As I type this, I am waiting in a nearly 2000 person queue for North America’s newly released MMO, Blade & Soul. With a wait time of about an hour, I’m not angry, nor am I all that frustrated about it; this is fairly standard fare for a launch, and while I would much rather be playing, I will cut NCSOFT some slack for now. This gives me a chance to write down, and share my thoughts with you wonderful readers after all.
To be honest, Blade & Soul wasn’t even on my radar until a couple of weeks ago when Carlos first started gushing to me about it. It didn’t take much for the MMO bug to bite, and I picked up the $25 dollar package for a weekend of early access. I have said it countless times… “I am done with MMO’s.” I have been a huge fan of the genre ever since Ultima Online back in the 90’s, and I know I’m not alone in my several year World of Warcraft addiction. Once I finally peeled myself away from the soul crushing commitment that is WoW raiding, I figured maybe enough was enough. Over the course of the last couple years, occasionally the Koreans would send a title over here that would peak my interest, but I always ended up unsatisfied after a couple days. The fact is, I swore I was done investing myself into any MMO after my experience with Archage. After paying $150 for a founder’s pack, I was setting myself up for disappointment, and sure enough, it was just a flavor of the month like the rest of them. Here I am with Blade and Soul though, already Google searching my class to research better strategy, and anticipating higher level dungeons and PvP. I’m all in, and this time I have a really good feeling about it.
It all depended on what server you chose during the early access weekend. If you were stubborn enough to insist on playing the most populated servers, you were met with fierce queues. To the contrary, my experience on the Yehara server went off without a hitch, and the lack of lag and server issues was impressive for a MMO launch. It’s important to note that in a game like Blade & Soul these queues are quite necessary, as the lag caused by overloaded servers would literally ruin the experience. The game boasts a fast paced combat system, that relies heavily on quick reflexes to determine the victor. It’s imperative that latency is not an issue once you are logged in, so I actually appreciate that they are insuring the servers don’t exceed capacity, and I’m hopeful that the queues will be fixed in the coming days.
Combat in MMO’s has been an ever evolving process over the years, and the tab-targeting auto-attacking era has made way for a more fast paced combat system. Many games have tried to adopt a more action oriented style, but have had mixed success. After a weekend of spell slinging and backstabbing, I can say with confidence that we finally have a benchmark. Blade & Soul’s combat is the most rewarding, and enjoyable system that I have ever experienced. Some people are calling it a Tera clone, but I don’t think that’s giving it nearly enough credit. I love the combat in Tera, but this game has taken that system and cranked it into overdrive. Take a class like the destroyer for example; every MMO has its beefy two handed weapon class whose slow yet deadly strikes crush their victims when landed. This game allows the destroyer to take that another step further, by actually allowing the player to interact with their enemy.
Have you ever wanted to grab your opponent, and pound them in the face repeatedly with the side of your axe? How about pick them up and use them as a blunt instrument? You can do it as a destroyer, and it is just as satisfying to behold as you might think. How about something with more finesse? Unlike stealth classes in other games where you push a button and turn invisible, the assassin class uses stealth in a sense, but as an integral part of combat. Quick movement, and tons of control over your positioning give the assassin nearly limitless options, and allow players to get truly creative with how they dispatch their opponent. They even have access to remote detonated explosives and flash bangs, and who doesn’t like to blow things up? If you like the sound of that, then keep in mind that it’s only two of the seven classes you have access to on launch. I could probably go on about how great the combat in this game is for the rest of 2016, but I will end by saying that the depth is insane. While being relatively easy to learn, there is a huge amount of room for creativity and mastery giving this game a lot of potential for competitive play going forward. I really can’t wait for this to hit the western e-sports scene, and I’m sure Carlos is with me on that. Look forward to potentially seeing some coverage of it here at some point in the future.
The graphics in Blade & Soul are nothing spectacular, but you have to keep in mind that this is a game that has been out for four years in Korea already, so it’s understandable that it would look a little dated. The character creation runs inline with most of the recent Korean MMO’s we have seen, if not giving you slightly more control over your character’s appearance. I created two characters, and was very happy with how both of them looked when I was done. One of the things that I really like is the lack of clutter created by skill buttons on the interface. The game changes your potential actions on the handful of hotkeys available to you based on your current situation. For example, when you’ve been knocked to the ground, your buttons will change to abilities usable in your current state like escaping, or countering. Its really quite intuitive, and makes that moment you are taught a batch of new skills a lot less overwhelming. In a genre that isn’t typically known for its intense graphics, I would say that Blade & Soul does stand among the best of them.
Whether you are excited by the idea of ganking lowbies, or want to compete at the top of the arena rankings, this game probably has what you are looking for. At its core, Blade & Soul begs gamers to participate in player-versus-player combat, but does not force it on them. I thought the open world PvP system was actually rather clever. As one of the early quests, players are given the opportunity to select a faction, and when they feel like inviting player combat they simply wear their faction’s uniform. While I feel like the system could use some tweaks (namely not allowing players to immediately enter combat after donning their uniform,) I still rather liked the overall idea and I’m looking forward to plenty of world PvP engagements in the coming weeks. I have yet to experience the games arena system, but things that I have heard sound encouraging.
My early impressions of the game’s story have been somewhat underwhelming, but good enough to keep me paying attention. While I appreciate the fact that we have spoken dialogue for story quests, the English voice acting creeps into the “so bad it’s funny” territory from time to time; worth a couple laughs if nothing else. We do have a cast of recognizable characters right off the bat though, so I guess I’ll have to see where things go with them (Nam so-yoo I’m looking at you.) MMO’s typically are not known for epic storytelling anyway, especially early on, so what Blade & Soul does have still makes them a pack leader in this regard.
After all of it, I left this weekend being more excited about an MMO than I have been in a very long time. Blade & Soul is a fantastic game, and so far I don’t see any evidence that NCSOFT is going to drop the ball on the maintenance end of things. The biggest question, which is arguably one of the most important aspects of any MMO, is how will the community be? We will know in time, but I know that the Anime Arcade clan will be contributing in a positive way! The game’s free to play, so you might as well give it a shot. If you like PvP, or fast paced combat, I think you will come to the same conclusions that I have.
If you have played Blade & Soul, Share your thoughts in the comments below, and if you are on the Yehara server, be sure to join us!
So here’s the deal. I have never played an MMO before. I never played WoW, I never played Star Wars: The Old Republic, I never played never played Wildstar, Tera, or EVE Online. All this to say that I have no idea what I’m doing, but darn it all if Blade and Soul isn’t a freaking fun game. I honestly had no intention of playing this either, yet somehow I found myself downloading the client and spending 30 minutes going through the comprehensive character design tools to make a beautiful character.
Now I’ve lost track of the number of hours I’ve spent in the game! My Yun Blade Master named ShÍrayuki is now level 32 with the level cap being 45, and I’ve only been playing for 5 days.
There are aspects of this game that are frustrating, though. Control-wise, I had a hard time using the keyboard to activate all my skills and attacks during combat, and outside of combat, the controls felt awkward as well. I tried changing them to better suit my style of play, but every single key on the keyboard had a function and I inadvertently ended up leaving some skill unassigned. Thankfully, Blade and Soul has controller support so I ended up hooking up my Xbox One controller and have been having a better time playing with that. For a serious player, I probably wouldn’t recommend the controller method as there are only so many buttons on a controller and it leads to awkward button combinations to activate skills.
Another frustrating aspect is the Faction reward system. You can join one of two factions, Cerulean Order or Crimson Legion, and by engaging in faction quests and killing NPCs of the opposite faction you can get rewards for new weapons, outfits, and more. What’s frustrating is that by killing those NPCs you can get Prestige Points which will help you level up in your faction, but when gathering them, if anything happens to you like dying or even getting disconnected, you will lose all of those Prestige Points that you have accumulated if not turned in. It’s understandable why they have the system that they do, as you are able to level up more the more Prestige Points you turn in, but having 20 Prestige Points and losing them because you can’t run away from combat or you get killed by another Player Character, it is so aggravating.
Blade and Soul does so much right, though, to vastly diminish those issues. The world is huge and beautiful! There are all sorts of environments that show off the wonderful visuals that Blade and Soul brings to the table. As stated before, the character creation is awesome and it is a lot of fun seeing all of the different and interesting characters that people have made. The questing system is a lot of fun with a diverse list of quest types from collection quests to escort quests. I accept any and all quests, but there are enough that you can dismiss those kinds that you don’t like and no be any worse the wear for it!
It will be interesting to see how Blade and Soul holds up over time as I play it more and more, but I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, and it certainly helps when you have a fun and awesome group of people to play with!