JoyChina is a Beijing-based games development studio, with three games under its belt, including two casual games and its first premium game titled Hunter Blade, which hopes to propel the company into a first class 3D MMORPG development studio. With the development of Hunter Blade, they won't be seeing this goal any time soon. Hunter Blade is an all-action MMORPG which pits you, the player, as a novice hunter with one aim, to track down fantastical creatures and become the top hunter. Sound appealing yet? Well let's delve into this review and see what this MMO has to offer us. In two words: not much.
Gameplay - 5/10
Those who have played Hunter Blade will know that from creating your character the game becomes increasingly frustrating. Creating your character is simple: choose from presets and then specialise in a class, although these are not typical such as Warrior or Priest, etc. Hunter Blade sacrifices classes for weapon specialisations. From choosing this, your character is placed into a Hunter Training Camp with no background story as to why you have been chosen to become a “hunter”. This is where the game becomes an annoyance and the more I delved into this MMO the more it became apparent that the developers haven't taken the time to produce lore for the game.
Three weapon types are available upon first creating your character, Wand, Sword and One-Handed Sword. In total there are 11 different weapon classes, some of which do not become available until you have reached a certain level or achieved a certain goal within the game. Although you can equip whichever weapon you desire. Each weapon class comes with its own skill tree in which you place skill points each time you gain a level. Each specialisation comes with its own play style which provides the game with some entertaining variety. Thing Monster Hunter, and you’re on the right track.
The compulsory tutorial teaches the player the basics of the game, such as hunting, combat, crafting and skill advancement. Within the tutorial also comes your first few outings into the wilderness to hunt monsters. Here you set off into instanced zones which resemble landscapes such as Jungles, Deserts or Icy Landscapes to hunt creatures such as mere Boars to hulking Dragons. Throughout the first 20 levels of the game, you will find yourself in one of these landscapes hunting a variety of monsters gathering resources whilst learning the basics of the game. This is where it became more and more apparent that what I was playing was just a recycled version of the much beloved Monster Hunter franchise.
Hunts are given to the player as the game’s version of quests. NPC characters will dish out these Hunts in the form of gathering resources or slaying a number of monsters. Whilst traversing the zones you can also gather resources for yourself by butchering the monster with a hit of a button gathering items, such as claws and hides for use in crafting. Upon completing a Hunt the player is allocated a number of points which converts into grade giving each hunt a replay value to achieve a higher score. Hunts can also be replayed in various difficulties resulting in large amounts of stronger monsters and better rewards. This reminded me a lot of the recently released Rusty Hearts’ dungeon system, really.
The combat itself is more action oriented than most MMORPG's and is Hunter Blade’s most enticing feature. Using the traditional WASD controls, the player also uses the mouse to control the character, clicking in a desired direction to attack, much like TERA and Vindictus or even RaiderZ. Let's face it, there's nothing more satisfying than watching your character swing a hulking sword at your opponent and this is what Hunter Blade does best.
Skill advancement is much like a talent tree, each level gained rewards the player with a certain number of skill points to allocate into the skill tree, gaining passive and active skills. Increasing stats and providing the player with new combat skills to use whilst hunting. Crafting is also a must throughout Hunter Blade. Although gear is provided through the completion of quests or hunts, much better items can be gained through crafting. Crafting is simple: gain the resources you need, take these to either a weapon or armour vendor, select the item you would like to craft and voila! You have new gear. There is also another crafting option called Synthesizing, this is a process in which you combine items to produce potions which have a variety of effects such as healing and increase of stats.
Of course there is also a cash shop in place, as expected, items which enhance stats and boost XP rates are available to buy through this paid alternative. The cash shop also links with the highly aggravating fatigue system that Hunter Blade has in place. Upon logging into the game you will see a green bar just above the skill bars, this represents your fatigue. Each time you undertake a hunt, this bar decreases. Once you run out of fatigue you will not be able to go on hunts and the only way to gain fatigue is through the Cash Shop or waiting until 2:00 AM daily. Yeah... so it is pay to play then.
Aesthetics - 4/10
Hunter Blade advertises a graphics engine they are sure will rival games such as Vindictus and C9. Be prepared to be disappointed though as graphically the game is outdated, but there are other aspects to look forward to. Every time you equip a new piece of armour or a new weapon each has a new look and gives your character a more hunter-like feel. Giving the player the satisfaction that you have literally just crafted armour and weapons from the very remains of the monsters you just hunted. But unfortunately I feel that the developers have not put enough effort into the creation of these elements to set Hunter Blade apart from rival games. Although the graphics engine may seem outdated in comparison to modern MMORPGs of today, this does make the game more accessible to those who do not own powerful systems.
A major feature which I feel is important here is the UI and this is one of Hunter Blade’s main annoyances. The simplest way to put it is clunky and that is how it appears from first logging into the game, on top of that everything is also piled into one place which often becomes confusing to navigate the UI at times. Another critical point here is also sound. During combat sound isn't at its best and is often nonexistent when expecting to hear the sound of your sword hitting your opponent.
Innovation - 3/10
From playing new MMOs, it's always a welcome surprise to stumble across new features that haven't been showcased in MMORPGs before. Unfortunately in Hunter Blade's case the developers have shied away from this aspect, with the only eye-catching feature being the Synthesising system. Which upon using isn't so innovative after all anyway.
Polish - 4/10
While still being in open beta it is to be expected with any game to have minor bugs and glitches. But if a game charges money in their cash shop, we’re not going to be giving them any slack either. During my time playing, I ran into a few bugs, such as delayed movement when using the WASD method and sound bugs mentioned previously. When instancing between zones there is also a graphical issue which I feel makes the game seem rushed. Let me explain: before entering an instance portal, on many MMOs, you will see the start of the next zone you are about to enter in front of you. Here the developers have just inserted what seems to be just a pasted image of a landscape which represents the zone. It isn't a huge issue, but it is an issue which shows that the developers haven't been too imaginative, giving off the look of a rushed finish. And it’s indicative of the entire game’s level of attention to detail and polish.
Social - 4/10
The social aspect of the game is something which truly brings this game down, as hunting these giant creatures would be a great experience. From spending a good amount of time in Hunter Blade every server has either been full or at a constant "busy" state, with the main town hub constantly populated by players. Although, with the high amount of players, not once did I come across any social activity in the appropriate chat systems. Guilds were unknown and/or non-existent to me in the game, and not once was I able to group up with other players in a quick and efficient manner. The tools are there it would seem, but more often than not everyone just goes about their own tasks solo... giving the game a feel massively single-player RPG.
Longevity - 3/10
Hunter Blade can be very satisfying at times: I'm sure there's nothing more you would like to do than slay towering beasts, am I right? But issues with the social aspect of the game and the fatigue system in place present longevity issues for the game. With no social activity, it becomes hard to group up and undertake trickier hunts or even the raids available. With the fatigue system you are limited to how long you can play the game for every day without paying for it. As for the game itself being available since February, It's surprising to see that there have not been any major content updates during this long period.
Value - 5/10
As for many free-to-play MMOs, value is an important aspect and finding a balance between a truly free game and offering micro-transactions is often hard. Here with the use of the fatigue system, dedicated Hunter Blade players will find it hard not to spend their hard earned money within the game. Casual players will find this a fun time waster, along with players who own low-end systems, with Hunter Blades accessible and brutally fun hunts. But the simple fact that a F2P game basically charges you to play long sessions is against what we’ve come to accept from our F2P titles.
Hunter Blade is a decently fun and very familiar action oriented MMO. Working your way through hunts and slicing through monstrous beasts is a satisfying time waster. But with flaws such as the game-breaking fatigue system and the lacklustre social activity, unfortunately we will just see Hunter Blade put to bed in time.