I’ve mentioned before that this blog is a mostly positive space, right? That I kinda went in to this thing with the personal mission statement that I would leave the grousing or bad-mouthing or other negativity on the wayside because there’s lots of other folks who are already doing that?
So it shall be with this impressions piece. If you were hoping for me to tear this game down, I’ll ask you to stop reading now and please move on. That’s not to say there aren’t things I find concerning, but that also means I generally am enjoying myself in Blade and Soul.
Let’s get the elephant in the room pointed out first–holy mother of cheese, the ladies in this game can be sexualized AS HELL. It is absolutely not difficult to make a female character with body dimensions not unlike an African fertility statue. They have waterbeds for breasts that jostle with the slightest provocation. The only reason Dead or Alive’s characters still stand as bastions of hyper-sexualized female character design is because there was a videogame devoted entirely to ogling them in ridiculous swimsuits.
However, it also is within the realm of the game’s very robust (count it as a pun if you want) character creation to create a female character with body dimensions that can pass off as “actual human woman”. And while there ain’t no fixing the alien blob symbiotes being passed off for boobs in this game, there are outfits that allow for a character to achieve a sense of modesty. Not enough for my taste, sure…but they are there.
I’m not being an apologist for the design choices of this game. And I also wholly understand if people can’t look past those faults. I will just admit that it’s a shame it’s what most people will only ever talk about when it comes to Blade and Soul, because there are things it does very well.
Outfit silliness aside, the game is probably one of the single prettiest damn MMO’s I’ve laid my eyes on in a long while. It hits that anime Korean aesthetic that toes the space between baby doll-headed horror monsters and truly lovely and engaging pieces of eye candy. It moves well, the characters are cool, the music hits moments of absolute wuxia epic film beauty, and the vistas in this game can be some of the most impressive things I’ve laid eyes on. Even on my middling machine, this game is a graphical wonder.
So the game’s views and vistas motivate me to press on…but the combat? That is what makes me keep coming back for more. Blade and Soul has some of the most engaging, impressive and high-paced combat I have ever gotten my hands on in my years of playing MMO’s. It’s like TERA turned up about three more notches, with combos, procs, adaptive skills and rapid pacing throughout. I am counting myself lucky that I’m playing on a keyboard with a gamepad on it, but even the standard key layout seems to map to where fingers would fall normally.
Let me take you through what happens in some fights. My Assassin is within range of an ability where she trades places with her target. Appearing behind the target, I can now use my stealth ability to close the gap behind. I stun him, then use a backstab maneuver and wipe ’em out. Easy.
Or I’m being attacked by several people at once. I get to lay down a landmine, set it off, then leap in to the air and stomp down on a target, which sends out a shockwave that damages everyone else around him. I then use a poison breath to hurt anyone else that maybe survived and just chop them down one by one.
OR! I could throw a shuriken at someone, then engage an ability that lets me dodge the next incoming attack, which puts me instantly in to stealth and hides behind the target, where I trip them up and then leap in to the air to stomp them. It really is like controlling an anime, or playing a fighting game. Visceral. Swift. Impactful.
The way combat ramps up is natural as well. There are a lot of combos and procs to remember, but by the time you’ve got another one to learn, the thing you were already doing is part of some muscle memory. Going from this to Final Fantasy XIV was a night and day difference. It’s the perfect sort of speed for when you want action, but is also played in such a way that going to a “slower” combat model can feel like a break. Even so, I was able to play straight through for about four or five hours without feeling any sense of combat fatigue. Which is either a testament to my keyboard or a testament to the game’s time-to-kill.
If all of those engagements I listed above sound like too much, there are other more “relaxed” classes. The Assassin is my bread-and-butter and the one I point at when I want to show how this game’s combat could feel at its best, but I’ve also played a bit of a Destroyer, which is not quite so combo-loaded. At least, not from the time I’ve played so far. Perhaps things accelerate there, too–I mean, the demo video showed a Destroyer tossing and bodyslamming enemies around. That looked like fun…when I wasn’t being distracted by the VO guy’s attempt to sound hard.
Combat is the sauce here, but there are also a few other things that I enjoy about the game. For one, you’re handed what apparently is already the best weapon in the game from the very start. You just have to rank it up. Doing so involves taking weapons that don’t even need to be from your class–stuff you weren’t going to use anyway–and eating them as materials to make your class weapon stronger. Eventually you get to a maximum rank that requires a specialty weapon and specialty item to “Breakthrough” in order to get a new tier of ranking up, but it tells you where said items are supposed to come from. You’re, essentially, handed a LotRO Legendary from about level 5.
And this same sort of application is put to other equipment as well. It all can feel a bit daunting, but the tooltips help, and there are guides along the way to help walk through the system. Or there will be–I know there’s some who are already putting out help now, and that can only increase with time.
Additionally, there isn’t any armor here. There’s clothing, which speaks to my digital dolly dress-up sensibilities, but improving stats is done largely through accessories and Soul Shards, eight slices of an octagonal pie that, when paired in threes, fives or eights of a similar type, provide stat boosts. Each Shard individually gives you some stat bonuses, but making pairs or a complete Soul Shield of a single type yields the biggest benefit. What’s cooler, you can swap between two Soul Shields anytime out of combat. It’s probably one of the more interesting methods of character advancement and stat improvement I’ve seen, seconded only by The Secret World’s Ability Wheel.
Even better is the fact that I haven’t even gotten to everything just yet. I haven’t entered any dungeon or group play. PvP apparently is quite solid, though the open flagging system is pretty abuseable. And there’s, apparently, a way to make your skills improve through some skill tree that I haven’t unlocked quite yet. It all adds up to stuff to look forward to as I play along.
All that aside, there are some things that do need to be pointed out. While combat is absolutely addictive and advancement is interesting, questing is the same-old same-old routine of every themepark MMO developed. The quests all flow you along from zone to zone in a very unintersting way. Also, the game’s plotline is not one I’m really emotionally invested in. It’s probably due to my own indifference to anime, but the high-powered kung fu revenge story just does not speak to me or illicit any kind of reaction. Also, the voice acting in the game is almost universally terrible, phoned in by VA talent that probably assume that Speed Racer or the original Mobile Suit Gundam were the high water mark for performance drama.
There is also an utter litany of items, coins, trinkets and baubles to keep track of. There’s the regular gold, but there’s also another two or three types of currency. Items or weapons that you want to use are all sealed, which require Unsealing Charms n the truest of Asian MMO demands (but you can still use these Sealed items to improve your weapon, thankfully). Also, the community right now seems to be rather insular or self-focused. Whether that opens up further as I get towards my first bit of group content remains to be seen.
Speaking of grouping, the fact that there’s no real dedicated roles or healing class means that group actions could devolve in to the same sort of madcap “zerg the things” style of group play that Guild Wars 2 suffered from. I hope that the fact that abilities can trigger group-wide special attacks means a level of coordination is present…but it is a concern I have to admit to holding.
Altogether, Blade and Soul is a far more arresting game than I had first assumed. It has captured my interest and attention, even if it hasn’t really sparked my imagination. It is very much a fun videogame. Whether it’s a fun MMO? That remains to be seen. And there are things that make me feel like it won’t be. However, sometimes a big, hyper puppy dog of a game is just what the doctor ordered. I don’t know where things will go from here, but it should be a very fascinating ride.
If you’re further interested in reading my thoughts and experiences about Blade and Soul, I invite you to follow my weekly column I’ve been granted the good fortune of writing for MMOGames.com where a variety of other lovely practitioners of Lettermancy are found. My own column will be posted starting next week.
Now if you’ll excuse me…I’m really itching to get my ninja on again.