Blade and Soul is a big deal in Asia. Developed by NCSoft, the game has a massive following, with it being reported in early 2014 that the game had managed to achieve 1.5 million concurrent players in China. When you take into account that it took World of Warcraft 3 years to pull in 1 million players altogether in the region, it highlights just how popular this MMO is.
With NCSoft having suffered a dent in their reputation following the disappointing release of WildStar, they’re now finally bringing Blade and Soul to the West in the hope that it will attract a similar level of popularity. After initially being skeptical that a game which received its first release in 2012 could win over a modern audience, it took very little time for it to sink its teeth into me, and after only having access to the game a couple of days before its official release tomorrow (January 19th) I’m already halfway to the level cap.
So after becoming addicted to this wonderful MMO oddity, I am inclined to suggest that all (yes, all) fans of MMOs should at least try it out. Here’s why:
Excellent skill-based combat
Blade and Soul’s biggest strength is undoubtedly its skill-based combat system. Rather than simply giving you a bunch of hotkeys and encouraging you to rinse and repeat your tactics for each consecutive battle, many of your confrontations in the game will be contextual, with you being forced to think on your feet in order to take out different enemy types/rival players. The extent of your powers is revealed to you slowly as you progress through its story, with side-quests revealing new combos that can be used in order to maximize your advantage against your opponents.
In practice, it works as an unlikely yet excellent combination of traditional MMORPG and hack and slash combat, with players able to juggle enemies, use spells to continue heightening their damage output and even being given abilities that can only be activated under specific conditions – for instance, certain characters have the ability to leap to their feet after being knocked down in order to set up a new combo, while a move can be triggered during boss fights that allows the player to continue attacking their opponent in mid-air. It most closely resembles the combat featured in Smite, though it’s far more fast-paced.
It’s a system that rewards players who master the advantages and disadvantages of their chosen class, and as you go from engaging in hard-fought battles with low level enemies to taking on waves of rivals in one fell swoop, it becomes one of the most rewarding MMOs you’re likely to play. Considering entries in the genre frequently devolve into mashing the same combination of buttons, it’s refreshing to play an MMO that tries something unique with its combat system, and manages to do so successfully.
A focus upon PvP
It’s rare that an MMO features a focus upon PvP, but although Blade and Soul’s PvE component is certainly worthy of your time, many prefer to sink their teeth into its arena-based combat mode.
Blade and Soul’s PvP has been a big hit in the East, with there having been multiple world tournaments staged since its initial release. Taking place inside a circular arena, the game’s PvP allows solo players to battle it out against competitors from around the world, operating like a typical matchmaking system by pairing players up with opponents of a similar skill level. The end result looks a bit like something you’d see in an episode of Dragonball Z, what with the flashing colors and general air of confusion:
But in practice it’s a ton of fun, with the Western release of the game also set to receive the 3v3 and 6v6 combat that is available in the Eastern version, along with a selection of new game modes, too. There’s also World PvP, which allow players to duke it out anywhere in the game’s open-world by simply donning an outfit representing one of two factions. If you come across a player wearing your rival faction’s outfit, you can beat them up to your heart’s content. If you’ve got a party of players, this could also mean you could organize an all-out war between another party, though I haven’t seen such a large-scale battle take place in the game’s world yet.
While I’ve always personally preferred the PvE in my MMOs, it’s great to see a game with such a dedicated PvP offering, which has already greatly contributed to its high level of popularity in the East and now looks to do the same on these shores, too.
Deep character customization
Blade and Soul features some of the more intuitive customization tools you’ll find in an MMO, allowing you to tinker with the intricacies of your character’s appearance. For instance, I made skunk Tom Selleck:
While I stumbled upon some grotesque player-characters during my time with the game, with the female models in particular often being given the unfortunate appearance of dead-eyed blow-up sex dolls, there are plenty of tools at your disposal for you to create your ideal hero. They won’t be as ideal as skunk Tom Selleck, of course, but you can give it your best shot.
Freedom of Movement
Even traversing Blade and Soul’s map is enjoyable, given the abilities NCSoft grants players outside of combat. Along with a standard sprint option (albeit one which allows players to move lightning fast), player-characters are also able to glide through the air, Dragon Jump to hard-to-reach destinations via portals, and even run along water.
For Westerners, this movement will conjure up images of martial arts movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers, with it being clearly inspired by the wuxia fiction. Wuxia is a very old genre originating in China, which depicts ancient Chinese warriors engaging in superhuman feats of strength and agility. Blade and Soul clearly echoes this genre with both its setting and gameplay, and though the game’s absence of mounts may prove to be a little off-putting for those who like to spend the majority of their time in an MMO on the back of a monstrous horse-like creature, you’ll swiftly get over it as you clear whole regions in just a few jumps.
Growing attached to your sword
Considering most MMOs revolve around the acquisition of new equipment, Blade and Soul is notably light on lucrative loot drops. I’d wager that this is due to its aforementioned wuxia influence, with the game encouraging you not to simply drop your acquired weapon at the drop of a hat for a shiny new one, but to instead upgrade it repeatedly across the course of your journey in order to transform it into a formidable tool with which to cut down swathes of enemies.
Rather than being just another cool item to attach to your character, your weapon in Blade and Soul will likely follow you throughout most of your adventure. While there is the opportunity to buy new weapons from the in-game marketplace, you won’t find a brand new, better piece of equipment every couple of hours, with the vast majority of weapons you discover being most useful when they’re used to evolve your currently equipped sword/axe/other instrument of death. Evolving the weapon allows it to increase in level, and after every 10 levels you can perform a “breakthrough” by acquiring a rare piece of equipment obtainable in a specific location, typically at the end of a particularly challenging dungeon. Upon performing a breakthrough, the power of your weapon increases significantly, and it’s a great method of allowing the player to grow attached to the equipment they utilize.
This method is also used in the necklaces, earrings, and rings player wear, though the game does away with traditional armor in favor of “Dobok,” a form of clothing that features no stat boosts in favor of allowing players to dress however they want. MMO veterans may balk at this, but considering that the majority of the armor looks quite lightweight to remain in-keeping with the game’s setting, I found the ability to dress my character however I pleased a welcome sidestep from the conventions of the genre.