Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Level Up

I've posted a fair amount about Bless Unleashed already but I haven't really said much about what it's like to play. All the systems and mechanics and pretty graphics aren't going to count for much if the gameplay doesn't cut it.

What constitutes gameplay in an mmorpg, though? It varies wildly according to taste and inclination and mmorpg players frequently silo themselves to the extent that fantastic gameplay in one quadrant is completely invisible to all the others. I could play a game with the best raiding in the genre and I'd never even know about it. Perhaps I do.

Anything I say about Bless Unleashed comes from the perspective of someone who plays mostly solo, likes to wander about picking up random quests but doesn't always bother to finish them, enjoys the levelling process for its own sake, not just as a means to an end and who thrives on character progression without necessarily having any intention of doing whatever a fully-progressed character is expected to do. 

When it comes to direction, I prefer a modicum of guidance over a blank page but I chafe at being pushed down one inevitable path. I don't mind a central narrative but I'm more interested in well-written dialog and well-drawn characters, operating on a smaller scale, in short stories or vignettes. 

I'm easily pleased by genre tropes if they're handled well and used effectively. I'm happy to kill my ten rats for one farmer then ride half a mile to the next village and kill ten more for his cousin. I don't care much about either originality or gravitas in game storylines but I do respond well to wit, humor and especially whimsy.

Excuse me, ma'am. Just passing through. Don't happen to have seen any snakes?


My conception of a good mmorpg includes (but is not limited to) a convincing virtual world where I can wander from town to town, righting wrongs and getting into scrapes like some ungodly cross between Kwai Chang Kane and The Littlest Hobo. I should be able to lose myself in my character and their adventures to the point where I feel I'm inside one of those TV shows I grew up watching.

Yes, not everyone's definition of an mmorpg, I realize that, and hugely truncated from the full version I have in my head. I could easily carry on adding more and more qualifying criteria until I'd finished the whole post without ever getting around to talking about Bless Unleashed at all. So let's not do that.

Based on the definition I've given, Bless Unleashed ticks all my boxes. So far I've clocked up over twenty hours, which is about as much time as I've been able to find to play. There's that test we all have for "good games" where we put aside other things we could or should be doing just to fit in one more session -  Bless Unleashed passes that test effortlessly.

Still not explaining what I'm doing there, am I? Okay: specifics. 

Mostly I've been levelling. It hasn't been particularly fast and it hasn't been especially easy. It's been good, solid, positive grind, the kind I like.

I started out following the main story quest, known in BU as a Campaign. That carried me smoothly and satisfyingly from the starter island all the way to the second major city, by which time my character was around level thirteen. 

Hey, big guy! I'm down here!


I'd also been picking up side quests as I came across them and joining in with every open-world boss fight, of which there are plenty. These remind me strongly of Guild Wars 2 World Bosses, particularly back in the days when those bosses were tougher and frequently left piles of bodies on the ground whenever they flurried or raged. 

The combination of a strong, linear narrative with plenty of unrelated side quests and a plethora of massive all-pile-on fights covers a lot of bases, when it comes to keeping me occupied and engaged. Add to that a design ethos that largely encourages the kind of co-operative, always happy to see another player mechanics that make GW2 such a relaxing, non-competetive environment and it's not really surprising I'm enjoying myself as much as I am.

A little clarity on that last paragraph: in BU you get credit for every mob you help to kill, whether or not you started the fight and whether or not you did most of the work. I suspect there may be some form of reward scaling but if so it's very generous. This means I'm always glad to see someone come barelling up to launch themselves onto the mob I'm fighting. I know I'll get my xp and my loot, the mob will die faster and I won't die at all. 

It also means you can, if you're canny, kill mobs outside your intended range, for which there's an achievement, as I discovered. At level fifteen I took a quest to kill anacondas for their shining scales only to find out when I got there that the snakes were level twenty. I was very cautiously pulling singles and wearing them down, trying not to die, when another player of a much more appropriate level rocked up and starting blatting anacondas right and left. I tagged on to his kills and had my scales in no time.

Call that an ogre?

The game supports this kind of coat-tail hanging and that's something of which I very strongly approve. There's also a mechanic similar to GW2's where players can revive other players who've been downed. There's an achievement for that, too. I got downed about half a dozen times, fighting a boss way above my pay grade (had a quest for that one, too) and different people picked me up every time. 

Those are the kinds of behaviors that make levelling a pleasure. Of course, it's not likely to be quite the same in a month or two, when everyone's moved on from the early zones and new characters will have the place much more to themselves, but for now it's working exactly as I'm sure it was intended.

Levelling hasn't been all high fives and fist bumps, though. As I hinted earlier, I ran into a little problem around level thirteen. I was blithely following the campaign trail and having not much of an issue with any of it when I found myself in an instance I couldn't finish. 

The Campaign storyline has numerous set pieces where the game puts your character into a solo instance and tells you you can't play with other players there. That will cause some people to shake their heads, I know, and I do think it would be better to allow an opt-in for other people to come help. It's the same design that put a stop to my progress in The Secret World so I know how frustrating it can be to run up against solo content you just can't finish.

That didn't happen here. I was facing a mass of Gnolls all higher level than me in a pitched battle. I had to kill ten of them, then two of their commanders. There was limited space to manouever and a high possibility of getting more gnolls than I could handle at any moment.

Now, that's an ogre!
On my first run I died a bunch of times. Once, I accidentally ran outside the confines of the instance and unintentionally reset the quest. Another time I chose to revive at a Soul Pyre and that reset the quest. Eventually I got my ten gnolls down and somehow managed to kill both commanders, too.

Oh boy, was I proud of myself... for about two seconds. Then a cut scene started. The big bad from the main narrative appeared, stroking his chin. He summoned a gigantic ogre chieftain and set it loose to hunt me down. I checked the ogre's hit points. It was a lot. I fought it for a while and managed to knock five per cent off its health without letting it hit me. 

I could see the fight was technically within my character's ability but I was already mentally worn down from getting as far as I had. I couldn't face another fifteen or twenty minutes of focused concentration as I tried to whittle down the monster's hit point mountain while somehow staying out of reach of his humungous sword, so I quit.

I quit not out of rage or frustration but because I knew there was a better way. If I was a couple of levels higher than the ogre rather than a couple lower, things would go differently. So I figured and I was right. I just hadn't planned on it taking me two or three days to get the levels.

These past few sessions I've been exploring every valley and swamp, mopping up all the side quests I could find. I've been taking the repeatable quests with daily reset quotas and doing those. I've been knocking off all the world bosses and named mobs I come across. I've even used the Matchmaking system to do some duos in the Arena.

I also upgraded my staff and did what I could to get my Gear Score as high as it would go. I had eighteen pegged as a level that would give me a good chance of only having to do the instance once. Given how close I came at thirteen that was probably two or three levels more than I needed but I wanted to be sure.

It worked. I dinged eighteen last night and went straight to the place where the battle was waiting to start. Apart from one idiotic error right at the beginning (Don't kill the last mob of Phase One while you're standing on the exact spot the mobs for Phase Two are going to spawn unless you really want to start the next fight at 25% health.) everything went smoothly. 

The big ogre was slow on his feet. I dodged ninety per cent of his attacks and I had the firepower to bring him down at a fair clip. It also turned out to be one of those finales where an NPC comes storming in at the end to take the kill and the credit, so I really only had to get the ogre to about 90% anyway.

Hey, buddy! Who d'you think did all the work?

That's what I've been doing in Bless Unleashed: levelling. And making memories.

The fact that I can remember all of this so clearly next day points to why I'm enjoying myself so much.  I could probably recap everything I've done this week, in more detail than anyone would care to read, over the course of several lengthy posts. Don't worry, I won't.

Of course, just because I'm having a good time and I'm able to remember it doesn't make BU a great mmoprg, let alone an innovative or original one. It's none of those things. It's just a decent, well-made genre title that happens to suit me. By my criteria, it's a proper mmorpg. It does enough of the things I want games in this genre to do, including some of the most important ones.

I am not recommending it unreservedly. There's plenty of room for improvement and I have no idea what the higher game is going to be like. I'm not recommending it at all to anyone who feels, not without good reason, that there are plenty of other, better mmorpgs that do all of the things I've described here and more. I'm easily pleased when it comes to mmorpgs, as must be blindingly obvious to anyone who's been here for a while.

All I'm saying is, I've played a few of these games and I know which ones work and which ones don't, at least when it comes to leveling. As Wolfyseyes says, "games being OK is fine...Take a moment to try them out. You never know how surprised you just might end up being."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to do some more levels. And maybe make another character...


  1. As a player, I'm pretty similar to you. Now I gotta check out Bless. I did try it on console at one point but didn't really give it a fair shake.

    1. Given that it's so obviously designed to be played with a controller, maybe the console version would be preferable. Or play it on PC with a controller, I guess. The game keeps suggesting I do that but I'd have to buy one first.

  2. That's a good summary and tells me there's more for my better half and I to enjoy and look forward to as we level up. We have been finding the experience very similar to our favorite moments leveling up in GW2 as well, with the exception that I really found a class I like playing here rather than feeling I had to choose a class that allowed me to survive.

    I also share your frustration about being separated as per Secret World, and it's the one thing I curse in how some of these MMO's handle tough story content. Guys, I am more than happy to suspend my disbelief about being the Warrior of Light or Vestige or whomever if you let me bring my buddy into combat!


    1. One thing GW2 has always been good at is allowing players to get help on their Personal Story. Back when the game was new it was very common for people to ask in open channels for help, something you don't see as much of these days. There were some occasions where it caused a few issues with credit but overal it's always worked well. I don't believe there can be many technical reasons to prevent it so doing so has to be a design choice. Just not a good one.


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