There’s always some inherent danger in painting something as big as an entire genre of video games with too broad a brush, but MMOs generally either fall into one of two buckets: fantasy or sci-fi.

Perfect World thinks it has the game that can break away from those constraints and entice gamers with something different. It’s called Swordsman, and its goal is to entice people by making them feel like they’re playing through an epic martial arts saga.

The game isn’t just inspired by wuxia movies and novels, it actually goes the extra mile to ensure its authenticity. Swordsman‘s story is based on a book by author Louis Cha, and the flashy combat animations for its 10 different fighting schools were created thanks to motion capture work by real martial artists. Even for its Western release, all of the voice work is in Mandarin with English subtitles.


Much of that dialogue takes place in cutscenes that are rendered using the in-game engine. This adds to the game’s cinematic feel, as players in the closed beta — which just wrapped up on June 27 — have already experienced. Quests often have bursts of gameplay interspersed with characters taunting players or summoning minions to serve as tests or obstacles. One thing flows naturally into the next, sometimes with a dramatic rooftop chase thrown in just for good measure.

Battles are appropriately dynamic, with the action falling somewhere in-between pure twitch-based skill and the cast-and-cooldown fare of most previous MMOs. Movement is a big feature, with players able to pull off multi-step jumps, mid-air dashes and other aerial stunts. Three different control schemes, each offering further customization options, help all kinds of gamers find something comfortable to pull off all of these maneuvers.

There’s a ton of flexibility in character creation as well. Swordsman has one of the most detailed sets of appearance options around, with sliders that control the exact shape of different face and body parts. The 10 martial arts schools provide a broad starting point in terms of weapons and techniques, but each school aslo has three distinct styles that can be switched up on the fly — and Perfect World told Gamezebo at E3 that even more choices open up later in the game. As an added bonus, two of the schools are Wu-Tang and Shaolin, guaranteeing a fan base of people who grew up listening to 90s hip hop.

Perfect World clearly has high hopes for Swordsman, as it’s going straight from closed beta to an open beta period that begins on July 3. Since the game is free-to-play, everyone will soon be able to give it a whirl.

Whether the game is able to attract a large audience or not, it’s definitely providing people with an alternative to the same old MMO fare. And that’s a prospect that’s even more exciting than an all-day kung fu movie marathon.