Blade and Soul MMO Log: The First 30 Levels

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Posted February 3, 2016 by John Clark in Video Games

Originally announced by NCSoft in 2007, wuxia-themed MMO Blade and Soul immediately drew the attention of many MMO fans in the west – which left them in the cold when it was subsequently confirmed that the game would only be launching in the east in 2012. Finally, in January of 2016, NCSoft has finally decided to bring the game over to European and US shores, but can an MMO over three years old keep up with newer contenders, or is it too little, too late? Over the next few months, I’ll be posting regular articles to hopefully answer that exact question.

 

I tested the waters a bit during the closed betas held during the last quarter of 2015, but, not wanting to burn out on the game before it even came out (and knowing my characters would be wiped), I waited until the actual release to really get into the game. After about fifteen hours of play, having leveled a little past 30, experimented with PvP, and taken a stab at crafting and dungeons, here’s what I’ve found so far.

 

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Some of the art design is gorgeous.

 

1. The queues are bad, but they’re getting better.

 

Before even being able to play the game, one has to create an account and log in, which has proven difficult for some. There are two kinds of queue to get into a Blade and Soul server: the non-premium queue for those playing on free accounts, and the premium queue for those who, you guessed it, are paying a subscription. While the premium queue is rarely longer than 5 minutes at most, the non-premium queue saw wait times of 6 or more hours for the first few days after launch, with 3000+ people in line on each server during prime hours. Thankfully, that seems to be changing as new servers are added and those who aren’t interested in sticking with the game cease playing. Still, if you’re not subscribed, it might be best to brace yourself for a wait. 

Speaking of subscriptions…

 

2. The free-to-play mechanics are obnoxious, but ultimately not too restrictive.

 

Like most free-to-play MMOs, Blade and Soul has an in-game marketplace and other systems to encourage putting down some money. In addition to a ‘premium’ subscription that provides a myriad of conveniences such as an in-game wardrobe to store outfits, extra XP, and skipping queues, there’s a “key” system in place that has rubbed me the wrong way a few times now that feels worth noting. 

For the vast majority of the game, you don’t actually collect new weapons and accessories on your character; instead, you feed the loot you find into your starting pieces, upgrading them to stay ahead of the curve. Some of these new pieces are dropped from world bosses, but many come from chests that each player gets for completing dungeon dailies. While the drop rate on the chests themselves seems to be 100% from the reward if not the boss themselves, they’re locked and have to be opened with one of many kinds of key. Normal keys are abundant enough, but problematically, they randomize the weapon retrieved. Only keys bought off the in-game store for real money or premium points ensure you’ll get the piece of gear you need.

Example: At level 20, I took my Kung-Fu Master to a dungeon called Blackram Narrows. I needed a Blight Gauntlet to upgrade my starting weapon to its next stage, and completing the repeatable quest to kill the dungeon’s last boss dropped a weapon chest that could give it to me. After 13 runs of the dungeon, I had plenty of Blight Axes, Swords, etc…but no gauntlet. It wasn’t until I realized I had enough premium points from the founder’s pack of the game I had bought to just get a key I finally got my Blight Gauntlet.

Functionally, this isn’t that unlike how loot drops in other MMOs, just with an assured drop potentially not containing what you need instead of the boss potentially not dropping your item. That said, the existence of keys to skip through this process is simultaneously egregious and a relief. Would I have paid real money back in WoW in 2010 to ensure I got a drop I needed from a raid boss so I wouldn’t have to run it again? Maybe. It’s a weird situation, but ultimately, Blade and Soul’s pay mechanics never cross the line from irritating into outright obstructive.

 

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This is a major story character. Now you see why the game is often called ‘Boob and Soul’.

 

  1. The combat is really, really good.

 

If there’s anything that’s going to convince someone to play Blade and Soul, it’s the combat. The game handles more like a mix between an RPG and a fighting game than an MMO, and it makes what could otherwise be an unremarkable game stand out in a crowded market.

What makes the combat stand out so much is that it grants direct control of the character and a great number of each class’s moveset is situational. My Kung-Fu Master has an assortment of attacks when he engages an opponent, some of which can stun them or knock them down. Succeeding in performing crowd control unlocks other, specific moves to that situation – for both me and them. If I knock someone down, I can pin them and either headbutt them to regain health, pummel them for extra damage, or perform a neck-snapping maneuver that keeps them downed for longer so I can follow-up the pin with another combo. Meanwhile, they have an assortment of moves that let them try to break free, or even reverse my attacks if they time them right.

Some classes are more complex than others – the Destroyer I’m leveling has little need for timed counters and precise footwork, instead favoring just smashing everything apart with powerful grabs and short combinations – but this isn’t a bad thing. Traditional MMO fans or those lacking the reflexes to play advanced classes can still enjoy the spectacle and quality animations of the others.

 

  1. Consequently, the PvP is also really, really good.

 

I’m not level 45 [the current cap, soon to be raised to 50] yet, so I can’t speak for the endgame PvE, but I’ve tried my hand at the game’s PvP, which is split into three main game modes.

 

Open-World PvP: Probably my least favorite. The faction system itself is interesting; there are multiple factions in the world that players can join one or both sides of. However, many of the game’s outfits are tied to these factions, which means that they can’t be worn unless you want to engage in PvP or risk getting jumped at random. In addition, the open-world PvP scaling seems to be off; players in PvE gear of various levels easily kill each other in less than five seconds.

1v1 Arena: The primary ranked PvP of Blade and Soul, and my favorite. In these intense duels, players go head-to-head in an instanced arena, with rank points and leagues not unlike WoW’s Arena combined with something out of League of Legends determine the matchups and pecking order. This seems to be where the focus of the endgame is, though I won’t know that for sure until I get higher. What I like about these duels is that they provide a break from the otherwise Korean grind-heavy aspects of Blade and Soul. Instance in, duel, instance out. Rewards are non-existent right now, but apparently, special ‘zensu beans’ will be awarded for victories once the PvP season starts that can be exchanged for gear and outfits.

3v3 Arena: A variant of the 1v1 duels, these are more than just six people thrown into a battle against each other. Instead, the 3v3s play out like 1v1s, but with a tag-in/tag-out and assist system. It brings to mind fighting games like Marvel vs. Capcom, and is an interesting twist. I’ve had close matches decided by timely assists, and briefly two-on-one encounters can blitz down an otherwise tough opponent in seconds. I have a bit more fun with the 1v1s right now, but the 3v3 has promise in a team environment.

Punch bears, get copper.

Punch bears, get copper.

 

  1. Leveling is a bit flavorless.

 

And honestly, that’s being a little generous. It’s here as much as anywhere else that Blade and Soul’s age starts to show. Unlike more contemporary MMOs, where leveling can be tackled with equal viability often through dungeons, questing, PvP, or other methods, following the main story and quest hubs is basically the only way to efficiently level up. Enemies give little XP, PvP gives none, and crafting is dependent on spending a lot of time and effort finding difficult-to-gather materials. This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact the plot of the game is pretty bare-bones, falling well short of MMO heavyweights in this respect like The Secret World or The Old Republic. An intriguing start in which the main character is seeking the party of rogues that destroyed their martial arts school quickly becomes a trite exercise in trying to keep track of who betrayed who (answer: everyone. Everyone betrayed everyone). Between this and the dull ‘bring me ten bear butts’ quest design, I’m already realizing I’m unlikely to roll any alts.

 

Ultimately, Blade and Soul seems highly dependent on its small-scale PvP to maintain interest. In South Korea, the 1v1 duels are their own e-sport, so I’m eager to get to cap and try to compete there. Until then, I have to admit, the stellar combat system has a lot of work to do to keep me interested among a slurry of obnoxious and unwelcome features.

 


About the Author

John Clark