Saturday, June 19, 2021

Ridin' SOLO - First Impressions: Swords Of Legends Online

I had a rough plan for this weekend. It involved scanning through the demos in Steam's Next Fest, downloading the ones that looked interesting, playing as many as I could cope with, then putting together a blog post or two about the whole affair. 

I was just about to fire up Steam to get started when I ran into this news item on MassivelyOP. That changed everything. Of all the new mmorpgs due to land this summer, Swords of Legends Online stands out as the only one with a true old-school control system. That alone would make it a must-play for me if it wasn't for the fact that it's also buy-to-play. 

SOLO (a potentially misleading acronym) is already on my wishlist but I really wanted the chance to check it out before deciding whether it merited the £36 asking price. The demo is limited to the first fifteen levels but that ought to be enough to get the measure of things.


Yeah, you'd think. After two sessions, four and a half hours and ten levels I'm still not sure. Luckily the demo has another three days to go. Maybe I'll have a final answer by then. 

Meanwhile, let's review the situation so far. 

I guess these days when I look at any new game the first question has to be can my aging PC run it? And if it can, how well?  I'm very pleased to say that so far all the upcoming mmorpgs I've had the opportunity to trial or test have performed reasonably well on my machine. SOLO is no exception. 

I'm learning to check the default settings before I begin playing these days. Every game seems to underestimate the capacities of my hardware so I can't just trust the algorithms. SOLO has a choice of seven graphics settings, a few of which have somewhat idiosyncratic names:

My default was "Normal". Fair enough. As Jeanette Winterson's mother always used to tell her, "Why be happy when you could be normal?" 

I left it at like until I'd made it into the game and had a bit of a run around. Everything seemed, well, normal, so I bumped it up to "High". That felt normal too, only prettier. I've been playing on High ever since with no problems at all. I'll have to try "Ultra" before the demo ends, just to see how it goes, but I think that might be pushing my luck.

Before I could log into the game itself, of course, I had to make a character. That took a while. Choosing a race was easy - there is only one: Human. I was curious to see how the developers had approached the current gender debate but the answer appears to be they haven't noticed there is one. You get to pick either "Man" or "Woman", which somehow seems even more retrograde than male or female.

I picked "Woman" because I always do when I play human or human-looking. Maybe one day I might come up with a post to try and explain why but this isn't that post. Also I'm not sure I know. I probably need to think about that.


There are a lot of options and most of the options have a lot of sliders. You could spend a long time in character creation and if you did you might even end up with the exact character you wanted. I didn't. I ended up with one I was happy enough to play for the length of a demo but I'd have to work a bit harder on getting everything just so if I was going to live with my choices for longer than a few days.

The real sticking point was the limited choice of hair and eye color, especially hair. Henry Ford would have loved it; you can have any hair color you like, so long as it's black. As someone who almost always plays redheads (Hi Syp and no, that's not the reason. Well, not the only reason.) I think this may be the first game I've ever played where that wasn't even an option.

Sufice to say, character creation is well up to par. It makes a strong first impression and that baton is taken and carried by the introductory movie, which features a big dragon and a lot of action. What it was about I have no idea but it made a lot of noise and got me all fired up for...


...the Tutorial. Oh ye gods, here we go again.

Actually, I should probably save the tutorial, qua tutorial, for a post of its own. I'm guessing it lasts for the entire demo. No doubt that's why they picked Level 15 as the cutoff in the first place. All I'll say for now is that as the first thing you experience it doesn't really give the game the best push it could. Things get better and better as you go along but the first few levels are visually cluttered and quite confusing.

And, honestly, the game's already confusing enough. It's rooted in Xianxia mythology, about which I know absolutely nothing. That would change pretty quickly if I stuck around, I'm sure. Here's one thing anyone hoping to play SOLO really ought to know: you're going to have to do a lot of reading. Or listening. Or both. This is a very lore-heavy game. 

I'm level ten now and it's no exaggeration to say I've spent the majority of my time either reading quest dialog or watching cut scenes in which voice actors read quest dialog out loud. (More on that later). As well as that I've been handed a number of books, all of which can be both collected and read. And they're quite long as in-game books go.

Even travelling between quest locations doesn't exempt you from reading and listening. Many NPCs talk out loud and pop up speech bubbles at the same time. I'm a big fan of speech bubbles but these are really quite jarring, with their thick green borders and the way they often overlap. 

The voicework also overlaps, a particular pet hate of mine. At one point, handing in a quest, there were three voices speaking simultaneously: the questgiver, a nearby NPC and the fragment of a soulsword my character had swallowed (Don't ask). 

Unsurprisingly, I couldn't hear what any of them was saying, even though for once all three of them were speaking in English. Translation is very clearly a work in progress in Swords of Legends Online. I hope they'll be done with it by the time the game launches because the way things are now is utterly chaotic.

It's not as though some characters speak in Chinese and others in English. Or that certain areas or parts of the game have been translated while others haven't. If only!

It feels almost aggressively random. It's not at all unusual for the same character to say one line in Chinese then swap to English for the rest of a cut scene, or for two characters in a scene to talk to each other in different languages.

Written text is much more consistent. Almost everything has been translated - quests, UI, tutorial, books, all of that. About the only exception I noticed was when a signifcant character was introduced. They all get a caption, presumably their name, but it's in ideographs. 

It wouldn't help all that much if those had been westernized, the way all names have been in the quest dialog, because the relentless flood of unfamiliar names made it impossible for me to remember who anyone was. I found the plot comparatively easy to follow so I generally knew what was being done but I was never very sure who was doing it.


The voice acting didn't help. Just about everything is voiced although I'd be curious to know just where they found the actors. The general effect is uncannily similar to hearing the sixth-form English class at a minor public school read set texts from the A-Level syllabus out loud. The line readings aren't incorrect and the inflections aren't wrong, most of the time, but there's the sense that it's all a bit uncomfortable and unfamiliar and everyone will be glad when they get to the end of their bit and it's someone else's turn.

On the positive side, the voiceovers frequently diverge from the written text and the spoken versions are almost invariably more idiomatically acceptable and naturalstic, plus the flow is usually better. It sounds as though the actors have been allowed to improvise a little and it helps. 

The text is odd in other ways. For reasons I couldn't begin to understand, lots of words are in different colors. It probably means something to someone but not to me. After a while I just stopped noticing so I guess it doesn't matter much. I do wonder if it will be like this at launch, though.


The translations may need more time but one thing that's working exactly as advertized is the switchable control system. As soon as my character loaded into the game I was offered the choice of either "Classic RPG Mode" or "Action Mode". I picked Classic and for the rest of my time I was able to play just as if I was in Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft. You can switch from one to the other at any time but I don't imagine I will. If Ashes of Creation follows this model I'll be very happy.

Interaction with objects and NPCs is supposed to be done by pressing "F" but I discovered quickly that a right-mouse-click also does the job. Or at least it does most of the time. I did run into one or two quest NPCs that couldn't be targetted, which meant they couldn't be right-clicked either. Again, whether this is intentional or an oversight I have no idea.

Even though there's the option to use the Classic mode all the time it may indeed, as the rubric suggests, be more appropriate to swap to Action for combat, at least in these early stages. That's because you can get by with just two attacks if you're lazy. For the class I picked, Summoner, LMB is a small attack that also refreshes the resource and the cooldown of the large attack on RMB. I could kill pretty much everything with a simple rotation of left-left-right or in my case Q-Q-E.


How long that will go on for I wouldn't like to say. Not much longer I imagine because there's an extensive skill tree with numerous subsections. I'm not sure how all those are going to fit onto two mouse buttons. I suspect there may be complicated combos. I'll stick with hotbars and my trusty mouse pointer, I think.

However you choose to control it, combat at these early levels is inconsequential to say the least. I have no idea what the death mechanic is because I never came anywhere close to dying. I'm not sure I lost health, which was just as well because I also never found any way to heal myself. Come to think of it I never actually noticed where my health bar was. Maybe I don't have one.

No, I must have because my class has "magical healing abilities [that] can often prove to be the difference between life and death". If I'm going to be refilling health bars there have to be health bars to refill. 

I didn't pick the Summoner for the healing anyway. I chose it because it gets a very cute-looking pet. As is typical with these things, though, you don't actually get the pet for what seems like a very long time. 


I first encountered the creature that would become my close companion during a quest sequence I picked up around level eight or nine. It's a quest I suspect wouldn't have made it past alpha in a Western mmorpg, given the negative feedback it would rightly have received for its casual animal cruelty. At least I know how far I can throw my pet by the ears now. Always useful information to have. 

As usual, this "first impressions" piece has run long and I've barely touched on much of what I had to say. (I made notes!)  I think I'll wrap it up for now. Next time I'll likely have hit the demo cap at fifteen and I'll be able to come to some kind of constructive conclusion. 

What I can say from what I've seen so far is that Swords of Legends Online is a proper mmorpg with all the parts in place and working well, translation issues notwithstanding. The visuals, which I haven't really talked about much, are sumptuous and subtle and the whole game looks gorgeous. The story so far is interesting enough by the standards of the genre and the low-level gameplay feels exactly like low-level gameplay in any other similar game you care to name.


I'm enjoying it so far but I probably wouldn't be thinking of paying £36 for the box were it not for one thing: the Classic RPG controls. I really don't get offered that option so often these days that I can afford to ignore it when it comes. 

On that basis alone I'm leaning towards buying the thing. If it wasn't for the timing, so many other games about to launch in some fashion or other, I'd most likely have hit the Pre-Purchase button already. As it is, I might just leave it on the wishlist and wait. Maybe it'll go on sale or maybe a time will come when I'll be glad of a new mmorpg. Right now there are just too many to choose from.

We'll see how I feel by the time the demo ends on Tuesday.


  1. "Classic RPG Mode"

    Oh, thank goodness.

    1. Yeah, I wish more games would just offer the choice like SOLO does. It can't be that much extra work, surely?

  2. Looking forward to the second part.

    I, too, had this on my 'will probably buy it when it comes out, if only to play any new, halfway promising MMORPG' list, until the soonish releases of Lost Ark and Diablo II Resurrected were announced.

    Now I'll probably wait and see. Lost Ark is a must-buy for me (or would be, if it actually had a cost attached to it), the DII purchase depends on whether they screw it up on the final stretch or not.
    SOLO went down to Option Three, so it's a 'maybe' at best now.

    1. I just hit Level 15 at which point the demo comes to a fairly definite end. I was planning on exploring for a while but it really doesn't want to let you do that so I'm probably going to post part 2 based on just what I've seen so far. I could play another class but I don't really want to go through the whole tutorial twice in three days!


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