Press Event Playtest: Combat Preview
Bless is a title that has been around for several years in Korea and more recently, it has had some success with a Japan release. Now with some hefty changes for western audiences, Neowiz is bringing Bless to Europe and North America. I was blessed enough (pun intended) to get some hands-on time with Bless Online at the Press Event to check out the changes, speak with the developers, and experience in-depth gameplay first hand.
Neowiz has readjusted so much from the combat, to the payment model, which, by doing so, fundamentally changes the entire flow of gameplay and earning rewards. Will Bless Online be different enough from the Asian versions to appeal to Western Audiences, or should Neowiz count their blessings and drop their expectations?
In an MMO, combat is generally what you spend the majority of your time doing, so how does Bless Onlines combat hold up to against other combat systems? It’s important to note, that in the Press Event we had several players who were more than familiar with playing the Asian versions of the game, and they were thoroughly surprised when they found that they couldn’t simply auto-attack their way through enemy encounters. This is primarily due to the combat system doing away with auto-attacks completely. Neowiz has also cut down on the amount of active skills you need to have on your bar at any given time as well by revamping the old one-and-done keypress system with a more active chain-based combat system.
Initially, when I started combat, I wasn’t aware of how this combat system really worked. While on the surface it seemed simple enough, with tab targeting for most abilities, and some ground targeting on others, I didn’t notice that each of your first three skills chain off into new, different skills that require a separate keypress, which then chains off into a final skill. Does that sound confusing? It really isn’t once you understand the flow of skill-chaining. In fact, these skill chains are instrumental in staying alive as many of the heavy attacks, crowd control or defensive buffs are tucked away in the second or third links of the chain. You must make sure you chain your skills quickly, as there is a short time frame between your first attack and your follow up combos but you also have the ability to break the chain by selecting a different skill from your skill bar rather than fully rotating through a skill chain.
These chainable skills are known as Stance Skills. Something else that is important to note is that you have four sets of stances you can “mount” on your bar, and you can switch between two stances at any given time, but you can’t change the chain skills in each set of stance skills. However, this means you can tap into six chainable skills in any combat situation, with an additional four bar slots available for Non-Stance Skills which you can choose out of a pool of ten total. Lastly, you also have Parameter Skills, which are essentially passive abilities.
As you progress your character you will be able to utilize special gems that you obtain through doing pretty much any activity, such as PvP or hunting monsters, and those gems can be attached to stance and non-stance skills to modify them with special effects that can change the way the ability functions or reduce the cost of an ability. There are three separate gems to upgrade the three separate types of skills, and while it is possible to obtain full gems, the developers said you would most commonly receive gem fragments that you can then convert to the gems that you need. In terms of customization for Stance Skills, you only have two choices per skill, and once you choose a path the only way to reset your character is by doing a tactics reset which is not free to do and will require a cost of some kind. Each skill in your skill chain can be upgraded a maximum of five times which means that even after unlocking all of your abilities, you still have a long way to go before your abilities are as strong as they can possibly be. In addition to that, you will also be able to unlock passive abilities.
The system is fun and rewarding, especially when you plan ahead and devastate a group with your desired combo chain, but it isn’t all roses. My favorite class that I played was the Mage, which was fun to play in a run and gun style, never truly having to stand still to fire off abilities and chains, but the mana system was very lacking when I encountered large groups. Each system is different in the sense that some characters have to build energy through combat to cast heavy or special attacks, like the Berserker and building Anger. The Mage is different in that you start with a full mana bar and you build mana slowly over time, and can cast your abilities as needed, until you run out of mana. The regeneration was so slow that I often found myself outmatched if I ran out of mana during a fight. Luckily the developers said that they were still balancing the flow of combat, and we could likely see this changed upon release.
Another strange point I ran across was the level twenty skill unlock mechanic. On the build that we were playing, our characters were already the max level of forty-five, however, you could see in the screenshot the level twenty ability sets were still locked. How could that be? It turns out that these higher-level stances are locked behind a skill-use mechanism and not based on character level. You must use certain sets enough for those alternative sets to unlock, but there was no indicator letting you know how much of what skills you needed to use to unlock them. While we were told that the May 28th early access release will have an updated UI, it wasn’t clear if these sets would have an additional experience bar or not.
The combat changes in Bless were made to be more engaging, more exciting, and more strategic than that of its Asian counterparts. I hope this detailed explanation of what you might be able to expect from the new combat system is enough to wet your whistle leading up to the games release, but there is still so much we have yet to cover in Bless Online. Luckily the fun doesn’t stop here, stay tuned for the next article where I’ll be detailing the monetization changes, the world design, the pet system and more, and for more information right away, check out last week’s episode of GS2 on YouTube, or listen to our Podcast.
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