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It seems like every week a new Anime-based beat-em-up MMO is cropping up on Steam. Last week saw Soul Worker enter open beta, and Jason and I have been playing it a lot. Here’s what I can gather after 5 hours of gameplay.

Soul Worker, if you haven’t guessed, is an Anime beat-em-up MMORPG that feels a lot like Kritika and Closers. You journey through stages, kill enemies and bosses, and complete quests. You gather gear, crafting materials, and more as you unlock new difficulties and bigger challenges. As far as Anime brawlers go, it isn’t reinventing the wheel in terms of structure.

Visually, though, it’s one of the better action-MMOs I’ve played. The characters look cool, skill effects have a lot going on, and the animations are solid. Everything from the enemies and environments to the characters and weapons seems to blend together perfectly. The audio direction could use some adjustment, as everything on default settings will kill you if you use headphones. For reference, I use a HyperX Cloud Revolver and keep my system volume at 50 percent. Despite this, when the game booted up for the first time it still startled me so bad that I chucked my headset across the room. Fair warning.

So the game starts out by having you select one of four characters, each with their own weapon, fighting styles, and difficulty curve. I spent most of my time with the guitar playing Stella and the sword specialist Haru. Jason, from what I understand, also played Haru for the most part.

Haru is ranked as the easiest character to pick up, and for good reason. Her style involves a lot of straight-line and small AOE sword skills. You can chain them together in almost any way you want, so you really can’t go wrong. In contrast, the game ranks Stella as the hardest character to play. Her skillset isn’t rocket science, but you’ll need good positioning and careful ordering of her skills to get the most out of them.

Once you’ve selected your character, you’ll get to do a tiny amount of customization before jumping into the game. I say tiny because it’s almost not worth mentioning. There are three hair colors and styles to pick from as well as three eye colors. You can choose the color scheme of your starting outfit as well, which is nice. The real customization comes later with Fashion.

As you play through the game you’ll unlock fashion items that you can equip to change your character model up. Your weapons already change as you equip new ones, but not your armor. The major way to pick up these fashion items is through crafting, but you can also buy them from the player market once you’ve got some gold on hand.

The game’s tutorial is great; or, at least it’s as good as a tutorial can be. If you’re a veteran of the brawler genre, you can always choose to skip it, but if you’ve never played this type of MMO it might be worth doing for at least a minute or two. The only real qualm I had with it as I was playing was that it dragged on forever. This is partly because, while it is fairly well localized, there is a mountain of dialogue to read through and cutscenes to watch.

Once you’re in the game proper, it’s more or less the same formula as games like Kritika or Closers. You grab your quests, go to the zones alone or in a group, and kill stuff. The good news is that the game gets this right. The combat is fast, fluid, and fun. The only major problem I had with the combat is that sometimes the camera would seem to stick in a wall if I was in a corner and angled. I haven’t tried the game with a controller yet though, so I don’t know if that would solve the problem.

Apart from that, as I said, it’s fun. Combos are a blast to do and the combo meter doesn’t drop ultra quickly so if an enemy or boss forces you to dodge back, you can rush at them again and continue your combo without missing a beat. The challenge is pretty solid too; in fact, I died 3 times to my first hard-mode boss. The difference between hard and normal modes is noticeable, but not insurmountable.

As you level up, you’ll earn points to unlock new skills and upgrade your old ones. Upgrading your abilities to a certain point can also add new effects to them like extra hits, knock-up, knock-back, and a ton of other things. Each character also gets what’s called a NOVA skill, which grants them a huge power boost for a short period of time, and recharges by taking and dealing damage. These transformations also have a cool little scene that plays out when you do them, which is a nice touch.

At this point I need to take a moment to point out that Soul Worker uses one of my least favorite mechanics in these types of games: an energy bar. You can only run stages while you have energy left, and once you’re out you can’t run any more stages on that character until it refills. Lion Games also plans to charge real world currency for items that refill your energy, which is another huge point of frustration.

On one hand, this is useful for keeping people from binging on the game too much. Most normal stages only cost 8-10 energy, and you are given 200 energy at max. You can get in plenty of stages in that time. On the other, if you’re going to entice players who want to spend a lot of time with the game to spend money by enforcing pay-walled time limits, you’re already damaging the interest people would have taken in the game in the first place.

Speaking of monetization, there really hasn’t been any implemented yet. The shop has items that you can access for free right now to help test the store, but no way to add or spend real world currency yet. The items that Lion Games are planning to sell right now include Energy refills, respawn items to resurrect you in dungeons, and a megaphone that lets you send server-wide messages. We’ll provide an update on the website once more information about the game’s microtransactions becomes public.

Soul Worker is a fun beat-em-up with cool characters and fast paced combat. If arcade-style action and anime aesthetics are what you’re into, I’d recommend this over the other two heavy-hitters I’ve mentioned countless times through the run. The overall feeling of the gameplay is a bit more natural, and I feel like over time the game will have a great deal of staying power.

Next Video
Colton takes a first look at Soul Worker, now in open beta on Steam.