As we announced elsewhere on the site, Blade & Soul is finally coming to Europe and North America this winter, with a closed beta beginning this fall. The Free to Play MMORPG from Team Bloodsport and NCSOFT has a lot of pent up demand behind it, and we got our hands on the Force Master, Blademaster, and Summoner classes to give you our first impressions.
Combat in BNS works a little bit like TERA and a little bit like a fighting game. Whereas TERA sort of takes player agency to the extreme by just making spacebar the button you need to press to work combos, Blade & Soul makes players rely more on their own skill and timing to present themselves as a competent and efficient fighter.
While normal beast type mobs might have set patterns, and behave as you’d expect, there are a lot of fellow martial artist enemies in the world. Many of them share the same skills and classes as yourself, so if you have access to a move or tactic, so will they. I found this out more than a few times when facing a fellow Blademaster. But I digress, let’s start with our level 1 Summoner, before we get to the level 20s that were pre-made for us to try out.
Our Video First Impressions
Thanks to the sheer stability and smoothness of the Unreal 3 Engine, Blade and Soul uses the action combat and aiming of games like TERA or Neverwinter to solid effect. There is no tab targeting here, nor are there traditional healers. The trinity in BNS revolves around DPS, tanking, and crowd control with support effects. A core reason for this, as you’d expect, is that the game’s action sort of requires a lack of healing focus, and the designers want there to be as few barriers as possible when players group to take on the game’s dungeons and harder content. There are cross-server and even possibly cross-region group finding tools in the game, but Julianne told me they’d be talking more about dungeons, PVP arenas, and all the other game systems at a later date.
The trailer below shows you essentially the entirety of the Tutorial story, up until the part where you fall off the cliff and into the water. The game begins with a fisherman hauling your near dead floating body out of the ocean, and then flashes back to the story previewed in the Four Guardians trailer.
Julianne Harty, Blade and Soul’s Brand Manager here in NA and EU was my tour guide with our little Lyn Summoner. Much to the hatred of our own Mike Bitton, I think I’ll be playing one of these little guys in the beta and launch, because the Summoner is absolutely fun and ridiculous in the way that only Korean MMOs seem to be able to capture. You have big ears, a fluffy tail, but the rest of you is the body of a young child (male or female). That doesn’t mean the Lyn are to be scoffed at though, as I quickly found out the Summoner has some seriously potent abilities. Swarms of stinging bugs, lashing vines that lockdown an enemy and siphon health to the player, and of course… their own cat minion to dish out damage and serve as the Summoner’s tank.
Yes, it’s a cat, and you can even customize them with outfits like you do your own character. I picked the Siamese to match my own cat, and was happy to find out that they’re incredibly apt melee combatants. There’s even a skill currently called “If I Fits, I Sits” where the cat pounces on the enemy, pins them down and goes all two fists of fury on their face. The summoner was really fun to play, and I suspect fans of pet classes will be pleased. Even more so, fans of cats.
THE FORCE MASTER
The Force Master is the closest thing BNS has to a Mage. Masters of both fire and ice, the FM switches stances on the fly between the two to deal insane damage (fire) or play more defensively with snares, slows, and shields (ice). But they also have the ability to channel pure Chi to control enemies. NCSOFT’s Ben Conrad wouldn’t leave my side until I tried out the Force Choke and Push combo. Yes, it’s exactly as Star Wars inspired as it sounds. You lift the enemy gasping off the ground, and then can either toss them away from you (or even off a cliff), or slam them into the ground.
The Force Master, during my quick little 15 minutes with her, seemed incredibly hard to learn but satisfying to play. There’s definitely going to be a learning process as you learn more and more skills and combos, but BNS keeps the focus less on a stack of hot bars, and instead switches them out contextually to make sure that you know where and what you’re capable of doing at any given time. The Force Master has a lot of skills, a lot of utility, but deals a huge wallop as well.
You’d think a damage dealing swordsman would be pretty straightforward, but there is a lot more to the Blademaster than you’d think. Rife with interrupts, damage over time and attacks of opportunity, they are a blast to play. This is the class who can counter your counterattacks after being knocked down, as I quickly found out during my play session. They’d charge me, knock me to the ground, and when I’d try to counter that, they’d kick me and knock me back down. But once you got the hang of it, you could quickly do the same to them.
Blademasters have a nice block (which can be countered with a kick if your opponent has it), some good ranged pulls, and great ways to close the gaps between enemies. I’d still say the Summoner was my favorite, but as a melee enthusiast, I’m anxious to see this class with more time.
There’s a serious sense of verticality in BNS, as you’ll spend just as much time climbing mountains as you do running through valleys. Luckily, Team Bloodsport stuck to the fun of Wuxia and every player gets the ability to Windwalk (glide) at level one during the tutorial. The best thing I can compare this to is ArcheAge’s gliders, but you do it without the apparatus. As you level up you get more skills like the ability to dash over bodies of water, dive out of the air, and so forth. You can sprint quite fast for a long distance, and you’ll also unlock quite a few fast travel locations across the game map too. Mounts may not be necessary at all, because you’re your own personal hang glider in Blade & Soul.
There are multiple glowing green wells across the landscapes of Blade & Soul, which when activated toss your character into a canned but beautiful travel animation that has them soaring acrobatically across ravines, mountain tops, canopies, and so forth. North American players will have seen this in Swordsman from Perfect World, but the engine and cinematic direction of Team Bloodsport makes it far more visually appealing here. Still, it’s kind of a bummer that it’s nothing you have control of as the player.
THE QUESTION MARKS
There is still a great deal of content I’ve not seen in Blade & Soul. While I did a few basic tutorial quests with the level 1 summoner, that’s hardly getting a grip on how the leveling process works in the wider world. I will say that zones seem absolutely massive and open, both wide-ranging and vertically impressive with plenty to explore. I only hope the questing doesn’t just guide you from one POI to the next, but I’m expecting it will.
Julianne also showed me a bit of the PVP flagging system, where you don an outfit and become attackable to players of the opposite faction. There are two main warring factions vying over land control, but there are also lesser factions that serve rewards and thematic purposes, so you can attack and be attacked by smaller factions of players as well. For instance you might don an outfit of the Blackram Pirates, and you’ll be KOS to members of the opposing tribe and any players wearing that outfit. It’s an interesting way to do consensual open PVP, and I’ll be curious to know more about the goals and rewards behind it all.
We also still have lots to learn about crafting, end game goals, Arena PVP, dungeons, and on and on. We’ve barely scratched the tip of the iceberg with this one. But I’d say, at first glance, if you’re a fan of TERA, Aion, or even Lineage II in some regards, you’re going to find something to enjoy with Blade & Soul. And it’s definitely got the Winter MMO season all to itself right now. The good thing is, it looks like a very quality game to snuggle up with during the cold months.