This weekend I spent some time gallivanting around the Blade & Soul technical alpha. It’s the first time outside of trade shows and the like that I’ve been able to spend some real time with NCSOFT’s official version. Frankly, I see why people adore this game in Korea. It’s still a traditional quest-driven theme park, but I’ll be damned if it’s not fun.
I’ve dabbled a lot with the Blade Master, but mostly took a shining to the Assassin in this test, having not yet toyed with it in demos. The Assassin, at least early on, isn’t a stealth-based class like your traditional Rogue. Rather, they use a mix of decoys, smoke, and other traps to misdirect their enemies while stabbing them brutally from a variety of angles with their poisonous dagger. In short, I made a lot of people mad who were wearing the opposing faction’s PVP costume.
Costumes are one of the unique and pretty brilliant ideas in Blade & Soul. I wish this game had come out in 2013 when we were still getting loads of AAA MMOs. The costume system would have made a serious impression on how other games handle open world PVP. Like many of you, I enjoy competitive aspects in my MMOs, and I prefer my PVP to be in the regular world rather than instances. But that leaves precious few games available to me, as so many games give you an all or nothing ultimatum with their world PVP.
Blade & Soul does it different. You were factional costumes that flag you for PVP against only the opposing faction costume wearing players. Early on, you’ll pick either the “Blue” or “Red” as your main PVP faction, and the game will always strive to keep things relatively even by locking the side that might be overpowering. If you’re in the mood for PVP, put on your Red or Blue costume and go hunting alone or in groups. If you want the thrill of a PVP server, put on the costume and you’re fair game while questing for the opposing faction.
It works, and it’s awesome that I can turn this off by changing outfits whenever I want. Is it much different than flagging on PVE servers? Not really, but there are other outfits, othe factions, rewards and reputation and so forth to be gained. There are PVP arenas, including a very popular 1v1 duel system that has helped B&S rise to eSports prominence in Korea.
The UI, while it may look cluttered here, is also fully customizable, similar to SWTOR, so you can move and size things exactly how you like it. There’s even an in-game screenshot manager that lets you delete and toy with the screens you take, or even just take shots of your character’s appearance like the one above.
The questing is pretty traditional stuff, so no one is probably going to go ga-ga over that. Run around, collect blue side quests, follow the yellow main story quest, and level up and collect gear and new costumes while you go. No, I suspect the fun and long-term appeal of Blade & Soul will be as it is in Korea – the PVP and pursuit of the best possible weapons.
As some users on our forums have pointed out, different weapons can be leveled and evolved into the best items in the game. There’s a concern that the first weapon you get is the one that’s ultimately the best, as well as the worry that NCSOFT might make RNG too much of a factor in the leveling process of your weapons. But these are things that hopefully will be addressed in time.
The whole time I played, and I did quite a bit, I kept telling myself to log off because this is Alpha and the game’s not going to save my progress until it launches early next year. But I was having fun. The world was filled with folks, people were questing (and yes, mobs share kills like GW2 and WS) chatting, running dungeons and doing PVP. It felt a lot like an MMO launch, which is always the best time for shared love of exploring a new world.
Do I think Blade & Soul is going to be some barn-burning new MMORPG that reignites the genre? Nah. That’s silly. But after this weekend I definitely know it’ll get its fair share of fans, and rightfully so. Blade & Soul is pure unadulterated fun. It’s fun to glide, it’s fun to fight, and it’s fun to play with strangers and friends alike. Count me in as an Assassin or Blade Master come 2016.