Blade & Soul review - It's got the blade, but does it have the soul?
I like MMORPGs. And chances are you do too if you're interested in a review of Blade & Soul, NCSoft's recently released action MMO.
It's hard to trust a review of an MMORPG less than a month after release, but just because Blade & Soul is new to North America and Europe doesn't mean I'm new to it. Five months on the Chinese version, two months on Taiwan, and through the NA/EU beta and release to now -- I think I've been at it enough.
NCSoft sat on the game's release long enough that your average MMO gamer forgot it, and the people who wanted to play it most already gave it a shot in other regions. But somehow here we are: Blade & Soul is out in NA/EU -- and it's been out for nearly a month, no less!
I'd be lying if I said this hasn't been my favorite MMO for the past couple years now, but Blade & Soul isn't perfect. Its graphical and gameplay styles are very different from most Western-developed MMORPGs. It's distinctively Korean, for better or for worse.
Yeah, it's Korean - Get over it
Let's start with this, because this is definitely the first thing people snub their noses at when it comes to Blade & Soul, and a lot of Western gamers have trouble dealing with the general aesthetic and gameplay differences in Korean-developed games.
With the entire game being sculpted around Chinese and Korean culture and mysticism, the game is simply not geared toward people who can't handle the setting. If you don't like Asian settings, you probably won't like Blade & Soul. There just isn't any getting around it.
Outfit designs also fit what most Western gamers would consider to be "Korean" in that they are over-the-top and often sexy. While there are certainly a number of outfits to be worn in-game that haven't turned it up to 11, the vast majority have.
Haters gonna hate.
The majority of outfits look great, and I certainly love how both genders have such amazing outfits (Lyn males best). More conservative gamers likely won't enjoy it, and that's fine. But it's something to note.
The questing treadmill is real
This is what most people have issue with in a lot of MMOs developed in Korea, specifically in questing and how the game's systems are generally geared towards forcing players to go through a steady and painful gear upgrade treadmill at endgame.
Things aren't much different from the stereotype in Blade & Soul.
Questing is a linear affair. Players bounce from one quest hub to the next at the behest of the story and the only real progress most players will make off the streamlined path is grinding particular dungeons for equipment, the first of which being Blackram Narrows at level 20.
Blade & Soul fits the stereotypical themepark MMO quest grinding stereotype to a T: Go here, do these five things, go to the next place and do the same. There isn't much straying from this formula in the game.
While mob grinding is a thing and there is leveling method to get to level 45 within 15 hours using mob grinding, it's not something most players are going to do outside of whacking on some mobs while waiting for a friend.
The above all sounds negative, I know. Quest grinding isn't all that fun, arena PvP's EXP rewards are woefully low, and mob grinding isn't fun at all. So what's the point?
I've got some punchy bits, some slashy bits..
Let's be real here. If you like Blade & Soul, it's probably for one or more of the following reasons:
- The expansive character customization
- Outfit designs are varied and detailed
- The story's a crazy ride
- Combat is smooth as butter
- Each class plays almost completely differently
- Flesh rended in PvP is the most juicy of the meats
I don't think anyone is going to raise their hand and proclaim the merits of the game's questing, but the above are all strong points in favor of playing.
Combat is particularly smooth when compared to most other MMORPGs on the market. I was very surprised at how fast Blade & Soul was when compared with TERA in particular, which has always toted itself as a "true action combat" MMO. Blade & Soul is just too fluid to ignore if you want an action MMO.
Combat's fluidity lends itself well to the game's PvP-heavy focus. While there's a fair amount of endgame PvE content on the way to NA/EU on the near future, what has given Blade & Soul its longevity in other regions is in fact the equalized arena PvP scene. The game's PvE only goes so far and ultimately it turns into a gear grind similar to most other MMO endgames.
Aside from actually fighting, the game's skill customization system via the Martial Tome is reminiscent of "talents" and whatnot seen in other MMOs but it's taken a bit further here.
Skills can be tweaked or changed entirely based on the options in the Martial Tome, giving every player the ability to tweak their class's gameplay to fit their playstyle. This was the second biggest surprise the game had in store for me my first time through, right after the above-and-beyond combat system itself.
Is it really PvP or bust?
A lot of people say this is a PvP-oriented game. Even I said it in the paragraph above, check it out: "PvP-heavy focus".
The general consensus is that Blade & Soul is not a game primary PvE players will enjoy over long periods of time. I'm inclined to agree -- but that doesn't necessarily make it the case nor does it mean there's nothing to appease PvE-oriented players.
Blade & Soul has a number of difficult endgame dungeons in other regions and they are bound to make their way here over the next year as the Western version of the game plays catch up to its Asian counterparts for eSports balancing. Bloodshade Harbor and Nightshade Harbor were just added today, even.
There will always be a trickle of new endgame PvE content and much of it is fun and unique from other MMOs. You don't have to PvP to enjoy the game even at endgame, but you do need to accept the types of people attracted to PvP games -- you know the ones. People like me.
All right, be honest: Is it worth playing?
Look, if it were up to me this review would be finished with the following passage and a male Lyn emote dump:
"Come 3v3 with me scrublord."
- Ashley SSS
But that's just not the way I'm allowed to do I do things and not everyone wants to fill their proverbial stomachs on the blood and tears of opposing-faction players and arena opponents.
Blade & Soul is not a game for everyone. It's true, the game is a Korean quest-grinder with a bunch of outlandish outfits that wouldn't stand out at all if not for how well it actually plays and looks.
It's generically free-to-play, it's gorgeous, questing sucks, it plays like a dream, gathering and crafting are not engaging, and the arena is some of the most fun I've had in an MMO in years.
If you like to beat other people in games up, play it. If you like to tackle hard endgame dungeons, play it. If you can't get around how Asian it looks, that's a shame but skip it. If you want a long leveling process that feels like an adventure, you should probably just play something else because this isn't going to fill that void.
Blade & Soul is great fun...if you're thirsty for some skill-based arena PvP and PvE dungeons. If not, chances are you're better off waiting for Black Desert Online or something else. Blade & Soul has its niche and it fits it well. It's not perfect, it's not amazing, but it is fun and that's what really matters.