It feels like only yesterday Neowiz announced their plans to unleash Bless Online to western markets with hope that a revamped combat system and alternative monetization plan would be enough to entice western players in ways that may have eluded their other global releases. From my first Early Access preview to my pre-launch Early Access Review, a lot has changed. Has Neowiz finally addressed the concerns players had leading up to their official launch, or is their new Free to Play conversion on their official western launch a too-little-too-late situation? With mild trepidation of what I may find, I return to Bless Online for my definitive Bless Online Launch Review.
Not long-ago word had spread that Neowiz had decommissioned the final Korean Servers for Bless Online. As the news followed on the heels of the announcement that a completely new console game, Bless Unleashed, was well underway, many skeptics believed that Bless Online would never reach a full release state. What we’ve seen from Neowiz’s Bless Online team has been an admirable perseverance and an unwavering determination to make what changes they felt were appropriate as they ambled step by step through a foray of criticism that plagued them from the get go.
As someone who has followed the development throughout its many different iterations, I can say that Neowiz made the right choice in transforming this from a Buy to Play title to the Free to Play title that we now see before us. I can’t say in certain terms that what I’ve found on the cash shop particularly entices me to spend, but I can say unequivocally that, at least at the time of writing this, the cash shop is fair and balanced. Players can still purchase Lumena for different costumes for their characters and their pets. You have peace pledges, skill reset contracts, inventory and character expansion tickets, the vast majority are fluff or convenience items. There are also items that require in game currency such as Combat points and Dungeon points, which you obtain just by playing the game. These currencies can be traded for Lumena, with a total cap of 50 Lumena a day.
This hasn’t changed despite the game going from a Buy to Play system to a Free to Play system, so it’s important that I take the time to really outline what the Free to Play system encompasses. Instead of special costumes for mounts and players that are only purchasable in game, we now see DLC items, such as the newly released Warlord Pack that looks to entice players into spending some funds on cash only items that cannot be purchased with Lumena. It’s clear that Neowiz is hoping the exclusivity of these items in conjunction with added bonuses such as premium memberships and a heaping handful of Lumena will be the right mix of in-game ingredients to bring peoples wallets back to in to the fold.
Gameplay Changes and Improvements
Now that we have touched ever so briefly on the new, but not so new, free to play shop, the big looming question remains, what has Bless Online changed? While my last stint in Bless Online was to run a few rounds with the Assassin class that had just been introduced at the time, we still have two classes, the Mystic and the Warlock that have yet to find their way into the game. On my return, I did feel somewhat disappointed by this, as I was interested in the Mystic when I first heard about the game, and the Warlock also looked like a class I could get into. Several dungeons, world bosses and PvP modes like the Siege of Castra have been added over the course of early access development. A bevy of new content was added in a post launch update that increased the level cap from 45 to 50, and added new story missions, a new dungeon, and royal quests.
As I picked up where I left off at 45, the new story missions attempted to pull players back in by explaining that your character was to find the conspirators of the previous effort to gain the power of an ancient god, and stop their evil machinations. The first several missions immediately had me zone out, as there was far too much traveling, and far too little action to bring me back into the fold of the story. In the main town centers, such as Spezia, I was happily surprised to find newer, low level players abound, but for the greater part of my travels, I was largely alone in my endeavors. Not to put too fine a point on it, but from Bless’s point of origin until now, everything I’ve enjoyed about Bless is still there, and everything I disliked about it, persists as well. The taming, diverse abilities, character customization and dungeons are all still largely intact and enjoyable.
On the flip side, the combat system still feels largely disjointed. My mage that uses both Flame and Frost tactics has a hard time achieving success with the way the abilities are laid out. Most notably, in Frost Tactics, one of the combo starter abilities is a close range AOE that doesn’t make any sense for me to use, but the other abilities in the combinations would work just fine at any range. Localization is much better, but there are still some hiccups here and there. One issue I encountered had my female assassin referred to as a man. Optimization is still a major sticking point in cities. When I’m out in the world, things move along swimmingly, but inside cities I still run into massive lag spikes regardless of how I tune my display settings. Lastly, PvP arenas and sieges are still locked down to certain times of day, which means certain ones may not always be accessible when players have time to play.
Playing Together, But Separate
Bless Online has all the trappings of a game that means well, yet is struggling to deliver the best of itself. As I continue to level my character to 50, open world PvP has been relegated to scant encounters of a few players that you may run across as you travel. Grouping is very popular, but playing together isn’t. WAO (We Are One) groups, are still the rule of the land, and simply by being in a group, however far the members of the group are away, will net you a bonus that can aid you as you quest alone. The premise behind grouping tactics is sound, but the execution is such that despite groups being rampant, I often found myself feeling very lonely.
Between crafting, gathering and the Market (auction house), I feel like there is a lot of untapped potential. New items are put on the auction house every other minute it seems, and I found it very easy just to purchase the gear I needed for the late level dungeons. Unfortunately, weapons and gear are still very few and far between. It seems, at least on the auction house, you will only ever find a single gear set for your characters’ level. The lack of choice pushes beyond gear, and settles to classes as well. Variations of classes are so slight that one Frost/Flame mage in comparison to another is largely trivial. Without much in terms of stats to truly differentiate yourself outside of non-chain skills and your abilities tree (which is still largely similar across similar class trees), there just isn’t as much class customization as I would like to keep me truly invested.
For new players, Bless Online still has a lot of wonder and excitement to be had. Traversing the world is enjoyable, taming and questing can keep players busy for hours. PvP still thrills whether you’re in the open world or you’ve found yourself a match to join. Dungeons are fun to play when you can find available groups, and don’t have the lockout in place. Neowiz delivers an exceptional value for a free to play game, and that in itself is an important distinction, simply because it’s still very hard to find a free to play MMO that doesn’t cater to a pay to win crowd. For players who have yet to step into the world of Bless Online, there is a lot that is worth your time here. Whether you are just curious or just want to step into a new adventure, Bless Online is a fantastic game-bridge between your last MMO and the next one you are looking forward to. Bless is available now on Steam.