Saturday, February 20, 2016

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. : Blade and Soul

Blade and Soul is weird. It just is. I'm not even talking about the environments, where the giant heads of statues taller than a five-story building can apparently lie scattered around without drawing the slightest comment or explanation. I'm not talking about man-size dogs that carry water pitchers on their heads.

I'm not even questioning why every adult guard in a fifty mile radius believes a small girl recovering from a traumatic injury is better suited to doing their jobs than they could ever be. No, all of that comes with the territory.

What's weird is the gear progression. Counter-intuitive doesn't even begin to cover it.

I suppose I'm old-fashioned. Okay, let's make that plain old. I grew up with a particular trope for gear progression in RPGs that I found really quite straightforward to follow. It went like this:

  • You start out with a rusty sword.
  • With your rusty sword you kill, let's say, a gnoll.
  • The gnoll drops a sword that's not so rusty.
  • You take the not-so-rusty sword from the dead gnoll and with it you kill a bigger gnoll, who drops a sword that's not rusty at all. Perhaps it's made of bronze.
  • You swap again and with the bronze sword you kill an orc.
  • He drops an iron sword.

Now you're getting the hang of how this goes. And it keeps on going like that, all the way
until you're standing over the smoldering corpse of the Holy Dragon Emperor, who just dropped the Flaming Scimitar of the Blazing Dragon and you won the game. Until the next expansion, when you return to Go and start all over again.

I may never have gotten within a hundred miles of that final, fiery sword, but I knew how to make my way in its general direction. Kill baddies, take their stuff. It was simple and I liked it.

Well, MMORPGs haven't really worked that way for a long time. Everything has sockets and gems and auras and augmentations. There are Relics and Epics and weapons and armor that Evolves. I know all that. Don't like it much but no-one's asking me.

Then we come to Blade and Soul. Firstly, there are a lot fewer equipment slots than I'm used to. It's pretty much your weapon, some jewellery and a hat. Secondly, and this is the really weird part, by level twenty you will have filled all the slots that matter with the only item you will ever need to equip there.

I had to google it. I would never have believed it if I hadn't read this guide. I am wondering even now if I've understood it correctly. This is what I think happens:

  • Through questing you acquire a Hongmoon item for each slot.
  • Each of these is the best you will ever get. Yes, you are playing a game where, from the beginning, your character gets BiS gear automatically.
  • This gear evolves. By consuming other gear. You feed it, it grows.
  • As you kill, you get drops. 
  • The drops are sealed. 
  • You can't equip sealed gear. 
  • You don't need to, even though you also get keys that do unseal it. 
  • If you do unseal it, you can equip it, but you would never want to equip it because it is always worse than what you already have.
  • Except when your Hongmoon gear reaches a "Breakthrough" point. 
  • Then you must unseal a specific item that matches the Breakthrough because now that's all your Hongmoon piece has the appetite to eat.

There's another, even more demented, progression path for your Soul Shield but at this point I began to lose the will, and the ability, to take it all in.

I just came out of City of Steam a month or so ago. That game also had an insanely complicated series of nested progression paths for gear. EQ2, which I have been boiled in for so long that I've been soup for years, has gear ladders that appear to have been designed by Escher and Gaudi on a bet. Even those mare's nests still had gear that dropped that you used!

Maybe someone is going to explain in the comments how I've gotten this all wrong. I hope so. At the moment it appears that my future in Blade and Soul consists of looting items that I have to unseal to see what they are so I can look at them and realize they are useless to me and that I should have left them sealed and sacrificed them to the gear I already have.

I'm not saying that doesn't work. I'm already starting to get used to it. I managed to buff my Hongmoon staff so far last night that I need two more levels before I can take it any further. That was quite satisfying.

I am, however, saying it's weird. Why is this better than just having the drops - which are already dropping - be direct upgrades that I equip? Is it something to do with the payment model? Is there some aspect of this that is going to force me to give NCSoft money somewhere down the line if I want to progress?

If so, frankly, it's not necessary. I had a quest last night that required me to open the Cash Shop and have a look at it. Most F2P games have a quest like this for obvious reasons. Usually it's click - click - done. Not this time.

I spent about a quarter of an hour browsing the virtual shelves. Unlike GW2's Gem Store, where there is almost never a single thing I'd use even if it came for free, I could imagine spending money in B&S's store all too easily. I probably won't because I'm mean like that but I could imagine it.

I mean, who wouldn't want to wear a pink fat suit and call themselves Pinky Bear?  Nothing weird about that at all. And if that's not worth getting your credit card out for, what is?


  1. Eventually you'll need a specific weapon for your upgrade that can guaranteed with a key also found in the shop. That bypasses a bit of grind, it's not a must but it can help if you are having a bad luck streak.

    1. I rolled on the wheel today and got a complete Soul Shield (8 fragments in a box) so that was nice. Slowly getting the basics but it does seem unnecessarily convoluted - but then, what MMO isn't these days?

    2. Yeah, true. It can just take some time, but unless you're in a huge rush to the cap, it's not always bad. Save the first cash shop key you get, you'll use it for a weapon upgrade. Forget where you get it from, but they do hand them out sometimes and the reward boxes have a chance.

  2. It sounds like a complicated way to be special...?
    And wait, what do you mean you only equip a weapon, jewelry and a hat? You never loot armor that makes your character look different as you level up? How does that work for customized looks, cosmetics only?

    1. I'm still feeling my way through it. Some of the mechanics I barely recognize, far from understand, so don't take anything I say as authoritative. With that caveat, as far as I an tell you get a single slot for all the clothes you see on your character - that's an Outfit.

      Then there are nine other slots (you can see them in the shot above) which is mostly what would be thought of as Acessories in other MMOs - ring, amulet, earring, bangle, face (glasses), hat and something else I forget.

      Most, if not all, of those display on your character so I guess that is the main way for you to personalize your look other than by changing outfits for a complete makeover. You get plenty of different outfits from quests but they frequently change your faction and make you KoS to certain NPCs and also to players who are wearing the outfits of opposed NPC factions so that's a consideration.

      Then there are a whole load of non-faction outfits in the store that you can buy, some of which I thought were pretty spiffy. It's quite a different approach from any MMO I've played but only in degree, I guess. Not sure how I'd get on with it long term but for a run to level cap it seems fine.

  3. I find your thoughts on Blade and Soul fascinating as so much of your impressions are the opposite of how I felt when I tried it. For example, I looked at the cash shop and -- for perhaps the first time in my MMO career -- found absolutely nothing that appealed to me.

    As for the unique gearing method, I very much like the idea Blade and Soul has, though not necessarily the execution. I've always felt RPGs, and MMOs especially, treat gear as entirely too disposable, and the idea of just keeping one set and upgrading it over time appeals to me greatly. The actual mechanics of it, especially needing specific items to unlock new levels, could use work, though.

    1. I think that you and I may be somewhat at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to what we'd prefer from an MMO. I like things in the game to feel and seem as far away from being a "game" as possible. I'm very happy to accept quite a lot of inconvenience as a player if it makes what happens to my characters more convincing.

      In that way my ideal gearing system is one like Rubies of Eventide had and which EverQuest had some of in its first few years. In RoS, if you kill an orc he drops EVERYTHING he was wearing and carrying. Every orc, every time. If he's wearing a suit of chain armor and a helmet and carrying a spear and a shield that's what you get to loot, plus all the other stuff he might have had in his pockets. And if you're the right class and size and so on you can put it on and use it just like he did.

      That's how I like it. If I want a better breastplate I like to go and find a baddie who has one and take it away from him. I don't mind if I have to buy it, craft it or quest for it but my first choice is always to loot it. What I really don't like are systems that require you to upgrade things by breaking up other perfectly good things or, even worse, ones where you run content repeatedly to earn points with some NPC shopkeeper who then sells you the thing - I really hate those.

      As for weapons that stay with you permanently and grow in power, I just find those incredibly dull and tedious. Where's the endorphin hit in that?

    2. I do think we tend to take opposite views of a lot of things (which is part of why I enjoy reading your blog; it's interesting to see things from a different perspective, and you're able to present your opinions more eloquently and less belligerently than the average Internet-dweller), but I don't think it's quite that black and white.

      For example, I also prefer for things not to feel game-like. I just think we have different perspectives on what accomplishes that.

      For example, nothing knocks me out of the immersion like replacing the +12 Stabby Sword of Stabbiness I wrested from Gargollax the Mostly Awful with a pointed stick that dropped off a random wolf in the next expansion. But stripping the enchantments off a new sword and using that power to further enhance my +12 Stabby Sword of Stabbiness? Now that feels right.

      Mind you, upgrade systems are still not my ideal. If I had a magic wand, I'd make gear an element of character customization, like interchangeable talents. One sword gives you +5% haste, and another gives you +5% crit. Neither is objectively better; it's about your build and what you want to focus on.

      IMO, gear should be a part of your character's identity, not a disposable resource. When I play an RPG, I want to play out the classic hero narrative. Gear is an important part of that, but not when it's a treadmill. Frodo didn't replace Sting when Shelob dropped something better. Arthur didn't toss Excalibur in the trash bin when he found a +4 Big Stick of Compensation. So for me, more permanence in gear is what makes it feel less like a game.

      This could even tie into our previous discussion about the trinity. One of my biggest problems with the trinity is how utterly gameified and artificial it is. It could not be more divorced from what actual combat is like, and it just rips me out of the experience.

  4. Hah, sounds like they took a look at GW2's Mystic Forge path to Legendary Precursors and thought "let's do that! For ALL gear!".

    I have to admit I do like having my gear stable and only changing it when major upgrades are available - think Aragorn's upgrade to Narsil/Anduril in ROTK - but I also like customising my character's looks. That balance between gear growth and fashion is something I have yet to find satisfactory.

  5. Apparently the original game didn't have Hongmoon gear. It was a traditional drop system. The Hongmoon gear was introduced as a "catchup" mechanical.

    It's essentially the same as heirlooms in WoW, only you have to put some effort into upgrading the heirloom, not just have it scale automatically.


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