Before I get started I just wanted to say it has been awhile since I have written any sort of real review on any MMORPG's of late. The reason for this is - nothing has come out recently worth writing about here in the North American MMO market. It takes a good game for me to even want to write about it first of all and in order to do that you have to play it to the end(or at least play it long enough to get a good handle on it for sandbox games like "Elite: Dangerous"). I've just gotten to the point that if a game sucks(and many of the NA released games of recent have sucked) I won't write anything on it. With that said, I've recently found a game that in my opinion doesn't suck and to top it off - it's a themepark game on rails! For me liking a themepark game at all is a rare thing - very rare. For it to be totally on rails and still like it - hell must have froze over because it is my least favorite type of MMORPG of them all.
How can this be Kristi? You've written some pretty nasty critiques on themepark MMO's in the past - what's different about this game compared to all those others?
Back in 2012 NCSoft, one of the biggest producers of Korean based MMO games announced that they had a new game being released called Blade and Soul. At first I was like "meh", another Asian grinding game from hell. So I paid little attention to it. Then, one of better known video game reviewers named Steparu put some videos up of them playing the Korean version of the game. It looked really good. For a game coming out in 2012 it looked really fun to play. My interest picked up again and I started following it more closely - since it had also been announced that it would eventually come to the North American market.
About a year after it's release I learned that the game had an update so I checked into it. I really didn't care for the direction they were taking it - so once again it fail off my radar. Game was becoming exactly what I though it would become - a typical Korean grindfest game.
It's now 2016. NCSoft kept their word and finally brought Blade and Soul to the NA market. Again, this game wasn't even on my radar as a game that might interest me - but I checked it out anyway. I watched a few streams of people playing it on Twitch. It surprised me. People were liking it. So I looked back into. Turns out NCSoft had done their home work and took the effort to make sure this game would do well in the NA market by actually changing it and making it work in a market where the gamers that play these types of games are notoriously fickle. I guess previous experience has taught NCSoft that for a game to succeed in this market it can't be to grindy and it must not be "pay to win"(P2W) - which are two things that will kill a game faster here in the US than anything else - beside the fact that it has to be fun - first and foremost.
So on the day of it's official release(not early release mind you) I decided I would give it a shot. So I downloaded it(Blade and Soul by the way is a free to play game - you don't have to pay a cent to play it). The servers must of been getting hammered by other people trying to download it because it was going to take about 5hrs for me to get it. So I went to bed and decided to play it the next day after downloading it that night.
Next day - started to play the game.
Of course the first thing you do when you fire up the game is create your character. One thing I have to say about Blade and Souls character creator is that is is really well done. One of the best I've come across. It is very easy to understand and allows for you to make a pretty unique looking character.
It is during this process that you'll of course choose what race, gender and class you'll play in game. This is not the full blown version of the game mind you...NCSoft is releasing it in pieces so not all the classes you can play will be there(the rest are coming in a later update). What is there is enough to get the game on a good footing.
For races there are the Gon, Lyn, Yun and Jin. One race is gender specific, the Yun - which is female only. There are no racial traits in this game. So playing a specific race doesn't give you any special abilities like you might find in other games - like World of Warcraft.
In my opinion, for the game, the character creator is just a little above average. If you're expecting EVE level or better - this one isn't that complex. What it dos have is enough that you'll be able to make a character that you'll be happy with and will most certainly be unique enough that it's not likely anyone will have a character that looks exactly like yours.
As for classes - there are seven in the first installment of the game(2 others will be added later).
There are Blade Dancer, Blade Master, Force Master, Kung Fu Master, Assassin, Destroyer, and Summoner. The other two classes that will be added later are the Soul Master and Warlock. Likemost MMORPG's your race will determine what classes you can play. For instance the Force Master is limited to the Lyn, Yun and Gon races.
The classes all have unique play styles, some are melee based, two(in game now) are ranged(Force Master and Summoner) and the two ranged and one melee are able to handle group of mobs(have creature control(CC) type skills better than the others). The Summoner is the only real class that has some semblance of healing other party members while in combat - but it is weak, so don't rely on it to keep a party healed.
The game tells you upfront which classes are easy to play and which are the more difficult. The Kung Fu Master is by far the most difficult class to master. The Summoner the easiest. Though I think playing a Summoner isn't that easy at higher levels once you start getting into combos. I'll discuss all this in the combat portion of this review a little be better.
So onto the game itself.
First thing that caught my attention was the cinematic style beginning of the game. It was really well done. I loved the way the producers placed the credits into it...it was like - "OK - so there is a reason there is a movie type start to this game." And there is. It has a(in my opinion) a very robust and lengthy storyline you'll take part in as you progress through the game. I highly recommend you follow it and not just tab through it. Though it is like many stories of bad vs evil, there is a unique flavor to it that I can't put my finger on - but I found it very entertaining and liked it a lot(so far - we have to wait for more of the game to get deeper into the story - because we only got a part of it). No spoilers here - but the story has many feels at times.
By the way, there are character introductions(characters you'll encounter as you play the game with their own little backs stories) and after the little intro plays out it ends with a stylistic "Kill Bill"- esque poster type image. Like after you are introduced to Soha, the gun slinging heroine in the story. The cut scenes in this game are some of the best I've seen in an MMORPG before. Soha's is very cool. So watch for it.
Another - by the way - this game is very into the female form...I mean, really, really, really into it. So be warned if you have issues with big breast and scantly clad women - THIS GAME IS NOT FOR YOU.
OK we covered that. No need to go further. It is what it is.
"Wake up Cricket!"
With those three words I knew I was in an Asian story based game, and you know what - I loved it! I think this was the moment that I knew I was going to like this game. I really am enjoying the story and the characters you meet. I like them so much I read every non-spoken quest to boot! I didn't skip a one. I dunno why...but I found myself really enjoying the main story and the side quest a lot; and when I say side quest - wholly mackerel - there are many and I mean lots of side quest! For instance in one place there is a young Lyn female trying to get this young Jin character to notice her. In the end, you're flinging pig poo and mud balls as you try to get these two together. As for the pig poo and mud balls - don't ask...but it was silly fun.
All in all, if you are a fan of questing in games like this, then this game is right up your alley and you'll most likely take the time to do all the quest and dungeons this game currently offers. For those that don't, all I can say is you're missing out on one of the best aspects of this game - your loss.
Remember when I said this is a themepark on rails - well that is exactly what this game is, make no mistake about it. You go from one quest hub to another. It doesn't even try to cover it up at all. There is no weather system, no night and day cycle, no little critters or bugs flitting about. It is what it is and that's that. If things like that are important to you - this game has none of it - at all. Though I will tell you this from my perspective and opinion - this game doesn't need it. It's not trying to be something it's not. It's not an open world. It is specifically designed to get you from one section of the game to the next as you follow the story. Is this a bad thing...I guess it all depends on how you look at it. The game is story driven for the most part so if you don't pay attention to the story as I mentioned the world will seem rather lifeless. If you follow the story it seems the opposite - that's because you're being distracted to the point that you won't notice the lack of things that make most games seem like breathing living worlds.
Traveling in this game is not like other games. You'll not board mounts, nor get on a blimp, train or ship. Nope, in this game we have "windwalking". Ever watch a good kung fu movie? How about Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? Remember how people could walk on water, or run up the sides of buildings, or even fly of glide to some degree? Well you can do it in this game as well. As you gain levels you'll also increase your windwalking skills. When you get to a certain level you'll even gain the ability to use special kind of windwalking travel which enable you to basically transport great distances. Using the windwalking portals to go great distances(teleport from one area of the game to another) cost money, so be sure to check the cost before going - otherwise you'll look at you money and say, "hmmm...I thought I had X amount of silver". By the way, for fast travel in certain zones once you have wall walking, just run up a tree, jump off and then hit wind walking. You can thank me later.
Now I can go into what you should do and shouldn't do in this game - like hoard money for all it is worth. Don't buy anything! Sell everything you pick up. Money in this game is very difficult to come by and you'll need it later in game for crafting and upgrading weapons and items. Trust me on this. In game money is key to everything in this game - without it you will "not" be upgrading anything.
Which bring me to "Gold Sellers" in Blade and Soul. Now it is well known that gold sellers plague every free to play game on the market, but B&S is way worse than any game I have ever come across. The spam from them got so bad that B&S forums, Twitter, and Reddit were littered with complaints about the amount of gold sellers spamming the chat. It got worse because NCWest only allowed for you to block 50 at a time. That was no where near enough to block the shear amount of gold sellers spamming the chat channels. And when I say "channels" I mean every channel that players have access to in game(regional, faction, clan, Dragonspire LFG channel - all of them). Good news is that NCSoft has fixed a few things and the gold spamming isn't so bad. Occasionally one gets through but we can easily right click the name which allows for reporting and blocking at the same time - and we now can block 200 at a time.
Certain channels however are still filled with gold spammers and they are useless to use. Go into the PvP arena and the channel is filled with spammers. Go in the Dungeon Lobby where you find cross-server groups(PUGS) to run dungeons and the chat is filled with gold spammers. So though NCSoft may have stopped some of the gold spamming - they have a long way to go to stopping it at all.
One thing that might drive these gold sellers out is if NCSoft wasn't so stingy with the way players get money in game. It is incredibly stupid that items sell for only 1 copper to an NPC vendor up until you reach you mid 40's. Even then most things sell for no more than 3 copper. You run out of quest at 45 - one of the best sources for money. You can run dailies - but even then you'll be spending hours - yes hours running dailies just to get a few gold.
THIS IS WHY GOLD SELLERS IN BLADE AND SOUL ARE REALLY INTO THIS GAME.
There is money to be made and NCSoft is actually creating the atmosphere that drives gold sellers to games like this. People want to play the game - not spend countless hours "grinding" for coinage when upgrading items and weapon cost so much. It's not so bad at the lower levels, but once you hit level 45 expenses go up exponentially - and I mean from a few silver to costing lots of gold!
So yeah, there is a market for gold and NCWest is making it happen because they make geting money in game so damn hard. Is it any wonder why gold sellers can stay in business.
It is insane that a games designers think that making a game that requires a player to run hours of dailies to get ahead is good for game retention - but from my experience it will drive players away. Sure B&S will retain a die-hard fan base of players that don't mind the endless grind...but this will surely make a majority stop playing once they find out what it entails to obtain the highest tiered items and weapons in game.
Another thing...dailies are your bread an butter for everything. From keys to open lock boxes to unsealing charms that actually allow you to equip and or use an item or weapon. Like money hoard these. Hoard these and don't use them unless you really need to. They are as important to upgrading as anything. You can't open boxes nor equip items without them. So use them sparingly. If you don't you'll run out and be kicking yourself in the butt for not doing it. I've had people I played this game with quit because just getting these things is a real chore. They drop from boxes you get running dailies and dungeons and it's all RNG(based on chance) that what you'll need will drop. So I am telling you now - hoard them.
Another thing I am telling you now, if you decide to play this game - read everything and anything you can regarding how to play before you start to play. If you don't - you'll be lost and not have a clue how to do things like setting up Soul Shields. How to create upgrade gems. How to upgrade items and weapons to maximize the bonuses you can put on them. Seriously, do yourself a favor and go to Youtube and learn all you can about the game - it'll save you time, effort and a lot of headaches if you do. Again I have seen people in game rage quit because they couldn't figure things out. The game has 0, zilch, nada tutorial on much of what you need to do to equip and upgrade your gear. NCWest should really take the time to add some tutorials on the B&S website to explain how to do things. It's so ridiculous that players have to access blogs and videos posted by players to learn how something is done. What's worse is many of the videos are older versions of the game made for the Asian market and some of it has changed for the NA and EU market. Nevertheless - learn what you can about the game before getting too deep, otherwise you'll end up frustrated and probably rage quit like I have seen many do all ready.
Also, make no mistake, this is a PvP game. Sure you can do the PvE parts, but to get the best gear and items it does require you to participate in the PvP part of the game. This game is designed with PvP in mind and the end game revolves around it. If you're not in PvP - maybe you should skip this game because it is what drives it.
Gear is important. Good thing is, you only need one set for both PvP and PvE. Another good aspect is the game gives you the main gear you'll need in the form of drops. They can come from world boss mobs to dungeon boss mobs. The cool thing is the clothes your character wears is just that - clothing. No stats on it at all, so you can wear whatever clothes you like - it won't hurt your characters performance. Another good thing is there is lot's of it. Both in game and on the games out of game store. More and more is being added all the time.
One of the things I like is the ability to just have the one weapon and upgrade it. Make it how you want it to be. Second, if you don't like the looks of it, find a weapon you do like and then transform the look of the weapon you have to the weapon you like. Tada - no more "wishing" said weapon looked a certain way or had a certain group of stats on it. Because now you can change all that. I like this system and have been wanting in an MMORPG for a very, very long time.
Crafting and gathering materials for crafting. Start them as soon as you can! Do not wait. Grab two crafting professions and two gathering professions and pay attention that the gathering profession you take is linked with the crafting profession you choose. It is with utmost importance you do this. There are items you'll need to upgrade weapons and items that can only be crafted. Crafting can also make you money! But no matter what you do in game there are things you'll need to buy from the market in order to craft. It's a messed up convoluted system - but it is what it is. Gathering is different than you'll find in other games as well. You don't do it yourself - accept to find the initial material you're looking for to unlock it - at which time you pay the gathering union you joined to do it for you. That's right. You gather no materials you'll use for crafting. Nope - in game NPC's do it for you. It cost time and money to do it. Some things take as long as 30 minutes for them to gather, while others can take literally hours and when I say hours I am talking 6+ hrs. The rarer that material the longer it takes and the more it cost. So as you climb the crafting and gathering ladder - it takes more time and more money to make an item. So start the process early.
Combat and PvP is what this game is all about. Yes the story is there in the background, but clearly this game was designed around one thing - combat and PvP. I will say this- this games combat is one of the best systems I've ever seen implemented in an MMORPG of this type - ever. It is fluid, it is dynamic, and very responsive. It is easy to do...but it takes time, effort and practice to master. The level and depth of this combat system is unlike anything I've encountered in an MMORPG before. At first it seems rather simple - and it is. Then you start getting skill points to put into skills and you'll be unlocking more skills and then combos of those skills and then if you perform combos or certain events in the fight occur in a specific sequence - you'll unlock a skill or move you didn't even know you had. Top that off with even group specific attacks that can pop up during boss fights and what you have is one of the most extensive combat systems ever to be put into an MMORPG. It is fun first and foremost. It is challenging. It is without a doubt the single best combat system I have ever had the pleasure to partake of.
As I mentioned before classes in this game are rated from easy to play to more difficult(Summoner easiest - King Fu Master hardest). One thing I learned is that the rating system isn't all it's cracked up to be. The Summoner at higher levels can be overly complicated and you have to pay attention to what you and your pet is doing at all times. Situational awareness in very important as well - especially for the ranged classes. So I recommend watching Youtube videos to see what class you might like to try and then after you level it to some degree - find someone to spar with in the arena. Learn the strengths and weakness of your opponents and then play against them accordingly.
Open world PvP in this game is fast and furious and is nothing like an arena fight. In the arena everyone is raised to max level and nobody has any kind of advantage gear wise. In open world PvP it is a totally different story. Gear and skill rules the day - and or numbers(if you have more people than the opposing force at any given encounter - you'll generally win). I've participated in huge battles in the Misty Woods that had upwards of 50 people involved. It can be very intense and very unforgiving. It is unforgiving because when you die - your weapon gets damaged. The more you die the more damage it takes. If you die a lot eventually your weapon will need repaired. Once it needs repaired you need to find a bonfire and have a repair hammer to fix it. Repair hammers like most items in this game become harder to come by later in the game. So hoard them in the early stages. Only repair when your weapon actually needs it - not before. Later as you progress and start getting involved in the PvP end of things you'll need lots and lots of those hammers.
Dungeons of various degrees are scattered throughout the game - some you'll be able to do solo, some with a small group and others will require a large group of at least 6. Later releases will have dungeons that require 20+ which sounds cool - sorta like a massive raid type you might find in WoW. Now some of these dungeons are quite easy to run through, others - not so much. So again, go to Youtube and watch how a certain boss fights are done - save yourself frustration of dying countless times because you didn't know to attack certain adds in game that could have kept you alive(like when you fight Slashimi).
Oh and before I forget. Important treasure drops in dungeons are not randomly given out to players, nor do you request it because you "need it" for your class, or crafting profession. No in this game you "bid" on items with your in game money.
Forget it. Don't waste your time and money bidding on stuff. You'll just go broke doing it. There are people in game that either buy gold from gold sellers or they are part of a guild that has pooled their money to make sure they have enough to get the special items that drop in the dungeons. I have seen bids on items reach 1 gold and higher. And as I stated before - you'll need every cent you make just to level your gear. So be wise...save your money for that.
(World Boss - the BlackWyrm)
There are world bosses in this game. They are scattered throughout the game world. Killing them is a good way of getting easily obtainable "Soul Shields" and of course weapons and items drop off them. Win you kill one of these boss mobs most drop a treasure box, some drop a treasure box and also give you little gems called "essence". Take the essence to the spinning wheel gambling thingy that are generally near these bosses and "spin the wheel" - each spin cost you one of these essence. If you're lucky you'll get what you're looking for. If not, keep killing the boss and getting essence and keep spinning. Eventually what you need will drop.
Graphics in this game aren't going to make compete against Skyrim, nor most other MMORPG's. They are nice and fit the game world. Colors are vibrant when they need to be and subdued when the game calls for it. They recommend an nVidia Geforce 8800GT or AMD Radeon HD4850, or better. I can tell you this. When you have 20+ people on screen fighting a boss mob, it will push your video card. I have seen mine go from 140fps to 35fps with 50+ people fighting it out in a small area. I also have 16 gig of ram and a quad core 3.6ghz CPU. So imagine what the game will be like with all the bells and whistles turned on and having just the bare requirements. It'll probably burn up your vid card or smoke your power supply - at the very least it'll be a sideshow on your video monitor.
Sound is really well done. Nothing to write home about. Nothing stands out perse, and nothing seems out of place. I think if there were something that needs mentioned I'd say it here. The game does have voice overs for the main story NPC characters you'll interact with and a few other NPC's. I really wish they all had voice overs because it was one of the reasons I found the story very enjoyable over all.
Music on the other hand is awesome. Can't say enough about the music in this game. It's one of the first MMO's I have played that I didn't eventually turn the background music off of. Not this game. I especially like the background music of Lycandi Foothills. I really do like all the music in this game and it appropriately changes depending on your action - like when you enter combat - it has this tempo of urgency that something serious is about to go down.
The UI is pretty much fully customizable with in game controls. So you can put things where you want and how you want them. The one thing I disliked was the inability to map controls to my mouse. That would make this game a whole lot better.
Most of what I have written so far is pretty good and some bad(like how hard it is to get money in game - that is just insane), what follows is the really bad stuff.
Game has bots in it. I'm pretty damn sure they are farming bots of gold sellers. You can report them but NCWest doesn't seem to care one iota that their game is filled with money farming bots. They also farm materials that can only be gotten once in a blue moon from certain nodes. Gold sellers also control the global in game market. They will buy up things on the cheap and then turn around and repost them on the market at a higher price. NCWest could do something about them - but they don't seem to give a shit that their game is being ruined by gold farmers - so it is what it is. This will drive me from the game fast. I will not continue nor support a game that allows for gold sellers and farmers to control the game and right now - gold sellers control this game in many ways. From chat channels, to rare materials, to farming boss mobs. It is ridiculous that NCWest has attempted to do nothing about them at all. So I am telling you now, this game is not going to last long in NA if NCWest doesn't stop this crap from ruining their game. It's bad enough that NCWest makes players grind for what little money they can get in game - it makes it worse that the market that players rely on is totally controlled by gold sellers. They could fix this, but all signs are that they just don't give a shit at all.
I will say one final thing about Blade and Soul. I really like the game(a lot) and have enjoyed it up to a point. It wasn't until I was level 45 looking to upgrade my gear that I realized just how borked the game design is regarding the acquisition of in game money. I think if it wasn't for the constant need to grind dailies(some dailies are dungeons and take a good 15 minutes or more to complete - multiply that times the number of dailies that are dungeons and you can spend hours running dailies) to literally scrounge up a few silver here, a few silver there - this game might be a little more enjoyable. Once you hit 45 all that fun you were having at first quickly becomes a chore. When things start to become a chore in a game - that's when it no longer is a game and becomes work. I all ready work a 9 to 5 job, I sure as hell do not want to spend another 4 or 5 hours in a game doing more work when I should be enjoying it and having fun.
If you recall I said I knew the Korean version of the game become a typical grindfest. Well it took playing this game to level 45 to find out that it is just that. Such a fun game, too...sad it is made bad by stingy in game rewards where money is so damn important.
If NCSoft doesn't remedy this - this will be just another Asian game that failed to catch on in the NA market and they'll be pulling the plug on it. For once we finally get what could be a fun and engaging game, one that might actually make a name for itself here in the US - it would be sad to see it get dragged down by poorly implemented game mechanics and gold sellers.
So here is what it is. Blade and Soul could be a great game. It has many things people like about these kinds of games, especially the combat. Combat can make or break a game alone. That is one thing Blade and Soul has going for it is the combat. The other in my opinion is the story driven game play. However with everything else that is wrong with the game - I say play it if you can stomach the bad parts and there is plenty in this game that is bad that it might turn many potential gamers off from it - even if they do give it a good, fair shot, there are aspects of the games mechanics that take this game from being a good one to a bad one. Blade and Soul would be a good game if it weren't for the people running it.
- Story Driven Game Play
- Gold Sellers
- Stingy Game Rewards
- Poorly implemented game mechanics
- Did I mention the amount of gold sellers? Yea, they own the game.
- Did I mention how the gold sellers ruin the economy of the games market?
- One more time, gold farming bots and gold sellers are by far the biggest issue in this game.