Wednesday, August 11, 2021

How's That For First Impressions? - Bless Unleashed.


On Monday I finally found the time to play Bless Unleashed for more than half an hour. I played for most of the late afternoon and evening and enjoyed every minute of it. Altogether I've racked up just under eight hours so far. I've made it out of the tutorial, out of the starting area and past the first city to the next major settlement. Last night I dinged thirteen. I think I've seen enough for a First Impressions piece although nowhere remotely close to enough for a review.

Cutting to the chase, I really like Bless Unleashed. I was fairly sure I would. Of all the recent trials and tests I've reported on this summer, the BU open beta was the one I enjoyed the most. When it ended I had that itchy, unsatisfied feeling that comes when you want to play a particular game and can't. That's always a good sign, uncomfortable though it feels.

As I play through the same content a few weeks later, I'm surprised to find just how far I got last time and how much I missed along the way. The world feels very much as I remembered but the gameplay seems a little different because of the class I've picked. I definitely found combat easier as a Crusader but then when did Priests ever have levelling easy?

Let's break it down a little:

Graphics - They look pretty good to me but it's probably best to ask someone with a computer that's less than five years old. To appreciate Bless Unleashed in all its glory you'd need a much better rig than mine. Frankly, my PC is getting to the age now where pretty soon I'm not going to be able to play new games at all, not even mmorpgs, let alone see them as they're meant to be seen with all the full-on gleams and sparkles.

That said, even though the game defaults to the lowest possible settings when it sees my specs, when I hike everything up to "Normal" it all runs smoothly and looks good. I can run it at higher than that, too, without too many complaints from my computer. It's a very great deal more than I can say for New World, where I thought smoke was going to start coming out of the back of the case much of the time I played, even with everything set to full potato.

Within those restrictions, Bless Unleashed looks gorgeous. It reminds me strongly of Black Desert Online in the grit and detail of the settlements and of Final Fantasy XIV in the way the landscape appears wide and open but really isn't. There's a deal of funnelling going on but it's subtly done. I never felt I was on rails and I kept stopping to take screenshots, which is always a good sign.

Character Appearances - My character, as I noted in a previous post, does look astonishingly bland. In close up she barely seems to have any expression at all and her fur seems undiferrentiated and flat. I have a feeling I made her that way in character creation, though. I need to try again and see if the same thing happens before I pass judgment. Also, it might be my graphics settings, as discussed earlier.

One thing that really stands out in the early stages of the game is how sensible and "realistic" just about every player-character looks. There are no tower-sized shoulderpads, no swords larger than the people weilding them, no-one's on fire or trailing showers of sparks or flurries of leaves behind them as they run. No-one glows like an irradiated comic-book villain. Maybe that's all going to change as people level up. I imagine it will. It's a healthy way to start, even so.

Even healthier are the fashions on show. Again, I'm sure this won't last, but so far I haven't seen anyone of any gender running around in their underwear or looking like they're auditioning for a job as a Vegas showgirl. Everyone is wearing something that looks either like respectable city clothing or functional, practical armor. The nearest I've seen to a skin show were a couple of people in shorts and even they looked more like Eagle Scouts setting out on a hike than disco dancers on a smoke break.

UI and Combat - An odd pairing, perhaps, but they both suffer from the same problem: it's extremely clear that Bless Unleashed is meant to be played with a controller not a keyboard and mouse. It just feels clunky with a traditional PC set-up. 

Whoever programmed it all really likes the space bar. Space, instead of being used to jump, as I'm muscle-trained to expect, is the default out-of-combat "Do Everything" key. Want to buy something? Space. Want the text to scroll faster? Space. Want to aknowledge a quest? Space. I'm just surprised Space isn't the "Interact with Environment" key. That's "F" as it is in so many games. 

I need to check if there's any way to reprogram all the rest from Space to "F". That would make things a lot more handy. I did look but I couldn't see that keys were reassignable. I didn't look very hard, though. They might be. And if not now, maybe one day.

That way I could at least get jump back where it belongs. Now, any time I want to jump I have to hit CTRL, which I manage about one time in five. To sprint you need to hold down Shift but Valheim trained me for that, so it's okay. 

All of this is nothing I can't get used to. I'm halfway there already. Lots of mmorpgs have semi-awkward UIs. At least we aren't looking at the borderline insanity of Final Fantasy XI. Still, I'd rather the game made its origins and its preferences a little less obvious. 

Combat is fiddly. Space becomes your dodge key and dodging is about as crucial in Bless Unleashed as it is in GW2, I think. I won fights I thought were beyond me once I started hammering that space bar at the opportune moment.  

To build good DPS you have to learn and execute a lot of combos. Action games generally do that to an extent but some, like BDO and New World, pretty much let you get away with hammering left and right mouse almost at random. Bless Unleashed doesn't. Not only are the actual left-right sequences important, the way they are in DCUO for example, there are cooldowns to consider, too. You can't just mash the buttons and hope some combos will fall out. 

Fortunately for me, with my memory and my innate aversion to combo-making, the required sequences are handily displayed on-screen in real time. The placing is discreetly off-center to the right and it was a while before I noticed. When I did it made things somewhat easier. I'm never going to like it, though.

It's an important thing to remember when you consider how positive I'm being about the game as a whole and of my experience playing it. I'm having a great time even though I find the UI awkward and the combat hard to manage. If Bless Unleashed had traditional tab-target and hot key combat with a free mouse pointer on screen at all times, right now I'd be making comparisons with Guild Wars 2 and wondering whether I might be able to persuade Mrs Bhagpuss to give it a try with a view to us both playing for a while.


Music and Sound - After that lengthy discursion, a short note. The music is excellent and so is the soundscaping, by which I mean I've heard nothing at all that jars or seems out of place, which ought to be the primary aim of any video game score. I don't think I have much more to say than that, yet. For a proper music review I'd need to stop and listen and so far I've been too keen on getting stuff done. What I've noticed, though, I've liked very much.

Plot and Dialog -  Let's lump these two together for once even though they're very different beasts. I'm enjoying the main plot so far. It's staggeringly unoriginal but I count that in its favor. Increasingly I see mmorpgs as a form not unlike pantomime or film noir. There are certain conventions that should be adhered to, certain expectations that ought to be fulfilled. By all means be creative and innovative within those conventions but to step outside them entirely is a mistake. 

So far my character is deep in the traditional tale of lost homes, slaughtered friends, arch-nemeses and new allies. There are great forces at work somewhere out of sight but right now the gnolls are attacking the outlying farms and the goblins are getting involved and anyone who can can carry a blade the right way round is ripe for conscription into the militia.

Oh, it's so good to be fighting gnolls and goblins again!  And bandits! If there's one thing I didn't realize I'd missed it's that. Every game seems to want to invent its own menagerie of mythical monsters and sinister criminals but I just want to snatch the badges and lop the ears and tails off the ones I already know.


I'm underselling the originality of the plot a little, too. I finished last session working to find the reason behind the unlikely gnoll-goblin alliance and it turned out to be not at all what I expected. I do like a little drug-related skullduggery.

So much for the main plot. There are also plenty of side-quests which, as is the way of these things, vary in quality. As does the dialog. Now that's an odd one. 

In my last post on Bless Unleashed I praised the quality of the writing as "excellent". It is, in places. More often than not the on-screen text is fluent, demotic and natural. It reads well and gives the strong impression of having been crafted by a more than competent writer whose first language is English. Those quests are a pleasure to read.

There are others not as good. None of them are terrible. All of them make sense, don't exhibit any gross grammatical errors and follow most of the basic semantic requirements of English speech. The problem is, those dialogs never sound like anything someone whose first language was English would actually say. It's the difference between a native speaker and a technically proficient learner who's never had the opportunity to test their skills in a real, native-speaking environment.

Very clearly, some quests were given to different people or even different departments to dialog or to translate. Luckily, so far at least, far more of the work seems to have gone to the people who knew what they were doing. 


Questing and Gameplay - Overall, I'm very much enjoying the questing, both for its traditional nature and for the amusing repartee in the well-written sections. There are lots of kill quests, fetch quests, click on things quests and hide in a bush while people talk indiscretely about their secret plans quests. 

I like all of those as genre archetypes but in the case of Bless Unleashed I also like the way they've been implemented. The kill and fetch quests mostly ask for small numbers - threes or fives - although I suspect the numbers may be edging up as I gain levels. So far all the things to be killed or collected have been plentiful and prominent. I've only done one escort quest so far but it was a joyous moment when my rescuee announced he was perferctly capable of finding his own way home and the quest completed before I had to take him anywhere.

As I mentioned, there's a wide selection of side quests available. I've only been taking the ones I happen across as I travel but the questgivers are marked on the map so I can see there are far more than I've found by chance. I'm saving the rest for the next character I make. It will serve to vary the experience around the main story quest, which I'm guessing is an unavoidable levelling path for all characters.


Gear, Gold and Rewards - I'm a little vague on this. There are quite a lot of slots to fill and I have something in most of them by now. No rings yet. The main quest gives some good upgrades as do some of the side quests. I think I've had gear drop but I wouldn't swear to it. Gold drops a lot. 

Vendors have some odd things. I bought a gramophone from a one just because I wanted to see what it did. You can place it in the open world and it plays a bizarre, electro version of Chopsticks. It's bigger than my character! Single-use only but well worth the 3,000 gold all the same. 3k gold is chump change.

There's a whole raft of log-in rewards and every time the server hiccups some kind of compensation package arrives in the mail. I have a ton of chests and boxes I haven't even opened yet because I'm more worried about filling up my storage than I am about missing out on the buffs and boosts I imagine they contain.

I've played a lot of these imported free-to-play and buy-to-play mmorpgs now and one thing I've learned is that trying to keep up with all the free stuff they throw at you can make things seem more complicated than they really are. It's very easy to get the impression you need all this stuff or at least that you shouldn't ignore it. You don't and you should.

If you're just playing casually, for fun, the gameplay itself is going to give you everything you need. Yes, you can slap on all the bonuses if you want but why are you trying to go faster or make it easier? You're only level 10! Later on I'm sure this stuff will come into its own but at this stage it's just clutter you don't need. I'm leaving most of mine in the mail.

Mounts - Except for these. Bless Unleashed has a lot of creatures you can ride. If you open
your Stable from the UI you can see them all, greyed out of course because you don't own any of them yet. Except I do. I own three. 

There's a sheep you're given at some point in the main quest. I rode that in beta and liked it well enough. 

Then there's the garish rainbow-colored ostrich we all got as compensation for the overcrowded servers at launch. A lot of people are riding those and they look... silly.

I'm riding some sort of golden hyena, which is, of course, extremely sensible. It's a reward for taking part in the open beta. So far I haven't seen a single player other than me riding one, although I've seen a ton of people sporting the "Breaker of Games" beta title. I don't know if that means not everyone got the mount or if it's such a terrible choice no-one else wants to use it. I like mine I'm going to keep on riding it. For now.

Summary - As I said at the top, I really like Bless Unleashed. I've barely seen any of it, though, so what do I know, really? This is just a First Impressions piece. In a week or a month I may have discovered it's a terrible game for some reason I can't as yet imagine. It seems unlikely, though.

What I do know is that most of the game is waiting to reveal itself to me. All I have to go on is the little I've seen on my trip into the teens. There's much, much more, or I trust there is.

I know there's crafting because I've seen a number crafting stations in the settlements. I know there's fishing because I found the guy who sells the rods and bait and I bought some and caught a few fish. I know there are dungeons and PvP and at least two upgrade/enhancement mechanics I don't yet understand. There are achievements although they're not called that. I forget what they are called. There may or may not be pets. I don't think there's housing. 

Whatever there is, I'm keen to find out. I like Bless Unleashed and that's my first impression. What my last impression will be, who can say? But no-one ever does Last Impressions posts, do they?


  1. I'll really have to see if I can fit some more of this one in. The tutorial bits seemed okay, but it mostly gave me the urge to reinvestigate Aion or Archeage, despite never really caring for either (pvp, blergh!). I'm quite happy to be back in FFXIV at the moment so will have to be a balance if I do.

    Two things here:
    1. You can remap your keys, it's somewhere in the settings... I forget exactly where, but I switched Space and Ctrl because jumping should be on space. Psychopaths... xD
    2. My character turned out kinda bland as well. Maybe cute? But definitely not as I made her. It's odd, so perhaps not just you.

    1. Insanely late reply that you'll never see...

      I remapped jump to Space for exactly the same reasons and then found I kept dying because I couldn't dodge in time because I'd swapped dodge onto Ctrl, where jump had been and if it's hard to hit the little Ctrl key at the right time to jump it's ten times harder to hit it at the right time in a fight to dodge!

      I ended up reverting to the default and after a while I just got used to it. Of course, now New World is here I'm not playing Bless Unleashed anyway...


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