community out of necessity, but intelligent and intentional gameplay decisions that reward the formation of communities while allowing solo players to have their fun as well. I won’t always be first in line to participate in those community building affairs, but I would be cheering them on all the same.

Giving Korean MMOs a Chance

This year my willingness to try Korean developed MMOs has greatly increased. Other Asian titles have caught my attention in the past and I even tried ArcheAge for an hour or two but the distinct design decisions found in many of these titles were unfamiliar enough that ultimately  I kept my distance. However in the past three months I’ve played Blade and Soul, Black Desert, and Tree of Savior for quite a few hours and I’ve enjoyed all of them. So why all of a sudden have these MMOs started to appeal to me?

First of all, I think I’ve simply exhausted the more familiar “WoW clones” that both defined and met my expectations for what an MMO should be. After WoW it was natural to try titles like Rift or Star Wars:The Old Republic but after a while the familiar framework became tired and predictable so my interest in other options grew. Having now exhausted that outer circle of western titles and with no major releases coming from the west, it makes sense that I would reconsider the Asian imports. Sure, many of the systems like gear advancement are unlike anything else I’ve played, but it’s a welcome change.

Secondly, what I’m experiencing in these games feels like innovative, new ideas being brought to the genre, even though in reality many of the concepts and systems these games are based on have been repeated for years in the Asian market. I would love to see more western studios adopt some of these differences too; it may not be true innovation, but it would bring some much needed change to their games nd perhaps a western take on an eastern concept would produce a unique gameplay experience.

There are certainly things I haven’t liked about the Korean titles I’ve been playing but overall the experience feels novel and playing these games has reinvigorated my thinking about what I like and what I don’t in an MMO; what core gameplay actually drives my interest. The gear progression, class customization, and economic systems in these titles have offered me a different perspective on the comparable systems I’m use to in Western MMOs. My hope is that developers on both sides of the Pacific are looking and learning from one another because there’s a lot of opportunity to progress the genre through the cross pollination of ideas from culturally diverse parts of the world.