Elsword is a cel-shaded, 2.5D, side-scrolling, action MMORPG developed by the South Korean company KOG Studios. KOG Studios is also the company responsible for Grand Chase, which shares many similar elements with Elsword.
This is not a shock as Elsword was originally intended to be a reboot of Grand Chase. This was eventually scrapped as Elsword ended up being hosted by a different company.
There are currently 6 characters to select from: The titular Elsword, who fights with a great sword, Aisha, who fights with a staff, Rena, who fights with a bow, Raven who fights with a Nasod(tech) Arm and 1-handed sword, Eve, who fights with Nasod Drones, and Chung, who fights with a cannon. I chose Chung, as the idea of a small anime boy swinging around a giant cannon was fantastically hilarious to me. There is no character customization at character selection. You pick which character you want to play as, name them, then are launched into the starting area, filled with carbon copies of you and the other 5 characters.
It has a delightful cel shaded look that reminds me a lot of Tales of Symphonia — beautiful backgrounds with well-styled anime characters. The stages all have an interesting linear 3D style that takes a little getting used to as the camera can zoom and rotate a bit unexpectedly. I found the sounds to be repetitive to the point of annoyance. The music loops were catchy, but felt altogether too short. The characters themselves make a fair amount of sound as they attack, and it isn’t varied enough.
There are four types of areas: Towns, Fields, Dungeons, and Arenas. You cross fields to get to new towns and everything is very linear. Town A goes to Field 1 which leads to Town B. There are no forks in the road, no way to get lost, but likewise no choices to make. The dungeons are accessible from the Dungeon button on the upper left portion of the screen. Dungeons have 3 difficulty levels that correlate to the number of people that should be in the party. You have the option to enter the dungeon with your current party (if you are not in a party, only you go to the dungeon), or enter the dungeon with a random party. It appears that if they can find the players, the game is willing to put you in the next difficulty level up from what you selected. Since there are only 3 choices, it seems odd for them to basically disregard your choice. There are queues, but as of this review I never had to wait longer than 45 seconds, and you can continue to fight, sell, or otherwise be productive while waiting.
The Quests in this game take place in both fields and dungeons and can be turned in remotely. In some games it breaks the immersion, but this game is all about speed. In any case it’s hard to feel immersed when there are a dozen yous on the screen in town. I found myself never using the non-equipment quest rewards, or using the equipment drops from enemies. It feels like most of the items that drop are vendor trash, with 90% of them being for other the other characters.
The amount of Stamina you have limits the amount of dungeons one can play during the week, which refreshes at 3am EST each weekday on the US version of the game. I blasted through 12 various dungeon runs and still had over ⅓ my stamina left. You regain 1 resurrect gems at that point too. All in all the limits don’t get in the way provided you aren’t playing more than 5 or 6 hours on a weekday. Dungeons are also free on the weekends, which is when the Gates of Darkness dungeon periodically opens up. It is a gauntlet style affair that is much more challenging than the usual dungeons and is the only place so far that I have had to use resurrect gems.
Henir’s Time and Space is the second special dungeon and is always open, however you can only run through it 3 times a day. It’s a good challenge that throws various boss fights at you, one after the other. After each batch of fights you are given the option to continue or exit the dungeon. If you exit, you get a reward, but if you continue and die fighting the next batch of bosses you get nothing.
There is a lot of things that cost K-Ching — their absurdly-named currency that is bought with cash. There are tons of costume pieces that can be worn over your armor. You start out with only 8 bank slots and you can purchase more with K-Ching. 8 seems hardly enough for a game that has so many crafting components and consumables, though. Thankfully, your inventory is separated into tabs, allowing for large quantities of said components and consumable to not get in the way of collecting gear you won’t use. There are also chests that contain a random item that can be crafted in game that can only be opened by something that costs, surprise! K-Ching. The one aspect of the cash shop which I found very clever was the seals which can be purchased to use on untradeable items to make them tradeable.
There are two ways to go about buying items from other players in the game. You can wander through all 12 of the market rooms and check each store individually, or you can search through using the more standard World of Warcraft style search interface. The later incurs a modest 3% convenience fee, but one that I’m gladly willing to pay if I’m trying to find equipment upgrades. Any player can set up a shop and leave their character AFK, however if you want to have more than 3 items for sale you need to buy the shop upgrade with K-Ching.
This is a great little “snack” game, something to pepper your usual game rotation with. Elsword is grindy, but so fast-paced that it’s hard for the aggravation of it to take hold. Early dungeons take less than 5 minutes to clear — even on Very Hard — and as you get to higher level dungeons they start having multiple paths through to spice things up. It’s pleasing to look at, high-intensity, low-pressure, and fast paced. That being said, I haven’t found it to be much of a challenge thus far.