When I receive an e-mail telling me that I've been invited to play a port of a Korean MMORPG I get filled with a sense of dread (Codemasters I'm looking in your direction). Simply put Korean style games don't appeal to a wide western audience. I got that familiar feeling when I received my invite to play Sword of the New World.
In fact the feeling of dread was a double whammy. I have quite a good idea of what games are coming out and I'd never heard of SOTNW (or Granado Espada as it was known overseas) and it had already been released. Fortunately for me (and hopefully many more of you after you read this review) my feeling of dread was unnecessary as I was initially in for a treat.
Whilst downloading the games client I did a little reading on the game. One point that impressed me immediately was the fact that the game is initially free to play. Anyone can download the game and play up to a certain level. If you then want to continue you just pay the monthly fee. If you do not wish to pay then there are the following restrictions:
* Level 20 Cap: You will not be able to progress your character or family beyond level 20, once you reach level 20 you will stop collecting experience for quests and kills.
* No Trading: You will not be able to trade items from or to your character or family.
* No Customer Support: You will not be able to receive customer support for any concerns you have with your play experience.
I applaud the developer for approaching the game is this way. It gives gamers a chance to see if the game is suitable for them before committing financially. Once I downloaded and installed the client I booted it up and was very pleasantly surprised. Recent MMORPGs have had remarkably high system requirements and gamers with mid-range machines are left with very bland offerings as they are unable to see all the various effects. SOTNW works very well with mid range systems and the graphics are fantastic. Not only does the game run at a solid frame rate but areas are rich with detail and a joy to look at. In fact the game captures the detailed environments that you would expect from a single player role playing game on a console. This is the most artistic and well directed art work I've seen since guild wars. In fact I was smiling for the first 5 minutes of gameplay. The games stylised graphics excellently reflect its theme. Rather than a game based around elves and orcs it is set in an imaginary continent that reflects the settling of a new world (think America being settled). The costumes are nicely detailed and wouldn't look out of place in a period drama. Building architecture also reflects this setting.
The games sound is also exceptionally well done. The music generally fits the period feel of the game, though in places a few of the soundtracks have a slightly more techno feel (which is precisely what I'd expect from a Korean MMO). Unlike a lot of other MMO games you are not focused on a single character instead you have a whole family. Upon starting the game you are given 'quarters' for your family to live in. You then get to create characters to fill them. As the game progresses you can expand your quarters to allow for more family members. Initially your characters can be created from a set number of classes, being; Fighter, Scout, Elementalist, Wizard and Musketeer. Further in to the game you unlock special character classes with unique abilities and, generally, higher stats. Character progression is also different to the norm. Each class has a number of sub-types, for example a scout can be a medic or assassin among other sub-types. These level depending upon what equipment you have equipped. For example a scout without a weapon will act as a medic whereas a scout with daggers will level as an assassin. Whilst you can improve individual skills with skill points, the range of skills feels a little limited.
The one aspect of the game which really makes it different to every other MMO out there is the Multi Character system. Rather than venturing with one character, you actually control three at any one time. This allows for real depth in character selection and progression. Rather than limiting yourself to one character build, you can quickly change the dynamic of you party by swapping in another character. This could allow you to develop a scout as a medic and swap him out for an assassin if the situation requires. This is much more effective than having to develop a scout that does both jobs.
Combat is, unfortunately, quite dull. Your characters auto-attack any enemy that's nearby and keep laying in to them till they die, which is normally after a few seconds. It's important that they are killed do quickly due to the ridiculously high respawn rate and number of enemies. Enemies will respawn very quickly, so if you haven't cut your way through the swarms of enemies you will get swamped by respawned enemies. At no point did I feel part of the combat and unlike other games there is no strategy to taking on groups of enemies. Compared to some other Korean MMOs SOTNW has had a major overhaul and has been far more 'westernized'. Quests and a sense of storyline has been applied over the top of the game, though at it's core there is a significant amount of grind. In fact due to the auto-attack and auto-heal, there is nothing to stop you plonking your team in the middle of an area and going AFK. The enemy spawns will mean there will always be something to fight. You can move your character to a newer area once you have levelled sufficiently. The fact that this can happen really keeps SOTNW in the Korean MMO column. Though to be fair this is the most western feeling Korean MMO I have ever played. Despite my criticism SOTNW does have a certain elegant charm to it. It is an enjoyable game though it doesn't capture the feel that game like World of Warcraft and Guild wars do. Eventually the game does start to become a grind fest, even at its high points I never felt completely involved with the game. This is a real shame because some parts of the games work so very well. As the game is free to download and play up to level 20 I would recommend that any MMO fan gives it a try.