It’s almost here. We first took a look at Blade & Soul, NCSoft’s wuxia-themed martial arts MMO, back in Gamescom 2012. But now, after a successful launch in South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Japan, it’s finally heading out west. Today, that launch date moved a step closer with the announcement that Founder’s Packs are now on sale, each one bundled with beta access for Fall and early access for launch in Q1 2016
We got wind of the ‘Winter’ launch window back in May this year, with the adapted Western version going through internal Friends & Family alpha testing. After all, there’s a lot to localise, with the studio stressing that they wanted to adapt the story to ensure that none of the cultural significance was lost in translation. We also managed to go hands-on with three of the classes, with our own Bill Murphy sharing his first impressions.
And then, at E3, we learned more about the planned business model: unrestricted content, no pay-to-win items, and regular updates. As Omeed Dariani, Director of Community & Social, explained to me: each of the territories has its own business model that’s tailored for them. For the western version of Blade & Soul, we can expect to see convenience items, quality of life improvements, and cosmetics on the item store.
Pick Your Perks
After the internal testing, where I’m told hundreds of people were playing internally, the studio is making some final tweaks and changes for the closed beta test. While that’s pegged to start this fall, Producer Nicolas Coutant told me that his team was also working on Founder’s packs, which go on sale on the Blade & Soul website today.
Possibly the biggest perk is Premium Membership, a set of benefits that are always on while membership is maintained, and which get better as you go up in membership tiers. Spending money on Blade & Soul earns Premium Points to push further up those tiers, and each founders pack comes with a bucketload to give an initial boost. The benefits for each tier are still being hammered out, and it’s something that’s likely to be tuned as closed beta progresses, but it’s likely to include features like priority login, increased gold/XP rates, and so on.
The mid-tier Disciple and top-end Master packs also include character pre-generation, giving you time to play around with the character creation tools and perfect that look – in addition to reserving your character name – before early access starts in Q1 2016. The Master pack also includes two exclusive costumes and an exclusive weapon skin which are unique to the Western version of Blade & Soul, and which I’m told won’t be available any other way.
If you’re eager to buy-in, but on the fence about which pack to pick, don’t worry; Dariani assured me that it’ll be possible to upgrade as closed beta progresses. The automatic upgrade facility won’t be available from the start but, until the system is in place, customer service can perform it manually for you.
Fight the Power
On top of today’s Founder’s Pack announcement, NCSoft West also released a video highlighting Blade & Soul’s factional PvP. On a personal note, I think this is one of the coolest PvP implementations that I’ve seen, as you flag yourself for PvP by putting on that faction’s uniform. It means that, instead of a hodgepodge of colour forming a mosh on the battlefield, you’ve actually got two armies facing off against each other.
There are two warring factions in Blade & Soul – the Cerulean Order who pursue a structured government, and the Crimson Legion who pursue individual freedoms over the shackles of obligation. Personally, I’m all for Team Anarchy, and it’s not just because they have the snazzy red outfits.
Ultimately though, it’s that wuxia-themed story, a tale of Chi and mystical martial arts, of great empires and distant worlds, that I think will make Blade & Soul worth trying. And, with NCSoft offering it all for free when the game launches nest year, it seems too good to pass up. The only question is: do you hang back and wait, or dive in early? Be sure to sound off in the comments and let us know!