I spent the first month of my MMO Reroll journey playing Final Fantasy XIV, and I had a great experience. I began this adventure with FFXIV because Square Enix had just expanded the free trial and it seemed like a good time to give Eorzea another chance. The lower levels had been streamlined and I was able to find players to group up with in the open world, not to mention an active dungeon finder that allowed me to find a party quickly any time I needed one. I was one for one in the hunt for a good new player experience and, as I moved on to another MMO, my spirits were high.
Similar to picking FFXIV because of the expanded free trial, I chose Blade & Soul as my second project since NCSoft had just introduced the 13th playable class, the Astromancer, to the game. New classes and expansions usually bring a renewed interest in a game, so I expected to see plenty of new Lyn (the only race with Astromancer unlocked) running around. My other motive for playing B&S in October was how well it contrasts what FFXIV offers. Little did I know just how different my time with Blade & Soul would be.
Blade & Soul released in the West on January 19, 2016 and, like most MMOs of that time, forgoes tab targeted combat for a more free flowing action combat. I couldn’t even guess at how long I played B&S at launch but seeing as how my account only had a single level 30 character it couldn’t have been much more than a week or two. In fact, about the only thing I remembered from my initial jaunt back in 2016 was running, jumping, and flying around like a character in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As I logged back in for the first time since launch I couldn’t even recall why I stopped playing. Now, a month later, I remember why.
Creating My Kung Fu Master
Before we get into that, let’s take a moment to go over what I liked about Blade & Soul adventure. B&S has a lot to offer, starting with character creation. As I mentioned, there are currently thirteen classes to choose from. These are spread across four races, with five of the thirteen classes relegated to a single race. To further trigger anyone with disdain for race and gender locked classes, one of the races - the Yun - is a female only race. Three of the four races are typical human looking races, along with the Lyn filling the Eastern MMO requirement of a childlike race with animal ears and tails. There aren’t any sliders available for infinite customization but all of the races have a enough body, face, and hair styles to keep everyone from looking the same.
Character Creation - 7 out of 10. Loli Characters - 2 out of 10.
The classes of Blade & Soul cover the gamut of fighting styles, and then some. I’m not sure exactly how accurately the melee classes recreate actual martial arts but they all have animations that would fit perfectly in a kung fu themed anime movie. Even classes like the ranged Gunslinger bring a visual flair and fluid movement that are more fantasy than realistic, but that is exactly what I wanted from B&S.
As far as actual abilities go, each class's skills are more than just mirror images of each other with varying elemental effects as their differentiating factor. Each class has a wide array of attacks that are deployed in a combo system similar to that found in fighting games. Like the martial arts fights Blade & Soul tries to loosely emulate, attacking is only half of the story. Classes also have blocks, counters, and support spells in their arsenal. There isn’t a dedicated healing class so, while some classes have limited healing, survivability is focused on the proper use of your defensive abilities. Split second timing of shields, stuns, and knockdowns is paramount in mitigating incoming damage while at the same time allowing you to unleash a flurry of undefended blows in return.
To help manage all of the fighting, B&S uses a context sensitive skill bar layout, changing and adding slots as skills become active. With many of the combos requiring precise timing, this method works much better than static action bars would. Even with the effectiveness of the skill bar, personal skill is fundamental in a player’s ability to flourish in combat, especially in PVP.
For how much I enjoy the combat system, its complexity is also one of the glaring issues of the leveling process. Let me rephrase that. The lack of difficult content while leveling does little to prepare the player for the extended combos a class has available as they approach end game content.
This Many Combat Skills Needs A Smart Skill Bar.
As an aspiring Astromancer I rarely needed to do anything other than cast a couple of my heavy hitting area-of-effect spells to kill the two or three enemies I was facing. Other than adding more sparkles on the screen my combos weren’t necessary. This meant I never developed the muscle memory needed for effective thumb-fu (I use an MMO mouse, switch that to key-fu if you primarily use the keyboard) to land combos in the heat of battle.
Sure, there is the Hongmoon Training Room where all of your skill combos are laid out for you. You’ll even get a few doggie treats for completing the different levels of training it has to offer. What you won’t get is the practical in-game experience that is needed to pull off a five or seven button combo I primarily played as the relatively simple Astromancer, so this could only be worse for the more combo intensive classes.
It doesn’t stop there, though. The classes in Blade & Soul have multiple talent trees (aka Specs). For me, my Astromancer had two specs available early on, the Starcaster and the Stormweaver. I liked the visuals of the Stormweaver so I used that specialization for the majority of my time in B&S.
According to the class preview on the Blade & Soul website, “The Stormweaver Specialization offers multiple abilities to help evade or control enemies. One key aspect of this specialization is to maintain Portent for as long, and as often as possible, as many abilities play off the Portent effect, such as keeping your enemy stunned with Twister, which can be used twice during Portent. Like Starcaster, generating stacks of Nimbus will be crucial in enhancing Electrify (2) and Twister (Z).”
In my experience, there wasn’t any evasion or control needed. Even against the bosses of the solo “dungeons” I could face tank anything I came across without fear of dying. I would throw out a stun or two during longer battles, but nothing ever made me learn how to play my character. Because of this combat became boring quickly.
A Stunning Combo That I Never Used.
That boredom was only compounded by the solo nature of leveling in Blade & Soul. The main story quests are 100% a solo experience. Even if you want to group up there are so many instanced areas along the way you are deterred from doing so. Around level 25 or so this started to erode my desire to continue playing.
With grouping up not being an option, I started looking for other things to keep me interested as I pushed on. I’m a looter at heart so maybe it was possible the “carrot on a stick” gear progression would keep me going? Most of the item slots on my character screen were still empty, but I had some “Sealed” items in my backpack, along with the Unsealing Charms needed to unlock them.
This triggered a memory from my past. Something was telling me that those Unsealing Charms were rare and I needed to save them. A quick look at my character back from launch reminded me that some gear in B&S was upgradeable and that turned on a lightbulb above my head. I had a ton of junk filling up my inventory so I started checking into what could be upgraded.
Even though I remembered it could be done, and my original character was proof of this, I couldn’t figure out how to upgrade anything on my new character. The whole time I had been playing the only thing I ever saw in chat was high level characters looking for a group, so I figured asking for advice was a waste of time. I was correct.
This was a perfect chance to check out the rest of the social aspects of Blade & Soul. A quick look at the guild screen showed there were two guild types - Social and Competitive Clans. It looked like Competitive Clans were more end game focused and required invites, so I randomly joined one of the Social Clans.
After no response to my questions in clan chat, I dropped and joined another. And another. And another. Most of the clans I joined didn’t have anyone online, and any questions asked when there were went unanswered. Not so social, and it appears that players only join the Social clans for the minor benefits they provided.
What Is A Social Clan? Not Very Social.
Like I did with FFXIV the month prior, I headed to the internet for answers. Much of what I found was from back when B&S launched, with less and less updated information as the years progressed. Everything I could find from 2020 pointed towards end game progress. The only mentions I could find in the way of beginner guides or advice was to get through the story quests so you could start working on your character.
The End Of The Road (And A Last Grasp At Redemption)
Long story short, I continued to search for leveling advice as I forced myself to continue playing. As best as I could tell, NCSoft has all but abandoned the early stages of Blade and Soul. They have made it as simple as possible to get to max level, removing any obstacles like difficult enemies or gear progression until you catch up with the rest of the player base. The Hongmoon Training Room and the in-game guide are of little help; both focus on level 50 and beyond. Even the daily login bonuses are primarily focused on end game crafting and progression.
This just didn’t sit well with me. Every time I sat down to play it felt like a chore. I was only two weeks in and instead of wanting to push to max level all I really wanted to do was quit. Each day I could only muster the energy to play an hour or two before logging off to find something else to play. Over the course of the next two weeks I barely made it to level 40.
I was almost 30 days in and I hadn’t even hit the original level cap of 45, and the current cap of level 60 seemed as far off as it did on day one of my journey. In a last ditch effort to see if it would be worth it to finish the push to level 60 I did something I’d never done in an MMO - I created a new character and applied a character boost voucher.
All Boosted Up And Nowhere To Go.
I’m not joking about that. When I first mentioned that I had chosen to play B&S my editor gave me a Cosmic Horizon Code he had received from PR. Along with the level 60 boost it had some extra goodies to get my character well situated for end game content. My character was ready to kick some end game boss butt, but I wasn’t.
All getting the level 60 character did was remind me of how little I had learned while leveling up my other character. I still didn’t have a clue about which skills to spec into. I didn’t know what gear I should have equipped, nor any idea how to continue the upgrade process on what I had. My character looks freaking amazing, but I have no connection to it. I was at the end of the road. I have never used a boost to take a brand new character to max level. And now I can say I’ll never do it again.
As I said at the beginning, Blade & Soul has a lot to offer. The different character classes offer up a variety of fighting styles and, no matter which class you choose, there will be a lot of flash and pizzaz mixed in. That same stylized look and feel spills over into movement as well. Whether flying, water walking, riding the winds of the dragon pulse, or simply dashing around Naruto style, you will definitely feel as though you are starring in a mystical kung fu movie, something a tab-targeting MMO fails to do.
Blade & Soul has a lot to offer. The action combat is complemented nicely by the production value of the game world. B&S looked amazing when it first released and, almost five years later, it has aged fairly well. Each area is flush with a ton of detail, and the vibrant colors and Asian motif make for a wonderful aesthetic. If only the community offered as much as the game world does.
Blade & Soul has a lot to offer. It just isn’t for me.
I’m only 60 days into my Reroll journey and even though Blade & Soul didn’t pan out like I hoped I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. As I make my way from MMO to MMO, I will be ranking each stop as it compares to the ones before it. At this point there are only two games, but as time goes on and the games start to pile up I am sure this will get more difficult.
- Final Fantasy XIV - My first stop on MMO Reroll, FFXIV set a baseline that will be difficult to beat. The early areas were active and filled with other players, and landing in an active guild early on made my time in the game very enjoyable.
- Blade & Soul - The action combat of Blade & Soul can be a lot of fun. Getting a character to level 60 will be a 20-30 hour solo endeavor for a new player, but it’s an obstacle that has to be overcome if you want to get to the meat of the game. If you believe in the old cliche, “The journey is more important than the destination,” B&S may be a trip you should avoid.
Well, that’s it for this month. I look forward to hearing your comments on what you think about Blade & Soul. If you’re an active player in the game be sure to let me know what I missed due to my premature departure.