Sunday, February 7, 2016

New, Shiny : Blade and Soul

Like Ironweakness I'm finding a lot more to like about Blade and Soul than I expected when I downloaded it on a whim last week. Kaozz promised in the comments to my first impressions post that "the game gets a bit more interesting as you move along past the initial zone" and it certainly does that.

After a few short sessions my Summoner has reached the heady heights of level 9. Leveling seems well-paced so far. Just killing things gives a not-insignificant amount of xp, which is something I always like to see, but the greater part comes from questing, as usual with every MMO since WoW.

There are quest hubs but thankfully the flow from one to another feels relatively natural. You can move back and forth between them quite freely although there do seem to be triggers that open new options, as you'd expect, so there is a degree of direction. The quests themselves are anything but original and some of the dialog, while efficiently translated, seems strangely stilted but I've seen much, much worse.

The bulk of the petty tasks I've been asked to carry out for guards, gravediggers and minor officials have verged on the believable. There's a peculiar meta-textual frisson hanging behind much of the action, partly encouraged by the thought-balloons in which NPCs counterpoint their own bluster and blow with self-doubts or self-delusion.

Sometimes, they also seem more acutely aware than the average questgiver of the ironies of their position. I can't recall having heard so many excuses and explanations and apologies in other quest-based MMOs as people apparently rooted to the spot send me to do jobs they could and should be doing for themselves. I'm finding it quite amusing.

Visually the game is beautiful yet weirdly artificial. There's a really great sense of space with the mountains looming at the back and the sky a great bowl overhead. The shoreline has a spritz of salt air about it and the bamboo jungle looks dense and deep.

Everything is so clean, though. The light glows, the trees look like someone comes out in the evening and polishes the trunks - it's like a managed park rather than farmland or wilderness. And the buildings still sometimes have a sense of movie flats about them.

There are some very odd transitions as you move from area to area. We're all used to the way that a snowy area in an MMO can slide unfeasibly into some lava-strewn badland but Blade and Soul slips from day to night at the turn of a graveyard path and then back again around the next corner. There's probably an explanation. I imagine magic has something to do with it.

Nevertheless I like it. It's intensely photogenic, which is handy because Blade and Soul categorically has the best screenshot UI I have ever used in an MMO. Not only does the game give written and spoken confirmation every time you take a picture but you get an in-game album in which you can open and inspect the shots you've just taken. It's fantastically useful for someone who not only takes screenshots obsessively for the fun of it but also to serve as illustrations for pieces like this.

Solo gameplay is solid. Fights are still easy and I still haven't needed to learn what most of my abilities do. There are solo dungeons from very early on in the game. I found myself half-way through one without even realizing that's where I was until I noticed the mobs weren't respawning.

They're decent dungeons, too, in that they look like actual places, where the inhabitants seem to have a reason to be holed up. They even have something to do that's superficially convincing. Mostly guarding boxes and patrolling paths but hey, it's better than literally just standing there in empty rooms.

Loot, rewards and skill progression is making my head hurt. Things I receive often seem to be locked and require keys, which I also have, although I'm not sure if they're the right ones. There are things called "Soul Shields" that drop in pieces that look uncannily like slices of pizza. You put them together to make complete sets with set bonuses or you can mix and match. You can have a spare one as well.

There's a lot of that sort of thing. The behind-the-scenes part is very busy. It feels like an MMO that's been around for a good while, which I guess it has. There's that sense of systems piled on top of systems that you get in games that have been running for a year or three. Odd to find such complexity in a supposedly brand new game but maybe it's an Eastern thing - I remember the much-missed Zentia, of which Blade and Soul sporadically reminds me, feeling much the same.

I know, though, that if I should end up playing B&S for a while, all this will come to seem like second nature. When I think of the insane complexities of systems in EQ2, for example, this really is nothing. When you become invested in these worlds and the games set within them, confusion gives way to welcome fascination.

And perhaps I might play Blade and Soul for a while, after all. It has a good vibe. Not only does it look good and feel good to play, the conversation in open chat has been refreshingly positive. There's a constant flurry of LFG requests for dungeons with intriguing names. Wouldn't you want to party up to go visit the Pot Dog Shelter?

When some poor inadequate who didn't get enough love as a child started up in chat about some trolling enterprise he had going with new players the reaction was particularly heartening. No-one was amused but neither did anyone call him names or swear at him. The reaction was one of bemused sadness. "Why would you do that? That's not nice!", someone said.

I blocked him along with a couple of hyperactive gold sellers but that was the only disruption to the peaceful, casual, lighthearted mood as I went about my merry way poisoning bandits and setting their homes on fire while my disturbing black and white cat cheered me on. Good times.

There's something about Blade and Soul that makes me doubt whether I could ever become drawn into its world the way I fell into Tyria or even Telon. Something about the sheen and the glow and the oversized structures makes everything feel a little ephemeral, unreal. As Ironweakness says, though, who knows? Maybe I will end up with character at the cap and no real idea how or why I got there.

Wouldn't be the first time.


  1. It can be confusing at first, but think of Keys and Unsealing Charms as currency you have to manage. The 'Hongmoon' variety cannot be traded, while the normal ones can be sold on the auction house or sent to alts. Both keys and charms are extremely valueable and are usually used to unlock boxes that have a chance of dropping your class weapons. Later on you will need 2-3 keys per box and 2-3 charms per weapon, so it can get expensive quickly.

    Now if you're wondering "why bother with keys and charms, just give the weapons as loot", then it's partially due to the grinding nature of Asian MMOs (a box can drop weapons for other classes) and also due to the payment model (you can buy keys to guarantee that a box drops your class weapon).

    As a rule, avoid unsealing any Soul Shields (the pizza slices) until you get to 45. You can get good soul shields (unsealed, even) easily from the various 'Wheels of Fate' or from the currency you get by doing dailies (Valor stones). Also never unseal a weapon unless it is required for the breakthrough/evolution of your Hongmoon Staff. Everything else can be fed to your weapon while sealed.

    Finally, in dungeons occasionally there are chest in the end (usually whithin beams of light highlighting them). Ignore them. 99% of the time they will give you 1 Healing Potion, 1 Dumpling and 1 Repair Hammer, which altogether cost less than the Key you just used to open the chest (yup, you need keys for those).

    1. Thanks for that explanation. Really helpful. It sounds insanely complicated, not surprisingly. I also figured there would be an element of income stream involved in the design, what with B&S being a F2P title and all. I'm just imagining the reaction of someone reading who hasn't even played the game yet - it's hardly going to make many people go "Wow! That sounds cool! I want to play that game now!"

      On the other hand, that could well be said of game systems in just about every MMO, F2P or otherwise. They are look insanely over-complicated from a neutral perspective. Once you become embedded in them, though, it soon becomes second nature - either that or you move on to another MMO whose crazy systems click with you more readily.

      As a hoarder I have no problems holding things for later and I never feel an uncontrollable desire to open locked boxes just for the sake of it so I think I should be good!

  2. Yeah, most people I know just got used to the loot-in-a-box thing really fast. The systems sound obscure, but in essence it's not unlike other MMO systems. Kill boss, get loot after an RNG roll. This one however also has a money sink embedded, since keys and charms cost something like 10 silver from the vendors.


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