Wuxia Wonderland

HIGH A large number of moves to learn

LOW Too many systems

WTF Looking at the skill trees for the first time…

Wandering Sword is a rare mix of ingredients — the length and narrative focus of a JRPG, but set within the distinctly Chinese wuxia tradition of mystical martial arts and finished with a dash of strategy mechanics. It’s a combo that makes for a rewarding experience propelled by unique flavors — although it can sometimes feel overstuffed.

The story takes place in a fantasy world inspired by ancient China. Players assume the role of Yuwen Yi as he’s drawn into the intrigues of competing gangs and martial arts schools, learning powerful combat techniques and recruiting companions along the way.

There are some early stakes set as the daughter of a shifu is kidnapped, but the main quests that follow flit around political conspiracies amid the many factions of the world. It rarely feels like a tightly woven tapestry, although I admittedly haven’t made it very far, even 20 hours in.

Part of that could be weakness in crafting an engaging main storyline, but I actually think it may be due to the strength of the exploration.

Wandering Sword offers a large world map divided into four areas, each offering a plethora of dungeons and towns to visit and many NPCs to talk to. Just about anywhere a player goes, they’ll find new sidequests. Most of these are basic — talk to so-in-so here, kill five boars there, etc. — but there is the occasional detective sequence where a player will explore nooks and crannies and talk to everyone available before making some kind of multiple choice determination. There are often multiple dialogue choices, but these seem to have minimal impact on events.

Sometimes this can all feel like too many small things to do, but sidequests aren’t just a means of gaining experience and recruiting new party members, each with their own character-focused sidequests — they also provide the means to learn new moves, either by raising affinity with an NPC who can teach it or learning it from a book item earned as a reward.

The breadth of available moves is a big draw of Wandering Sword, making it a martial arts “gotta catch ‘em all” of different schools, weapons and cooldowns. Building a set of six different move types — Normal, Special, Mighty, Unique, Lightness and Cultivation — that complement each other is crucial to min/maxing combat potential.

That said, this is an open world without too many Snorlaxes to protect the player from getting into trouble. With true freedom comes the freedom to face against enemies that will simply trash the player — save often, take notes, and know when to come back later.

Combat itself takes place on a grid where positioning actually matters, as extra damage is earned when attacking from the side and the best damage comes from a backstab. However, without any terrain modifiers along the horizontal plain it doesn’t offer the same complexity as other strategy titles. In essence, it’s just a touch of complication to what would otherwise be a relatively standard RPG battling system. 

That said, combat can also be played in two ways. The first is turn-based fashion, giving the player the chance to plan moves for each character when their turn comes up. Wandering Sword can also be played in real-time, in which players control just the protagonist while computer-controlled enemies and allies make their moves whenever their bar is recharged. I found the real-time to be a bit chaotic, although it opens up new options to move around and avoid attacks.

Keeping in theme, players will also use “meridian” points to advance along various skill trees arranged in one of six “vessels.” Is it complicated and sometimes confusing? Yes. Is it an interesting levelling system that gels with the setting and furthers the player’s immersion into this wuxia world? Also yes. It’s touches like these that elevate what would otherwise be a ho-hum fantasy adventure.

If there are any complaints to be made here, it’s that the developers have gone all-out on adding features (and there are more added every update) but the downside of this is that there are a bevy of fairly useless skills and systems, like material-gathering and weapon-crafting. Why would I spend time levelling items up when quests and enemy drops will plentifully award me more than I need? And along those lines, the inventory can get quite out of hand, as well.

Wandering Sword offers an adventure through a Chinese-inspired land of mystical martial arts that is elevated by its aesthetics and setting while being backed up by an engaging tactical combat system. While it doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it will be worth the time invested for players attracted to the material.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by The Swordman Studio. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game has not been rated by the ESRB but features death and violence against humans, much of it directed by the player. There is no blood, gore, nudity or cursing but language and content inappropriate for younger children is present.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game uses text-only for character interactions and item descriptions. The text can be resized along presets.  This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable.

Stephen Cook
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