E3 2014: Hands-on with Swordsman and Dawn of the Immortals

Andrew Ross
A. Ross|06.13.14

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E3 2014: Hands-on with Swordsman and Dawn of the Immortals
I have a problem: I like a lot of the mechanics in Wuxia games like Age of Wushu, but I have trouble getting into them. Perfect World Entertainment's Swordsman Online, while lacking some of the mechanics of AoW, might have a mixture that catches people off-guard. And while you're off-guard, PWE's Dawn of the Immortals might come in and show you how the world of mobile MMOs is starting to progress.

I had a look at both Swordsman Online and Dawn of the Immortals at this year's E3. Read on!


First, Swordsman Online isn't perfect for everyone. This is another game that gives every player a "personalized" starting experience and thinks that's a good hook that will draw players in. For me, it just makes me feel like a clone since I know everyone else went through the same thing. Language-wise, the game still uses the original Mandarin Chinese voice-overs. I know just enough Mandarin to be able to guess when I'm hearing it, but for me, that's fine. English voice-overs for characters that are overtly Asian is always a jarring experience for me anyway, and hearing the original language helps me with immersion. However, while AoW's translation, especially in early releases, made me feel like I was correcting student papers, Swordsman's sometimes seems to be translating dialogue too directly. When a bad guy says something like, "I'm going to hurt you. I'm being serious!" it comes off like a bad kung-fu movie, which can be fun but defeats the immersion generated by the Mandarin language. If all that sounds fine by you, awesome. If not, maybe the mechanics will be better.

Swordsman features action-oriented combat but allows for several different control styles. The basic "Swordsman" style made for the game combines traditional World of Warcraft-style controls with Guild Wars 2 action controls. It wasn't for me, but luckily, the game allows you to also choose the WoW style or GW2 style without having to do a lot of work, which I really appreciated. I didn't have time to read up on all my moves for my demo, but the ones I used were certainly varied. This is partially because your character can join multiple schools and even mix and match between schools later on to make custom builds you can switch to between battles. I had leaps, frost balls, some sort of sword-centered-throwdown-attack-style thing, and chop-'em-up moves, all on the same character. Unfortunately, my demo characters were super powerful, so it was hard to tell what I was doing and how useful or important it was, but that's how demos go.

If a player joins the thieves faction, you'll find gameplay opens up as it does in AoW. You can't kidnap players, but NPCs are not safe from you. Don't worry if you're not the ransoming type; you can be a mercenary, who also does some shady stuff, I'm told, but not quite as shady as the thief. Guilds choose to be one faction or the other and can wage war against each other, and there's no in-game penalty for warring a guild of your same faction. It's possible to do, but it might have social consequences.

One PvP feature that's currently pretty popular in China (where Swordsman's been live for almost a year now) is the arena. While there are modes that allow for the use of your armor, the main draw is skill-based arenas where your gear is only decorative. I'm not big on arenas myself, but when I do that sort of gaming, I prefer something skill-based rather than gear-based. Since the game also provides gear-based arenas, I think PWE was handling the divide rather well.

The game's got a lot of features you'd expect from a quality Chinese Wuxia game, like auto-pathing to targets/quest areas, teleporting players who get left behind (and journalists who wander away from the group...), water walking, air dashes, triple jumps (town only, for obvious reasons), and more. I know I keep making the comparison, but I really like how gutsy AoW is, and I think that Swordsman might hit the right notes to attract Wuxia fans who are a bit less hardcore about sandbox features and complex combat stances and are more into raw combat.

Dawn of the Immortals
Dawn of the Immortals

PWE also showed off Dawn of the Immortals. There are a few mobile MMOs out, many akin to card-game hybrids, but not full MMOs. DotI is also a bit MMO-lite, but the touch controls were intuitive for a caveman like me. The game features auto-aiming, so I could just start using my moves and figure out a rotation without too much of a problem. It had the "don't stand in the red" situations of MMOs, and I had pets, but I also had assistants so I could play solo. However, once again, I was using a super-powered character, so it was difficult to judge combat on anything more than the ease of using basic controls. Maybe the auto-targeting would have been problematic if I hadn't been so god-like.

But even a mobile MMO can feel too familiar. It captured a lot of the MMO spirit, but I personally need something that pushes the envelope. Touch controls are nice, and I can really see using DotI to try to lure younger generations into more hardcore MMOs. I can also get an idea of what the mobile MMO genre might start moving towards given the quality of the controls. But like a lot of hardcore MMO players, I'm not someone who needs dailies and dungeons on the go. Anyone who does will really enjoy DotI, but otherwise, I'd say give the game a shot mainly to see a solid example of how our genre is progressing into new markets. That alone made the game worth my time.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-12, bringing you all the best news from E3 2014. We're covering everything from WildStar and Landmark to Skyforge and H1Z1, so stay tuned!
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