Monday, August 30, 2021

Have Horse, Will Travel


I am still playing Bless Unleashed. According to Steam I've racked up almost fifty-two hours since the game launched three weeks ago. That's quite a long way short of how many hours I'd like to have played.

For some reason, even though I want to play, I keep finding myself doing other things instead. This isn't some kind of self-negating avoidance strategy or an indication that while I think I want to play I don't really. It's just that there's a lot going on right now and other stuff keeps getting in the way.

Even so, I have managed to play every day, even if it's only been for an hour or two. And I really have been playing. That Steam tally includes very little time spent idling at character select or tabbed out afk. 

There's a lot to do in Bless Unleashed and I don't mean busy work. I mean good, solid levelling and character progression. Levelling is as slow as I've seen in a new mmorpg for quite a while, although in part that's because I've declined to use any of the multiple xp boosts and buffs the game's been throwing at me. 

This is not to say it's poorly-paced; quite the opposite in fact. Levels in BU feel meaningful in a way that harks back to a much older style of mmorpg design. Each level matters. 


As a Priest, my spells are spaced out enticingly, with new abilities I very much want to earn sitting temptingly next to levels I have yet to reach. Other features and opportunities unlock as character level hits various markers. 

New dungeons and arenas open up every two or three levels. So far I've only tried a few but that already makes this one of the very, very few mmorpgs I've played in the last decade where I've willingly used a matchmaking system to pug a dungeon. And it's been... okay.

Since I've mentioned it, let's talk about my grouping experience so far. I've had one! That's unusual in itself, especially in a game that doesn't specifically require it. 

Actually, that's not wholly accurate. There have been a couple of quests that required me to complete an arena or a dungeon. I'm not sure the Campaigns in Bless Unleashed are quite as central to the game design as the MSQ in Final Fantasy XIV but I suspect you'd have problems if you tried to skip them entirely.

Even before the Campaign sent me there, though, I tried the matchmaking facility a couple of times out of curiosity. I was interested to see what my role in a group might be. 


I'm playing a Priest, supposedly a healing class, but I have almost no healing spells at all. Priests get one spell early on that summons a glowing ball of light about a meter away. It took me a while to figure out you have to go stand in it for a second or two, at which point it pops, gives you a big heal and puts a regen buff on you that lasts for a few seconds.

As you might imagine, that's awkward as hell to use in action combat, where half the time you're rolling and dodging and leaping about. I tend to cast mine inbetween kills to heal back up or ahead of time so I can run into it during a fight. 

In the couple of five-person dungeons I did I tried casting the heal bubble near other people as they were fighting or next to people who were low on health but only one person ever intentionally went into one to get a heal. I've seen people complaining in chat about how no-one in their dungeons understands how to use the bubbles and that's been my limited experience, too.

On the other hand, unlike most mmorpgs I can think of other than Guild Wars 2, back when people actually did dungeons there, Bless Unleashed doesn't care which classes make up a group. You don't need a tank or a healer. The matchmaker just slams the first five people it finds together without reference to levels or classes and lets you get on with it. Healing, at least up to the mid-twenties, does not seem to be a priority.


That's presumably why, even though there's an automated matchmaking system, general chat is full of people trying to put a group together the old-fashioned way. One person yesterday was offering his services repeatedly with the attention-grabbing tagline "I'm done grouping with matchmaking APES!"

For my money, the matchmaking is fine. Most of the two-person Arenas I've done have gone smoothly enough. There seem to be various incentives and reasons for higher levels to do lower level content so I'm always hoping to get matched with someone ten levels above me. 

All I have to do when that happens is stand back and press LMB while they kill everything, then pick up my loot and leave. Of course, now I'm in my twenties, sometimes I'm the higher level, so I have to do a bit more of the heavy lifting but that's fine, too. 

In the five-person dungeons it's a bit more nuanced. The wide spread of levels can mean someone's often dying a lot and someone else is doing all the hard work but mostly it's been a good team effort. No-one ever speaks, of course. And I mean no-one and ever. Okay, maybe once or twice, just a couple of words.

And yet, despite the apparent lack of social skills, a couple of the runs I've done have shown solid teamwork. People rez each other when they can, try to trade aggro, generally behave with a degree of attantion that goes beyond focusing only on what they're doing themselves.

I did one five-person arena where we had to fight a very large, very tough ogre. On the first attempt I loaded into the instance so late the gate had come down and I had to stand and watch through the wooden bars as the rest of my team tried and failed to beat the boss with just four. 

No-one yelled at me. No-one quit. When the last of them died they all respawned, the boss reset, the gate opened and we all went in, five of us this time. And wiped, after a long and arduous battle. Again, no-one complained, although one person left without saying anything. The matchmaker replaced them almost instantly and off we went again.

Aaand... wiped a third time. No-one spoke. I was sure the group would fall apart. I was about ready to call it myself. I didn't think we were going to get any further than we'd managed so far. We hadn't been able to get the Ogre down before he enraged and when that happened it looked like we had no hope at all. 

No-one else seemed to be giving up, though, so I went another round. And we won. People seemed to have learned from the failures. I know I had. We avoided some of the bad stuff, were more ready for the big attacks, more mindful of each other. And we all poured on the damage in the phases when it mattered. Nothing was discussed, people just observed, learned and acted. 

It was... good. Not as good as grouping with people who chat and discuss tactics and get to know each other, like we did back in the olden days. But still... good. I enjoyed it. I'll do some more. 

Going back to what I was saying, before I interrupted myself with tales of teamwork and the unexpected pleasures of pugging, levelling in Bless Unleashed has direction and purpose. It doesn't just feel like a makeshift way to keep people hanging around. It feels both absorbing and satisfying, in and of itself. 

When levelling matters, outlevelling becomes a viable option for circumventing obstacles. At level twenty-three I ran up against another solo instance in the Campaign involving a fight I didn't feel entirely confident I could win. It might have been possible but rather than bang my head against it to find out, I opted to carry on levelling. I'm hoping that another two or three levels should tip the balance in my favor. 

If not, I can always get a couple more but first I'll need to find some new quest hubs. In pursuit of those and other sources of xp, I've been exploring, ranging further and further across what's turning out to be an extremely large map. We're talking Black Desert distances here. 

I finished all three of the introductory questlines for the three NPC "Unions" (aka factions), all of which conclude in the immense, imposing and very beautiful city of Sperios. I thought about it as I rode through the broad avenues, opening teleport stations and taking in the sights, then I decided to throw my lot in with the crafters union, the Artisan's Society


They immediately sent me on an initiation quest that took me deep into unknown territory, opening up huge swathes of uncharted countryside and any number of villages, towns and settlements, in several of which NPCs were just waiting for me to come along and sort out their problems with spiders, wolves, errant girlfriends, over-protective boyfriends and the like. 

By the time I got to the third part of the Union quest I was facing mobs four or five levels above me. Once again I had to withdraw to more appropriate territories to hone my skills and add a couple more levels.

My immediate goal is to get to twenty-six when, if my sources are correct, I should come into possession of an Estate. I don't know just how Bless Unleashed's "housing" works but I've heard it comes with a significant amount of storage and that's more than incentive enough.

As for this post, I'm going to leave it at that for now. I'm very conscious still of just how much about the game I don't know, let alone understand. I don't want to sound as though I have it all figured out when I absolutely do not.

I will say, though, that I think Bless Unleashed is the most satisfying levelling mmorpg I've played for a quite a while. It feels very old school in that respect, without feeling at all old-fashioned. I suspect I'll be levelling a couple more characters of different classes before I'm done with it. 

For once, it feels as though that wouldn't be a complete waste of time.


  1. I poked my nose into this last last night. I didn't have much time and my intent was just to get through the tutorial-ish section, before you take that gryphon ride.

    I had tried the game on the Xbox and didn't think much of it. But the PC version feels quite different. I actually want to go and start a new character on the Xbox now to see if it has been updated/streamlined or if the two versions are just difference.

    First the dialog (as you've mentioned) seems much better than I remember it. Second, I remember spending a long time in that starter area doing errands involving carting kegs of beer around, finding various shinies things and just kind of mindless busy-work. On PC I did none of that. I zoomed through that zone in 5-10 minutes. I actually spoke to the NPC who sends you to collect some orbs as part of a festival game because I expected the quest to be there, and the orbs were there but there no longer seemed to be a quest attached to it.

    So now I'm really curious: is my memory just super faulty, have both versions of the game been updated, or is the PC version just different.

    1. I had the feeling something had changed in the tutorial even between the recent beta and launch. I think they may have cut a whole lot of quests out of the island section for exactly the reasons you suggest, to make it tighter and faster.

      After that it seemed to be much the same but I didn't get all that far in the beta so it's hard to be sure. On the quests, I've done a lot now and about 80% of them have been very well translated or rewritten from scratch in good English. The other 20% read like Google translate botch jobs, which is a shame because some of those look like they'd be very funny if they were converted to the same standard as the rest. I'm hoping they'll get to that eventually.

      All in all, though, I think it's a very solid, quite old-fashioned mmorpg, at least at the low-mid levels. Definitely a solid cut above most of the imports of the last few years. And it's free!

    2. Reporting back in!

      I created a new character on the Xbox and it is definitely different. There are more quests in the tutorial (tho I guess you could skip them) and little changes I kept noticing. Like when you get to Marco's farm, on the PC you're given a healing herb for the gryphon, on console you have to go gather an herb. Trivial differences, but differences.

      Also the gryphon seemed smaller on console, and if you remember in Teleos (?? that intro zone), when you eavesdrop on the 3 masked strangers, they vanish, 1 by 1, via ninja dust. On the Xbox there's one big puff of smoke and the camera cuts away; you don't actually see them vanish. So weird things like that.

      And goodness, the cut scenes on the Xbox look like they're running about about 15 FPS. In general the game looks really poor, like it was built for the original underpowered Xbox and takes no advantage of the later iterations. Healing the gryphon was where I quit; I couldn't think of a single reason to keep playing there.

      There are 2 servers on the xbox and both were listing "Low" population, so I guess the game isn't doing so well there.

    3. That's really interesting. And odd. I am failry sure that all the things you mention as being on XBox but not in the current PC version were in the PC open beta back in June. I remember all of them. Clearly they must have taken not of feedback or metrics from that beta and changed things, but not bothered to make the same changes to the console version, presumably because they don't anticipate much growth there from now on.

      I did actually like all the little tasks and quests in the intro zone but experience from other games suggests it's a risky strategy to let people get too confortable in a tutorial zone that's going to be ripped away from them when the game starts for real. Guild Wars did it and it created a whole cult of players who tried to stay in the tutorial permanently. EQII did it and eventually, a decade later, ended up revamping the whole tutorial zone for permanent access. I actually wrote in my post about the beta that I'd like to play a whole game set in the world of the BU starter island before it got destroyed.

      Probably better just to get people into the proper game as fast as possible!

  2. That first screenshot made me think this post was going to be about Guild Wars 2 for a moment! With the tassles on her hat your little person looks a bit like an Asura from a distance. No wonder you like this game. :P

    1. Yes, they're quite similar. I made my first one look very bland but you can make them look a lot more interesting than that. Although not as crazy weird as Asuras can get.


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