Blade & Soul CN - Impressions on the Chinese OBT
Are you looking forward to a Blade & Soul? When asked this question a month ago, my answer was a stern "No."
If I wanted action combat, I had TERA. If I wanted something above the average Korean MMO, I'd play Final Fantasy XIV. If I wanted a traditional MMO, I had Aion. What more could I be looking for? Blade & Soul couldn't possibly bring anything new to the table. Right?
On one cold, boring day last week I decided to bite the bullet: I was going to download the Chinese Blade & Soul (Blade & Soul CN) open beta client and give it a whirl. I needed a break from the endgame grinds in TERA, FFXIV, and Aion. I wanted something new, shiny, and fast! Even if I had to jump through hoops to get into a version of the game I couldn't understand all that well.
Very quickly I realized I was in for more than I'd anticipated.
True action combat -- no, really
The one big thing that makes Blade & Soul stand out from literally every other MMORPG I have played is that its combat is fast, fluid, and extremely satisfying.
I, perhaps like many, assumed the combat would be much like TERA's: a bit slow and no targeting with a few exceptions. Instead Blade & Soul's combat is lightning fast with soft-targeting and a wealth of combination skills.
To give an idea of how fast combat is, take a look at this Steparu PvP video picked at random:
At the helm, you really do feel like you're playing an action game. The fairly low amount of skills (paired with the fairly high amount that have special conditions to trigger) and the game's soft-targeting make feeling like a pro easy, even if you are still a wee nub. Deeper down the rabbit hole lies (some seriously impressive) skill customization and frame counting/watching.
This is what action combat in an MMO should look and feel like. I remember building up my hype for TERA based on its combat, but it never felt fast enough. Blade & Soul feels fast enough -- it feels as fast as an actual action game as opposed to an MMO. The developers, Team Bloodlust, did an amazing job on this aspect of the game.
It feels like a wuxia (martial arts) film
Some of you may be familiar with 'wuxia' from Chinese movies and games, and Blade & Soul fits squarely into the genre. Wuxia movies, games, and novels make use of gravity and physics-defying manuevers known as qinggong.
Throughout your adventures in Blade & Soul, you casually pull off running at super speeds and running on water, among other more completely inhuman feats of agility and strength. To go paired with this is the game's general wuxia theme, putting you smack in the middle of what feels like some grand Chinese martial arts flick.
Aside from what you as a player can do, the game's plot progresses very much as in other pieces of wuxia fiction. Even with my limited knowledge of the language, I find myself watching all of the cutscenes and wondering what is going to happen next.
The qinggong gameplay aspects and wuxia blend seamlessly here. While another notable MMO on the market, Age of Wushu, goes more heavily into wuxia and qinggong, it lacks the speed and flair one would want from a game within the genre. Blade & Soul has it in spades, though one may argue it is heavily lacking in freedom.
Past the combat and theme
I don't need to tell you how beautiful this game is. Anyone with any interest has seen artist Hyung Tae Kim's work for the game and seen screenshots. It is even more beautiful in action.
Beyond Blade & Soul's combat lies a ton of PvP, a good number of dungeons (especially for an open beta), standard MMO questing, and a somewhat disappointing crafting/gathering system.
Those looking for some revolutionary questing won't find it here. Many of the quests are simple requests to kill a particular amount of a given mob. Some require you get certain items, others ask you to carry things around or interact with objects. There is nothing special in this regard, but killing trash mobs is entertaining enough for me not to complain.
Crafting and gathering are done by joining your prefered guilds and requesting NPCs to do the dirty work for you via the profession window. Your items will be delivered to you after a pre-determined amount of time, which increases as you seek or make more complicated items. In short, professions are a waiting game.
One thing that is most depressing is the overall lack of difficulty in PvE. You are a powerful wuxia, nothing is in your way! Or the way of a 4/6-man party!
This may be attributed to the fact that there are no defined roles in Blade & Soul. There are no dedicated healers or tanks, instead players can spec offensively or defensively and choose to tank or DPS in dungeons. Players must dodge and chug potions to stay alive, and as such, much comes down to personal skill. Take that as you will.
Ping troubles with BnS CN
The downside to personal skill being a real thing in Blade & Soul CN specifically is that high ping is nearly inevitable for international players without some VPN fandangling.
You will either need to struggle with a Chinese VPN like IPmana or dish out money for something like WTFast/BattlePing -- either way there are no guarantees. I personally had bad luck with Chinese VPNs and had to invest in an advanced WTFast account. My in-game ping is 80ms on average, but at a cost of $10 a month.
If you do intend to try the Chinese version of Blade & Soul, you absolutely need to use a VPN. 250ms to 400ms is only good for two things: missing abilities and dying. In a game so beautiful and fast, the last thing you want to do is deal with high latency. You can enjoy the scenery and story, but it is not possible to fully enjoy the game with high ping. That's the trade-off for an actual action combat system, I guess.
If you want the full experience, it may be best to wait for NCWest's localization. The publisher has remained silent on the Blade & Soul North American release for quite some time. Judging by the amount of voice acting in the game, it may still be a while yet. Whether you choose to play now or wait is up to you.