Blade and Soul has been a long time accompany with us. We feel all too familiar with it. This is particularly true when we’re utterly ignored by passing players, whose brief existence within the world amounts to little more than the imagined wind softly brushing the hair on our legs as they rush by our ‘wave’ to whatever aimless task they’ve yet to accomplish.
Blade & Soul doesn’t do anything to innovate the genre in any way, but then that’s hardly a surprise for a game that has taken four years to make it over from its original Korean release. To put it into perspective Blizzard released World Of Warcraft expansion pack Mists Of Pandaria in 2012 in an attempt to revitalize the game, which, even then, was beginning to feel old. Blade & Soul puts players in the shoes of yet another hand – crafted avatar whose task is simply to march from one zone to another, chomping away at whatever beasts and baddies they’re ordered to kill.
It’s streamlined in a fashion that MMOs need to be these days – at least if they’re to maintain gamer interest – meaning you won’t be returning to previous areas to hand in quests to recurring characters, instead they’ll be conveniently standing at whatever local hub you’ll be visiting anyway. Perhaps it sounds unfair to criticise a game better honed for the modern MMO market, but in truth the result is that Blade & Soul misses out on the sense of exploratory wonder that really ought to be part of any PvE experience.
It’s a lovely looking game, admittedly, but is there really much difference between one zone and another, besides the colour palette the designer chose? This is a criticism that can be hurled at a many number of other MMOs, too, but at least Wildstar had ambient challenges to tackle and Elder Scrolls Online invested heavily in its lore and story through its quests. Blade & Soul just feels like a rush to end – game, a side – effect of the short attention spans of the WOW – addled MMO generation. There should be more to an MMO than a thinly veiled push to get to the end and begin the cyclical grind for raid gear as soon as possible.
Thankfully there are some things that the game does do well, with combat standing out as the reason to get involved. The focus here is the martial arts – styled skills, and as a result the mechanics are a little more involved than most other MMOs. Many classes rely heavily on countering, stunning or knocking back enemies, mitigating damage through smart skill selection rather than simply moving away from areas of effect.
It’s not an intuitive system since there’s a vast selection of abilities available to you, with some only appearing after meeting particular prerequisites. For example, Assassins can initiate a Decoy Stance ability that, when hit, will cause them to dash behind an enemy and enter stealth. From this point there are plenty of options, such as stunning the enemy, dealing a great deal of damage or applying a stack of bleed and poison to name just a few. Certain skills will only appear once these requirements are met, some even replacing the keys for your ordinary combat abilities.
As such combat is initially quite confusing, requiring not only a degree of skill, an ability to remember what options are available to you, but also a knack for reacting to any given situation that might arise. It’s more like a fighting game than any other MMO out there, and it’s this that makes Blade & Soul a more interesting experience.
It also explains why much of the PvE is diluted to get players through it, the idea being that they’ll have access to the full repertoire of abilities so they can begin mastering their combos and understanding their execution. As you might expect PvP is a far more fulfilling aspect than the solo content of Blade & Soul, so much so that we’d suggest this is the reason you should even consider downloading the game. That’s not to say a great deal hasn’t been made of the game’s story, its characters or where its tale goes, but there’s no real intrigue to it. As entertaining as many of the cutscenes are, they are bookends to repetitive gameplay and fail to provide the impact they could’ve done.
It’s this strange grey area where Blade & Soul sits. It succeeds at providing enough of a compelling reason to try it out, but in failing to do anything else new it just feels like a rehash of once – standard ideas. To some the genre doesn’t need to evolve and that increasingly small group of players will likely have something to get stuck into here, but for the rest there is only so much déjà vu you’ll be able to endure. The landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years, but if it’s true that an MMO doesn’t truly start until you reach max level… well then what’s the point of the hours of filler content beforehand? The genre needs a huge mix up, but Blade & Soul won’t be the one to do it.