Shaolin: Never run from a fight
Shaolin is a school focused on excellence in close combat. Whether against one foe or many, a Shaolin monk is a powerful ally or deadly enemy. In PvE, Shaolin monks are primarily DPS/crowd control type characters with many options for shutting down groups of foes and dealing heavy damage. They're a bit tougher than most schools, but they're not the go-to class for tankers.
In group PvP or PvE, Shaolin rely on their Bodhidharma Stick style to AoE and crowd control numerous foes at once. Bodhidharma Stick deals great damage to single enemies, but it's not as fearsome a threat as the unarmed style, Long Boxing. Long Boxing has a powerful AoE stun and knockdown feint as well as deadly combos designed for crushing a single foe. A Shaolin monk's relentless close-range offense is incredibly fearsome and leaves defenders little room to breathe.
The Shaolin monks' main weakness is long-range combat, and they can be kited. However, adept monks can offset this weakness with hidden weapons and skilled movements.
Wudang: Unbreakable defense
Wudang disciples are noteworthy for their incredible inability to die. Taiji Sword's ability to swap health and energy, his ability to rapidly recover energy in either Taiji or Yin Yang Sword, and the natural durability of Wudang internal skills make it very hard to end a fight against a Wudang. If battles go the distance, Wudang swordsmen will be the last ones standing.
Wudang have problems with dealing damage as they lack the overwhelming damage of many other schools. Breeze Sword and Yin Yang Sword have options for fighting at long range, and Taiji is excellent in close. Overall, Wudang is the most well-rounded school, but its lack of damage means that its players also have to be more consistent.
Emei: Support that kills
Emei are highly desirable in PvE teams because of their numerous support skills, including the powerful Golden Buddha super that gives an entire team 70% resistance to damage. Additionally, Emei themselves are very tanky due to their internal skills; it is difficult to hurt an Emei normally and virtually impossible to damage her through guarding.
These ladies have healing and support skills, but they also have powerful and deadly attacks. Two of the Emei styles focus on close-range rushdown offense, while Golden Diamond has rapid ranged attacks that apply debuffs. Emei combos require no super meter and are brutally effective; the Departing Sting style also has a super that buffs up the damage on the main combo, allowing the character to take off tons of HP with one well-placed stun.
Emei styles lack subtlety. Countering the typical depiction of women in video games, Emei warriors are direct and lack the shenanigans of other schools. An Emei can go the distance with any other school, but the straightforwardness of their styles can be a hinderance.
Scholars: Spin to win
Scholars are similar to Emei in that they have several different styles for different situations, they have group buffs, and they are great in PvE. They lack the healing and Golden Buddha super; they are more focused on offense through bonus damage and energy regeneration rather than defense.
Scholars have one of the highest single target damage sets in their Leisure Kick style, which boasts the single highest damage attack in the game, Slow Green Shadow. This powerful kick can easily shred through 80% health. It's devastating even against Wudang, who can't rely on health swapping since one mistake can mean death even from relatively high HP. Their Falling Flower Sword style has a powerful, uninterruptible spin move that deals massive damage in an AoE and can be comboed-into for a devastating meterless assault.
Scholars lack good ranged options, despite Boundless Sword's being a ranged set. Leisure Kick is also a risky set because a blocked Slow Green Shadow that doesn't kill the enemy can result in a quick loss, but the options that lead into Slow Green Shadow also consume the buff that makes the super so deadly. Scholars with poor skill often rely too much on their spin to win, and it is fairly easy to escape unless comboed into.
Beggars: No weakness to be seen
Beggars fill the role of DPS in a PvE team and are not particularly essential. However, their damage is incredibly high, and they contribute a lot via area crowd controls and high damage in all situations.
Beggars are hard to counter simply because they have too many options with their Lotus Palm style. They can battle at close or long range but prefer close range since they have huge combos. A single ground slam from a Beggar can result in a combo dealing well over 70% of an opponent's life. These combos are incredibly cool to watch, too; the opponent goes flying into the air, then is knocked away and tackled out of the air into a devastating ground slam that is followed up with rapid palm strikes. It's really very stylish.
Beggars don't have many weaknesses; Lotus Palm really covers all the bases. The main weakness of a Beggar is that over-aggression can be dangerous. A blocked groundslam or airgrab is guaranteed damage for the enemy. If a Scholar blocks either, a Slow Green Shadow is guaranteed and almost certainly fatal.
Tangmen: Death from afar
As a Tangmen disciple myself, I love their many diverse options. In PvE, they are in extreme demand for their Hiding Track smoke grenade, which buffs ally dodge rate and damage by a massive amount. Tangmen are also the kings of ranged damage and output more consistent DPS than any other school.
The Golden Snake style is one of the most flexible styles in the game, with an unconditional ranged stun and a feint that leads into huge meterless combos. Because their Vertigo Dart spam attacks are so annoying, many people feel the need to close the gap with a Tang clansman only to deal with an equally deadly close-range game.
The greatest issue with Tangmen is energy. I find myself frequently running out after fighting a single enemy, and I often have to forego comboing after a stun dart in order to use energy drugs. A fight against a Wudang is rough simply because he can sustain his health so well that I often find myself running out of gas.
Royal Guard: No escape from death
Royal Guards are considered to be slightly overpowered. Their main style, Soul Chasing Claw, is feared for its huge amount of ranged CC and ridiculous damage. RGs mainly contribute to PvE by using their Eagle Claw attacks to apply health leech debuffs to the enemy, which allow allies to recover health.
Guardsmen are feared mainly for their long-reaching Soul Chasing Claw, which can be frustrating to fight against. Without the right tools or matchup knowledge, RGs can feel unbeatable. This is coupled with a strong close-range rushdown game with their blade and fist styles. While I don't feel that RGs are imbalanced, they are definitely tough to handle.
Royal Guards' main weaknesses are matchup-specific. I have trouble pointing out an area where they are weak, even though their individual styles have holes. Soul Chasing Claw can be rushed down, Soul Losing Blade has little finesse, and Eagle Claw relies too much on gimmicky mixups. All are beatable, though doing so can be a real challenge.
Wanderer's Valley: You are already dead
The most evil-focused school in the game, WV styles all have one basic thing in common: It is almost impossible to avoid damage from them. In PvE, they are a DPS-focused school and probably the least essential. They are the squishiest school as well.
Wind-Chasing Blade style is the most normal WV style and is an aggressive rushdown style with ranged damage options. It has more tricks than one would expect and can be deadly at any range. Bone Corrosion Palm is a deadly, slow-killing poison style that restricts enemy movement and kills in disgustingly few hits. Perish Blade is an all-or-nothing sacrificial style that can deal monstrous damage with a single attack.
Wanderers lack defense. This is least notable in Wind-Chasing Blade, where their multiple lunges and crowd controls provide interrupt options that are hard to deal with. Despite their decent ranged options, Wanderers are only average in that area and can be outdamaged by a runaway dart thrower or Lotus beggar. Despite these weaknesses, Wanderers can kill deceptively quickly with just a few attacks.
Entering Jianghu: One school is not the end
Picking a particular school doesn't lock you permanently into that school's style. While your school styles will always be your strongest options, you can learn other schools' moves to supplement your own. If you're a Wanderer, consider learning a PvE style if you like doing instance runs. If you're a Scholar, pick up a style that covers your ranged hole, like Yin Yang Sword or Golden Snake.
It's important to pick a school that fits your personal style. One of my friends wanted to be a Wanderer just because he didn't want to be limited in his ethical choices, and one wanted to be a Royal Guard just because the real-life Jinyi Wei
were pretty cool. No matter what you choose, though, it's important to be dilligent and master your styles. It does you no good to pick an "unbalanced" school if you lack the skills to employ it.
Age of Wushu is a wonderous place, full of hidden secrets, incredible vistas and fearsome martial arts. Join Patrick as he journeys through China, revealing the many secrets of this ancient land. The Ming Dynasty may be a tumultuous time, but studying The Art of Wushu will give you the techniques you need to prevail.