Bless Unleashed is an interesting game. The spiritual successor to the short-lived Bless Online that fell flat on PC, Bless Unleashed comes to console players as another free-to-play MMORPG option on Xbox. However, is the romp through the world of Bless worth your time? Here is the first part in our review in progress of Bless Unleashed.
Bless Unleashed pits you in the role of a character who was the ward of a powerful priestess on a peaceful island. However, predictably, that island is attacked by an unknown malevolent force known as the Faceless, shattering your peaceful world and thrusting you into a quest to discover who was behind this attack. It turns out the attack on the island was simply a small part of their plan as you find yourself unraveling their master plan throughout the mainland.
So far, however, the story has been mostly forgettable. It’s had its moments where it felt a bit interesting – such as a time early on where you discover the Faceless resurrecting a ghost army to serve them, only for that army to predicatbly turn on their patrons - but for the most part I’ve found myself talking with identical NPCs and performing tasks mostly mundane. Bless Unleashed follows a system where you move from hub to hub, completing a few quests and then being sent on your way. This isn’t inherently bad – The Elder Scrolls Online does this to a degree with a ton of success – however most of the time in Bless I find myself performing routine tasks that feel like they really don’t do much to add to the story.
Visually, Bless Unleashed doesn’t look bad. However, it isn’t the most impressive Unreal Engine game on Xbox One. This is coupled with the fact that many of the NPCs look identical, or with slight variations to their hair color that it each character just doesn’t feel unique enough to care about their struggles. This isn’t to say that every character is this way. I really want to know more about the formidable Don Diego as well as the assassin-turned-farmhand Morta Marco.
The art style is definitely interesting, though, and I'm eager to actually learn more about the world. I want to know more about the Gods who govern the world itself, as well as the warring factions that seemingly are the backdrop in the world of Unleashed. However, it’s hard to appreciate the world with it cluttered with so much floating text (that I’ve yet to figure out how to turn off) marring my view, especially in cities. The text is so bad it makes it hard to find quest givers or vendors I need to use, frustrating me to no end when I’m in a hurry to turn in and move on.
Character creation options are a bit limited it feels as well – then again, we have Black Desert to compare it to, so everything will likely fall short. You can change hair styles and color, skin tone and more, but it just doesn’t feel robust enough to make your character feel truly unique in this world – at least in my experience. It’s no wonder then that many of the NPCs, especially the professors and students you help early on, look identical. It makes me wonder if the game developers felt the same constraint when building the world.
You can choose between 5 different classes covering the standard MMO gamut, from the tank Crusader class to the healing Priest. I went originally with the Mage, opting for range and magic – a bit unlike I have been playing recently in MMOs. However, I really settled in on the Ranger, the standard ranged DPS user in Bless Unleashed. I really like some of the flashy animations the Ranger uses when performing some of its special attacks, such as one where you dive backwards while firing off a single powerful arrow at your enemy, knocking them back as well.
Combat is where Bless Unleashed should really shine – and in fact the trailers make it look incredibly fluid and flashy. And compared to Bless Online it’s a definite improvement. However, Bless is let down considerably by its 30fps cap – a framerate that it doesn’t feel like it maintains during fights occasionally - and the input lag that introduces. Honestly, especially for Xbox One X users, a 1080p/60fps target mode like we’ve seen in many other games would have helped here tremendously.
Bless' combat is based around combos - the more you maintain a specific sequence of button presses - more often than not simply combinations of RB, RT and B on your gamepad - the more powerful each successive attack will become. This is novel as it does maintain the "rotation" feel of a traditional MMO while also feeling a bit more active than your traditional MMORPG combat. Resources also have to be managed and recharged with some characters, such as Arrows for the Ranger or Mana for your Mage. Being able to successfully pull off these combos while maintaining the number of arrows in your quiver can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, so it does add a bit more strategy and won't allow you to simply sink into a mindless combo rotation, which I like.
However, combat itself feels incredibly sluggish and unresponsive, especially during peak times. It's almost like my character is fighting its way through a lake of molasses – where pressing a RB or RT comes with a significant delay before the game performs the action. It’s frustrating to deal with, and while sometimes the lag feels less noticeable than others, it’s nonetheless a hassle.
One mechanic I’m torn on is the fact that there is no out-of-combat regen you see in other MMOs. Your health does not regenerate after fights, meaning you’re relying heavily on potions, food or the various scattered Soul Pyres to regain lost health over time. On one hand this makes each fight feel more meaningful, and you need to plan your approach to a questing area as you’ll need to ensure you’re not too low on health or supplies that you’ve no chance of survival.
On the other hand it can feel unnecessarily punishing, especially when Unleashed’s combat feels as unrefined as it does. Oftentimes the lag is so bad that I go to dodge, but the server doesn’t register it and I end up taking damage as a result. If you don’t have your reticle directly on your enemy – even if you’re locked on – your attacks may not connect either, leaving you exposed. There were times where I would be facing down three or four separate mobs with each one of them dealing massive damage – not having any regen of any kind is a hindrance. While I might not be a huge fan of this, I can appreciate the hardcore nature this provides and I know many players will love this style of mechanic.
I’m about 12 hours into my journey of Bless Unleashed, and right now I can’t say I’m overly enjoying myself. I’m really hoping it opens up more and I start to enjoy my time better – a major way would be the lag in combat to be eliminated completely. I can only hope the experience gets more refined as we go, and the meandering story starts to really come together. The good thing is I do want to know more about the world and some of the characters, so I’m interested to move forward. We’ll have more of our thoughts during our journey through Bless Unleashed as we move towards our final review.