Blade & Soul has come (first impressions)

When I first found out about NCSoft’s Blade & Soul, it was in 2009 and I was a fan of Kim Hyung-Tae, the artist who designed War of Genesis and Magna Carta (great designs, okay game). NCSoft published Wildestar and ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 and developed Aion, and Lineage 2,. The game was finally launched in Korea in 2012, citing that a launch for NA and EU would occur in 2014. HA! Blade & Soul finally launched a few days ago on January 19th, right in 2016. At this stage in the MMO genre, there are few grand launches and many NCSoft’s competitors have either found their niche of dedicated players or have died off.

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So what is so great about Blade & Soul? The demonstration videos showed a beautiful landscape and a flourish of action, deriving much of its inspiration from Wuxia fantasy movies. Sporting voluptuous female characters, cute small characters, and muscular men, it is hard not to compare it to a fellow Korean MMO – TERA. Upon its launch, the narrative carries you through a story of being a martial arts student and surviving a tragedy that sends you on a trail of justice, vengeance, and kung fu movie badassery!

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After a dozen levels, you can glide through the air, walk on water, and leap like a dragon through areas. Did it fulfill my perceived abilities that were seen in the teaser videos? Pretty close. Often times in MMOs, I would take strange shortcuts that would often kill my character or result in heavy damage on aggro from monsters around me. Sure, I can’t avoid such instances in Blade & Soul, but I can do it with grace and style.

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Blade & Soul has four races that are inspired by the Four Benevolent Animals, the dragon-blooded Gon, the Jin, the graceful Kun, or the small Lyn. One thing that definitely stands out is that the female characters are voluptuous and characters’ bodies can maintain a glossy sheen, a trait popularly found in Kim’s character designs. In this era of self-awareness and body image, I can see a certain demographic finding issue with female characters who are objectified. Especially since their engorged boobs seem to flop around like balloons half-filled with helium and half with water (even Dead or Alive has more boob-density). Physics aside, this is just the design aesthetic that Kim Hyung-Tae goes for.

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The proportions of characters don’t matter too much, as the character customization system is very robust. Similar to Aion‘s customization system, you can create something beautiful or downright grotesque. Fortunately, I haven’t run into anything jarring like I did in Aion, except for a squat dude with a pink afro.

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Is this another MMO grindfest?

Yes.

But seriously…

Grinding, the act of doing a monotonous task in order to achieve results is a main staple of massive multiplayer online games. Especially in the genre of sandbox games that involve crafting, Blade & Soul is an MMO that follows in the tradition of the grind!

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However!

What Blade & Soul does differently than its competitors in the genre is that it utilizes the live-action fighting that TERA uses with the customization insanity of Aion, both also being a Korean originated MMO. What Blade & Soul does differently than TERA is the extensive use of situational abilities…

What are situational abilities?

What I mean is that scenarios will open up that allow for more abilities to be used. While other MMOs, particularly Western MMOs, will have abilities highlight in your hotkey bars, BnS (Blade & Soul) hides away these extra abilities and only presents them if a situation arises. For instance, playing the Kung Fu Master class, a Dazed or Knocked-down opponent, shifts my TAB-button ability from a Dash to a Grapple ability, and upon Grappling my target, it shifts my entire ability bar for Grapple combat. While this may be jarring for players who prefer full customization of their abilities, this dynamic convenience is refreshing!

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Do I have to grind for gear?

In the early dozen levels of the game: No you do not have to grind for gear. What is more interesting is when you have gear that you can level up. If you have played card-based mobile games, you may be familiar with the mechanic of sacrificing cards to empower other cards. BnS does the same thing. Using unused weapons, you can level up and transform your weapon to higher qualities, even adapt your weapon to the skin of others, all inherent to the game mechanic. No need to visit a transmogrify vendor, like in World of Warcraft. And much of the gear you acquire are accessories.

Given what I’ve just mentioned, this also means that you do not customize your look. BnS does away with mix-and-matching armor pieces, going the route of full outfits which is similar to what I recall in TERA. These outfits, as far as I’ve seen, do not offer any benefits. Much of the bonuses to statistics are derived from your weapon, necklace, earrings, etc.

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Is this subscription-based? Or free to play?

Free-to-Play, but with a Subscription model that allows you to store outfits, increased gold and experience, and some other perks, like having Priority during server congestion. Personally, I don’t see a need to subscribe the way I would need to in Star Wars – The Old Republic. This is a good thing for me, because heavily limiting your experience because you are not subscribed is a deterring business model. This is why microtransactions for MOBAs and MMOs are not so bad for certain lifestyles.

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Verdict?

Its still too early for that. As with any launch, there are queue issues where it would estimate my wait to enter the game is 30 minutes, but it could fluctuate up to 50 minutes down to 20 minutes within the same sitting. Fortunately, NCSoft has been working on alleviating population congestion with new servers.

Even though I played on the Korean servers for a little while last year, it is a more refined experience to see a stable English version. I’m enjoying the fact that we are seeing more Asian-based MMOs that carry the essence of games like BioWare’s Jade Empire. I’m a firm believer that Asian mythology has been underutilized, so when I learned that Blade & Soul pulls much of its influence from Chinese mythology, I was intrigued and have yet to be disappointed in my experience so far. MMOs are enjoyed differently for many people, but I say give it a shot and let us know what you think!

NCSoft’s Blade & Soul is available here at this link: http://www.bladeandsoul.com/en/

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Jaynesis Ong
Jaynesis Ong 162 posts

He is currently a graphics designer by trade, illustrator for indie games, fashionisto, film production assistant, socialite, sampler of fine music, and taster of various new MMO games. JB likes destructive walks on the beach, visceral plot points, maniacal villains, and collapsing galactic empires.

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