Sword of the New World: Granado Espada Review

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Publisher: K2 Network
Developer: IMC Games

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 1 GHz, 512 MB RAM, DirectX 9.0c compatible video card (Geforce4 MX440 64MB or ATI Radeon 7000 or better), 6 GB HD space, internet connection, Windows XP or more recent operating system

Ferrucio Espada answered the King of Opoluto's call for explorers and led a fleet of twelve ships across the ocean in search of an alternate trade route to the distant land of Katai. Not only did Espada fail to reach Katai, but he lost ten of his twelve ships. He did, however, discover a new content that could provide the wealth and resources the nation of Opoluto needs to battle its foes Illier and Vespanola.

The New World was named for Espada and the other surviving captain from the exploratory fleet, Gilbert Granado. Thus the land of Granado Espada was named. But Opoluto bankrupted itself establishing colonies, and its enemy Vespanola laid claim to Opoluto's lands. Yet another nation, Bristia, launched an epic war against Vespanola and sought to gain its own foothold in the New World.

As a wealthy family from the Old World, you have ventured to Granado Espada to make your presence known and improve your fortunes. But not only will you face the political and religious intrigues of the Old World, the New World is filled with foul mythical beasts to plague honest tradesmen and adventurers alike.

Kyle Ackerman

Sword of the New World: Granado Espada revels in a world that is novel in the realm of massively multiplayer online games. Rather than high fantasy, science fiction or even a world of plunder and piracy, Sword of the New World takes players to the colonization and exploitation of the New World, when fortunes were made by those brave enough to travel across the Atlantic and wrest wealth from the rocks and soil, or presumptuous enough to simply take that wealth from the native population.

Of course, the world of Granado Espada is hardly North America, and the game is not set in our world. Vespanola may be remarkably Spanish, and the game's style, decidedly 17th century Baroque. But the mythical beasts that populate the land aren't simple groundhogs – they're the usual nasty fodder from fantasy-themed MMOGs (including my favorite low-level creature, the crocodiles that jump around on rear legs). Professions such as musketeers and scouts are supplemented by elementalists. Oh, yes, and rather than wearing homespun garments and furs, nearly every character is dressed in elegant and courtly costume, save those in dragon-bone themed bondage-style gear, or the way every female character is showing as much cleavage and hose-covered leg as possible.

Aside from the theme that pervades Sword of the New World – the exploration of an untapped continent – the biggest thing that distinguishes Sword of the New World from other MMOGs is what the game calls its Multiple Character Control system. The MCC is simple in concept – you control up to three different characters, each of which has the depth of character development most games reserve for your primary avatar. You can issue group commands while adventuring, with each member of your party doing their best to follow your instructions to fight or move. But you can also give as many specific instructions to each of your characters as your mouse and keyboard can handle. And while there are five basic character classes, many special classes and unique characters exist to round out your party – once you find them.

When Quests Lead to Questions

Beyond its setting, Sword of the New World is very much like many other games that have enjoyed success in Korea with a formula that doesn't translate well to an American audience. The game's strength is ultimately its most daunting problem. The MCC inundates players with a slew of options (classes, skills, stances, equipment, and the tactical management of combat) that may seem overwhelming to a novice gamer. It's like joining another MMOG one-third of the way up the level grind. An experienced gamer can handle it, but it requires real work rather than easing you into each spell and ability. Of course, if you want to stick to monsters far below your level, you can simply left click on something and order your group to attack, without worrying about firearms, spells, skills and potions.

Fundamentally, Sword of the New World is harder to play than most North American gamers want to cope with. By that, I don't mean simply that the game requires hard work and clever character design to overcome its challenges. Many, if not most, gamers are willing to work hard to surmount difficult goals (for appropriate rewards). No, I mean it is often difficult to figure out what to do, or how to approach a challenge. The work is not in completing a quest – the hard part is figuring out what the quest involves.

It's often not clear what to do once you receive a quest, and many quest summaries are neither clear nor helpful. When quests call for finding hidden items, it's not clear that you've actually found something, and there's not necessarily something visual for which to look. You just wander through an area and are informed that you found the target of your quest. Fortunately, people on the game's official forum boards are helpful, but when you get to the point of searching posts and spreadsheets to determine how to play, you've left the engaging illusion of a game, and moved on to following instructions as best you can.

One of the earliest quests had me searching between rocks for armor (which involved running through crevasses with no other visual hints) and another was a missed opportunity for the game. One of the first powerful NPCs you meet, Sir Lyndon, asks you to stop a plot to destroy an enormous monument. Poor writing kept this from drawing me into the political intrigue, and the quest was impossible to complete without help because the instructions were too vague. By the time I was running around a glowing tree stump to find a non-existent avocado, I was lost forever to questing.

For the most part, questing in Sword of the New World is like being inducted into a secret cult, being given a series of incomprehensible tasks and then being mysteriously rewarded or denied success, without clear feedback. It is not for you to understand. Personally, I stopped going out of my way for quests, and only accepted those that were immediately comprehensible. And I say that as a person who enjoys quests and plot lines above most other facets of any game.

If the New World Had This Many Monsters,
Every Colony Would Have Failed

Travel, too, is frustrating. Moving through the game's monster-ridden areas (outside of cities) is more like hacking through the jungle with a machete, it's just that instead of dense vegetation, you have a slew of respawning monsters, and instead of a machete you have three characters armed and armored for battle. Unless every monster you encounter is less powerful than you, moving around is an exercise in herding characters and whack-a-mole style threat management, rather than entertaining exploration.

The dense, respawning monsters do make the game a haven for those who, in other games, might use bots to harvest experience for them. Any player can simply leave their party in a monster-ridden area, select the "defend" stance, and the party will simply go on killing and racking up the experience. Monsters should be less powerful than your party, but who cares how fast the grind is if you don't have to play it yourself? Of course, if you aren't playing, why did you install the game? You can't get the good loot this way, as monster drops disappear quickly, but you can easily play another game or watch television, and jump to the PC every time you hear the clink that indicates something good dropped.

In this way, as long as your characters don't die, it's easy to crank up your experience and quickly rise in level. Hunting missions are emblematic of the game's approach to the level grind, as they have you slaying literally hundreds of creatures to gain items that briefly allow you to summon an ally from amber. In its own way, Sword of the New World is to MMOGs what Dungeon Siege was to conventional role-playing games – the game that plays itself.

Unfortunately, offering players the ability to automate the play experience is like saying, "None of our content is worth enjoying." You will level faster if you play yourself, if only because you can activate powerful abilities to finish off higher-level enemies, but is it worth the effort? You'll also encounter a lot of player trios, fighting creatures, zombie-like, surrounded by piles of loot. It should be noted that the official game site currently lists an "AFK bug" suggesting that soon, players may not be able to leave their party to battle unattended.

There are problems with the group AI. Occasionally, my party's position would drive the pathfinding routines mad, and members of my team would rush off to distant parts of the map, often dragging a large train of monsters until my party was comprised solely of widely-spaced corpses. Latency (lag) is also often a serious problem in the game, so when you are attempting something that requires the careful execution of skills or position, sometimes your client computer will catch up with the server, and you'll mostly stare on in wonder as you watch your characters fall.

Like a Gorgeous, Foreign Land

The game is extremely attractive, particularly given its system requirements, filled with cities that sport stylized Baroque architecture. The female characters, in particular, are often fetishistic in their outfits, but not any more so than plenty of other games on the market. The game would be decidedly less fun if everyone were attired in drab, homespun brown and grey sacks. Many of the rural, more bucolic landscapes are dull, but at least are broken up by interesting and epic-sized landmarks.

Of course, exploring Grenado Espada is a lot like wandering around the monuments of a foreign country. Much of the game's text has been localized, presenting plot and dialog in fluent English. But not all of it. There's still plenty of text that is barely or awkwardly translated, and that happens more often with system messages than dialog. It won't take you long to realize that the "co." button in most dialog windows means to "continue," but it might take you some time to realize that to start the combat tutorial you have to say "I will perform combat by myself." Even when simply installing the game you are warned that, "In case of public computer usages, an unauthorized personnel may obtain your online privacy. Do you want to continue?"

It's easy enough to make fun of broken English, but honestly, if a game is intended for an English speaking market, it pays to make sure the game's text reads like English. The few voice-overs in Sword of the New World are just fine. Fortunately, unless you are trying to comprehend the quests, the language problems rarely get in the way of the game once you get yourself oriented and past the early levels. You'll learn relatively quickly that "Blue Home Constitution" means that you need to defend a blue spot on the map from an onslaught of creatures. It's just that it would be nice learn from instructions rather than trial and error.

Here's to the Min/Maxxers!

Sword of the New World has everything that players expect from a modern MMOG, including crafting, in which you collect raw materials dropped by monsters, have them refined and then construct items from recipes that you acquire. But if there's a single, ultimate purpose to the game, it appears to be PvP. That's certainly what all the high-level players I've encountered are working toward.

There's no question that Sword of the New World offers plenty of depth when it comes to dueling. With three characters, each of which can be configured with so many stances (complete fighting styles) and skills, avid players can do a lot of fine-tuning for battles against other players. For example, fighters can earn an assassination stance that isn't good against groups of monsters, but can be used to demolish a single foe. The tremendous variety, consumables (one-use items like potions) and myriad equipment make dueling a tremendously complex pastime.

But like in most games, unless you are battling friends of a similarly low level, real dueling – the kind that earns you a rank on the server – involves being as high a level as you can be. And that requires a really long grind. So the real question is, are you so eager to try this particular flavor of dueling that you are willing to slowly work your way up through the game's ranks? (Or, at least, are you willing to check in occasionally as your characters grind their way up the ladder?) With so many other games that offer single- and group-oriented PvP combat right off the bat, I'd be inclined to give this one a miss.

Explore the New World Without Indenturing Yourself

Fortunately, you can check this game out at no risk to yourself other than a significant download. K2 Network's "Free2Play" concept means that you can download the game client without paying, and play the game through level 20, while missing only a few of the game's features. However, if you want to rise higher in level, trade with other players and start with a bunch of in-game cash, you'll need to pay the monthly subscription fee. Also, only paying players can avail themselves of customer support.

Keep in mind that the monthly fee doesn't get you everything. Vis is the ordinary in-game currency, but gold can be purchased for real-world cash. And gold can be used to make characters more powerful after level 100, or to purchase plenty of items that can give players the edge in adventuring or dueling. To be fair, this review represents a week of intensive play. Obviously, there is high-level content in Sword of the New World that I never reached. While one can easily reach level 20 in a few days of (mostly automatic) play, there are areas of the world with suggested minimum levels of 105, and the valuable items purchased with gold that boost stats don't even apply until your characters are over level 100.

At the same time, the game has had its share of launch bugs. Cash-based transactions still aren't quite working properly, there have been days when I couldn't log in (due to software problems, not overcrowding) and clan warfare didn't work until late July. The all important pose system (the character emotes so beloved in other games) aren't working. But we're all prone to forgive such problems if rapidly rectified. And so far, the team appears to be working quickly to get things in order.

A Nice Place to Visit....

When I first load up Sword of the New World, I often find myself thinking that it's pretty enough, and I'm killing more monsters than in Gauntlet's coin-operated heyday. But the world requires far too much work to engage, and the grind to be a competitive duelist is too rough to be worthwhile.

If the game delivered on its promise of dragging me into its tale of epic war spilling over into the New World, peppered with religious controversy and loyalist predicaments, I'd be thrilled. Instead, the rich setting is eked out in dribbles, sometimes in unintelligible English, so I have to work really hard to figure out what's going on – and work even harder to care. When it comes to tearing into monsters, Sword of the New World is solid, but no more so than plenty of other fantasy-themed games, online and otherwise.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 2, 2007 12:53 PM.

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