Choose My Adventure: The proud wanderers of Swordsman

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Choose My Adventure: The proud wanderers of Swordsman
Since commandeering Choose My Adventure in August, I've been on something of a sci-fi rampage. First we took a second look at a post-release Firefall; then we spaced out with a beta build of Frontier's Elite: Dangerous. And while spaceships and rocket boots are certainly wonderful things, Choose My Adventure is as much about investigating new worlds and new genres as it is about checking out new games. Thus, it's time to leave the world of science fiction behind in search of something a bit more classical.

This month, we're adventuring into Imperial China -- as far from deployable sentry guns and pulse lasers as possible -- with Perfect World Entertainment's Swordsman.

A novel interpretation

Swordsman is the latest entry in Perfect World's ever-expanding catalog of free-to-play online games. It features skill-based action combat powered by traditional MMO systems. But perhaps most interestingly, Swordsman is based on Louis Cha's (Yin Jong) novel, The Smiling, Proud Wanderer. The book centers on an honorable swordsman (with what Wikipedia describes as a "penchant for liquor") who learns incredible sword techniques from cave carvings while spending a year in seclusion as punishment for his carefree attitude. There's a lot of sword fighting, murder, and mayhem in the novel as can be expected, but the tragic stories of the book's several clans have a deeper meaning. Cha has explained that the book can be read as an allegory for the pitfalls that come when several organizations struggle for power; some have hypothesized different sects in the book, which was first published in 1967 as a newspaper serial, represent NATO, the Soviet Union, China, and the other powers on the world stage at that time.

The Smiling, Proud Wanderer is a curious tale with unique spins on familiar wuxia themes. It begins with a typical "slaughter the village for its martial arts secrets, leaving one survivor bent on revenge" narrative, but the lone survivor is only one of a wide cast of characters all caught in various states of power struggle. The main protagonist is a man caught up in the throes of everyone else's violent agendas, attempting to find peace and happiness in a chaotic time. The original Chinese title of the work translates roughly to being carefree in a world of misery; an alternate English title, Laughing in the Wind, evokes this theme most clearly. The Smiling, Proud Wanderer is also a massive tent pole of the wuxia genre, having been adapted to film, television, comic books, and the stage.

Thus, Swordsman offers us a unique opportunity not only to jump headfirst into a new release but to get an idea of whether this particular game can carry heavy thematic ideas from its literary source material. Perfect World clearly wants people to know about Swordsman's influences and the first screen after loading the game proudly declares its narrative origin, but the real question in play is whether the publisher is banking on name recognition or making a real effort to bring Louis Cha's ideas to life.

Making decisions

As is my usual custom with CMA, I haven't played Swordsman at all beyond firing it up for a few screenshots. What I know about the game at the moment comes directly from reviews I can find, previous coverage here on Massively, and wiki entries. I know that Swordsman features dynamic combat and a story-driven experience. I know that there are 10 martial arts schools in the game and that the one you join determines which abilities are available to you in combat. I also know, just from completing the first 15 minutes or so, that the game seems to put you in the role of revenge-seeking lone survivor instead of carefree guy just trying to drink some wine while everyone stabs each other.

Our decisions this week will be relatively straightforward. First we need a hero, and in MMOs heroes always begin with a binary choice: Dude or lady? Note that Swordsman does feature two gender-locked classes.
Next, we have to determine which discipline of combat we will choose. Here's a very quick breakdown on each one:
  • Shaolin (Dudes Only) - Earth: Melee tank who uses a cudgel and has single-target control abilities. Low control but high chase and DPS.
  • Wu-Tang - Ice: Self-shielding tank with control effects and a claymore. High HP and a bit of AOE with low total speed and limited range.
  • Splendor - Ice/Earth: High DPS with stable damage and a longsword. Offers fast combos and high-speed skills at the cost of HP and defense.
  • Infinity - Fire: Counter-attacking and counter-controlling class that uses a rapier. High defense, high mobility, and high survivability with low DPS.
  • Harmony - Poison: Melee assassins with a mastery of poison who use a zither. Illusions and high DPS but increased vulnerability to combos. The wiki calls them "flexible."
  • Sun and Moon - Fire/Poison: Melee and ranged attackers who use daggers. Lifesteal on attacks, strong combos, and pure damage with low HP and a high skill cap.
  • Five Venoms (Ladies Only) - Earth/Fire/Ice/Poison: Ranged attackers with control effects who use whips. High damage through ranged combat but low HP and low defense.
  • Zephyr - Fire/Ice: Ranged control class with AOE and counter-control abilities. Using inkfans, Zephyrs have low defense and long cooldowns.
  • House Tong - Earth/Fire: Ranged attackers who use triggers to spring traps and control abilities. High attack speed, and high damage, low defense overall.
  • E'Mei - Fire/Poison: Attack and defense hybrid with a staff. Healing powers and life drain effects. A support class with low defense.
So which will it be? For a more detailed look at each, check out the classes listing over on the Swordsman wiki.
That's pretty much that for now. Get your votes in by Saturday, October 4th, at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Additionally, tune in to Massively TV on Thursday, October 2nd, at 7:00 p.m. EDT to take a quick look at Swordsman in action. We'll be checking out the starting experience, which I promise involves punching, kicking, and true to the source material, drinking.

Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.
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