Sunday, August 15, 2021

Cause Me Confusion

I like Bless Unleashed but I don't understand it. That's because it has all the hallmarks of a game that's been running for a while, quite successfully, somewhere else. A brand-new mmorpg would probably have fewer systems and it might try to explain the ones it did have more clearly. Designers and developers ought to be as aware as players that foreknowledge shouldn't be assumed, or so you'd hope, but if your game's been around for a time, that's easier to forget.

I couldn't remember whether Bless Unleashed had, in fact, been up and running somewhere else before it opened for business in Europe and America or, if so, where that might have been. I had a vague feeling I'd seen it mentioned in some pre-release articles I'd read but when I thought about it I realised I hadn't actually read all that much about the game before I came to play  it.

These days I tend not to do much prior research. I used to but over the years I've fallen out of the habit. Back in the noughties I would scour the web for anything and everything I could find about upcoming mmorpgs. I'd read all the news releases, follow the links to the official websites, soak up the classes and races and lore. I'd register on the forums and sign up for any tests they had going.


After a couple of decades and more, I don't get so swept away by promises or excited by artists' interpretations. I've seen so many games either fail to launch at all or arrive all but unrecognizeable from the portfolios and manifestos laid out in pre-release. As we've all had cause to obderve so often these last few years, the combination of Kickstarters, Early Release and Pay-to-Test alpha/beta buy-ins has knocked all the gilt off the gingerbread and sometimes left the gingerbread itself nothing but crumbs on the carpet.

Now, what I tend to do is note the arrival of a potential new game when I read the first announcement of its putative existence, decide if it looks like it has potential, then mentally bookmark it for later, at which point I usually forget all about it. Not infrequently I find myself surprised by the imminent arrival of a new game I've never heard of only to realize, dimly, after a while that I'd already read about and forgotten it several times before.

The games that really interest me I bookmark in a non-mental way, in Firefox. Unfortunately, since I have several hundred bookmarks, most of them unsorted, that doesn't help much as you'd think.


Bless Unleashed had managed to stick in my mind since I first heard about it for the sole reason I'd played the original Bless and somewhat enjoyed it. I wrote about it here a few times and said some nice things about it, particularly how it looked. As I remember, I enjoyed the low-level gameplay but by the time I got to somewhere in the mid-teens it had become a little too generic and pedestrian even for my tastes and I drifted away.

I can't say I was especially sad when Bless closed its servers. I was never going back. I didn't have characters I was attached to. It was kind of like learning a second cousin twice removed, who you'd met, once, at some family function a few decades ago, had passed away. Still, I had enough fond memories to pay attention when I heard there was a remake on the way. Just not enough to read much more than the headlines and note the date for the open beta.

As I said, though, there was something, I thought, about the game having been running in other markets before we in the West got to give it a try. I was wrong about that... and yet I wasn't.

Bless Unleashed isn't new although it's certainly not very old. It hadn't been operating as a PC mmorpg in non-Western territories prior to its current release but it has been available, worldwide, for a year and a half on consoles, specifically XBox One, where it even had its first expansion, Saurin's Deception, just a month or so back.

I knew BU had a console background. You could hardly miss it. I complained in my First Impressions piece that "it's extremely clear that Bless Unleashed is meant to be played with a controller not a keyboard and mouse". For some reason, though, I'd got it into my head that the release was localized to some other part of the world, probably Korea or Japan.

The shortcomings of the conversion from console to PC aside, knowing the game has been Live for eighteen months does go some way to explaining how confusing I'm finding it all. The systems and mechanics of mmorpgs are infamously dense and hard to penetrate and they tend to harden further over time. The longer a game's been running, the worse it gets.

In the case of Bless Unleashed I don't think it's the age of the game that's causing me such problems. Eighteen months isn't long by the standards of the genre. It's not like there's a decade of updates, expansions and iteration to push past. No, it's more the style of the game itself, so familiar from many other non-Western imports over the last decade or so. 

Bless Unleashed has a lot of systems. There are numerous currencies, each with their own vendors. There are several way to enhance your armor and weapons, all requiring different components and materials, some accessed through the UI, others via NPCs. It has half a dozen different crafts, each with their own stations. It has reputation based around cities and regions, something that may or may not be tied into the opt-in PvP. 


There's a full-screen picture-window menu of mechanisms and features with more or less comprehensible names. Some - Quest Log, Guild, Friends, Bag, all seem familiar enough. Combos, Class Skills, Crafting and Reputation, no problems there. 

Others make themselves clear enough when optioned. Trials turn out to be Achievements, Matchmaking is a dungeon-finder, Wardrobe is what you think it is although it doesn't work quite the way you might expect. Then you have the ones that take a bit of investigation to nail down.

Ancient Altar is something that kept coming up in prompts as I quested. I was supposed to go there and do something with some items that dropped. I thought it was a place. It's not. It's the game's Gacha system, where you trade Tickets for the chance to win Breaths, which you can then upgrade through NPCs, using a mechanic called Fusion to power another system called Blessings, which are passive buffs that you can change at altars around the world.

Campaigns are the main story quests, which come in Chapters that sometimes reward Cards which convert into Mounts or Costumes. Unions are NPC factions you can join. Bless Pass is some sort of upgradeable time-gated reward system, similar to but separate from Attendance, which is the actual log-in reward program.

As the intro of seventies proto-postmodernist satire Soap had it, "Confused? You will be!". And I am. But I don't mind. I'm used to it. Almost every mmorpg I've played for years has started this way. In my experience, if you're interested enough to care it all makes sense eventually. 

The game does attempt to bring you to most of the mechanics as you go ,although not very effectively much of the time and certainly not with any kind of urgency. At level fifteen I'm still getting breadcrumb quests introducing me to NPCs who talk aboutnew systems with handwaving gestures and a feint at explanation. 

Not a lot of it makes sense yet. I've had a quest in my journal to "Upgrade Blessings" for days now but I still haven't figured out how to do it. I spent some time trying to Enhance my gear at the Equipment Specialist before I realised I didn't have anything that could be Enhanced or indeed Fortified, which is the game term for what Enhancment does.

When I finally did acquire a weapon capable of Fortification (or Enhancement - take your pick) there was another learning curve to climb finding out how to get the necessary Fortification Stones. Those, it turns out, you can buy from a vendor called a Monster Hunter, who takes payment in something called Soul Crystals, which you get from doing I don't know the hell what! Only I had over a thousand of them so I must have been doing it, whatever it is. Presumably killing monsters, based on the guy's name.

It might sound like I'm complaining or criticizing but I'm really not. In all of this you can see the seeds (not the Star Seeds - that's another currency - don't let's go there) of just why Bless Unleashed is gripping me in a way some other mmorpgs haven't. 

There are two aspects to what I think is going on for me here. One is the sheer intellectual pleasure of discovering and understanding new systems and mechanics. That feeds back to the Explorer Archetype definitions I was talking about a few posts ago. The other is the worldliness of the way those systems and mechanics have been implemented.

I have a strong preference for game mechanics that require interaction with characters or objects in the game world. I like it even better if those things are geographically distant from each other and require travel time to reach. For me, these are significant factors in establishing worldliness and inducing that chimerical state, immersion.

I'm enjoying Bless Unleashed for a number of reasons, two of which are the opacity of the systems and the tactility of the mechanics. I'm well aware that for some players these will be two of the very things that put them off a game and I'm quite willing to admit that, over time, I too will come to prefer fast, simple access via the UI to slow, complex interactions inside the gameworld. 

But that's for later. That's what I will want as an experienced, veteran player, who's done it all a hundred times before. 

As a wide-eyed newbie, what I want is wonder closely followed by slack-jawed confusion. Occasionally I want to find myself in it far over my head, whatever it happens to be. Let me figure stuff out for myself at least some of the time. Let me pound the streets for long enough going from Warehouse to Welcome Event Merchant to Limited Time Vendor to learn the layout of the town, then move on to another settlement and have to start all over again.

Next time I write about Bless Unleashed I hope to get into some of the detail of what I've been enjoying. The odd, quirky quests. The memorable characters. The smart social engineering. Maybe even something about character progression and how that works.

Right now, though, I freely admit I don't understand enough about the game to do a lot more than post pretty pictures and tell you about this funny thing that NPC said. I don't even know if there's housing, ffs! I think there might be but I suspect if there is it's going to be along the lines of Guild Wars 2's home instances or World of Warcraft's Garrisons rather than Black Desert or Elder Scrolls furnishable homes.

Rather than make a lot of foolish assumptions and inaccurate statements that come back to bite me later I'm just going to stick with what I know for sure. It's that I'm having a lot of fun playing Bless Unleashed and I'm going to go on playing it until I'm not.

Or until New World arrives, whichever comes first.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Heh! Now I want to know what it was!

    2. LOL. Sometimes I jump down to the comments before I finish reading. In this case it was to share that they game came out on consoles prior to PC. Then I went back and continued reading and saw that you already knew that, so I deleted my comment. :) I didn't realize it would remain as a phantom commment!

  2. I just can't be mad at Bless Unleashed's (my S/O calls it "Blessed" to shorten it) many convoluted systems when I mained Warframe for close to three years.

    In fact, upon doing some experimentation with upgrading my Blessings, I explained it to my partner as "remember how we didn't know what we were doing with Warframe mods for three months? This is kind of like how Warframe mods work."

    I'm well aware of how derided Warframe's new player experience is. And now, Bless(ed) is beating Warframe on Steam for highest concurrent users. Wild.



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