Thursday, May 27, 2021

Chinese Whispers

I'm just going to put this down as a marker. I don't imagine anything will come of it but just in case Swords of Legends Online blows up I'd like to be able to say I wasn't asleep at the wheel when it happened. 

Swords of Legends Online, a name which acronyms neatly but misleadingly to SOLO, is the latest on the seemingly-endless production line of mmorpgs from the East. It distinguishes itself from the crowd in a number of ways, not least its imminent launch on Steam

The game already has a well-known publisher in the west, Gameforge, on whose platform you can find such familiar titles as Aion, Tera, Runes of Magic and now Wizard 101 but immediate availablity from launch on Steam trumps that. The first closed beta just finished a couple of days ago. You missed it. So did I.

The next beta runs for a week, starting on the first of June. If you want in, unless you can snag a free key you'll have to pay for the privelige. SOLO is going with the popular-in-the-west Buy to Play payment model. $39.99 (£35.99 for me) gets you the game but there are, of course, deluxe packages if you'd like to pay more. If you pre-order via Steam you can download the game right now in readiness for that second closed beta. Your order guarantees a spot.

Oddly, it seems the game used the subscription model in its home territory, which seems like something of a turnaround. The home territory in question is China. This is a very Chinese game. It's part of a well-established Chinese series, there's a highly-successful Chinese TV show and the whole thing takes place in a Chinese mythological setting. There's an article on MassivelyOP that gives chapter and verse on all of that.

MOP wasn't where I first heard about the game, though. I have no idea where or when that happened. I'd had the name in the back of my mind for some reason but I knew absolutely nothing about it. 

It wasn't until I saw a brief mention of the game on the Friendly Necromancer's blog that I started to pay attention. He compared the game to Guild Wars 2 and since that's the only mmorpg Mrs. Bhagpuss plays these days I wondered if it might be something that would interest her. She's also quite interested in and knowledgeable about certain aspects of Chinese mythology so it seemed like it might be worth bringing it to her notice.

I watched the embedded video and it certainly looked like a visually impressive world but then don't they all in the videos? I made a mental note to keep an eye on it and left it that.

Then today I saw that MOP article I linked earlier. It's a bit of a rave. You don't see too many of those on MOP so when one turns up it carries a bit more weight than when, oh, let's say I might rave about something. 

Carlo Lacsina, the writer of the piece, seemed almost apologetic for liking SOLO. There were repeated mentions of how it was a WoW clone of sorts. I took that as a recommendation although I'm not sure that's how it was intended.

Carlo summarised SOLO thus: "in terms of gameplay, it follows the WoW formula: There’s an open world to explore with quests, dungeons to grind, arena PvP, crafting, the holy trinity, and flying mounts. It features a hybrid of the tab target and action combat styles." That ticks a lot of my boxes. As you can see from the trailer above, it also has some very impressive housing options, something that definitely can't be said about WoW. I was intrigued enough to go do some research of my own.

Well, I say "research". I read the Steam page and watched about fifteen or twenty minutes of a promotional livestream that happened to be on at the time. The whole thing lasts over four hours and it's on YouTube now if you have an entire evening stretching out before you and no idea what to do with it. (Pretty much anything other than watching four hours of two guys chatting about an mmorpg you never heard of until today is what I'd recommend but, hey, who am I to tell you how to spend your time?)


After that I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. Well, I say "watched". I watched two or three. The rest I skipped through, stopping briefly when I spotted something I wanted to know more about. There are dozens and dozens of SOLO videos on YouTube already. This game is generating some interest, that's undeniable.

All the ones I watched were very encouraging. No-one seemed as taken with the game as Carlo but no-one had anything very bad to say about it, either. Annoyingly, a couple that I really enjoyed I now can't find again and since, as I mentioned a while back, I have the history switched off on my YT account, they're going to have to stay lost. It doesn't really matter- I have plenty more.

Josh Strife Hayes, always entertaining, gets plenty of sarcastic mileage out of the game's claim to be "An MMO unlike any other", mainly in contrast to what he sees as its very traditional feature set. Which, of course, is just what attracted me to it the first place. He also speculates about the potential for SOLO to end up being Pay to Win, something he sees as a specialty of Gameforge. I consider myself to be relativeley immune to P2W so that doesn't bother me much either.



Sarumonin talks about the leveling system which sounds very much like the kind of thing I like. One of the videos I can't find explains how the speed of levelling has been heavily slowed down for the Western release. Apparently in the Chinese version you can go from character creation to max level in a couple of hours. I'm happy they changed that. 

He also describes the combat system as having both action controls and "standard tab target you can use if you desire". He compares the action combat to "Tera or Blade and Soul" and mentions there's a hybrid version that uses tab and action in tandem.

These days I'm fine with action combat systems although the one time I played Tera, which was many, many years ago, I wasn't at all fine with the way it worked there. Blade and Soul, though, I like. Mrs Bhagpuss, although she's perfectly capable of using most action combat systems (she's tried DCUO and Black Desert Online for example, and got on fine with the fighting), doesn't like not having control of the mouse at all times. Neither do I, come to that.

The problem with the term "tab target" as a description of combat is that it doesn't really get to grips with what I want to know, which is can I click a hot bar with the mouse pointer to use my spells and attacks? Most games never make that clear in the promotional material and since pretty much everyone who ever makes a video uses the keyboard shortcuts to cast it's impossible to tell from watching them.

In the end it doesn't much matter to me personally. If I can click the hotbars with the mouse, perfect. If I have to use the keyboard for that then I'll just go straight to the action combat instead. It would be nice if people would explicitly say "you can click the hotbar with the mouse during combat" though.

The MMO Ronin very nearly says that in his nice, laid-back review of the alpha test from late May but he's still not one hundred percent clear. He's very good on questing, story and dialog. He makes the very lucid point that the story seems to have plenty of moments that would have siginificance for fans of the series but which will be lost on Western players. That's unfortunately inevitable with properties of this nature, I guess, although honestly I've had the same experience playing World of Warcraft while never having played another Blizzard game before.


He also mentions that for the alpha most of the spoken dialog was still in Chinese and even some of the text hadn't been translated. You can hear that in Lady Silversong's "First Look" video, for which she leaves the sound on. You can hear how nice some of the music is, too.

And speaking of the music, just take a listen to the Official Western Release Gameplay Trailer. Now that's a tune!

That's probably enough videos for now. As I said, there are a lot of them. And watching them did help me make up my mind. Not make up my mind to buy Swords of Legend Online. Nothing that dramatic. Just make up my mind to add it to my Steam wishlist so I can think about buying it when it comes out.

So I've done that. And that's all I'm going to do about it, for now. 

No need to go crazy.

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