Choose My Adventure: Saying goodbye to Age of Wushu

Age of Wushu screenshot
During a Q and A with Grant Bowler, SyFy's leading man in its new series Defiance, the actor tried to explain some of his love for MMORPGs and gaming in general. He talked about EVE Online and how he once stayed up for 36 hours due to an in-game war. He bragged about how players often lose everything they have in the game and smiled as he explained its "learning curve." He even likened playing the game to being married to Woody Allen, a strange yet somehow accurate description.

Am I comparing my time with Age of Wushu to being married to en elderly comic genius? No, but I am very familiar with the lawkeeper's description of his favorite game. It's the same description that Age of Wushu players use when we talk about the game, although I disagree with how wonderful the "learning curve" is. Still, I had a blast over these last few weeks.

Age of Wushu screenshot
Player versus player combat is supposed to be the name of the game in Age of Wushu. You'd think it would be obvious, but I beg to differ. A good sandbox, whether it is supposed to be driven by PvP or not, gives players many choices and many ways to play. That's sort of what a sandbox is supposed to do. I have never been an expert PvPer, but I do love a good scrap. When PvPing, I've discovered that it helps to keep a loose grip on your pride, especially because you will be spending a lot of time face down. I had several one-on-one fights while just hanging about in the game, but two of the more memorable occurred during live streams.

The first was during an in-game event that has players rushing into a massive, instanced fighting area in order to grab scripts -- texts that teach new skills to players -- from enemy factions. When I loaded the initial screen for the event I could see which schools we would be fighting and so I knew what to expect during combat and during looting. Of course, looting a good script depended on my ability to grab a script from a particular area of the zone that looks like a shelf of books and then to run away with that script in tow. I was able to grab a script but made it only a few steps before being destroyed. Luckily the zone and the event felt more epic than a just a single fight.

I was also able to taste some interesting PvP by jumping in the Twilight Village instance. Twilight Village is a short single-player campaign that comes with the retail version of the game, but later on it plays host to a multiplayer instance that features putting out fires with buckets of water, scripted events, and eventually fighting a boss who literally puts out a call to the server for real players to come and defend him. The players who heed the call teleport into the instance and attempt to kill those players who are attacking the boss. It's one of the most unique PvP experiences I have ever gone through.

Age of Wushu screenshot
I decided to try out some of the different non-combat options and found a wealth of things to do. I approached the chef to learn how to cook something, met up with someone who taught me how to make poisons and finally found my calling in farming. Farming is refreshingly simple and relaxing, two things that can act as a bit of a solace while in the chaos of this game. I bought my seeds and equipment and plugged them into the ground. As they grew I had to watch out for insects -- treated with pesticides -- and had to fertilize them as well. Basic rice was a staple of mine because it was one of the first resources that I was first able to turn into food.

During my gameplay I was able to loot all sorts of goodies, including different seeds for random plants. I attempted to grow most of them and found out that some plants take quite a bit more effort to grow than basic rice. Red cotton seemed to take forever to grow and I had to leave it growing while I did household chores irl. Every time I heard the fall of hooves from a player's mount I ran back to the keyboard to make sure I wasn't going to be killed. Generally, however, I was left to my plants and found farming to be a nice change from the hectic pace of the rest of the game.

Unlike many other sandboxes I have played, questing is plentiful in this world. Sure, many of the quests consisted of killing-ten-whatevers, but at any time I could open my quest book and find plenty of NPCs who needed me to do something for them. When I became bored of doing school quests I helped out local NPCs and learned plenty of new things about the game. The extra experience and goodies I earned didn't hurt either. The auto-walk feature meant that I was able to sit back while my character ran to her highlighted coordinates and enjoy the amazing scenery that seems to never end.

I'm not sure how important questing is to players who have achieved much more than I have, but it's comforting to know that the quests do not run out for new players. If you find yourself wondering what to do, you can easily spend an hour or two questing. You'll also learn a lot about the game in the process.

Age of Wushu screenshot
During my time in Age of Wushu, I was kidnapped, played the roll of many different types of workers while I was AFK (one of the coolest mechanics in the game,) explored beautiful scenery, attempted unsuccessfully to kill a handful of other players, joined a fantastic guild called Exalted, explored the newbie areas of every server, tried out many activities that had nothing to do with PvP and hung out with amazing players like Massively's own Patrick Mackey and Community Manager Earthquake.

Unfortunately, one of the truths about a sandbox is that sandbox lovers love the fact that the genre is so "hard" to get into or learn. I tend to disagree. Most sandboxes I come across are not technically complex but instead hide their answers behind walls of text, confusing scenarios or tutorials or, in the case of Age of Wushu, poorly written popups. Many players, like Patrick, enjoy unraveling the mystery of such a game. To these players, gaining maximum capability and learning the game's systems back and forth are what makes the game worth playing. To me, this fog of mystery is exactly what guarantees that a sandbox MMO will rarely be the most popular game around. Even EVE Online, with its several hundred thousand players, is more likely a game of multiple accounts that are needed to "play" the game effectively.

Many high-level players can judge your combat ability just by looking at how you move and by which abilities you use. There are tricks, as well, like keeping your inner level capped at, say, 20 while your actual experience and abilities remain a secret. All of this information comes with time, but there doesn't appear to be a simple way to start to access the information from early levels. It's how it should be, I guess.

Honestly, I'm not a fan of such complicated play. I could better explain it to say that I am not a fan of unraveling the mystery so quickly. I would much rather stumble my way through the game and learn as I go. To me, failure is more fun than glory.

Luckily, my time in Age of Wushu was spent filled with failure. I didn't quite grasp the combat mechanics and hardly learned all of the lore. I was barely capable while in a group and enjoyed the game's simpler systems over its more complicated ones. Having said that, the fantastic thing about a game like Age of Wushu is that it allows me to play the way I play and still have fun doing it. It's almost as though Age of Wushu is exactly what makes MMOs great, allowing players of all types to play together, even if it is sometimes difficult.

Many thanks to Earthquake, Patrick Mackey and the fantastic community in Age of Wushu for making my trip through it something worth remembering.

Next up, our very own Larry Everett is taking over this column. Which games will go up for a vote? Which game will win? Tune in next week to see!

For this round of Choose My Adventure, Beau Hindman is trying something different -- different for him, anyway. He's diving into the list of MMOs that have lost in previous Choose My Adventure polls! Come back every Wednesday to vote on what he does next; goodness knows he needs the help. Tweet feedback to him at @Beau_Hindman!

This article was originally published on Massively.