Review in Progress - First Steps & Early Days
Bless Online, a fantasy game developed by Neowiz for the uninitiated, went into Founders Early Access on the 28th of May. Leading up to the Early Access launch, I was invited to the Press Playtest for an early look, and left with a plethora of questions, and only the most rudimentary of understanding of how the revamped systems in Bless for its western release would work. With dozens of hours under my belt, and server stability problems subsiding, does Bless have what it takes to rally players all the way to its official launch in August, or is the western release of Bless just another misstep in an abundance of disappointing regional releases?
During the first couple days of Early Access, queue times were high and servers were unstable. I have decided for the purpose of this review to keep my criticisms of those technical missteps to a minimum primarily because, any reader of this review should not base any future purchase of bless on a few days of instability. As of this article, servers have become stable, albeit with safeguards in place, relegating players to specific servers to fan out the population and reduce server volatility.
While we have been reassured that this fix is only temporary, with a more substantial fix on the horizon, unlocking servers so guilds can once again be reunited with each other is one of my main, personal concerns. I will however give credit where it is due. While there were queue times, server crashes and performance issues, Neowiz increased their servers, implemented safeguards, and in my personal experience made the game playable in a relatively short amount of time.
In the early game of Bless, there is a lot to learn on your journey to the max level of 45. Although Bless has not release the same amount of content as the released Japanese or Korean versions, there are still plenty of races and classes to choose from, and more missions than you can shake a stick at. For my first foray into the immense world of Bless, I went with the class I enjoyed the most in the playtest, the Mage. Early mage gameplay can at times be a little brutal. Initially I had wondered if I made the right choice as enemies would often take a little while to kill, and resource management left much to be desired. The former, that enemies would take long to kill, eventually became a non-issue, and the latter, resource management, or ensuring I had enough mana, also ended up not being an issue once I upgraded my skills to better balance between damage and resource accumulation.
No, rather in the early game, and I would assume even bridging to end game the main distraction from making the combat cohesive and enjoyable is the Combo System. Bless utilizes a three-tiered combo system that requires the player to select an “avenue” of skills to choose from, and then simply carry through the combination. It’s simple in function, but in many cases, frustrating in execution. Firstly, for the mage, several abilities are repeated, so not every “avenue” will have abilities you haven’t seen before. In some situations, this is actually preferable, as in my fire tactic stance, the Fiery Meteor skill can actually be accessed from three different combo selections, and as it’s one of my most powerful abilities, I can fire it off multiple times extremely quickly with little waiting.
However, there are other combinations that just don’t make any sense, and Neowiz doesn’t give you any options in terms of how you want to execute these combos. One such combo that I particularly have a beef with is a combo utilizing the Fiery Eruption skill. You can transition the sequence into a powerful AOE ability called Flame Strike, but only after firing two single target abilities first. This logically doesn’t make any sense, as soon as you fire a single target ability you essentially pull the target away from the group, thereby engaging a single target that won’t be hit by the area of effect. To add insult to injury, if any of the abilities are resisted or miss, the combo sequence cannot continue. In some cases, this can ruin your entire plan, as prerequisite abilities may have cooldowns, so in the case of the AOE ability, if the any of the first two abilities are unsuccessful, I have to wait several seconds before I can attempt the combo again.
This frustration will undoubtedly be compounded by healers and tanks as well, as some of their abilities are also hidden within their skill combos. Fortunately, in both the hunting quests as well as the story quests, enemies die extremely quickly so missing an attack or two isn’t a death sentence so much as it is a momentary setback. Thus far, leveling has been generally simplistic. You can earn experience from completing quests, farming mobs, and even gathering materials. One of the most popular early leveling activities is dungeon running. My first solo dungeon was Guiscardo’s Hideout, which was a simplistic, straight forward dungeon with some available side quests. Gear and item drops are standard across the board, with Dungeons being the primary way to earn blue tier gear, however random it may be, which explains their early game popularity.
Visually, Bless is a very appealing game despite the fact that it utilizes DirectX9, with some areas leaving an impression on me immediately upon entering them. The second dungeon, Sleeping Scale Remains was one of those levels that charmed me. I also found myself taken by the character creator as it was simple to create the character I envisioned with a lot of options and sliders for my imagination to take hold of. Unfortunately, as you progress in the current early access version, you are very limited to the types of gear available to you, and despite exceptional customization in character creation, my mage looked a lot like other mages around my level. Whether this was intentional to push the potential for cash-shop customization items later on or whether new outfits weren’t implemented quite yet, it was a minor picadillo of mine.
Prior to signing off on my first impressions of Bless, I want to cover something I’ve heard more about than actually experienced, which is performance. Over the past several days, performance wise, it has been tough for me to determine if the issues I experienced were due to server instability or poor optimization. Now that the servers are stable, I am confident that the majority of the issues I experienced with stuttering in gameplay was due to the servers, with the exception of large cities which still can drop my framerates substantially. Considering the scope and number of players in the large cities, I’m actually impressed with the performance, but still hope to see better optimization in the near future. With only a few short days of playtime under my belt, there is still a lot to cover in regards to Bless, including the cash shops, taming, crafting, and the late game experience, all of which I will be covering in the second part of this article. Keep your eyes peeled for our final score next week.