Is the UI a Problem?
As I play in each of the closed beta weekends for NCSOFT’s upcoming Blade & Soul, trying hard not to go too far beyond level 20 or so as to not spoil the game when head start begins on January 15th, a few issues poke their noses into my consciousness. The first, which we’ll talk about here, is that the UI for Team Bloodsport’s game is so informative that it’s bearing on the verge of overkill.
Look at the screen below. Tell me that what you see isn’t a mess, and I’ll tell you that naming my Devilian guild Poopsicle was a good idea (hint, neither are true). The game world and characters of Blade & Soul are beautiful, animated well, and even though they’re three years old they look current and artful. So why on earth would you want the UI to cover up all that the game’s artists took time to render? This screen was taken after I’ve already shrunk and maneuvered elements of the UI make it so that my poor little guy wasn’t covered by his own health bar.
It’s something that a lot of Eastern-made games do. They tend to put a lot of flash, pomp, and click here to get rewards notifications. The idea is that if players are constantly getting rewarded, they’ll stick around, and perhaps spend money in the shop as well. I’ll admit, it’s nice to have the lottery for every time I login, the ability to get stuff that I can actually use on my character. I appreciate that so far, it really seems like NCSOFT West is taking a moderate approach to what’s available in their cash shop. As a free player, I haven’t yet felt pressured to buy anything in the shop, though that will certainly change come head start and launch. There will be sales, there will be specials, and there will be all manner of special items that will make upgrading my weapon through RNG less of a hassle. Search your heart, you know it to be true.
But I can deal with all of this. I can deal with the noise of the lotto UI, the crazy flash of the achievements and level up animations. I can even appreciate them. But what I think NCSOFT should do, if not in time for January 15th, then quickly after, is enable any element of the UI to be turned off if we should so desire. The ability to undo or revert to default is a simple click of the mouse away. But dang it, if I wanted to even remove my health and energy bars, I should damn well be able to.
When you hit level 10, the game basically makes it feel like you graduated college, killed Hitler, and won the Nobel Prize (see image above). I love that feeling of accomplishment through acknowledgment. Just make sure I can turn on and turn off as much or as little of those pieces of the UI as I want, and I’ll be happy.
Now, all that said, I also want to point out just how damn functional the UI of Blade & Soul really is. It’s not just useful for informing your play sessions with every little detail of what you did (seriously, it’ll tally up missions, time-played, gear gained, and all of that when you go to log out). No, Blade & Soul actually lets you do things that most MMOs ignore for years with their UI. Coordinating a group to take on some world boss? Simply hold down right-mouse to draw on the map and tell your friends to take a look at where you’re supposed to be meeting. I could complain for hours about the size and clutter of the UI, but little features like this go a long way towards redemption. And that’s just one tiny little feature, there are dozens more we’ll cover as we work on our review next month.
I finished up my CBT checking one of the game’s more anticipated aspects – 1v1 arena PVP. While there are larger PVP modes, and even tag-team PVP, the 1v1 matches have become something of a spectacle in Korea. It’s akin to a fighting game, thanks to B&S’ crazy combo-fueled combat. I took on a Kung Fu Master, known for their blocks and ripostes, while I played as my little Lyn Blade Dancer, complete with force choke and strong main attacks.
I did not win. But I really had fun. 1v1 combat is less hectic and confusing than MMO PVP often feels when you’re new to a game. It’s intimate, too, leaving you with only yourself to blame when you wind up on the losing end of a battle. The game’s PVP lobby lets you find random matches, and stats and equipment are all equalized for the fight. It’s literally all about the skill you possess with your chosen class.
It’s roughly two hours until the closing bell sounds on Blade & Soul’s CBT weekend, and I’m going to hop back in to try out the Force Master since everyone says I should be playing one. Come January 15th, I’ll be right there with you all diving headlong into the head start. I’m just hoping I can skip the tutorial by then and make some UI elements disappear. Either way, I’m ready for a fun game and hope NCSOFT can make Blade & Soul last longer on my radar than other recent MMO entrants.