Blade & Soul impressions

Blade & Soul entered the MMO arena with boobs guns blazing. A Korean F2P (Free to Play) MMO with dynamic combat that is more akin to Street Fighter than TERA, a beautiful world and characters that… look different. Celebrating one million players a week after release, is this the end-all-be-all that MMO fans are looking for? My impressions, from playing the early game as a Force Master up to level 19:

Blade & Soul

Did you play TERA? Did you like TERA? Have I got a treat for you! B&S is pretty much TERA, with faster combat and a more martial arts fantasy oriented world. It’s a pretty standard Korean MMO in many aspects, including the fact that it is, at its core, pretty fun.

Look, ma, a weird looking lady!

Visually the game is quite striking at first glance. Scenarios are big and filled with detail – the screenshot above is from the starting zone. Quite the place, as you can see. However as you move through the world you’ll notice – as zones vary in theme (a forest, a swamp, a beach) –  that the game lacks a bit of soul in the way zones are laid out. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s a similar feeling to the one I got from TERA. There’s a hefty amount of bloom and other neat visual effects that helps keep things looking good.

Characters (races) are weirdly-shaped humans for the most part, and the obligatory child-animal-like race. Character creator is quite deep, with great variety of sliders allowing you to control the position/width/height/proportion of almost everything. I tweaked my char to look as humanly normal as possible – I’m not a fan of the ridiculous lengths some people can make their characters go. And yes, people love to go for the over sexualized females with huge gravity-mocking boobs and skin that is always bathed in oil – but at least you can control all of that (yes, even the oiliness of the skin).

NPC designs are pretty cool, if a bit standard. At least the main characters are easily recognizable. Gear variety is also quite ample, with gear/costumes aplenty to bring joy to those people that know the reality of this world: that glamours are MMO’s true endgame.

Blade & Soul

Music’s nice… believe it!

In the music department, there’s not much to be said. The music is good, with fitting themes in villages, dungeons and everything in between. An early town, Jadestone Village, has a nice music theme featured in a recent Music Friday. There’s a heavy theme of oriental music in the whole soundtrack – or as some might call it, a “Naruto vibe” – thanks to the martial arts idea. Here’s the game’s title screen theme:

Voice acting is, as usual, a hit and miss. Some voices fit their characters perfectly, while others deliver their lines with little enthusiasm – which seems to have gone to other characters who in contrast overdo it a bit too much.

What does this button do?

The game’s interface is… I don’t want to be too harsh but it is clunky. There’s a lot of information in the screen and at first it’s not too obvious to find out where everything is or what it represents. The game never interacts with the interface on its own – unless you press Alt your mouse cursor is bound to your character’s view, which is great for combat but makes daily tasks a bit difficult at least until you learn the game’s key shortcuts. A particular gripe I have is that the game’s clock is always set to what I assume is the server’s time, with no option to change it to local time.

It’s also not stellar in explaining the game’s systems to you. There’s a clear separation between your clothes/gear and your Soul Shields (which serves as the game’s armor sets) but had I not read about it online, it would have taken a bit of guessing. It’s also quite RNG based, as you need a lot of luck to get certain weapons or upgrade items – unless, of course, you buy the item you need from the cash shop.

As a F2P game you can expect a lot of stuff to revolve around in-game purchases using special currency. Most of the items are cosmetic (appearance, costumes) and have no impact in gameplay, though I may have seen some crafting materials or items that increase the size of your inventory there. At the very least the game doesn’t seem to the all-out-P2W (Pay to Win) so that’s that.

Blade & Soul

I meant to do that… really!

I can only speak from experience, so this is all from a low level Force Master, but combat in B&S is fast and powerful. About 99% of enemy encounters are over quickly, and the skill set is varied enough. Force Masters employ fire and ice stances to control the opponent – roots, bombs, explosions… sort of like a Black Mage. However even from early on in the game you rely on “combos” – chaining skills together to get powerful results. Early fire and ice attacks are slow on their own, but if you alternate them you can attack faster, and even combine them with abilities that appear only in certain circumstances – it becomes quite the workout! This is where B&S starts differentiating itself from TERA or other similar MMOs; it’s not as much about a rotation but rather of quick reflexes and proper timings. Fighting game terminology – cancels, reflexes, animations, blocks – works here in ways that I cannot even fathom.

And that’s where B&S loses me. I am not a PvP player and this game is all about the PvP. Sure, there are dungeons and raids, but apparently the core of the game revolves about fast paced PvP encounters – it’s even an eSport in Korea. I suck at PvP in MMOs and am a complete zero when it comes to fighting games. As B&S is a mix between the two… well, it’s obviously not a game for me. Despite this, and thanks to the fact that it’s a F2P title, I can keep it as a nice alternative to enjoy on those days where I need to change my rhythm.

So? Is it worth it?

Definitely. I mean, it’s free, so there’s little to lose but time. You may (like a personal friend) fall in love with the variety of the character creator yet never quite be able to digest the overall look of the game; or you may fall in love with the dynamic combat and consider it the MMO you’ve always been looking for. I would give it a shot, play for a few hours/levels and see if the game fills that void in your heart other more established/polished MMOs couldn’t fill.

Me? I am a level 19 Force Master, with zero rush to proceed to the high end game. I play sporadically, but am not dying to do so. But it’s in my PC, so it’s always an alternative. B&S, in my case, couldn’t dethrone the spots of Final Fantasy XIV or Destiny (my 1st and 2nd choice in persistent world games).

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