Blade & Soul PC Review
It is always a tough thing to settle into a new Massively Multiplayer Online game. With so many on the market these days it can be very easy to settle into battle tested games such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars the Old Republic. The dedication of time alone can be a daunting to say the least and when a new MMO comes onto the market it can easily turn aside new players who are a little more keen on playing a game that has stood the test of time. When you add on that a free to play style of marketing then it can be easy to see a recipe for disaster or the dreaded pay to win.
So when I heard of an MMO that came over from Korea called Blade & Soul…I was…lets call it skeptical. I have played Star Wars, World of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online so much that it gave me a stomach ache to think of starting a new character and to pour another couple of hundred hours on one character…let alone crank up a brand new one. But just for giggles I did some research on it and it grabbed my attention almost instantly.
Blade & Soul came out in Korea in 2012 and was an instant hit. It had a style of combat that was unheard of in many MMO’s and has since made the jump over stateside and into EU. Enough about it is different to feel refreshing to fans of the genre while still hanging onto the same genres flaws.
The graphics are about what you would expect from a game that released in 2012 with hands being the most glaring feature. Every single characters hands seem to have had their fingers fused together into an over sized shovel-like appendage ( while in cut scenes) and elongated tentacle fingers out of them because animating hands is very difficult it seems. Other than that though the game has actually aged pretty well with the occasional graphical bug here and there such as characters phasing in and out as their models load.
The audio in this game has a very classic Asian feel (Triggered? Anyone? Moving on.) as the game tries to land the theme of a wire fu movie in every aspect of it. I have always felt that a game’s soundtrack should never be a focal point of a game and rather a compliment to the story and in this regard the game does very well. The worst audio I have seen here seems to come from the game’s characters as the lip sync is almost non existent with the characters jaws simply moving up and down as words spew forth from the gaping void that is their throat.
The biggest difference in Blade and Soul is the combat system, any MMO fan can tell you that in order to be good at their class they need to build up a rotation of skills and stick to it almost religiously. Blade & Soul has done away with this concept. Instead grabbing its style more from fighting games. Each class has a different set of combos and players need to constantly keep in mind their positioning, counters and combos that any fighting game fan can tell you are essential to winning a match. As refreshing and engaging as this is it can lead to some frustrating moments when a lag spike hits and instead of a beautifully timed combo you end up flailing around like a drunken hobo on a particularly hardcore bender.
Moving around the game world has one of the greatest feelings I have seen in the genre to date. Gone are mounts and riding horses, in their place you simply sprint around the game world like you are trying to win a Nike sponsorship deal with a bit of really high jumps and gliding (think crouching tiger hidden dragon and you won’t be that far off) thrown in for good measure. While this could have been such a great change it’s hobbled by a 15 second timer and then its about a thirty second wait to recharge the ol’ lungs before you can sprint again. This is a feature that they could very easily have done without as it can get very frustrating to move around the world in 15 second bursts.
In a very pleasant break from tradition, players no longer hunt for armor sets. Now we have outfits and soul shields. This gives a bit of freedom when you find a look for your character that you really enjoy and in the type of armor you get by hunting 8 pieces of a soul shield for your stats. Additionally this game has the best character creation system this side of Elder Scrolls Online with every character (talking NPC’s here folks) in the game being created solely through the same character creation system that players go through.
The most confusing feature is the awkward profession system and the terrible economy. Instead of gathering resources around the world and then crafting them into something worthwhile, players simply find a sample material in the world and then place orders with the relevant professions guild using in game money which is so difficult to gain that one is inclined to simply give up the attempt all together. Most items only sell to NPC’s for a single copper and most things in the game’s auction house cost upward of that by a couple of gold and players are only given a limited number of items they can list a day. Players of World of Warcraft will be familiar with the games money system though ( 100 coppers is a silver and 100 silvers is a gold) so…I guess we have that.
The developers do need to make some cash though so a subscription is available which will give the standard fare of faster leveling and cosmetic items but this is not so intrusive as to make the game pay to win.
Where this game shines the most though I have saved for the end and that is the game’s fantastic PvP. The games player versus player is handled two different ways. Two factions are at war with each other, these factions in themselves are nothing spectacular just your run of the mill “I want to be the government” types but after selecting a faction that is kept balanced by a lockout system, ( if one faction fills up to much that faction cant be joined until enough players join the opposing faction to even it out) you get a uniform that you can equip anywhere in the world which essentially flags you for PvP in the open game world. This can lead to some great times as you are attacked and subsequently attack players of the opposing faction for giggles and the challenge that it represents. The other version of PvP is an arena that you can join through cross server matchmaking. These are then broken down between one on one fights and tag fights and while it can be frustrating when you go up against someone with a rain man level of skill, it has provided one of the most adrenaline fueled experiences I have seen in any MMO as you are pitted into a battle against another player’s skill within a controlled environment.
Overall this is a game that should not be passed up simply because you have already put in so many hours on another game. Rather it should be experienced for what it is and all other developers looking to dip a toe in the MMO pool should take note that this is how to breathe life into an otherwise stagnant and overcrowded free-to play market.