First Impressions: Blade & Soul

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After waiting impatiently since it was announced in 2009, Blade & Soul was finally released in North America and European Countries.

Last weekend my friend Derek and I binge played the game, only stopping on occasion for food and sleep. Now that my character is level 23, I feel like I’ve had enough of a taste of Blade & Soul’s mechanics to write about my first impressions. I tend to schedule articles for publishing on Fridays, but I think it’s best to release this while my thoughts are still fresh.

Prepare for a fresh batch of unadulterated honesty.

Good: Combat is Legit

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Let’s start positively! The combat in this game is freaking legit. Combos are fluid, responsive, and fun to pull off. The sound work is great, too – every hit that lands feels like it lands.

My favorite part of Blade & Soul’s combat is how easy it is to grasp. I’m using the term “grasp” literally – commands are easy for my fingers to find and I never found myself ringing my hands after hours of consecutive play like I did with hotbar-based MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV or Mabinogi. It’s an ergonomic relief!

This is one of the most beautifully-animated MMOs I’ve ever seen. Characters ooze personality and look amazing when executing flashy combo finishers.

I have yet to play with a controller – mine stopped working the weekend before last. But I’m hearing great things about it!

Bad: Craptastic Voice Acting

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Meet Chengun, everyone! This is the guy whose voicebox you will want to punch.

NCSoft is no small company. At one point, Nexon bought 14.7% of its shares for the USD equivalent of $685 million dollars, spawning one of the worst inter-company relationships in MMO gaming history that ended with a failed hostile takeover.

One would think a company that rich could spend a little more money and effort hiring competent voice actors. Blade & Soul’s voice acting reminds me of awful imported OVAs from the late 80s and early 90s. I did not like any of the voice work in this game. None of it felt right. Quest dialogue and cutscenes made me cringe.

Good: Character Customization

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I like a game with lots of sliders. Blade & Soul fulfills this need perfectly with its detailed character customization system. After playing Final Fantasy XIV for so long, it’s a relief to walk into a new area to see a superfluous amount of variety in how other players’ physical features are shaped and styled.

One feature I really liked was the ability to save and load preset files. On Blade & Soul Dojo you can download masterfully-crafted presets by expert community members.

It’s a lot harder to create characters that look like deformed nightmares than in AION. It’s still possible, but you have to be really creative about doing it. And that makes creating characters even more fun!

Bad: Generic Quest Design

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Oh great, another MMO with NPCs that order me to collect bear asses so I can be directed to a settlement nearby suffering from a shortage of bear ass. Kill X, deliver Y to Z.

I’m beyond done with themepark MMO design philosophy. I’m beyond beyond beyond beyond beyond beyond beyond beyond done. I sound like a broken record at this point.

What will I be doing when I get to max level? Running the same set of dungeons a million times again while fighting the RNG for replaceable loot, obviously! It’s predictable at this point.

I can’t be the only person who is tired of this! Now that the honeymoon period is over, it’s hard to log in because the thought of going through all of this for the hundredth time makes my stomach crawl.

Good: Fun Field Bosses

It’s been too long since I had fun fighting a field boss in an MMO. They tend to spawn only when the planets are aligned, and if I’m online when that happens I never get anything.

The two field bosses I fought spawned frequently, were incredibly fun to fight, and rewarded me every time.

There was only one slight issue that came up when I tried to claim my rewards, though…

Bad: The Wheel of Fate

The field boss Stalker Jiangshi drops Essences when defeated, which can be used to spin a magical wheel surrounded by pig statues. The rewards are pretty great, though! I still wear the outfit I got from that. The weapon drops helped me level up my Hongmoon Dagger early-on, too.

The area was crowded with new players, though. The Wheel of Fate spins for one player at a time, so everyone competed over the wheel. When Derek pointed me towards a second wheel on the other side of town, I couldn’t have been happier.

Honestly, this issue wasn’t so bad for me. Then again, I played during early access – things might be a lot worse now that the floodgates are open.

Good: Opt-In Faction PvP

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Where am I in this picture? No, seriously. I’m lost!

I can’t believe I’m doing this right now. I’m commending an MMO for its faction-based PvP. It’s still as aggravating as other games. It still brings out the worst in some people. It’s still a gankfest. So why do I like it?

I’m not forced to PvP (that comes later, when faction quests will force me into an open PvP field). Instead of getting ganked left and right, I can choose to don the armor and help a faction member. I can turn a one-sided battle into an epic fight with more and more players joining in! The armor is my spandex suit, and it allows me to become a hero or villain. And once I’ve had my fill, I can take the armor off and resume my daily activities without getting revenge-killed by an angry 13-year-old.

Derek and I donned the pirate faction gear and spent hours killing guards in Jadestone Village. The Bamboo guards spawn their leader Yigan when defeated enough times, who drops tokens when defeated. I turned in 40 of them to get a cool-looking new armor set! It was pretty fun. We formed a small militia who continued to terrorize the village long after we left.

Bad: Auction-Based Looting

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I can’t say Blade & Soul tries nothing new. Instead of rolling for rare drops, players auction for it with ingame currency. The highest bidder gets the drop, and the money is distributed to the entire party. That way, everyone is rewarded!

It adds to the dynamic of instanced content, introducing conundrums like “Do I want to forego looting so I can make some money this run?” or “How much am I really willing to spend to get a costume drop I might not wear?”

I feel like the system needs to be tweaked majorly, but I don’t know where they should start. What I do know is that every time a boss is defeated, gameplay pulls to a screeching halt for minutes on end while the group engages in a bidding war. Zoning into the next portion of the dungeon (why the hell are dungeons split into mini-instances anyway?) kicks you out of the auction, and with it the monetary reward for patiently waiting.

Over the years, I have grown to unconsciously expect dungeons to progress at a relatively brisk pace. I don’t like speed-running, but a jog is nice! The auction system breaks that pace to my detriment. I understand the benefits of a system like this but I’m not a fan of how it’s implemented.

Bad: No AFK Kick Timer At Launch

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Well, crap! Just as I was about to start ranting about the queue times, NCSoft released a hotfix that includes an AFK kick timer. Good job!

What is with MMOs and not having this feature at launch? If there ever existed a themepark checklist, AFK kickout timers should be near the top. This is but one of many common MMO mistakes that Blade & Soul seems to be repeating.

One more long rant before I finish here…

WTF: The Naming Scandal

Our community manager, everyone!

The ability to reserve names before launch was a big selling point for the $75 and $125 founders packs. It was the reason why a lot of people upgraded from the lowest-priced Initiate pack.

The naming period was announced for 6 PM last Monday, with EU servers opening up earlier to accommodate time differences. During the name reservation period, us Disciple and Master Pack users could login and create our characters ahead of time, reserving popular names for ourselves. We gritted our teeth with impatience, swarming Reddit and creating character presets ahead of time when the EU servers opened up.

Then word spread that CM Youmukon created EU characters with popular names before the servers opened up. Examples include Kirito, Naruto, and Saber.

After being lambasted, NCSoft gave an official statement on the matter. In a nutshell: The CMs took popular names ahead of time because people selling accounts with popular character names is “pay-to-win.”

Shady people sell popular names. To me, that’s more unfair than losing out on the lottery for the name that you want, because someone has come in and reserved a name specifically so that they can earn money on it. You want a definition of pay to win? THAT is it right there – a person paying $400 just to have Naruto and bypassing the lottery system. We have, in the past, reserved popular names in order to prevent this sort of shady stuff from happening. I can’t speak for Youmukon right now, since I’m on the road, but it’s highly possible that this is a scenario that is occurring and that the names will be released later on in a more fair manner that prevents this sort of account/name selling.
This is not uncommon; its just unfortunate that we have the character lookup so you can see a lot of the inner workings of the game being prepared for launch.

– NCSoft Brand Manager Julianne Harty burning the straw man while publicly regretting that the community found out what the company was really doing, in a statement that was posted without properly assessing the situation

I try not to curse in my blog posts. I’ve gone as far as I could without dropping the “F-bomb.”. Too many bloggers use profanity as an easy way out, and I find it funner to come up with ways to convey my meaning without cursing. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to break that rule just once:

Fuck you, NCSoft.

People paid money to reserve popular names before launch. I don’t care if these names are unoriginal anime garbage. If someone payed €55 or €95 for a small chance to create a character with those names, it’s disingenuous to revoke that under the guise that maybe – just maybe – an iota of them will sell their accounts.

I have to admit, getting ganked by an Assassin named Naruto would make for a hilarious story. Extra points if he says “Believe it!” while dancing over my rotting corpse.

I wouldn’t be making a big deal about it if NCSoft didn’t respond to criticism in such a way. They should have been transparent from the get-go. It isn’t common knowledge for staff to have first pick.

By not apologizing and feeding us this drivel, NCSoft’s Blade & Soul team has shown distrust for their consumers. They associated people who paid them to reserve popular names with criminals.

Also, if NCSoft wanted to prevent players from picking these names they should have said it up front and blacklisted them from the get-go. Managing expectations is important.

Conclusion

Now that the game is finally out, I feel a sense of warm relief. For a long while, this game had a hold on me. I’ve wanted to check out Blade & Soul for a very long time, and I’m happy I spent a weekend playing it with my friend Derek. It was the funnest weekend I’ve had in years, so it was well worth the money in that respect.

When the hype faded and the honeymoon was over, Blade & Soul’s problems and controversies set in and I lost interest faster than I thought I would.

This game is a mixed bag and I probably won’t be playing for much longer.

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