We’ve been playing Blade & Soul alongside the million-plus new players to NCSOFT’s latest game over the past week and a half. In that time, we’ve leveled up an Assassin to 25, a Blade Dancer to 25, and several other alts. One thing’s for sure… B&S combat is superb. But is there more to it than that? Read on for our review in progress.
The closest thing I can compare Blade & Soul to in the MMO world is TERA. Like The Exiled Realm of Arborea, Blade & Soul’s chief claim to fame is its action-oriented combat. There are nuances that make B&S different from TERA in this regard, namely the high level of skill it requires to play many of the game’s classes to their fullest. The Kung Fu Master, Assassin, and Force Master especially have high learning curves to really get the most from their skill sets, and that’s probably why I’ve recently settled on the Lyn Blade Dancer instead – a class much less reliant on proficiency in nailing quick combos, and much more reliant on a few simple tricks and PBAOE damage.
I’ve run through the game’s first several zones a multitude of times now since closed beta, and can’t help but feel a bit nauseated with the idea of doing the training isle and the Blackram Narrows dungeon even just one more time. It’s strange to think that Blade & Soul is now 3 years old (from its original KR launch) and they’ve never really added any more variation in the leveling process. But, this is true of a lot of theme parks, and I think I’m just spoiled by games like GW2, WS, and WoW where there are far more options. Blade & Soul definitely wants you to level other classes, as the leveling pace is brisk and the game’s cash shop is designed to get you to buy multiple things for multiple characters. But leveling up yet another class through the first half of the game has me “noping” all the way home.
The Lyn are life.
The combat of Blade & Soul is definitely its crowning achievement, with Arena PVP being an absolute gem. But there’s little else to actually do in Blade & Soul besides fight things, do quests, and fight things some more. In my opinion, a lot of the best MMOs in the genre are so deemed because they offer a myriad of activities to do outside of just killing and questing. The crafting in Blade & Soul is somewhat pointless at lower levels, though I hear it becomes very valuable later on. The problem is, you don’t really do anything when it comes to crafting. You place orders, pick up orders, and that’s about it. There’s nothing to it, and with the game’s loot system meaning you really only ever need to run dungeons or beat bosses to level up your Hongmoon items, there’s no real incentive to even bother with crafting except to make a little extra money.
Now, I don’t want you to think this means I’m not enjoying Blade & Soul, because I actually really am having fun. But, like Devilian before it, it’s a shallow action movie sort of fun. You don’t really watch old 70s Kung Fu movies because they’re the highest level of artistry in film. You watch them because they’re fun, nostalgic, and the action is solid. Blade & Soul has some of the best action you’ll find in any MMO, if not any PC game. But there are far better games for crafting, exploration, and social play out there, some of which are over a decade old. So it’s strange to me that Team Bloodlust wouldn’t have put a little more effort into the non-combat systems of Blade & Soul.
I will say though that B&S’ cross-server dungeons and PVP systems make for a game where it’s easy to find groups for just about anything you need to do. There’s a good amount of group content in Blade & Soul, and without healer classes or real tanks required, you can pretty much gather anyone of the appropriate level and hop into action. This is welcome for sure, especially when you only have a few minutes to game and want to get a quick dungeon in.
I was SO glad to see that place burn.
And while it’s not exactly The Secret World or SWTOR, I’m really enjoying the Anime flavored story of Blade & Soul. Cinematics are done well, voice acting is pretty good, and I’m genuinely intrigued what’s going on with Jinsoyun and her cronies.
The problems facing B&S are twofold - its ridiculous amount of gold spam, and its rather large server queues (even for the subscribed players, who get priority). I imagine the latter will die down on its own in coming days and weeks, but the sheer volume of chat spam in Faction, Region, and other areas of the game is absolutely annoying and takes away from any sense of community the game might have had. Luckily I've found a decent clan (the MMORPG clan was dead at birth I'm afraid, we just didn't have the time to devote to it), and I've got my chat set up to just show their messages.
Over the next couple weeks, I’m anxious to get to the current level cap of 45, work on the factional PVP a bit more (Go Cerulean Order!), and see what the “Endgame” holds. On February 10th, the first of many updates in 2016 is already being delivered, and it’s one that’s supposed to add more content for level capped characters. There are two more classes on the way, a raised level cap, and loads more dungeons along with more story. The only real question is, will I still be interested in seeing where it all goes, or will I get burnt out before NCSOFT can deliver more content?
I suspect that’s the question a lot of players are asking themselves right now. Streamers are eating it up, it's doing gang busters on Twitch and YouTube, and I honestly think that was part of NCSOFT's plan to get the game as many players as possible. Streaming and YouTube absolutely drive more players to games than anything I can write here these days, and NCSOFT West knows that. The question is, just how long with the streamers stick with it, and will the competitive PVP make a name for itself in western eSports the way it did in Korea? In the meantime, I’m content to just have fun floating around and slicing up revenants on my Blade Dancer.