Monday, August 20, 2018

Bless Online : First Impressions, Part One

Steam tells me I've played five hours of Bless. That's not long. Perhaps I'd be jaded too, if I'd played for nine hundred hours like the reviewer who called Bless a "generic KMMO with nothing special to offer", or seven hundred and fifty hours, like the "ex-emissary" who warns " DO NOT buy this game or even if its free to play DO NOT download".

Those aren't outliers, though. The huge majority of recent Steam reviews for Bless Online are overwhelmingly negative. The exceptions are from those who, like me, bought it at 67% off in the recent sale. Maybe cheapskates just have lower standards. Or maybe our expectations are more realistic.

There's a key phrase in one of the reviews that probably sums up the feeling that stands behind much of the terrible press Bless is getting: "I was as a lot of other people hungry for another MMO, and I got info that Bless was gonna release in EU and NA.So when it released I bought the game for €150". Surprisingly, this reviewer gives the game a Thumbs Up. Where most people feel their money has been wasted, he felt his was well spent.

If you come to any new MMO in a state of hyped-up, amped-out excitement, fueled by a long wait behind the velvet rope, chances are you're going to be disappointed. Add in a significant financial outlay and a game that, by all accounts, was released long before it was ready and you can expect a backlash.

Let's be clear, because I'm about to say some nice things about my five hours so far: I would not pay 150 Euros for Bless. That would be batshit insane. I very much doubt the current Early Access version even justifies a full price ticket of $39.99. At the price I paid, however, around $13 (actually £9.98) I think I'll definitely get my money's worth.

Preamble over. On to the actual impressions.


There are plenty of complaints about this in the reviews but I haven't had any issues to speak of. The only real problem has been the loading times, which are terrible. The game seems to want to load in a stream of files - the same files - every time it boots up and that takes about two minutes. Then it goes through another set of routines after you press "Play". I have to allow the best part of four or five minutes before I see the gameworld. That's about twice as long as EQ2, the slowest-loading MMO I play, and EQ2 has the excuse of a decade and a half more content to parse than Bless.

Once I'm in, however, things run pretty smoothly. I don't usually pay attention to my framerate but this time I had FRAPS running so the numbers were there in front of me. I'm getting around 60FPS consistently, which seems fine to me. That's running at the default settings on a 3.3GHz i5 with a GeForce 960 and 8GB Ram under Windows 10.


I like it. It's simple, intuitive, not weird. The default key presses are what you'd expect - "I" opens your inventory, "M" opens your map. There's not much on screen until you put it there, which suits me. I like a minimal look.

I did run into a few issues where I couldn't immediately figure out what the game wanted me to do, as in when it asked me to drag the icon for my mount to a specific place that I couldn't find, but those were primarily shortcomings in the translation rather than anything intrisically wrong with the UI itself.

Talking to NPCs and quest-givers and interacting with objects all work smoothly. You have the choice of hitting "F" for most interactions or clicking an on-screen prompt. I found it all pleasant and straightforward to use. The auction house NPC herself is something of a star turn. I'd love to know her back-story. And I seriously want those gloves...

The only thing thing that's genuinely irritating is the endless stream of huge, intrusive notifications that appear in banners across the top and middle of the screen. There's the typical Eastern MMO insistence on announcing what other people are doing on the market or what amazing gear they've crafted, but worse by far are the Guild territory notifications.

I haven't read this up but as far as I can tell, Bless has a PvP system that relies on guild ownership of territory. Every time you enter a new area that's owned by a guild, which seems to be almost everywhere, a huge banner appears right across the center of the screen telling you whose turf you just invaded. If you're in a city, it can happen over and over again since different guilds can own different districts or possibly even buildings.

There might be a way to turn the notifications off but I haven't found it yet. What with those and the audio warning every time you enter a factional safe-zone the game can be somewhat over-protective at times. It could use an "I'm a grown-up and I'll look after myself, thanks" button.

Graphics and Sound

See yesterday's post. I'm well under the maximum graphical settings but the game looks absolutely beautiful. Most Eastern MMOs do but I think Bless has better art design than Revelation Online and better textures than Blade and Soul. It's very similar, visually, to Black Desert Online, which is a significant compliment, since BDO is one of the best-looking games I've played.

I don't have a lot to say about the sound. It was way too loud on the default setting but then what MMO isn't? There definitely was music but I don't remember what it was like, other than it didn't annoy me. If there was much in the way of ambient chatter or environmental atmospherics I don't recall that either. I could log in to check but it seems more significant to record that nothing I heard comes to mind.

Character and Animations

See last Friday's post. I really like the character design in Bless. It's top-class. The characters and NPCs look great when they're standing still. I like the confident resting pose and the way my little Mascu stares straight at the camera. The detailing on the clothing and armor is attractive and intricate. I noticed, when I equipped a new item, I could see it appear as a pouch on my character's belt.

The running animation on the Mascu is a little awkward. I think it's supposed to be cute and mostly it is but the way her arms stick out makes it look like she has sticks down her sleeves. Perhaps she does.

I can't really comment on the combat animations. Most of the time I'm so focused on trying to hit the right key and not dying I can barely spare time to look at the screen. Which brings us to...


Hmm. This is a tough one. Bless has one of the daftest combat systems I've seen for a while but I don't entirely hate it.

NeoWiz don't seem to have been able to decide between the traditional tab-target-and-hotbars set-up (WoW style as it's often known) and full action MMO controls like Neverwinter or DCUO. Instead they've gone for some kind of half-baked hybrid that pleases no-one.

Unless you play a Berserker, who for some reason gets the original action gaming version that was removed from all other classes a while back, you have full control of your mouse pointer at all times. You also have several sets of hotbars into which you can drag and drop skills, items and so on. You can then use the hotbars by clicking on them or hitting a key as you prefer.

So far, so sensible. Except you can only add a few basic attacks to your hotbar and those don't do nearly enough damage to ensure a comfortable win against most enemies. For real DPS you have to rely on chaining skills.

Icons for the chains appear on screen as you trigger them but you can't activate those with a mouse-click. You have to hit "R" or "T" or some other key I forget. There's probably some kind of rhythm or rotation to it but I have yet to work it out. Mostly I click the two main attacks with my mouse and hammer on the "R" key.

It's not intuitive or comfortable and I'm sure it's making the fights harder than they need to be. Also the game doesn't seem to auto-target the next enemy when a mob dies so I also have to remember to do it manually by hitting Tab, which is something I don't think I've had to do in a themepark MMO for a decade or more.

My impressions of combat so far are limited to one class - the Ranger. Other classes may play very differently. The ranger might as well be a melee class. The range on the bow is very short and there's no means of stopping the mob closing on you (no pet, snare or root) so every fight consists of you getting a couple of quick shots in as the mob rushes towards you then firing your bow at point-blank range while glugging health potions as the mob tries to rip your head off.

It's very likely there are better ways to play a ranger. It might be possible to kite or circle-strafe although not with my dexterity. There may be skills I'm missing or chains I should be concentrating on that would make the experience less frenzied and frenetic.

The thing is, I haven't looked for solutions to any of these problems because I'm having fun. The fights are crazy and chaotic and I like that. Lots of them are really close but I win most of them. For low-level solo play it's unusually intense. I've died quite a lot but not so much it's been off-putting. More like "Right, I'll have you this time, Sonny Jim!"

Aggro is interesting. Namplates are green, yellow or red. Green denotes an interactable NPC, yellow is a non-aggro animal or mob. Red means it's going to attack you as soon as you get in range. So far, so familiar.

What's unusual is that in a bandit or orc camp many of the mobs will be flagged yellow or even green. In the outer areas only the scouts will be aggressive and even if they attack nearby yellow-flagged mobs won't assist them.

This means that, with care, you can work your way past the outer defences without a fight to get to the inner areas where your quest target may be hiding. Or just because you're nosy. I got myself into considerable trouble this way.

End of Part One

I have a lot more to say but this is running long already. Next time, I'll get into the tutorial experience, questing, story, leveling, taming, loot and the rest of the good stuff. I'll probably have played a couple more hours too, so who knows what new wonders or horrors may be revealed?


  1. If I haven't read the title, I'd assume you are reviewing Black Desert Online. Can you tell me how is this game better than BDO (and if it's not better, why don't you play BDO?)

    1. I'd say BDO is better. It's more original, less derivative, better-supported and receives more development. But I've already played enough BDO to see most of what I want to see there. I like BDO enough that I will very likely revisit it from time to time but I don't need to live there.

      I don't always - or indeed often - see MMORPGs primarily as "games" to be played. I see them as places to visit. I'm an enthusiastic tourist and sightseer in real life and I'm the same in virtuality. I also like stories so I enjoy the questing and the lore. Just as, in real life, I like to visit a lot of new places each year and re-visist some old favorites, so I like to do the same in imagined worlds.

      Also, I am quite specifically playing Bless so I can blog about it. Writing is something I've been doing far longer than I've been gaming and I'm always happy to try a new MMO just to get a few blog posts out of the experience. I posted many times about Black Desert and may do so again but I really enjoy writing First Impressions posts and to do those you need new games.


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