Swordsman is the newest MMO on the Perfect World lineup, an epic wuxia-styled game set in the novels of Louis Cha. This is a game that I really wanted to like. I enjoy the subject material – it’s very difficult for me to resist giving kung fu games a try every time I see one – and I have also seen two of the tv serials based on Cha’s The Book and the Sword novels. There is so much possibility in the setting; secret societies, kung fu, warring martial arts schools, intrigue, romance.. but does the game live up to it?
Installation was easy. Thanks to the Arc console, I simply went to the games section, clicked Swordsman and waited. I did have a black screen issue that prevented me from playing for a day, but the guys at PW very quickly came to my aid and helped me discover I was having bios issues after my newest computer upgrade. Mea culpa – that had nothing to do with the game itself and it ran fine once I sorted those out! My only complaint about the loadup of the game is the splash screen with an image of Cha’s book and warnings about copyright violations lingers on the screen for just a bit too long for this impatient gamer’s taste and can’t be escaped. But that’s admittedly on the nitpicky end of things. I have definitely seen splash screens that are more annoying.
Briefly skipping ahead a bit – once I exited character generation, I cranked the settings up to ultra and saw no adverse affects on my frame rate. Even in player crowded cities, I’ve yet to see any performance dips – always a plus in my book! My screenshots do not do nearly enough justice to the game, but I’ve been finding since my new video card upgrade that all of my screenshots are pale imitations of what I see in all the games I’ve taken for a new spin. I’m not sure if that’s to be blamed on dx11, my new card or something else, but whatever the cause – these screenshots look oddly blocky and bland to me when compared to the gorgeous ingame visuals.
And the game is gorgeous. The environments around you are filled with majestic scenes; from magical caves to sweeping mountaintop vistas and stunning shrines. I found myself pausing to take screenshots and look around quite often as I ran through the world. The water is even dynamically reflective. I’ll admit I danced around for a while in the first lake I came to, just admiring my rippled reflections. There aren’t very many games that have me pausing to admire both my character and the environment, and even fewer that have helmets that I don’t turn immediately off, so full marks to Swordsman for its visuals.
And now back to the beginning! Character generation is reasonably robust. My first impression was pretty bad, but after poking and prodding a bit I noticed there are tabs in the individual sections that have detailed sliders. There are plenty of sliders to create a look that makes me reasonably happy, as well as the ability to create truly monstrous results for those interested in such things. You may notice I have used the word reasonably twice now, and that’s about how I feel about character generation. I had a difficult time finding a face shape that I liked in tandem with the hairstyles – the screenshot below displays one of the hairstyles not quite sitting right on the character’s head – and I am disappointed with the color selections. Hair runs the gamut from dark to light brown, many of the skin shades look sickly or zombie-esque, and eye color is even worse. There is no way that I could find to change eye color; you’re stuck with brown. But at least you can change the color of your eyebrows so they don’t match your hair? One thing of note – different meshes shade the color selections differently. What looks like auburn on one hairstyle is orangy-red on another, the white might be light brown or blonde, and skin color works the same way; a lovely china plate skin tone on one facial mesh looks like rotting flesh on another.
I am very picky when it comes to character appearances though, so if you’re not overly concerned by it then you’re not likely to have any issues. There’s a decent variety of hairstyles ranging from long to short and in varying levels of updo, the sliders allow for a broad range of face alterations, and once in game I didn’t feel like I was surrounded by clones. I actually saw one or two characters pretty quickly that had me impressed with the player’s character generating fu. If you just don’t like making characters at all there is even a button to generate random looks. Some of them can get pretty strange!
I was puzzled by the lack of a class/school choice, but is made in game during quest progression. So all you need to do to start is get a look you like, pick a name, and load in.
The UI manages to be both simple and aggravating. It’s straightforward with none of the lost real estate to fancy art that I dislike, but I couldn’t find any way to customize it. You’re stuck with the minimap on the upper left, the quest journal on the upper right, and the other default locations for hotbar, chatbox and the settings tab. There are few definitive statements that I’ll make about games as so much of it is personal preference, but one of the exceptions to that is that there is simply no excuse in a modern game for a fixed UI that provides no way for users to customize. I will recant if I managed to miss a way to do it (I’ve missed such things before!), but for right now, despite the enjoyable simplicity of the design, I have to give it my personal disappointed marks for forcing me to deal with a minimap in the upper left of my screen.
And… this is getting to be a tad too long, so I’ll have to return another day for my evaluation of gameplay, combat, crafting and all the meaty stuff! But I will throw out a bit of a teaser … I’d hoped to get to this earlier, but health and computer problems put a lengthy delay on things … and after returning to it and pushing on further I’ll have to say that I’m glad I did end up delayed. A second glance has improved my initial impression! Coming up – the importance of early gameplay, and how a poorly done introduction can hurt what might be an otherwise interesting game.