Monday, March 7, 2016

Gotta Play 'Em All : Blade and Soul, Black Desert Online

Some days it seems like everyone and their donkey is off playing Black Desert Online, while here am I, stuck with last month's seven-day wonder, Blade and Soul. When I'm not playing that other game no-one plays any more, that is.

It's fair to say I never expected to play Blade and Soul for more than a couple of sessions. I thought I'd take a few screenshots, get a blog post or two out of, then cast it aside like all the rest of the imported MMOs that don't find traction with me. Hasn't turned out that way.

I've played Blade and Soul almost every day for a month now. My Summoner is level 30 so I'm averaging about a level a day. It's just a fun MMO. It isn't very deep or complex or  sophisticated or subtle - it's just fun to play.

Sometimes you just want to run!

It's also easy, at least as far as leveling goes. Due to some bizarre and baroque design decisions, gearing up a character is an odd experience, as I mentioned before. At level 30 I have just four slots filled with gear that affects combat performance - my weapon and three pieces of jewellery. For a while I thought maybe I'd get drops or quest items for the other slots but so far nothing has appeared. I'm not even sure those slots give stats - they may just be for looks.

The four items I do have can be upgraded all the way to the level cap, which I believe is 45, but they have all maxed out for now at level 10. Further progress is gated behind certain specific items that I have yet to acquire (or even look for). The weapon is particularly awkward, upgrading only from a dungeon drop that's both semi-random and open for bids among the group when and if it appears.

You and me both, Suki.

All of which sounds off-putting and would be if it wasn't for the fact that none of it makes any appreciable difference whatsoever to my character's ability to do everything she wants to do. It's like a one-inch high roadblock you just drive right over without even feeling the bump.

At level 30, using my level 10 gear, I can do every quest I'm given with comfort. More than once I've found myself running so far ahead of the expected curve that progress on the main quest has had to to take an enforced break while my nominal level catches up. Presumably there is content somewhere that requires the use of level appropriate gear but I haven't run into any of it yet.

With the usual motivator of gearing-up absent from the leveling process there must be something else driving me to keep climbing that ladder. Mostly it's the old "what's over the next hill" curiosity. Blade and Soul may not be as quasi-realistic as BDO but it's gorgeous all the same.

Let's just see where the road takes us.

The map is excellent at teasing the reveals and opening each new location is a great motivator. The world seems very big and filled with variety. There's always something fresh to see. I'm particularly encouraged to press on when I consider that so far I'm only about three-quarters of the way through the first of two continents.

Then there's the story. It's utter nonsense but it's entertaining nonsense. The English translation remains uniformly excellent and either the voice acting has improved a little or my standards have slipped. The ever-present humor isn't going to give Nora Ephron or Woody Allen any competition but if you like puns and post-modern irony then there are some genuine pleasures to be had.

See, Yehara has this fan she fights with, and there are these impressionable young women that idolize her and they form a club...oh, you got it already?

You do need a significantly high twee tolerance. Especially when it comes to Ploggles. As best I can tell, the Ploggle is an unholy cross between an FFXIV Moogle and a GW2 Quaggan. Unlike Moogles and Quaggans, the good news is you can kill them.

The real surprise, though, is the combat. Playing Blade and Soul as a traditional hotbar MMO works perfectly. It's a long time since I had a selection of icons on my screen that I understood this clearly and used so intuitively after what's really only a few hours of play.

There are a whole load of combos that can fire and each ability can have multiple status effects but I'm finding I don't need to think very hard about any of that. Much more importantly I know where my heal is, my snare, my knockdown, my de-aggro...Soloing in Blade and Soul feels very natural and familiar and oddly old-school.

We'll take it!

One thing that BDO has that B&S lacks, of course, is housing. J3w3l just bought a place in the city of Calpheon that looks highly reminiscent of my old house in Vanguard. I could go for some of that.

Like GW2, Blade and Soul teases with sumptuous NPC accommodation that would make a wonderful home for my characters. I'd be more than happy with a rented room at Yehara's Mirage, where the desert sun filters through stained glass to magnificent effect. Instead we end up sleeping on scrub grass in the shade of an awning, if we're lucky.

Even as I type this I have the Black Desert Online website open at the order page. Only two things are holding me back from clicking the "Order Now" button. Firstly, I do not have time to play any more MMOs. Secondly the combat in BDO sounds horrible. In the end, though, neither of those drawbacks is likely to outweigh my curiosity.

I guess it's just a question of how long I can hold out.


  1. IMO BDO combat is pretty similar to games like Diablo, Path of Exile, Marvel Heroes in that you just press/hold down your left/right mouse buttons and everything around you dies while you watch a pretty light show. At least for the first 18 levels. (To me, that's what Skyforge and Blade and Soul combat were like, too, but admittedly I didn't play them very much.) The reason to buy BDO is for crafting and trading and the Civ-like map game, and in those pursuits combat (and the class you pick) are entirely irrelevant.

    1. I've read very conflicting accounts of how easy/hard the combat is but I'm not expecting it to be difficult as such. I just get quite annoyed quite quickly with games that don't give me complete freedom to use the mouse pointer at will. Then again, I've played enough of them by now that I wouldn't let it get in the way of an otherwise enjoyable experience.

      Mostly I just want to roam around, see the world and take screenshots so combat shouldn't really come into it too much. Maybe!

  2. We can always hook you up with a Guest Pass, so you can see it for yourself for 7 days before taking the plunge. Combat would be a hindrance to you, as you said, but if you can bare with it until level 20 you should be able to run to places without getting one-shot (a lot, high level mobs will still wreck you) and at that point you can get started with taming and breeding horses.

    Also the trading/crafting/harvesting/contribution aspects of the game are obviously completely combat-free, and a good amount of those systems are completely detached from the currency you grind from mobs (silver coins), meaning that you can dive in early to the so-called Life Skills and not bother with anything else.

    Only downside I see is that you'll need to buy a new hard drive to store all the screenshots you'll be taking.

    1. Thanks for the offer! No, I'll just buy the thing eventually. I'm trying to be rational for once, though. I have so many unfinished things going on in so many MMOs...

      But, I have a week off work now and another week in April and at some point soon I have to have a (hopefully minor) operation that will keep me off work for another week or two so I might just buy the thing now and worry about when I play it later. That, after all, is the beauty of the Buy to Play model.

  3. I'm enjoying my time in BDO, but the game is not going to be for everyone. Take some time and read around to see if it's something you want to invest in, especially since you already feel over saturated with gaming. I totally know that feeling.

    Combat isn't bad, but for me, it's button mashing since I don't feel like taking the time to memorize proper button sequences. I would probably die to more skilled players in PvP, though I plan not to PvP, but for normal questing, it gets the job done.

    1. Hehe! Too late!

      Level 9 now and combat is insanely easy so far. Movement, on the other hand, is diabolical. Is there some kind of inertia setting? I keep running past things because it seems to take about a dozen paces to come to a halt. Also I can't move AT ALL for anything up to half a minute after finishing combat - none of the WASD keys do anything. Then suddenly they start working again as if nothing had happened.

      Thank heavens for the auto-run to quest location feature - without that I'd never find anything.


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