tl;dr Good MMO, generally has something for everyone and does everything pretty well, flaws are there but relatively minor overall
I'm a longtime MMO player, dabbled in RaiderZ / RIFT / Vindictus / other miscellaneous MMOs in high school, was a pretty serious BDO player and GM in college, and played ArcheAge Unchained semi-seriously (again as a GM) for about a year after release. Have also tinkered around in WoW / FFXIV / GW2 throughout the years, but never really got into any of them.
As someone who is generally a big fan of MMOs and keeps a pretty good eye on the market, I think SOLO (Swords of Legends Online) is definitely one of the best new MMOs we've gotten in years. Full disclosure: I have purchased the game, played in closed beta, and am currently max level on NA and really enjoying the hell out of it. However, I am not affiliated with / sponsored by SOLO or Gameforge in any way, and these opinions are entirely my own.
For the most part, it seems like MMOs that are considered "decent" (or at least popular) are pretty damn old. Of the MMOs that have taken a significant hold of the market, I think the newest one by far is BDO, which is already 5 years old (!) and obviously a pretty controversial title (for good reason). Anyways, the point is that us MMO players have been experiencing a pretty severe drought of quality new offerings for awhile now.
Personally, I've been left pretty unsatisfied with the last two MMOs that I played seriously (BDO / AAU) in various ways. When I heard about SOLO and dug more into the game, I felt some amount of hope that this might be my answer. Now that I've played it, I think it definitely is, and I think a lot of MMO fans might think likewise if they gave it a shot.
Here's a quick list of the stuff I think this game does really well:
- Movement. I feel like so many MMOs neglect something as basic as movement, but SOLO definitely nails it. There's some quirks (why the hell can't I strafe in the air) and it's not perfect, but overall, movement in this game just feels good, man. Running and double/triple jumping around feels responsive and inherently fun, and being able to summon a flying mount and just zoom across the world is awesome.
- Combat. This is, again, an area a lot of MMOs fall short in (at least to me). But combat in this game is great. Having the option to use action combat is just critical to good combat in a modern MMO (IMO), and besides meeting that bar, SOLO also does a good job of making sure combat just feels good. Attacks are weighty and satisfying, and animations and general combat flow are smooth.
- Classes. SOLO features the holy trinity, which IMO is a great thing (and something I missed having in BDO/AAU). All of the classes seem quite fun and well-balanced, classes are not gender-locked, and every class can switch between two specs that allow you to fill different roles (i.e. Berserker can swap between melee DPS and melee tank). Build options and customization are plentiful and meaningful as well.
- Dungeons/raids (and otherwise meaningful PvE content). Again, something that was sorely lacking from my last two MMOs. And oddly enough, seemingly something that tends to be lacking in newer MMOs in general. But SOLO keeps it pretty traditional here (in a good way, IMO), and instanced PvE content is abundant and meaningful. Matchmaking is a thing, and seems to work well enough, and proper team play is required to succeed.
- PvP. No, SOLO does not have much in the way of open-world PvP content. There is some of that, but almost all of the meaningful PvP in this game comes from instanced modes. This is not something that everyone is interested in, but personally I find it a breath of fresh air among the horde of newer "open world PvP" MMOs that essentially boil down to a zergfest and/or who has the better gear. Also, there seems to be proper ranked leaderboards and matchmaking, so that's very neat. The actual game modes themselves seem quite well-crafted as well.
- Gearing. Very straightforward, rewarding gear system that features basically 0 in the way of RNG. Doing dungeons/raids and other PvE content grants you PvE gear. Doing PvP modes grants you PvP gear. When you get the mats that are required for upgrades, you can upgrade without worrying about it failing, or your gear breaking. Simple!
- Housing. So this is something I think has flown under most people's radars, but housing in this game is actually crazy good.
- As a quick rundown, there are a bunch of housing "zones" — a finite number, but enough that you probably never have to worry about not being able to snag one, and each player can only own one property at a time. Each zone comprises of a bunch of floating islands, each of which is a "property". You purchase a property/island within one of these zones, and that's your "residence," where you can do farming and crafting. Each property also comes with a plot of land on which you can build your house, arrange furniture, decorate, do landscaping etc.
- The crazy part is that this game actually has a Valheim/Minecraft-esque building system, where you can literally build your own houses from scratch. There's a ton of different types of building materials you can craft (different types of walls/doors/floors/windows/stairs/etc.) and you can piece these together like Legos to literally build a custom house. The possibilities here are endless.
- On another note, these housing zones are "instanced" (much like the normal overworld zones in the game world), but it's neat because you can literally just jump off of your island/property and fly over to other properties/islands in the same zone. So if you coordinate with your friends, you can all plop down properties in the same zone and literally be neighbors. It's a very nice housing system, with endless possibilities for creativity, and I think it hasn't gotten nearly enough attention from the community at large.
- Graphics. Optimization is entirely another issue, as I'll talk about later, but I think graphically this game is very solid. Again, I think this is an area a lot of MMOs struggle in, and an area where the current market giants are all really starting to show their age (with the exception of BDO, obviously). But SOLO looks good. Not amazing, especially by 2021 standards. But especially for an MMO, it looks great. The aesthetic is pretty cohesive, unique, and generally pretty, and the animation work seems great as well.
- No P2W! Pretty shocking for an Asian import, lol. But this is truly a game that has both 0 P2W and no subscription, running off a B2P model with purely cosmetic microtransactions / battle pass. To be fair, things can always change in this regard, but unlike virtually every other Asian MMO to come to market, there is actually reasonable hope that things will stay this way. The original Chinese developers have apparently always taken a hard stance against P2W, and the game has never had any P2W elements since its release 3 years ago in China.
On the flip side, here's stuff that isn't great about SOLO:
- Localization. This game's localization is… bad. There's really no way around it. Translations are sloppy, and the English VA is incomplete and horrendous (seriously, switch to Chinese audio the instant you start playing, you'll thank me later). On the bright side, the Chinese VA is pretty good, so you definitely dodge the bigger of two bullets (the horrendous English VA) by just switching your audio language, but yeah. Not a bright spot for this game, for sure.
- Leveling. This game's leveling process is just pretty boring. Thankfully, it's quite short (~12-20 hours and potentially shorter if you really rush), but it's definitely pretty dull. Apparently something that will be improved over time as we catch up to the Chinese version (where leveling is only a ~4 hour process from start to max). IMO, not a big deal in a genre where you expect to put hundreds, if not thousands of hours into a single game, but I do wish it was better.
- Optimization. SOLO runs like shit. Again, no two ways about it, lol. Even with a high-end system, the game runs like shit and there's just not much you can do about it. Now, to be fair, the frame rates people tend to get are generally playable, but the game definitely runs shockingly poorly, especially for how it looks. This is also something we can expect to be fixed eventually when the UE4 upgrade rolls out.
- A bunch of relatively minor gripes that you may or may not care about:
- The overworld is split into instanced zones rather than being a seamless open world.
- Ground mounts seem purely aesthetic and are generally slower than running (you're encouraged to use flying mounts for speedy travel).
- The setting (Chinese fantasy) is pretty niche and generally unfamiliar to westerners (personally I like it, but YMMV).
- Relating to the above, the story is pretty hard to follow if you're not familiar with Chinese fantasy (the poor translation doesn't help either).
SOLO is not a perfect MMO by any means. But in a genre where basically every title has major flaws, I think this game shines pretty bright relative to the field. It isn't particularly innovative (besides the crazy housing system), but what SOLO does really well is combine the best parts and systems of many different MMOs while avoiding most of their pitfalls. Put simply, I think a lot of people will like it just for being a solid new action combat MMO with ample PvE, PvP and lifeskill content. Somewhat ironically, we just haven't really seen anything that checks all those boxes in ages.
- Slower paced MMOs deserve another chance
- Why aren’t there more single-player Korean games in international market, while there are many single-player Chinese games?
- Does an MMO with good action combat actually exist? While still being more than just the combat?
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