Blade & Soul is one of those games that we’ve been impatiently waiting to come westward for a few years now, and like any game that we are regularly told we can’t have, the hype train has gotten out of hand at one point or another. I think that the majority of gamers saw NCSoft’s “you can’t have this yet” attitude and recognized it as an issue of lengthy localization rather than an evil corporation withholding the greatest creation since sliced bread, but you know that there is someone out there that took the lengthy development delay as a sign that the game was being advertised as the second coming of Jesus.
If there is one thing you can expect from Korean MMOs it is that character features will be exaggerated and heavily sexualized, so naturally I created my character was created with the kind of booty you could rest a stereo on. I’m not entirely sure if the gliding and camera controls exist primarily to serve for gratuitous panty shots, but I’m not willing to rule it out at this time. Also, you should expect that all of the female characters have breasts that more closely resemble free hanging piles of Jello brand gelatin than actual human flesh, bouncing and bobbing with every small breeze.
That said, there are a lot of options for the character creator, honestly you could spend hours working on every little detail of your character’s physique.
The characters of Blade & Soul are rather charming, even though I can’t remember their names and they have a tendency to die ala Game of Thrones not long after you meet them. Still, the characters are drawn from the anime school of ridiculous features, like the grandpa dog, the obnoxious kid who takes credit for everything, and whatever this is. The world looks beautiful, even with the parade of very well oiled men and women running about, reminiscent of a higher quality TERA or a more polished looking ArcheAge.
Combat in Blade & Soul is well paced, relying equally on mouse clicks and key presses. Your left mouse button is tied to a resource building attack while the right mouse button uses said resources. As you level up, you start to be able to use combos like, in the case of my sword-wielding character, knocking your opponent to the ground and stomping them while they are down. The rate at which you learn new techniques is just slow enough that you’ve mastered the previous lesson by the time the game is ready to teach you something new. It’s spaced out enough so that the player doesn’t get overwhelmed but (at least in the opening acts) hopefully doesn’t feel like the combat is growing stagnant.
The game throws in little things that keep the game flowing, like enemies that randomly drop bombs that can be used to take out or stun another mob. Ultimately, however, this is your standard MMO fare: You go into a village, take a bunch of quests, complete those quests, then move on to the next village. In no sense does the game feel like an open world, with players being ushered down what is effectively a single hallway ala Final Fantasy XIII, with a few dungeons hanging off to the side.
What impressed me is how the game handles equipment. For starters, your beginner weapon is supposed to stay with you for most, if not all of the game. Imagine the upgradeable epic weapons you get during end-game raids in other MMOs, and then picture getting that weapon right from the start. The weapons that you pick up along the way are more useful as upgrade materials. In addition, there isn’t much of an equipment selection. Instead of grinding for your usual selection of gloves, boots, legs, chest, and head pieces, you’ll gather accessories and soul shards. Soul shards come in one shape and fit into a wheel, offering various stat bonuses. Complete a wheel with a single soul shard set and you’ll unlock even more powerful bonuses.
One small feature that I find myself appreciating is on logout, where the game tells you exactly what you’ve accomplished during that play session. It isn’t a major feature by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a handy tool nonetheless. You also have access to a “daily dash,” a board game of sorts where you spin a wheel and obtain items the further you get. It appears to reset every month, and falls into the Korean MMO trope of throwing shinies at the player to keep them going.
Now let’s get to some grievances. Blade & Soul is heavily instanced, with areas separated by portals that cause the game to hiccup whenever you pass through. While the drastic changes that some areas go through between and following quests are nice, it serves to highlight just how linear the game is, and how ultimately unimportant and forgettable each zone is, almost as if each one is an episode of a serialized anime.
The most obvious and present issue with Blade & Soul is the constant, endless, gold spam. The fact that it is insanely present on a Korean import title doesn’t surprise me, nor does NCSoft’s complete ineptitude at combating said spam despite operating MMOs for nearly twenty years. I would be less harsh were it not for the fact that Blade & Soul launched in 2012, yet still hasn’t figured out the most basic of bot protections. Let’s go over a few, shall we?
- Severe limitations on chat for new/free accounts.
- Level limitations on global chat channels.
- A filter that can detect when the same message is being repeated across multiple accounts.
- Safeguards at account creation that would prevent mass throwaway accounts.
- A limitation on how often characters can be created/deleted.
- A cooldown on sending messages to global chat channels.
- Banning the use of proxies.
- Banning Chinese IP addresses.
- Making ignores account-wide instead of character-specific.
- Having actual customer support.
- The ability to easily report people in chat.
And finally, you need to squash the shit early, pardon my language, and start banning some Twitch streamers. Allowing popular streamers like Reckful to partner with illegal gold farming websites and make money off of a community form of cancer will do nothing but push away customers and make your company look feckless and corrupt. Generally I wouldn’t harp on gold spam in a game this close to launch, but Blade & Soul has had years to figure this stuff out and yet the spam is worse than pretty much any other MMO that I have ever played.
There is still a lot of ground to break in Blade & Soul, which I intend to do in the coming weeks. Despite the negative stuff I’ve said, the stuff that sets Blade & Soul apart, like how the game deals with loot and upgrading equipment, is keeping me playing.