Sword of the New World: Granado Espada
Review by trancejeremy
"Fun core gameplay, but the end game is hurt by excessive grinding, cash shop gouging ,and poor community."
Sword of the New World is a free to play fantasy MMORPG originally from Korea, but brought to North American and Europe by K2 (who run a few other localized MMORPGs). It's a bit different from other MMORPGs in a few ways. Most notably the setting, which is somewhat similar to the mid-18th 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.
I originally wrote a review after a month of play, I've now revised it after playing for six months and reaching level 100 ("Veteran"). The game has also received two "Expansions" since my original review (really just patches but lots of added stuff and changes).
Characters work a little differently in Sword than other MMORPGs. Instead of just having one you play at a time out of maybe four or five, you play three out of a stable of over fifty.
The basic starting character classes include the Fighter, Wizard, and Elementalist, which are fairly standard fantasy classes. But also the Musketeer, who specializes in firearms, and the Scout, which is a healer and jack of all trades class.
Beyond the core classes are "UPC"s, which are "Unique Player Characters". These are actually playable versions of various NPCs in the world. You can create these characters by earning "cards" by doing various quests. Once you have a card you can create that UPC once (you can also buy or trade these cards). Some of these UPCs are just variations on the 5 basic classes, but some are totally different. For instance, some will build devices that fight enemies - either cannons or rotating blades, as well as defensive barriers like fences. Then there are martial artists. And some are summoners, who use little monsters or puppets to fight enemies.
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).
Characters often can learn new stances upon reaching certain levels and new stances are introduced to the game from time to time in updates.
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 costumes (or the ingredients to make them) require purchase though the real world money store. When I started playing, you could pick a default costume for your character to wear, but now newly made character's appearance changes with the sort of armor they wear.
Equipment wise, you generally 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.
Equipment plays a very important role in the game, especially at high levels. Besides the basic attack and defense score, characters have two ratings, one for defense and one for attack, called AR and DR. These get compared to an opponents AR and DR and modify how much damage is done. There are special items called "Elite" and "Unique" which have better base stats but also have better AR and DR ratings.
For a long time, it was quite difficult to get the really good equipment. Originally, it only dropped from raid bosses, which meant only the really big clans got good stuff. Then they added a special quest that basically let you do a simple farming mission to get the best equipment (weapons, anyway). Time consuming, but after maybe 5 hours of doing it, you could get one.
Still, armor was a problem, until finally in the latest patch they added special equipment, including armor, that anyone could get simply for having done quests in the game. The armor and weapons added weren't quite as good as the best, but good enough to let the high levels of the game be accessible to eveyrone that has done the major storyline quests. Some places still need team work though, which can be a problem if you don't have a good clan or a lot of friends in game.
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. The twist is, you can order your characters to automatically attack by simply hitting the space bar. This is probably the most common way to fight, since it's not easy controlling 3 characters at once.
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. When I started playing, there were 4 towns (really 3 towns and 1 camp), now there are 5 (3 towns and 2 camps), with another on its way.
It's quite 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. Storyline missions are done solo, just one player, but there are optional missions which can be done with other players, called mission lobbies.
I find the user interface to be quite well done, again, reminding me a lot of Guild Wars (except for 3 characters). Some things are a bit sluggish in combat, because just so much is going on, but all in all it works well enough.
The translation problems have largely been fixed in the 2.4 patch. It's still not the most eloquent game I've played, but it's no longer confusingly bad.
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.
Higher level gameplay offers raiding and weekly clan/faction battles if you belong to a clan, called "Colony Wars". Basically you fight each other for control of a given area of the world map (about 20 in all can be fought over). This is actually quite a lot of fun, provided there is a lot of balance in terms of clans on the server, or the dominant clan on the server decides not to hog all the colonies. The latter is the case on my server, they claim half and let the rest of us fight over the rest. Sometimes these fights can get a little mean, though, lasting longer than the colony wars period.
I actually can't comment on how fun raids are, since despite being in two clans in the two and a half months since hitting veteran level, I've never done a raid (either none of my clan members were interested in raiding, or just weren't interested in raiding with me).
Sword of the New World doesn't really have the strongest storyline, but it does have a detailed background. It's essentially a fantasy analog of North America, just before the American Revolution.
It's a little different, though. In this case, although both England (Bristia) and Spain (Vespanola) colonized the place, this time Vespanola ended up being dominant. And so the revolutionaries are plotting against them. Throw in some jungles full of dinosaurs, a steampunk mansion full of robots, a prison full of horrible medical experiments, swamps full of witches, and soon some lost Mesoamerican cities (Seven Cities of Gold/Cibola). It's a weird mix, but it works.
Also, somewhat weirdly, but I guess not for the original audience, the world map of the area actually resembles that of Asia, not North America. Which is doubly weird because there are analogs of various asian countries in the game as well (at least, there are characters from those countries).
What storyline there is is mostly told through quests gotten from UPCs in the game. At certain levels they start asking you to do quests for them, and in doing the quests, you begin to piece together the story. When I did a lot of these quests the translation was pretty much gibberish, so I didn't understand what was going on. But this apparently has been mostly fixed.
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 quite as good). The graphic design is stunning in some areas - I know I've taken a lot of screenshots at a cool looking place or another.
Higher resolutions are supported, as is widescreen. At least, my monitor is 1440x900 and there is a setting for that. It also runs extremely well. I have a 7600GS on my desktop and can max out everything except during colony wars.
The sound is pretty decent. Usual sound effects for attacks and the like - clang of metal hitting metal, grunts of pain, etc. Characters will sometimes yell out the name of the spells they are using and talk when you tell them to move someplace. Most of the voices are good, but some are awful (apparently they get employees to do them, not professional voice actors). There doesn't seem to be any speech for the cutscenes (not that there are many of those).
Music is quite a mixed bag. You'd expect classical music or something based on the setting, and there is some of that but it's a mixture of genres, including a lot of electronic stuff like trance (yay!), including some stuff from Black Hole Recordings (Tiesto's label). Also a lot of ambient and at least one really awful heavy metal song in some language I don't know.
Just how "free" is it?
"Free" games generally make money off of either advertising or by selling in game items for cash (called a "cash shop"). This game does the latter.
A lot of free games that use the cash shop approach apparently have catches, like progression being very slow without buying in game experience increasing items or regular equipment being weaker than bought items. This seems to take a different tack, most of the cash shop stuff isn't that useful, though there is still something of a catch.
Characters can advance to level 100 naturally, but beyond that they need "scrolls". There's a "veteran" scroll which lets them advance to 110, at which point they use another scroll to turn into an "Expert" (and become a 110 level character) and advance up to 120 (which presumably there will be another scroll for).
These scrolls are cash shop items (that is, you need real money to buy them). Veteran scrolls cost about 500 gold and Expert 650. ($10 gets you 1000 gold for the cash shop, $40 gets you 5000). However, both scrolls can be sold in game, so you can buy them with in game currency in most cases.
A lot of games make character level progression slow if you don't use the cash shop. This actually seems to do the reverse, at least at first. I made level 100 in about 4 months, which I really don't think was too slow a pace, about 3 levels every 4 days. But there are special cash shop only areas, the "Forgotten Area" and "Ancient Area" where you can level up your characters insanely fast, due to a high spawn rate and weak (but high level) monsters. Using this you can apparently level up your characters to level 100 in a week or less.
However, once you hit level 100, you really need these items to make it to level 110 (Expert). Because while your characters stats are 110, basically in terms of how much experience you need, it's actually level 200. I'm not kidding, the experience readout once you hit vet goes to 4 decimal places, 00.0000, and you gain about .0001 per kill. Playing the same amount a day it took me to get vet in four months, it will take me over two years to reach expert.
That just seems somewhat unfair to me, as besides the cost of buying the passes to get to those areas, you also have to spend a lot of time on your computer to get the most of them (since the passes only count the amount of real time that passes, not game time), which is unhealthy.
Furthermore, starting with 2.4, more and more new items in the game require a cash shop substance called "Mysterious Powder" to get. New characters I could understand, as they require a lot of effort to make, but they've extended it to new equipment, new stances, and even for their anniversary celebration, the "prizes". Yes, you have to pay for anniversary prizes. This item, mysterious powder, can be bought in game from other players, but is costly in the quantity you need for the newly added items.
I really enjoy the basic gameplay of this game. The combat is a lot of fun, particularly the scale and speed of it. It's a blast wiping out dozens of enemies with a spell or attack, or simply watching your guys beat up an unending stream of monsters.
However, the grind once you reach level 100 is just crazy. It took me 4 months to go from 1 to 100, then 2 months to go from 100 to 101. Each level beyond that is going to be even slower. And you don't reap any benefits until you finally reach level 110. Even if you like grinding, like me, that's daunting. And the levels past 110 will be even worse!
Furthermore, this constant need to grind has sucked a lot of the friendliness out of players. People don't do things just for fun, because they miss grinding time. Even if you join a clan, don't expect a lot of comradery in game, as most of your fellow members will either be grinding on their own or AFKing.
Much of the end game content is entirely dependant on the whims of the most powerful clan on the server. If they want to, they can dominate all the end game events, from colony wars to hogging all the raid bosses. And in some cases, they do just that. If if the big clan leaves something for the smaller clans, it makes the smaller clans much more vicious towards each other. Much like starving dogs fighting for table scraps. Even on the non PvP server, you can end up permanently at war with other clans, and thus get killed or kill-stealed constantly by rival clans.
So personally, while I would recommend the game, I also would recommend only playing it from levels 1 to 100. Once you hit that, the price to play the game goes up, in terms of cash shop items you need, and the amount of fun you get goes down, in terms of what you can do unless you are in a big, active clan.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/18/08, Updated 07/21/08
Game Release: Sword of the New World: Granado Espada (US, 07/12/07)
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