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Sword of the New World: Granado Espada Review

Sword of the New World: Granado Espada
Developer:IMC Games
Publisher:K2 Networks
Official Site:www.swordofthenewworld.com
Release Date:July 10th, 2007 (UK)
Reviewer:Duncan Lawson (sinna01)
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The MMORPG's that come out of Korea are often characterised by a certain monster-mash theme of slapping together adjacent genres and themes into one slightly bonkers world, to varying degrees of success. The latest contender to suck away hundreds of irreplaceable hours of your youth is Sword of the New World: Grando Espanda. Published online by K2 Network Incorporated and in a box by Elephant Entertainment, SotNW is the creation of Korean MMO specialists IMC Games, and certainly is no exception from the kaleidoscopic Korean style that the western types find slightly disconcerting. The MMORPG market, beneath the all-powerful aegis of World of Warcraft, is getting increasingly saturated and any new offerings really have to be distinctive and constructed to attract - and more importantly retain - worldwide players. Sword of the New World: Grando Espanda offers a game world that is not only visually excellent and distinctive, but of such an expansive scale and depth that could only have come from a nation populated with obsessive borderline autistic gamers who would think nothing of a 10 hours quest to get hold of a distinctive hat.

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Just outside of a town that looks like a vast stone baroque 17th century wedding cake, a family duel is kicking off. Two houses, both alike in dignity, made up of three characters each are tussling for kudos and perhaps a surprise bonus from the game system. The characters seem to be the result of what would happen if Pirates of the Caribbean had got into the teleporter pod and accidentally got spliced with Shakespeare in Love and a manga comic. My point character, a teenage kung-fu pirate princess in a microskirt and stockings squares up to an Elizabethan courtier with giant pantaloons, a ruff collar and a heavy pump shotgun. Flanking the main assault characters on either side is an elementalist wizard dressed like Davy Crocket, a fully decked out knight of the realm with twin high-calibre revolvers, and a little boy dressed in traditional Bavarian peasant clobber with a knife in each hand and murder in his eyes. These are by comparison fairly normal looking citizens of Grando Espanda - at least no one went and summonsed a part bat part plant part dragon mutant or a giant silver tank with a naked female figurehead. Life in the New World never lacks for pageantry and parade.

The six characters getting into it on screen are controlled by only two players, three each grouped by family. The family system is the first innovation that newcomers to SotNW will encounter on the welcome screen, and it works surprisingly well. The player takes the roll of a family of newly arrived pioneers in the fictional land that is the analogue of America in the 1600's. For the first hour or so you'll run around with just the one strangely attired conquistador, and then you'll be allowed to generate your first two family members. As your overall level and experience increases, you'll be able to add more and more characters to your stable, giving you the chance to swap in and out characters on the fly to suit whatever situation arises. The scope of this feature is impressive, as management of the family can not only change your battle abilities but also be used to pull up lower level characters and explore mixing special abilities.

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The player will control any one of the three active family members at a time, whilst the other two will behave in certain basic set patterns, such as defensive, aggressive or passive behaviour.

It is actually these basic responses, rather than any of the very many fancy special powers that can be accrued, that really give the game pace and impact. Whilst out in the wilds prosecuting whatever quest you picked up from a nearby settlement, you will encounter monsters. A whole lot of monsters. Your party of three will fight crowds of beasties ranging from plants to daemons to fanatics to restless natives, none of which aside from style of design are a radical departure from World of Warcraft for instance. However, where in Warcraft you tended to fight only really up to seven or eight beasts at once, in a dungeon that might contain a couple of hundred, SotNW will see you taking on rooms of dozens and dozens simultaneously in dungeons that contain thousands of the buggers.

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The view is fully rotate-able and zoom-able, but in dungeons a top down approach is often the most useful, and the action will start to bear more than a passing resemblance to the good old days of Gauntlet. There would be no way for the established 'click on a monster to attack' method of Diablo to keep up, so the fighting is mostly done automatically by your characters dependant on the stance and attitude you set them. This might sound a little too hands-off at first, but due to the sheer volume of monsters and the speed of fighting this actually remains engaging and exciting. The interface can be controlled completely graphically, with the various special powers activated by clicking on their taskbar icons, but a more convenient way is via the keyboard shortcuts with each character assigned part of the keyboard with 'WASD' hotkeys.

The fighting is fierce - fighter characters will be constantly hacking in elaborate twirls and stabs, gunmen will blaze off thousands of rounds in each dungeon, and magic users will be the centre of a veritable disco inferno of energy beams and fire bolts. The intensity and body count of dungeon raids really puts the crunchy combat goodness back into the MMORPG. As long as the fight is still going to plan, the player will concentrate on inventory and health management, the right timing of specials, and the position of the fighters - with the actual repetitive aiming and slashing done for you. It's a testament to good balancing that this takes out much of the tedium without disconnecting you from the action. Swapping weapons whilst in the field will automatically swap the character to the required style and reassign the hotkeys to the relevant special powers - an example of a simple design feature that can make all the difference to uninterrupted game play and taking the grind out of basic character management.

The way in which each of the characters will do their slaughtering depends on a system of Stances. Your basic character designation of fighter, magic user, scout or musketeer is set at the stance, but the variety of different fighting styles available to each is impressive. Stances only become available at certain levels, some of them very advanced compared to other MMORPG where your basic abilities are typically set after only a few dozen hours of game play. In SotNW you will not even be able to start some styles until you are level 80+, which I confess I have no idea how many game hours that would take but is a whole lot, at which point you have to start that Stance style at level 1 and get better at it. This might at first seem discouragingly far off, but the range and inventiveness of the Styles makes them worthwhile goals.

Fighters can become experts in sabres, swords, twin swords, pistol and sword combos, pistol and dagger combos, pole arms, and pretty much any mix you always thought would be a good idea in other games. Your musketeers will start being able to fire off elaborate salvos with twinned handguns, and magic users will fling around unfeasibly large ground shaking spells with the sort of spectacular visual effects we associate with the Final Fantasy series. If you have three of four players with three characters each in a room fighting around a hundred monsters, the action is roaring and rival to any off-line RPG around.

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