Anime, ARPG, Hack & Slash, Beat'em up, Free Action MMORPG, Free-To-Play, 4-team cooperative… SoulWorker would probably fit in all these categories one way or another, so on paper, the game doesn't offer much innovation in a picture where a number of other games are labelled with half of these, at the very least.
Yet, what sets it apart from the rest?
For starters, it's one of the few Anime based games with a third person view, which means unlike Elsword or Closers, you actually get to watch your character's movements with much more detail and enjoyment. So for those like me who fancy Anime-like games, yet would get tired of the side-scrolling attached fairly quick, this feature came as a blessing. Secondly, It is quite graphically appealing –despite the generic enviroments you will usually find, the characters and enemies are interestingly detailed and well designed, including great animations, clothes and hair physics, taking full advantage of the third person view.
Finally, the gameplay, which I'll detail later, comes straight out of Dragon Nest's bloodline, a favourite of mine back in the day -Abilities, personal combos, class advancements (yet to be released in GameForge's) Skill caps… the combat system shifts between the pleasure of getting rid of a great number of enemies, to the keen concentration of adapting your skills cooldowns to the patterns of the boss you are facing. Basically, it doesn't leave the Action RPG genre to shame.
What's a SoulWorker?
It all started 15 years ago, when The Great Void split the sky purple and began swallowing the entire existence called civilization, including humans… and spitting out what now we know as souldregs, creatures whose shape was as varied as the ways it knew to kill and destroy. And in between, they came, human-like beings called "Bashai" that even if similar, they were essentially different.
It didn't take them long to drive humanity to the edge of extinction.
To be killed by the Bashai, to be killed by the souldregs, or to be swallowed by the void, those were the options… yet, somehow, it all changed when some people who were lost in the void, returned. These persons would show strange abilities beyond human knowledge, powerful enough as to fight the souldregs. Soon, a concept was born: SoulForce. And SoulForcers. The power of emotions. A volatile power which was boundless as long as the person continued to be truthful to itself.
Yet, between SoulForcers, some would possess a great amount of SoulForce, driven by their emotions like none, and with the ability to manifest a weapon out of their very source. These remarkable people, able to turn the tide that was washing over humanity, received the title of SoulWorker.
Now, leaving the narrative mood behind for a bit, your character is a teenager who was swallowed by the void 15 years ago, each one under different circumstances, giving them a potent emotion which they draw their powers from.
Haru Estia, age 17, wanted to be a doctor, and when she passed the admission exams to the medical school, she came back home and embraced her mother. Then The Great Void happened, it destroyed the roof leaving Haru in confusion and shock, only to turn around and see the lifeless, unnaturally twisted body of her mother under the debris. As the despair ran down her cheeks, she was swallowed by the void. Her feelings of regret at her own powerlessness gave shape to her Soulum Sword.
Erwin Archlight, age 18, was bored of the peaceful world he lived in. As a genius who won an academy award and was able to code games which would held the first rank for weeks, everything was dulled grey… so it's no surprise his interest was piqued by the purple black void that appeared in the middle of the city, at which he walked fearlessly into, hoping to find what his normal life lacked. His seek of fun and pleasure gave form to his dual pistols: Gun Jazz.
Lily Bloomerchen, age 15, was adopted into a rich family, and her brother was also her best and only friend. When The Great Void appeared outside of their mansion, they thought they were far enough… but at midnight, Lily woke up to strange noises coming from her brother's room. She opened the door only to find a hole where the roof was, the void way closer than it was hours ago, and her brother's remains being devoured by a souldreg. With a cry, she let loose a dark part of her as she grabbed the first thing she could, a metal pipe, and struck the the beast with all her might. But it was already too late, her brother was no more, and with him, she lost what sanity she had left as the void absorbed her. She yearns to feel alive through her sadism and madness born in battle, an emotion materialized in the shape of a Mist Scythe.
Stella Unibell, age 14, had an imaginary friend called Fuu. Such a thing always woke unrest between the neighborhood… and when The Great Void arrived, it made them rain the blame on the first person they could find, and Stella happened to be the one. "You, you brought the void to us, my parents died because of you". And she believed it, and as sadness enveloped her, she threw herself into the dark purple havoc she had been the cause of. Her sorrow gave form to her Howling Guitar, an instrument possessed by her not so imaginary friend, Fuu.
These are the characters released so far by GameForge, but for the sake of being through, and not at all because I'm enjoying this, I'll also include the two characters left:
Jin Seipatsu, age 17, had volunteered to aid refugees in need of shelter after the great void appeared. He made sure to be the embodiment of confidence, assuring a mother and her child that the place behind him was safe, but that was just mask. He needed aid as much as any refugee. Not much time had passed after the conversation when, while carrying supplies, he heard noises everyone by now could recognize: it was The Great Void… right above the shelter. The child he had met before ran to him, shouting he was a liar, that the shelter wasn't safe at all, at which Jin bit his lip and nodded. Yes, it was his fault, but he'd make it right. He'd "save" him. And so he ran, ran recklessly towards the void, not knowing much but the obvious, that the void would swallow him whole. This recklessly behaviour manifested itself as Justice, and took the form of his knuckles called Spirit arms.
Iris Yuma, age 18, had been taught all her life she needed to be the epitome of grace and elegance, but her spirit had taken another form, one of freedom. She had been born to the Yuma Family, a prestigious name that had become a curse, as her parents were always trying to control her every action, presenting much more challenge than her big sister, something which she was constantly reminded of. One day, after defending a friend out of sudden rage, she was called to the principal's office just to be surprised by her parents once again. A loud sound, her cheek red, her mother shouting… Iris had enough. She run away in her motorcycle, thinking how she didn't need them, but blood binds stronger than any rope, and when she heard the evacuation siren, she rushed back home just to find the manor in ruins, with no sign of her family. Incredibly, instead of despair, she just felt anger, and focused her attention in the void, the cause of all this, and let it loose as she ran towards it. Once out, her fury took the form of a hammer, almost like a missile, with the same destructive capabilities: The Hammerstol.
Now, every character as you may have guessed, has a different personality which translates in different ways to talk to NPCs in the main story, but the interesting part is that it has an impact in not only how the NPCs react, but also in what they are willing to share about their past with you. For example, Lily's frenzy and rash behaviour wakes a protective instinct in Wilba, an NPC in Rucco Town, which pushes him to tell her, exclusively, about the little sister he lost because of "giving too much power to kids who were not able to control it". Such hidden notes can be encountered all over, and I find them quite refreshing over the late and generic MMORPG's trend.
Story-wise, SoulWorker can be considered above average as anime MMORPGs are related. I've reached the end of GameForge's current released content, and all I can say is that even though I was surprised a few times, my mind was not blow (Except for one silly giant bug). Yet, there is clearly a writing effort, and as every RPG worth your time, the value is not only in the main plot, but also in the little side-stories you encounter as you travel.
First, as you may guess, the game is mainly PvE. It has some PvP but it never takes the spotlight. Character creation at the start is not precisely great, as you only get to choose between a few very alike and limited hairstyle, skin tones and eye colors. However, later on you can buy further options from the cash shop or invert game currency in the marketplace, although the latter may be quite expensive and time consuming. And besides, personalization doesn't really matter much, as the characters are supposed to be protagonist and story wise are always depicted the same way.
Now, the combat system is where SW(SoulWorker) shines in my opinion. As I said before, I feel like Dragon Nest was a big influence, directly or not, to the development of the combat mechanics -You can see it in how dodging, positioning, timing and personal combos take more and more protagonism as you progress in the story and the difficulty increases. To give you an idea, you start just by getting scarcely surprised and and having to down an hp potion from time to time, to most probably having to retreat, down three or four, wait for your stamina to regenerate, then go back into the fray. In fact, in some occasions I almost thought I was playing Dark Souls. Almost, as let's not forget this is a 4-team cooperative game, and I often sin of trying to solo everything.
However, as an ARPG, I believe SoulWorker's strength lies in five main attributes:
Common enemies can be staggered just by attacking them, but more powerful ones have this trait which is bar on its own that gets reduced every time you strike them. Some skills are more effective to the super armour, while others deal more damage, so it's up to the players to manage their own cooldowns and decide whether it's worth their time to stagger them by focusing on their armour, or just straight out kill them.
Players, of course, have a stat called critical rate and critical damage. It's a very common way games have to substantially increase your damage per second. Yet, in SW, enemies can also critically hit you way more often than you may think, dealing double damage in a single hit. A common souldreg won't do much, but a Boss's critical can shave half your bar easily, raising the stakes and danger… which is precisely why you'd play an ARPG to begin with. Yet, if you want to have fun it is in your interest to get some extra health, or extra stamina, or Critical resistance in case you'll play PvP.
In Dragon nest, more often than you may think, you'd get so many skills your bar wasn't able to hold them all even though some were a combination of keys and didn't need to be on it. However, in SW you can chain up to three skills in the same hotkey, granting a bonus on the second and third link, which you can adapt to your preferences: Damage, cooldown reduction or less SoulForce cost. Basically, you can build your own combos and get a benefit that will set you apart from the rest. Your own rotation, your own merit.
A further form of customization. Each card represents an aspect of a NPC or enemy which you can draw power from, up to five at the same time. Also, these cards can manifest themselves as passives (X% stamina regen. every Y seconds) or active summoning whose effects can vary from health regeneration, to a giant golem attacking everything in its path. They are tricky though, because at first players may think of them just as a secondary and not important game mechanic, while actually it's a very crucial customization tool, able to fill the gaps in your character's nature, or potentiate its strengths. Erwins, for example, may want to seek attack speed Akasha cards, while Lilies will surely try to get their hands on a Critical Damage/Critical Rate one.
As a last note, there are three ways to obtain them: by crafting them (Between which there are not many worth your time), by getting them as progression rewards, or by buying them in the cashshop (Or marketplace in the future I believe).
Some abilities in the character's tree have some special options given a certain level, an evolution of sorts which change how the skill works, its effects and sometimes even a great part of the animation. These skills are subjected to the player's own personal fighting style and preferences, so for example, a skill may be evolved to be more useful in PvP by adding a stun, while on the other path it may add more area of effect and damage.
Now, I should mention that GameForge uses the Korean version of the game which is way harder than the Japanese version. Enemies hit stronger and more often, same with bosses, reaching an state in the hardest difficulty where they can kill you with one hit if you are not geared enough. Or in some cases, stun you and then proceed to kill you while you watch as you cannot do anything to prevent it except for downing a useless hp pot. So it may be hard for beginner players.
In any case, there is plenty of content to play until you reach level 55, with an exponential grind as you level up that can be quite frustrating if you want to rush the game as fast as possible, while on the other hand, if you just use your energy available and run the replay missions as long as they are relevant, you'll find yourself ahead of the story level quite easily. Once you reach the level cap, your life will go from farming the last mission, to farming rookie raids that put all you've learned to the test, but the combat system is good enough as to keep it refreshing if you know what you are doing. So, as Action MMORPGs go, SoulWorker it's not bad at all.
Graphics & Audio
As I said before, what SW excels graphically at is the movement animation and physics details of each one of its characters and enemies. And it makes sense, as your attention will rarely be paid to the purple sky, to the debris or to the cars around you -from normal attacks to skills and dodges, every motion is quite well designed. There are no impossible moves, flashy black screens or reused designs, and what can I say, it is very appealing to the eye to see finally a Scythe wielding user who fights melee and actually uses the Scythe, instead of casting from far away.
Also, I need to add I'm very impressed by the anime feeling they were able to grant to their own characters at all times, as there is almost no difference between the pictures and the actual protagonist moving around town.
Finally, audio-wise the game can be separated into voice acting, and Original Sound Tracks. The first is, as you may have guessed, in Korean, but I do not complain about it because I believe it would be hard for English speakers to actually do it better, as each protagonist has their own voice lines even when using a skill… and if the voice acting of stella is going to be done by a 30 year old person faking to be a child like in the web episodes, no thanks. It would be nice to be able to change to JP voice acting though.
The second can be separated into four categories: city music, district music, boss music, special encounter music. The first two, although appealing at first, become very repetitive with time as the game makes you grind more and more as you go. I got incredibly tired of Ruin Fortress music, the fourth area in the game, and I didn't realize how much until I started listening to my own while playing. It literally revitalized my whole game. Boss music can also get a little repetitive, but not half as fast as the previous, and only apply to those who are not really relevant to the story, so you'll probably not farm them much.
Then finally, the special encounter music. A battle becomes an epic battle with just the right cords, and it is really engaging at some points throughout the content. Candus City's last boss music is just amazing … and if you read the story so far to get there, it becomes even more amazing.
SoulWorker had been in my "Waiting to play" list for quite a while, as I could play in other servers but I wanted a good translation to be able to enjoy the story. Now that I've tried the game by GameForge hands, and see that the developers are responding to the feedback little by little, it has become one of my favourites.
Of course, as in every game there has been some controversy. GF doesn't have the best reputation out there, the cash shop (released during an open beta made to test) was incredibly expensive at first, now they have toned down the prices of some items, like hairstyles and skill reset tickets quite a bit, in answer to the enraged community, and told those who had already bought those items for the full price to write a ticket in order to get a difference refund. On the other hand, as an anime game, fashion is a big aspect yet we do not receive the permanent default outfit which our protagonists are always depicted wearing, but a limited edition without any way to get it back, unless you level up the same character again. In Closers, for example, they gift you such an outfit after finishing your first mission, and later on, if you wanted to receive class advancement costumes and such, you were able to craft a limited time version by running a dungeon. The outfit would last three days, but the dungeon could be ran five times daily, and by the end of those five you'd have the materials to craft a full outfit again.
Basically, fashion-wise it could be improved. SW gameplay also suffers from bugs, like sudden server lags (NA server still has a lot of issues), impossible hitboxes… but they are just a little stain which is gradually being washed away. Content-wise the west is still far behind JP and Korea, and there is no date for the game to be fully released nor for the new characters, class advancements and new area, yet I'm feeling positive about its future, and as I said before, it's already in my favourite list.
|+Great combat system||-Expensive cash shop|
|+Graphically appealing||-Not as much content as Korean/Japan version|
|+Above average story||-Can be hard for beginners|
|+Different NPC interactions with the protagonists|
|+Third person view. No side-scrolling|