All of this is portrayed via one of the more spectacular MMO graphics engines around at the moment, putting Sword on a par with LOTR Online and Guild Wars in the eye-candy stakes. Some locations are a little flat and poorly textured, but when the lighting, the shader effects and all that luxurious architectural detail comes together, you get some fairly breathtaking vistas. The anime-style characters, meanwhile, are like something you’d get in a Square-Enix game, complete with ludicrously ornate costumes and high-rise, new romantic hairdos. It’s tempting to spend hours in the character creation screens just to see the different class and costume combinations at work.
And it’s during character creation that the game’s second distinctive factor comes into play. In Sword you don’t just play as a single character, but as a family. You begin by creating up to four characters, preferably of different classes, and all sharing a single surname. There are no races bar human, but the five classes – fighter, wizard, scout, elementalist and musketeer – have a choice of costumes and can later be customised via stances and skills (more of this later). Costumes become particularly important because, unlike other MMOs where finding or earning new gear is a key part of giving your character identity, in Sword you wear the same suit of clothes no matter what armour you employ. You can add hats and change costumes later on, but really that’s about it.
The reason why you need more than one character is that in Sword you control a three-strong party of pioneers, which you can juggle at any time by returning to the Quarters screen and adding or excluding members. The advantage of this is that you can create a balanced party of your own without needing to rely on other players. Kick off a party with a fighter, a wizard and a scout and you have all you need to tackle most quests and missions in the early part of the game. Now, you might expect the downside to be complexity, but in fact the opposite is true. Most of the time you can take direct control of the party leader and the other two members will trail around killing anything hostile that gets too close and adding medical and magical support. You can also switch leaders at will and use shift-click combinations to, say, tell your party to go there and smash or grab anything in their path. With only a few inventory and skill screens to tackle, Sword is actually a fairly speedy, streamlined MMO to play.