Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sword of the New World (PC, MMORPG)

Sword of the New World is a free to play fantasy MMORPG. It's a bit different from other MMORPGs in a few ways. Most notably the setting, which is somewhat similar to the 17th century colonization of North America, although a fantastical version with magic and monsters. But also how it plays. For starters, instead of controlling 1 character, you control 3. The fights are also on a more massive scale. Most MMORPGs have mobs of enemies, this has mobs of mobs. And they respawn quickly, often before you can finish them off.


Character classes are Fighter, Wizard, Elementalist, which are pretty standard fantasy classes. But also the Musketeer, who specializes in firearms, and the Scout, which is a healer and jack of all trades class. But beyond the core classes are "UPC"s, which are "Unique Player Characters". These are actually playable versions of various NPCs in the world. You start out having 9 character slots, but you can expand this, up to somethings like 40 characters total. Characters don't appear to have any sort of level cap, going up to 100 and beyond.

Besides a character's class, their "stance" helps define their abilities. Stances are basicically how a character does something, or what they do. For instance, if you equip a Scout with a knife, they use the "Assassin" stance. But equip them with nothing, and they use the "Medic" stance, and focus on healing. Similarly, there are different stances for how the Fighter and Musketeer fight - be it a sword and shield, or with a rifle or with a pistol (or two pistols). Stances have "levels" as well, as a character fights in that stance, they gain experience and level up in them. Each stances has 4 or 5 "skills" that a character can use, though they start off with only 1 skill and learn more as they gain levels in that stance. These skills are generally special attacks (for combat stances) or spells (in the case of magic users).

Visually, there's not a lot of character customization, at least at the beginning. Pretty much every character of a given sex and class looks alike, other than their clothes. You can buy hats and later wigs which change their hair. Some of these (or the ingredients to make them) apparently require purchase though the real world money store. Right now, when you create a character, you pick a "costume" for them to wear, but apparently in the upcoming expansion, a character's look will depend on the armor they wear (unless you have an in game costume).

Equipment wise, it appears that you have to upgrade every 4 levels or so. Fighters can pick between a variety of melee weapons or even some firearms. Musketeers pretty much just use guns, though can use pistols or rifles. Elementalists can use items that let them cast fire, ice or lightning bolts. Scouts pretty much just fight with knives, either one or two.

There are a lot of equipment slots, but early on you won't have much except armor and a weapon.


Combat works like most of these games, simply click on a monster to attack. Then hit an icon on the character bar or a key to use a special attack or spell. A lot is actually automated, since you have 3 characters. It's apparently quite possibly to let your characters fight on their own while away from your keyboard. A fair amount of people do this to level their characters up.

Game progression seems to be from town to town. You do quests around the town, in the wilderness, then eventually get sent to a dungeon. And then visit a new town, with a new nearby dungeon.

It's somewhat grind heavy. There are quests to be done in the game, but many of those quests involve simply killing a certain number of monsters. Usually at least 150 of them. If you don't like grinding, a lot of these can actually be done by simply leaving your computer unattended while your characters fight on their own. But a lot will also get done simply by going through a map (enemies are that numerous).

Occasionally there are missions, kind of like Guild Wars. These are pretty simple, though, usually defending an area or defeating a boss. Sometimes escorting a friendly boss.

I found the user interface to be quite well done. Some things are a bit sluggish, like equiping items while in battle, but for the most part it works good.

The translation starts off being pretty good, but after you reach level 20 or so, becomes increasingly incomprehensible.

It's a surprisingly quiet game, in terms of in game communication. You only hear what people near you are typing, not the whole zone or town, though there are special in game items will let you send a message to everyone in town or on the server. This is somewhat refreshing as you aren't immediately beset by playground insults or comments about various nationalities or political parties like in some games. But at the same time, it often doesn't feel like you are playing a MMORPG. It's also hard to get to know anyone.


The graphics are quite good. Not cutting edge by any means, but about on par with 2005 or so commercial games, which makes it look about as good as Guild Wars. Better in some areas (the number of monsters on screen), worse in others (the textures aren't as good).

Higher resolutions are supported. My monitor is 1440x900 and there is a setting for that.

The sound is pretty decent. Usual sound effects for attacks and the yikes. Characters will sometimes yell out the name of the spells they are using. There doesn't seem to be any speech for the cutscenes (not that there are many).

Just how "free" is it?

A lot of free games apparently have catches, like progression being very slow without buying in game experience increases or regular items being weaker than bought items.

This doesn't really seem to be the case here. There are experience increasing items for sale, but their boost is fairly small. The only thing that seems to be mandatory (almost) is when a character reaches 100th level, they need a money item to become a "veteran". This just gives them one additional ability point.

And there does seem to be ways of getting real money shop gold to spend without laying out cash. For instance, referring people. Also they might hand it out periodically - they gave away 500 gold for their 6th month anniversary.

The main draw of the cash shop seems to be the visual customization of your characters. A costume costs about $10 each (there are only a handful), and an "Andres Box", which apparently give you a random costume item, can only be bought as part of a megapack (with junk, mostly) for $20 or $40.

Final Thoughts

Though far from perfect, Sword of the New World is a fun and fairly different MMORPG. It probably wouldn't be worth a monthly fee, if only because it's severe lack of polish and poor translation, but for the price (free) it's a bargain.

At the very least, I think it's worth a look. I've found it to be a lot of fun, but then I'm still pretty low level. Since it's free, it's not like you have anything to lose, except the time to download the client (which is something like 3.7 gigs)

There is an upcoming "expansion", and the company behind this promises it will fix a lot of the nagging features people have complained about (translation, bots, lack of high level stuff), though whether or not it actually does will remain to be seen.

(Just in case anyone reading this wants to try it, and signs up, use my friend code


I get 200 gold for everyone that signs up and sticks with the game to level 20)

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Forza 2 (Xbox 360)

Forza is essentially Microsoft's answer to the Gran Turismo series of racing games. That is, a racing game that is realistic, without being painfully so, and containing a large number of cars the player can "buy", upgrade and race on a variety of tracks.

The original Forza for the Xbox beat Gran Turismo on the PS2 in just about every category except graphics (oddly enough, given that was the Xbox's advantage over the PS2). But Forza 2 for the 360 is a step backwards from the original Forza in a lot of areas except graphics, and while it's still a very good racing game, it's missing a lot of content and features from the original.


Gameplay follows the standard formula in games like this - you start with a little bit of cash, buy a car and upgrade it, then race, win more money (and occasionally) cars, and repeat until you win all the races (and own all the cars). Some races are one shots, others are championships, where you compete in several races and whoever wins the points wins the championship.

The driving model is quite realistic for the most part. The only thing I really found lacking was the motion of the car itself when you drive. Cars are not bricks, sitting flat, they rock back and forth - the front rises when you accelerate (at least in a rear wheel drive car), the front dips when you brake. There's almost none of that in the game. You do get a little when turning (the car should rock to either side), but it's not too noticeable. This is a major drawback - it really adds a lot to the immersion. I know in some games, I find myself leaning as I drive in the game. Not here, it feels somewhat detached.

Forza 2 has a full featured damage system. However, while fairly comprehensive in scope, it doesn't provide feedback. While sometimes what caused the damage is obvious, like if you hit a wall or another car, sometimes you have no idea. For instance, I've had a problem where some of my cars, mostly Porsches like the 959 and new 911 suffer engine damage while braking. The game tells me I'm suffering damage, but I have no idea why it is. Is the engine redlining? Or is the car somehow bottoming out?

The AI of the other drivers is generally pretty good. Rather than slavishly following the racing line, they will react to how you drive. So usually as long as you don't make any sudden moves, the AI cars won't slam into you. And some AI drivers are better than others.

The car selection seems pretty much the same as the original Forza (though not quite), which is pretty nice, but has something of an emphasis on race cars. Exotics are also well represented, with many Ferraris and Porsches, including my favorites, the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40.

There's a decent selection of muscle cars, though not overwhelming, including the 1970 Boss Mustang, another favorite. But there aren't a lot of races to use them in.

I personally would have liked to have seen more Fords, there's only 9 in the game, though you do have some Mustang variants from other companies, like Saleen and Shelby. Also lacking are Australian cars, which is a bit odd given their strong love of car racing, though you do find the Monaro popping up in England.

The real weakness of Forza 2 is the amount of tracks. There really aren't that many, maybe half as many (maybe less) as in the original Forza. There's also not as much variety in the tracks. Most are real world race tracks. Which would be fine, except they all seem to be the same sort of racing, which gets boring. I miss the variety of the tracks in the original.


Forza 2's graphics won't wow you, nor are they photorealistic, but there is a lot of detail to them. The cars especially look nice. But the tracks are well done as well, with lots of animated spectators that don't look blocky, well detailed trees. But at the same time, things on the track look a bit bland and washed out. I guess it's the lighting they use, it's like everything is under spotlights.

On the downside though, cars do not have a cockpit view, and while there is an option for a hood view, if you pick that option, there is no rear view mirror. That can be a major loss in tight races, as there is no other indicator of where the other cars are. And not all cars have hood views, the camera seems to be placed at a fixed point regardless of the car, not the drivers seat, so on some cars you won't see anything, or just a little bit of the hood.


The game sounds fairly good, but the engine sounds can be a bit weak and depend too much on the view you use.

There's a soundtrack, mostly "electronica", that is commercial/MTV style electronic dance music, but also some "alternative" (ie, MTV stuff from the early 90s). Most of it is quite bad (exception being the classic Insomnia from Faithless). It only plays in the menus, though.

Loading Times

I usually only do this section for PSP games, but they are hard to ignore in Forza 2. Expect to wait 30 seconds or so to start a race, and long pauses when going through your car list as it has to load the car model from the disc. It's especially worse for cars with complex paint jobs, like many race cars. Even during some of the car modding do you have to wait for the part to load (brakes most notably).

Final Thoughts

Although at its core an excellent game, Forza 2 is basically just half (or maybe a third) of the original Forza, with better graphics. So it's something of a shadow of its former self. A pretty shadow, but in the end, like all shadows, not very filling. While I guess some of it can't be helped, as next-gen graphics are much more costlier to produce, the track variety is bad. Many of the better tracks of the original were left out in favor of the duller ones (especially the New York track, which is basically just 2 long straightaways and a lot of shadows). That said, there is a lot of gameplay in here, at least month's worth if you do every career race, but you'll be sick of the tracks by then.

They also failed to address the issues of the original, like the arbitrary nature of the "Peformance Index", which is how cars are classified. Despite the name, it has little to do with the actual peformance of the car (which gets rated on a scale of 1 to 10 in 4 categories).

And some new features are more needlessly complicated than they should be. For instance, you can take a photo of your car. But if you want it on your computer, you have to connect to Xbox Live, then have it send the picture to the Forza website, where you can download it. Why not just let you stick in a USB memory stick (like how GT4 for the PS2 did)? Or customizing the appearance of cars - it's nice they let you customize them so much, but why not just let you plug in a USB mouse to draw (like Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2 did for the PS2)?

The loading times will also drive you crazy. It's not that big a deal later on in the game, when you do longer races (for 15 minutes or more at a time), but early on, you'll spend a good chunk of your time looking at loading scenes.