There were moments in Bless Unleashed where I positively wanted to keep going. Venturing into some of the major cities in the world filled me with a desire to explore more – but as I kept going through the story and exploring the world, I was met with more of the same – a boring, grindy MMO that doesn’t do everything terribly – but doesn’t really get much right either.
Bless Unleashed is a free-to-play MMORPG on the Xbox One. Developed by Round 8 Studio and NEOWIZ, it’s essentially a reboot of the now defunct Bless Online. And unfortunately, while it does improve on things over its predecessor, the overall experience is one that brought me more frustration than enjoyment – particularly where the leveling and combat is involved.
You are the Pyreborn, a hero who must destroy an evil goddess to save the world around you. It’s definitely serviceable as a premise – though it’s not that original in the grand scheme of things. There are some interesting characters you’ll meet along the way that do make me want to learn more about their stories, such as the assassin Marco, as well as the House Sorza representative Don Diego who is with you from the very beginning.
And indeed, the world around you is a sight to behold in some cases. I remember coming finally to the city of Sperios, a city that reminded me of the canals of Amsterdam with its water ways and tall, European-esque buildings rising from the water. It really made me want to learn more about the world itself – even if the main story wasn’t all that exciting to get into.
The problem is that Bless Unleashed is extremely unpolished. Combat is a chore, something that should never suffer in any game, let alone an MMO where combat is one of the key things you’ll spend the bulk of your time doing. It’s based on a combo system where you string together attacks in a predefined pattern to do maximum damage. It’s not as fluid as, say, Black Desert where you have variation to those combos. Instead Bless Unleashed is rigid, causing you to repeat the same presses of RB or RT in a sequence, and then when finished repeat.
It’s dreadfully dull, but made worse by some of the worst input lag I’ve ever suffered in a game. At first I thought maybe it was my display – I was playing this on a 4K television in game mode, but latency can still be a problem. So I switched to a 1MS Freesync monitor which didn’t solve the issue. Delays could be felt when moving from attack to attack, sometimes with the maneuver never actually being registered server-side. More often than not, in boss encounters I felt I was fighting the combat just as much as the boss themselves.
Some fights could be exciting, such as facing down a Faceless wizard and his summoned beast in one encounter, but more often than not the combat felt entirely too dull and repetitive for my taste. The major issue, though, is that Bless Unleashed has one of the worst grinds in any MMO I’ve played to date.
Grinding can be fun, and it’s a part of every major MMO out there. But if the systems that surround the gameplay grind are as unpolished as Bless Unleashed is, that grind can truly be grating. Bless Unleashed has you grinding not just for levels, but also experience to level up your skills and, most importantly, gear. Gear Score in Bless Unleashed is just as important – if not moreso – than your actual character level. Finding gear at varying rarities and upgrading them in the MMO’s crafting system is integral to moving along in the story.
Indeed, sometimes I was on level with the content but having a low gear score prevented me from being able to adequately tackle it – something made worse by the simple fact that the rewards you get for quests and daily activities don’t seem to scale very well with your progression. More often than not I found myself killing world bosses – giant monsters that players take on together in the world – hoping for an epic drop, only to have better gear on already.
This is where enhancement comes into play. You’ll visit various crafting NPCs in the major settlements and using crafting items such as Armor and Weapon upgrades you can improve your weapons over time. Once you hit certain rarities this could actually fail, sometimes requiring you to repair your weapons before you can try upgrading them again. This entire system felt convoluted, as if you didn’t have the repair hammer you were basically out of luck until you could obtain one – using one of Bless Unleashed’s various in-game currencies.
You can also visit a master enhancer and spend Star Seeds – probably Bless’s most valuable resource – to enhance your equipment, but it’s expensive. Star Seeds themselves aren’t hard to come by – you can actually trade in-game gold to an NPC once a day, and the amount you can trade for is dependent on your level. But even there this feels too restrictive, especially for a currency that it really doesn’t feel you can earn any other way.
Star Seeds are important because they are the only currency you can use on the in-game market. There you can buy and sell items among players in-game, but the fact I can’t use the hordes of gold I make doing quests to do so feels like a massive oversight. It really makes you save your Star Seeds and feels incredibly restrictive if you don’t have enough to get the item you need, especially when you’ve got more than enough gold in your wallet to buy something.
It makes gold itself feel rather useless, even thought you trade it with NPCs for items and services frequently. One of the most important interactions in the MMO doesn’t use its most plentiful resource, which feels like a complete oversight. In fact, the sheer amount of in-game currencies are likely to confuse many players early on, especially as Bless really doesn’t explain each of them and their uses very well.
It really is a shame because there is so much to do in Bless, especially for a free-to-play game. There are plenty of daily activities to accomplish, world bosses to fight, and more. Dungeons themselves are a bit of a misnomer, instead putting you and another player against a massive boss in an instanced arena, but even that can bring some interesting rewards – and in times are required to progress the story.
World Bosses are another way to keep busy, level up and get some good rewards if you’re lucky. These bosses spawn in predefined areas of the map and require large groups of players to take down. Thankfully, it’s not hard to find help as there are usually groups of players lying in wait to take these down.
Activities will pop up on your map over time as well, such as collecting certain items like a time I had to collect mushrooms to give to sad fairies, or another time I needed to kill a certain number of creatures. While these are also always swarming with players, getting into a group with those adventurers can quickly take down the enemies. EXP is lessened based on how many attackers are hitting an enemy, but you’ll always gain a predefined amount of EXP for completing the task, so it’s not a total waste.
The EXP sharing feels like a penalty sometimes, though, especially with the intense grind you have to go through to level up sometimes. When grouped with players you still share EXP but you get a grouping bonus. However, if you’re not lucky enough to group with friends of in a pick-up group, it’s a little more than disheartening to kill a Zombie that would normally net you close to 3K EXP by yourself to instead get only a couple hundred because a few players came along to help.
It does make the grind even worse sometimes as a result, and there were more than a few times I quit in disgust at how long it was taking to level up due to this, coupled by the uninspired combat and issues with polish.
And that’s the core issue with Bless Unleashed. For all the good things it does do – world building for one, and the sound design is excellent – the core gameplay itself simply is, in my frank opinion, boring and frustrating. To grind for hours and complete a ton of quests for rewards that aren’t anywhere near the quality of the gear I’m currently using makes doing these activities feel useless and a waste of time. However, it’s necessary to progress, so I found myself out there slogging through it all.
The classes themselves feel distinct at least, even if the combos are performed almost in identical ways. You have you standard DPS, tank and healing classes, with the Ranger dealing damage from a distance, or the priest slinging spells that heal or damage, depending on the target.
You learn new skills not through the skill points you earn while fighting and completing quests – rather your limited skills are subject to the current “Blessing” you have upon you. These are unlocked through the story as you progress and unfortunately feel more of a nuisance than an actual Blessing. I’d love to be able to pick and choose the combination of skills I want to use – unfortunately you can’t, being restricted to only the three to four skills your Blessing provides.
Switching your Blessing isn’t that intuitive either – you can’t just go into your menu and swap when you’d like – like every other major MMO on the market. Instead you have to find Altars of Physera, one of the deities in Bless Unleashed, throughout the world and only there can you swap your blessing for another. The skills themselves for the most part don’t feel unique either to the blessing, having some repeated as your progress, such as a Ranger attack that fires an arrow at the ground, erupting at the feet of your enemy a moment later.
Bless Unleashed is free-to-play, but you can buy upgraded versions that net you some in-game items and cosmetics, such as armor cosmetics and mounts to get you around the world quickly. Players can also spend money on the Bless Pass designed to reward you for completely missions and goals in-game. The more you do and accomplish, the higher your tier moves up. It feels very much like the same system we’ve seen spring from games like Fortnite and Magic: the Gathering Arena, especially since it’s only available for 90 days till you have to buy a new one. At $14.99, I grabbed a pass when I first started this review, and I can’t say I really noticed it working for me other than filling my bags with items I may or may not be using, such as boosters to gold. Frustratingly, it doesn’t include a way to earn the paid currency – Lumena – making the Bless Pass a de-facto sub for just a few cosmetics and ingame goodies.
Lumena are meant to spend on the store for cosmetics and other items, such as EXP boosts and more. I never personally felt the urge to get these boosts. The Lumena on the store could also be used for mounts and cosmetics such as dyes for gear or costumes – but what was really disheartening to see was the Valor Perks.
Valor Perks are a true subscription you can pay for to get in-game buffs, such as daily Lumena, 10% bonus XP for monster kills, discounts on fast travels and more. Coming in a $4.99 for 7 days all the way up to $27.99 for 90 days of Perks, this actually feels like a cash grab designed to give a few perks of convenience to earn a quick buck. I’m not against companies making money - far from it – but this really just felt like nickel and diming at that point – especially when you lump it in that it has a cash shop and a tiered Bless Pass. This felt like something that could be a perk for the pass itself, lumping the two together to make the pass feel more useful to players who bought it.
It’s a shame, really, because at the end of the day I really wanted Bless Unleashed to be a good game. And parts of it really shined through while exploring Lumios. The world building, cities and some of the characters are instantly memorable and made me want to learn more. But when coupled with an unpolished backdrop, laggy and uninspired combat and a boring, frustrating grind, it makes it hard to recommend to anyone who is looking for a good free-to-play MMO to check out, especially when alternatives like Warframe and Phantasy Star Online 2 exist on the same platform. Hopefully time brings Bless Unleashed to the level we were all hoping for – but right now it’s just not there. It honestly feels like it needed more time to bake before being released – feeling rushed out to hit a deadline, and it definitely shows in the final result.
Full Disclosure: A Copy of Bless Unleashed’s Ultimate Founder’s Pack was provided for the purposes of this review. Reviewer purchased the Bless Pass themselves for the purposes of this review.