Reviewed: August 23, 2007
Released: July 10, 2007
Let's face it: wizened wizards, muscle-bound warriors, and graceful elves are so out of fashion. The stylish heroes this summer prefer flashing pistols to ranger bows, razor rapiers to giant battle-axes, and a lacy bodice to a bikini made of rusty chainmail.
At least that's what the developers at IMC Games. would have you believe regarding their new MMOG, Sword of the New World: Granado Espada:. Instead of going the classic fantasy route of World of Warcraft, Granado Espada is set in an alternative 17th Century Earth where swashbuckling is a way of life. As a recent immigrant from the Old World, your mission is to tame a new continent by using spells and the steel of muskets and cutlasses.
The game's theme mirrors the aspirations of the developers, whom I'm sure are hoping to gain a foothold in America after winning top gaming awards in Korea. Of course this is easier said than done considering WOW's stranglehold on the Western MMOG market. It also doesn't help that up till now many Asian MMOGs haven't done a good job of appealing to American players due to strange settings, poor translations, or clunky game mechanics.
So how well does Sword of the New World measure up? The good news is the game offers a great feature called Multi-Character Control (MCC) which allows you to play up to three characters at a time. Now nobody has to be stuck in the "tank" or "priest" role because you can control the entire party at once. In fact, you don't control one character per se but an entire "family," which means you can mix and match warrior with elementalists or recruit special characters over time.
The bad news is Sword of the New World still has some of the problems that plague other Korean MMOGs, including a far tougher grind to advance in levels than many WOW fans are used to. It's also far too easy to let your characters play on cruise control – in fact several times I left my party out in the wilderness while I caught up on housework or went to the gym.
Despite these flaws, Sword of the New World offers something fresh to anyone who's burned out on WOW. Not only do the graphics look like they belong in a top release anime series, but this is the first MMOG I've played to really nail multi-character gameplay. The game client is also completely free to download and play – with the developers earning money through cash transactions for special items, characters, and gold.
You start the game as head of a family traveling to the newly discovered continent of Granado Espada. Fleeing war torn Europe, you're tasked by the king to go forth and establish a flourishing colony. The load screen appears as your family's "barracks," where you can create new characters or form parties of existing characters. Your family will continue to prosper as your individual characters gain levels, meaning that your family quarters will grow to accommodate even more new characters and your characters will receive powerful family bonuses.
If you've ever played the Final Fantasy or Neverwinter Nights series, you'll know basically what to expect of the MCC system. Instead of concentrating on just one character like you would do in many Western MMOGs, you must orchestrate the attacks or abilities of several characters at once. When heading out into the brave new world, you can build a party out of the five main classes – warrior, musketeer, elementalist, wizard and scout. Each class has a lot of flexibility based on what equipment you're using and what "stances" you've selected. You can turn a warrior into a protective "tank" by equipping sword and shield in "high guard" stance, or swap out the shield for a pistol and you can do massive damage in the "heaven and hell" stance. But perhaps the most diverse class is the scout, able to act as both healer and stealthy rogue.
Movement requires clicking on a location with the mouse, which for me took a bit of getting used to after relying for so long on keyboard controls in WOW. On the plus side, this game has one of the easiest user interfaces I've ever seen for controlling several characters at once. Each character's skills are all on the same toolbar, so with three clicks you can lay down a volley with your musketeer, cast a flash heal with your scout, and do a finishing sword attack with your warrior. It's also easy to control your entire party through group commands: the assault command allows your party to fight anything in their way while the harvest command orders them to automatically pick up any loot in the immediate area. Combat tends to be extremely fast-paced, with your heroes slicing and blasting their way through hordes of monsters.
The first few levels can be tedious as you're shuttled from one ministry to the next o learn a certain aspect of the game. After the third time of being told to take my papers to the next in-game trainer, I realized I would never want to visit the Korean department of motor licensing. Things got better as soon as I was finally allowed to leave the starting area and go fight in the outside world. Zones are instanced between towns and wilderness but you can interact with other players out in the world. Hunting critters in the open wilderness tends not to be too dangerous, but the dungeon areas are where the real challenge lies. Not only are monsters more challenging in dungeons, but you must also contend with boss battles and traps that damage your party as you're already busy battling mobs.
Sword of the New World also offers several varieties of PVP, from duels and arena battles to full-on wars to control colonies between the Royalists and Republicans. On certain servers there's even a free-for-all PVP system where players compete to become barons by attacking other families, although keep in mind you will have to wait till higher levels to get involved in the more interesting aspects of PVP.
Combat is fun and the UI is easy to use, but unfortunately Sword of the New World falls short in other key areas. The first is the game has a lot of what MMOG players call "grind," or killing the same monsters over and over to advance in levels. Yes you can take quests to break up the monotony, but this game's quests tend to be the same old "go kill this" or "go fetch that" variety. However, quests do allow you to recruit unique characters to your family or learn new stances for existing characters.
A second complaint is it's extremely easy to let a party run on auto-pilot at lower levels. The AI is pretty good at controlling your characters, so as I've said before you can even walk away and let the game play itself. Dungeons and higher level areas still require you to micromanage your party to survive, but new players may be turned off by how the game seems to chug along nicely on auto mode.
My final complaint is Sword of the New World doesn't make it particularly easy to get involved in the player community. The chat tools are buried in a submenu and are not as user friendly as WOW's chat features. This critique is not meant to slam the community, who as a whole seem friendly and willing to help if you get caught in a jam. I merely want to point out that it's far tougher to meet new friends in Sword of the New World than in other MMOGs, and that like similar Korean titles there's a heavy emphasis on maxing out your level before you get to discover many of the game's cooler community features.
Sword of the New World offers exquisitely detailed graphics and a unique anime style. Everything seems over the top – from the crazy costumes to the baroque architecture of town buildings to dungeons with marble floors and decorated paneling. Spells and combat maneuvers are equally flamboyant, with wizards dispatching foes in a blaze of multicolored light or warriors slashing through mobs with all the grace of Jack Sparrow. Did I mention the crazy monsters that inhabit this world, especially the hopping alligators? Yes, watching alligators prance menacingly on two feet towards my characters was definitely a highlight of reviewing this game.
In many ways the graphics deserve a rating of 8, especially since Sword of the New World delivers great visuals without hogging your computer. The reason I gave graphics a 7 though is the total lack of customization for characters. Males all appear as dashing metrosexuals and females all appear as well endowed if slightly childlike beauties. Worse yet, you can choose new costumes for characters but have no control over their facial features.
The game's soundtrack is a strange mix of classical music and Asian pop. I won't lie that it's jarring to listen to the soothing sounds of a piano concerto in the loading screen only to hear blaring techno as you enter a new zone. I personally liked the more modern sounding musical scores, but I should also admit I have a secret guilty love for Asian pop. If you hate the standard anime soundtrack fare, there's little to recommend here. The voice acting is decent, although very few characters actually have spoken lines.
Sword of the New World originally launched as a game with a monthly fee, but by the time you're reading this the game will be free to download and play. Obviously, that's a great value both for new players wanting to see what the game's about and longtime players.
It seems the way HanbitSoft plans to make money is by offering micro-payments, in other words offering powerful in-game items, special characters, and currency for real cash. This system is popular in Korea but may not take off here in the States where MMOG players prefer to earn their uber loot in-game. It also means that that the game's economy could become so unbalanced that players would be forced to buy cash, but there's no evidence that's happened in Sword of the New World.
Gameplay is very fun in short sessions and the multi character system offers a welcome reprieve from looking for the right character class in other games. I'd recommend it to fans of Asian RPGs such as Final Fantasy, anime lovers, or even any MMOG fans looking for something new to play but who doesn't want to make a $15/month commitment.
If you decide to stick with it long term, there are plenty of things to do from joining a faction to fighting over colonies to forming your own clan. The major drawback is much of the juicy stuff is at the end of a long level crawl.
With its unique graphical and gameplay style, Sword of the New World has much of what it takes to succeed in the North American market. I'll also praise a system that makes controlling several characters great fun instead of a great headache. My biggest issues with the game are the plodding pace in which your characters advance combined with the fact that you must be high level to truly partake in faction PVP. Flaws aside, the free-to-play model makes it easy to trade in your Arcanite reaper for pistol and cutlass, even if you plan on only vacationing for a short time in sunny Granado Espada.