It has to be, because the game’s true defining feature is its pace. I’ve played other combat-driven MMOs, but Sword is surprisingly relentless, throwing wave after wave of respawning critters at you in a manner that leaves WoW and Guild Wars looking tame. The combination of the multi-character control, relatively automated combat (just click to start hitting) and the constant aggro results in a game that feels like a bizarre blend of Guild Wars, Final Fantasy and Diablo. The addictive appeal is straight from the latter; fight to gain gold and experience, level up and find or buy new gear, then go off and fight some more. Repeat until you’re too dog-tired to play any more.
Of course, there is a little more to it than that. The key to despatching mobs of monsters, particularly once you start encountering more difficult foes, is to go beyond the single-click auto attack and make the most of your skills and stances. As in most MMOs your character can learn and use key skills to attack, heal or protect against enemy attacks, but the skills and weapons you can use also depend on your stance. For a fighter to use the sabre, for instance, they first have to learn the mid-guard stance, but once learnt they gain the use of a new set of skills which can then be levelled up as the fighter levels up and earns skill points. Stances can be learnt from exercise books, available in all major towns, but these can only be used once the character reaches an appropriate level. Weapons too are only usable once characters reach specific levels. If all of this sounds like another mechanism to keep you bopping ‘til you drop, then it certainly has that effect.
This is where things get tricky for the erstwhile reviewer. In many respects Sword is a woefully dumb MMO. The quests are painfully simple, combat is repetitive, and it’s entirely possible to leave your whole party on auto-pilot in the middle of a dungeon, go away, have a cup of tea, and come back to find them still fighting. Sword doesn’t have the narrative depth of WoW, LOTR Online or even Guild Wars, and the real downside of its party system is that it actively discourages any meaningful social interaction, at least in the lower levels where I’ve been playing. You might play with other players on an ad-hoc basis, particularly in the more packed dungeon chambers where it’s easy for a single party to get swamped, but you can’t say that you’re really teaming up with them.