Snail Games Content Producer Peter Kang didn’t waste any time in telling me what was a major focus of Age of Wushu’s first expansion: “It’s mainly about convenience to our players. We wanted to make everything that players would do in the game easier.”
Before the cries of “Oh no, care bears have ruined the game!” issue forth, let’s be honest: Age of Wushu wasn’t an easy game to get into. With its unusual progression system, multitudinous pop-up screens, and less-than-perfect localization, even seasoned sandboxers struggled at times.
Legends of Mount Hua “cleaned up” the games stickier points, from adding instant travel options to allowing players to purchase skill books that were previously random drops with tokens to a mentoring system that rewards higher-level players for helping newbies. Yes, you can still gank (and get ganked), and if that frustrates you, then you still won’t want to play, but at least you’ll spend more of your time fighting other players rather than the game itself.
New for Hua
We glossed over what Mount Hua had to offer a while back, but Peter was kind enough to walk me through many of the expansion’s new features in an exclusive play session. Lest you think that the aforementioned changes makes everyone friendlier, let me introduce you to the Gratuity and Revenge system.
“You can level up your rep through any NPC in the game, and it was something that players liked to do,” Peter told us. “Previously, they would reward random encounters, like an exclusive quest. We’ve added another layer to it. Every NPC will give you a gratuity or help you conduct revenge on another player.”
The gratuity is simple. If an NPC likes you enough, he’ll send you cash every day. If you’d rather use your new contacts in a more nefarious manner, there’s always the option for revenge. You can pay your new lackey to trash talk and harass another player – at an inopportune time, of course, such as reducing his move speed during a racing-style event – and the victim can only resolve the situation by paying a sum of money. The money paid is 1/3 what you paid to enact the revenge in the first place, but it’s meant to be more of a “fun” thing than a serious impediment.
(Every time we talked revenge, Peter would cackle about how he loved to play such tricks on his friends. Note to self: Don’t be Peter’s friend.)
Mount Hua also introduces new world bosses, which sound rather typical for an MMO in 2013, but this is Age of Wushu, where open-world PvP reigns. So while you and 50 to 100 other people are fighting this boss for upwards of an hour, those other players might also have their eyes on you. I asked specifically about the frame rate in such huge fights, and Peter assured me that their system works just fine, reducing the amount of players you can see out of your combat range to help manage the stress on your CPU and GPU.
Then there’s the Youyun Sixteen Prefectures Battle Arena, a long-term battleground that pits up to 80 players against each other, re-enacting the Mongolian invasion of Ming Dynasty China. Players choose their side and do hours-long battle in a field that’s part MOBA, part open-world MMO. You’ll manage supplies, ambush enemies, build siege engines, and more, all in the effort to take down the opposing general. And, we assume, score some awesome Chinese food.
A kinder, gentler Wushu?
Not everything in Mount Hua requires you to smack another player in the face. As Peter explained, “A large player complaint was that around the world there are various NPC packs that are unused after quest lines. As a martial artist in Ming Dynasty China, if you go around defeating bad guys, other martial artists might learn about you and challenge you.”
To demonstrate, Peter kicked around some NPC guards and a meter started filling up. When it reached its climax, a new, boss-type NPC appeared and not only attacked Peter but did so using skills normally exclusively reserved for players. Naturally, you get some fine treasures if you defeat them.
Oh, right, treasures. They’re a new item type you have five slots for but can gain up to 10 later. MOAR LEWT! But say you’ve got more treasures than you need? In that case, you can break them down for pawn tickets you can use to buy more treasures and hopefully get something you do need.
Other PvE content included the Yanmen Pass Forbidden Instance (a.k.a. raid), which has four difficulty modes and, as with the challenge system, bosses that utilize player moves. It’s not just a linear trash-boss-trash-boss-trash-boss progression, as players can choose which of two sides to fight as and might have tasks that involve chasing down riders on horseback and other non-traditional encounters.
(OK, so there’s a little PvP involved – a boss whose ass you’re kicking might call out for help, and other players can enter the instance to defend the boss, receiving rewards if they succeed. That’s neat.)
Finally, there’s Mount Hua itself, the site of a massive tournament between the best martial artists in all of China. Every player starts with 10 “sword discussion letters” – i.e., invitations – and the best (though not only) way to get more is to forcibly separate them from other players. Once the invitation period is over, the top 32 players get in to the actual tournament to duke it out.
The winner receives fame, glory, fancy clothes (new outfits), a new sword, and a secret skill technique, and his own private eunuch. OK, I made that last part up.
But speaking of eunuchs…
As we finished our session, Peter told me about one last skill players can learn, called the Sunflower Bell Dance Skill. It gives a stacking 5% increase to critical rate for each person you kill. The downside? When someone kills you, he takes your bonus.
No, wait, that’s not the real downside. According to legend, martial artists severely punished themselves to unlock hidden knowledge, like by punching a stone wall repeatedly to make their fists as hard as stone. Well, to obtain this skill, your character has to, uh… castrate himself. Or herself. No, we don’t know how that works.
Fortunately, the castration is only temporary, giving you a 15-minute movement debuff. Hey, those guys (and gals) healed up quick back in the day. “My friends always said it took balls to be an elite martial artist, I just didn’t expect that they’d take mine…”
Are we done yet? Phew, because there’s a lot to look at in Legends of Mount Hua. Regardless of what you think of Age of Wushu or Snail Games in general, there’s no doubt that they’ve packed a lot into this expansion, which went live on the 8th of the month. Just, uh, wear a cup when you play.
By Jason Winter