I'm going to get this out of the way quickly: Sword of the New World does indeed look very, very good. The art direction is hailed on their website as being "inspired by the supremacy of Europe's Baroque period". I'm not about to claim to be an expert on Europe's fashion during the Baroque period. When I think "Baroque" I think Mozart and the corset, two of my favorite things. However, SotNW does present a very vivid and, in my opinion, appealing art direction that is not only very well done in terms of color, style and animation, but it is also very cohesive. One problem I often see in some MMOs is that the art style borders on patchwork, with one area looking very good and another appearing bland or lacking any character whatsoever. Thus far, SotNW puts everything together nicely.
After logging in, I was disappointed to find the character creation very limited. Your appearance changes with your class, Fighter, Wizard, Scout, Musketeer, and Elementalist, and your gender ... male or female if you're confused. I'm a customization addict. I'll spend a good deal of time messing with sliders and hairstyles until I find something I really like. With the fancy graphics, I liked looking at my avatar, but I really wanted to change him so that he didn't look like an effeminate nancy-boy with a gun. Woe is me.
You get to establish your family name, which won't come into play just yet. For me, VonSchumacher worked just fine. You are asked to create a single character and start your journey to the New World. Once you've done that, you are ready to dive into the game, and that analogy is more fitting than I expected because the developers must have taken that to heart when they designed the core mechanics of SotNW: sink or swim.
Sharp, jagged edges around a creamy nougat filling
SotNW is not for the faint of heart. If one were to place this game in front of a MMO newbie, or a non-gamer, it would most likely induce fits of terrible profanity and possible homicidal rage as their perceptions of common sense and logic would be torn asunder. Maybe I've grown accustomed to my skills being attached to numbers or how the 'I' key will open my Inventory. Maybe SotNW is trying to indeed create a 'new world' where common sense notions such as these are gone only to be replaced by logic such as 'Alt-E' is your Inventory and 'Alt-A' is your Quest Log. In the New World, this must make perfect sense.
Movement is accomplished by left-clicking on the ground where you'd like to run. However, initially, the screen is cluttered with hint messages, the names of various NPCs and a bevy of controls that, at this point, I am clueless as to what purpose they serve. Other players watching my avatar must have thought I was dancing as my character zigzagged across the screen. In reality, I was simply trying to close a few dialogue boxes and find the magic button to open my character screen! The W-A-S-D movement scheme might be cliché but it works without sending my character running around like a drunkard.
After the initial shock of the user interface, it isn't long before you get to experience one of the many things that set SotNW apart and one of the few that does so in a good way. You don't play a single character in SotNW, you get a party. You play with a party of three family members, hence the significance of the family name. Apparently, you can create more members, each with a different class, and form different parties for different quests or if you simply want to mix it up a bit. I have to admit, this is pretty cool. You are no longer limited to experiencing the game from the perspective of one class at a time. In SotNW, you can take three different classes and use each class' strengths and weaknesses in your adventures. It's new notion to MMO gaming that I like.
The combat is simple enough. You click on a monster and your party will engage in combat. Can you see the potential headache here? While trying to click on a monster, if you miss, just by a hair, your party takes off running towards what it was you wanted to attack. Ah, the pitfalls of the click-and-move scheme. If the left mouse button moves and/or attacks, frustration is inevitable. However, the party system, while still pretty cool, shows some serious flaws once you are out in the real world. By default, you move one character at a time. Tedious, to say the least. You can change it move in groups but there is still a "leader" who goes first with the other two tagging along and by "tagging along" I mean acting like mindless zombies. You will often find that while controlling your leader, one or both of your other characters are being attacked. Do they retaliate? No. They will simply stand there and get beaten to death before your eyes if you don't click on the little beasties to fight back. There might be a setting or a command to change your party to be more aggressive, but in the endless ocean that is the UI, I haven't found it yet. If you do, please pass that along.
Staying with combat, another feature SotNW wants to boast about is the Combat Stance system they have in the game. Each class has a number of different stances that will provide you different combat oriented skills. The stances themselves level up with experience and you can gain access to new stances through Stance Books or items and weapons that grant the use of a stance and the skills that come with it. The combat skills seem effective enough. Once again, however, the left-click-does-everything mechanic will come back to slap you in the face. Initially, the monsters are fairly docile and are content to wander around in front of you. As you progress, the monsters become increasingly aggressive. They also re-spawn very rapidly. What this means is that you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by very aggressive, infinitely re-spawning enemies that clip into each other making a mass of clawing, biting, and scratching death with no discernable body parts. In order to use a skill, you press the skill button and then you select the target. The problem: What target? It is a mass of monsters? The game doesn't seem to use an auto-lock system so anything that gets in the way of my bullets, sword, or spells, will get hit. So you are left madly pushing buttons and clicking the writhing mass of creatures in hopes that you can do enough damage quickly enough to stem the tide. Is this what they meant by "frantic combat"? If so, props to the game designers. Frantic-ness achieved! Oh, and if what you clicked on dies, your character will stand still again and take the beating until you click on another monster. Apparently all the characters have a fear of fighting back unless told to do so.
I guess it is a good thing that the monsters re-spawn so quickly being that many of your first quests will require you to kill them ... lots of them. Yep. You guessed it. That smell in the air: that's the burn. One of the first quests asks that you dispatch a combined 45 monsters ... that is the definition of grind. With the combat system being what it is, it can get old pretty fast and you might find yourself running out of your way to avoid fighting simply to save time. Unless, of course, you need another 20 monsters before you can head back to town.
I've been railing on some of the weaker points of the game but that might be because I want it to be good. On the whole, I don't think SotNW is a bad game. While I've been quick to point out some flaws, at least SotNW is trying some different things. I want to see more of what this game has to offer. Sure, the interface takes a bit to get used to and you have to be careful where you click but aside from the rough coating I think there is a quality game here that has enough different elements to warrant any MMO player's attention if even for a little while. Did I mention it was free to play?
Don't stop with the good stuff
As I said before, graphically speaking SotNW is pretty good. However, it could use more of it. The character models are very good but I've made it to level 13 and my characters haven't changed one stitch of clothing or changed their appearance in any way. I see different looking characters but even they don't look different enough to spark a great deal of interest. The character screen only shows tiny icons and where the items go on my character but doesn't show my character at all. The NPCs look cool and different but I don't give a rat's rear about them! I want to look cool! It's all about me! It's always about me.
One more thing to point out before I go: the soundtrack in SotNW is not what you'd expect. Apparently the music for Baroque Europe, with its musketeers, pirates, and overstuffed corsets is not Mozart ... it's The Chemical Brothers. The soundtrack for SotNW is techno. Not terribly good techno either. More of that mindless rave techno. I'm waiting for my fighter to start wielding a glow-stick.
If you are in the mood to see what a different approach to MMO development might look like and you like techno, start a family and get yourself to the New World. Remember, I'm the VonSchumachers and one day my dynasty will rule this New World ... or not.