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Blade & Soul PC Review: Lots of Blade, Needs More Soul

Blade & Soul is visually striking right from the beginning. Sure, Unreal Engine 3 shows its age here with relatively poor textures if you look at anything closeup, but the general artstyle is wonderfully unique. This is a Korean MMO and that culture is painted upon every surface, alongside some heavy wuxia influences. Mountainside cities stretch into the clouds, waterfalls dot the landscape, and vast deserts stretch out before you. Blade & Soul has some stunning vistas.

Getting around those vistas is equally enjoyable. There’s no mounts in this game. Instead, the player character is completely self-sufficient, able to float through the air, push themselves forward off of nothing, and walk on water. You can even wall dash! Finally, there’s static Dragon Pulses in each region that will launch you from place to place. It’s one of the game’s highlights.

Blade & Soul’s plot is threadbare and mostly forgettable: You’re the last student of Hong Sokyun, master of the Hongmoon style. When your entire school is destroyed by the power hungry Jinsoyun, you’re found floating in the ocean and saved by an old war veteran. So begins your quest to master the Hongmoon way and bring an end to Jinsoyun. That’s pretty much the outline of the quest and while the game will touch upon your true mission here and there, it’s mostly background to the leveling experience. It’s certainly not up to snuff compared to games like Final Fantasy XIV or Guild Wars 2.

It probably doesn’t help that Blade & Soul’s Western release is plagued by poor voice acting and rough translations. Honestly, given the audience this game seems to be reaching, I think it might have been better for NCSoft just to leave the Korean voice acting in place, because it’s much, much stronger.

Where Blade & Soul excels and innovates is in its combat. There’s no tab-targeting, no auto-focus, and no static action bars. You have to aim at the enemy you want to attack with the game’s camera, so if you visually miss a strike, it misses in-game. (You hold Alt to change mouse movement from camera to cursor, so you can select menu items.) When you’re in combat in Blade & Soul, things are constantly shifting. You’ll have one set of attacks and as the battle progresses, what’s available to you changes. Is your opponent down? Here’s a follow-up attack to stomp them into the dirt. If you’ve stunned an enemy, perhaps you want to grapple for an alternate set of attacks. Did another player just knock down that target? If you use the right attack, you’ll create a combo with them!

Once you’ve mastered the combat system, you’ll find there’s a flow state of basic combos, counters, stuns, grapples, throws, and follow-up attacks. Blade & Soul’s combat is active in the strongest sense of the word, even more so than other action-oriented MMOs like TERA and Guild Wars 2. It feels like a fighting game.

That’s why Blade & Soul’s PVP is where the magic is at. The PVP mode, which is split between 1v1 Duels, 3v3 Matches, and world PVP, is where the game shines the brightest. Tactics and tight reflexes unpin the entire PVP system, leading to some great matches if you find an equally skilled opponent. There’s a strong give-and-take, waiting for your foe to overcommit so you can exploit their weaknesses with a stun or grapple. You’ll find some very tense matches, where a perfect counter will take you from a near-loss to victory. I don’t particularly enjoy PVP in MMOs, but in Blade & Soul it’s rather fun.

Well, most of the time. Unfortunately, balance seems to be a struggle for the game. The Western client launched with seven classes: Blade Master, Destroyer, Force Master, Kung Fu Master, Assassin, Blade Dancer, and Summoner. The classes are divided between the four humanoid races: the basic Jin and Yun, the massive Gon, and the diminutive Lyn. The Blade Master is your jack-of-all-trades, using their swords to provide solid offense and defense. The Destroyer is BnS’s heavy class, with a huge axe and the ability to literally pick up enemies and throw them around. Force Master is the long-range mage class.

Blade Dancer takes the basic idea of the Blade Master, but sacrifices defenses for offense and speed. The Assassin is all about your best Ninja fantasies, with a Decoy counter move and the ability to move swiftly around the battlefield. The Kung Fu Master is heavy on combos and counter timing, being one of the harder classes to play. Finally, the Summoner casts magic from a long-distance, while a cat familiar deals damage up close.

It’s the last class that’s currently reigning in Blade & Soul’s PVP. The combination of a familiar, long-distance attack, and great control abilities tends to put most other classes at a disadvantage when playing against a Summoner. Summoner currently holds a strong spot on the PVP rankings and dominates low-level PVP play. (The Korean game has completely different rankings, by the by.) In contrast, the Force Master holds the bottom spot. There’s a solid middle in the tiers, but it can sometimes be demoralizing to run into the same class again and again. Balance is a key part of any competitive game, so it’s something that should be looked at a bit more here.

Within each class, there’s a ton of variety. The skill system in Blade & Soul has you spending points to customize every single one of your abilities. For example, if you’re a Kung Fu Master – my class of choice – you have five different abilities activated by hitting Tab. If you’ve chosen Flying Slam (a charge move) as your Tab ability, there’s still five Tiers of changes within that one move that you can spec for. Perhaps, you’d like your Flying Slam to heal for the amount of damage dealt, or refresh the cooldown of other moves, or simply do more damage. That’s just changes to a single move. Even before you get to PVP, finding a good spec is a mountain’s worth of work, but it’s important if you’re going to be PVPing or doing dungeons on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, where Blade & Soul intersects with other MMOs is where the game falters. Leveling to cap (level 45 currently) is relatively quick, which is good because that leveling experience is rote and boring. Go to hub, grab a ton of kill or collect quests, complete them, return to hub. This is pretty normal for any MMO, but that’s where Blade & Soul’s strengths and weaknesses work against it in tandem. The combat is so great in PVP, but PVE against the AI is a ghost of that similar experience, with the player utilizing the same combos again and again. The story is so light and the voice acting so poor that you’ll flip through questgiver lines at high speed. It doesn’t help that most of the dungeons in the game aren’t really dungeons, just progressive gauntlets of enemies with a boss at the end. It’s the same stuff as other MMOs, but if feels worse here because of the contrast.

PVE in Blade & Soul is also a lonely and anti-social experience. No one really talks or communicates much, the mob tagging system means you’ll actively avoid other players so they don’t take your quest kills, and the dungeons are a free-for-all experience. You might have a poor player or two, but you can still complete the experience on your own if you’re good enough. There’s really no reason to care about the team. Rag on the holy trinity all you want, but it makes certain facets of a party needed and that need makes people more predisposed to things like communication.

Blade & Soul does allow for a decent amount of player expression though. The armor system, the Soul Shields, is completely separated from the visual costume system. NCSoft has created a variety of complete outfits for every character, usually themed. A number are available as quest and dungeon rewards, but some of the most extravagant are available through the game’s cash shop. There’s a constant infusion of new outfits in the cash shop, as that’s where Blade & Soul looks to make the most of its money. That also ends up being one of the drawbacks as some costumes are only available through random games of chance, or even worse, are random drops from purchasable boxes on the cash shop. The latter is what has the Western fanbase mostly up in arms. (It would also be cool if BnS offered a costume dye system at all.)

While Blade & Soul is free, you’ll find that you’re rather limited if you don’t pick up a Premium Membership or other add-ons. The Premium Membership offers a wardrobe deposit, increased experience gain, lower marketplace fees, and discounts on items in the cash shop. Even with a Premium Membership, you only have two character slots and a pretty limited inventory. Expect to throw some money at Blade & Soul to get the quality of life features that many players expect.

There’s also something to be said for the relative lean of Blade & Soul’s costumes. Artist Hyung Tae-Kim is known for his scantily-clad female characters with rather “healthy assets” and twisted spines, so you should know what you’re getting into already. Many players use the rather robust character creator to make pretty female characters with absolutely huge breasts that sway to and fro, via rather aggressive jiggle physics. This is compounded by many of the female costumes, which are threadbare are best and rather open in certain regions at worst. This would be better if NCSoft had stuck to its promise to provide more even costumes for male and female characters, but you’re far more likely to find someone took the shears to the female version of a costume, if there’s even a male version available. Which is to say, if you’re going to go that route, let everybody get in equally on the fun.

In the end, I didn’t like Blade & Soul as much as I wanted to. General movement through the world and the PVP combat was a blast, but that’s let down by the relatively boring PVE experience. Even PVP-only players have to grind their way through PVE, because you’ll be missing certain skills and abilities if you’re not at the level cap. Blade & Soul is a game going in two different directions instead of simply focusing on what makes it great. That said, if you’re willing to blast your way through to level cap and you want to look flashy as you partake in some great PVP, Blade & Soul is probably the game for you.

Blade And Soul is Pay to Win? or Not?

This is information from other ver BNS (Korea, China, etc). Based on what I know after B&S 2.0 or 3.0 patch, Hongmun weapons (weapons that every users received one in the beginning) transformation tree will be gone. This means all the hard work to upgrade Hongmun weapons become pointless (USELESS). As BNS update the max level to 50, entire weapon transformation system will change (based on KR BNS). There will be black/white ridge weapons (lvl 50) legendary weapon. Max weapon level is 12. After level 5, weapon will have very fancy effects (visual effects) which many people wants.

So what is wrong with this?
1. Getting a black/white ridge weapon is very hard (a lot of time consuming even though there are 3 different ways to get these weapons).

2. * This is the main problem. Upgrading (not transforming the weapon) is very tedious (need shit-ton of materials). It is not 100% success upgrading. If upgrade fails, weapon is no longer upgrade-able.

3. Weapons become trade-able and it will be ridiculously expensive. (at least what I saw from Korean ver BNS market, level 6 white ridge weapon was 40,000 blade & soul gold or higher).

Without these weapons, it will be hard to play the pvp and some later dungeons because people will kick you out without these weapons (at least in Korea Ver.).
Hardcore gamers (players who buys Blade And Soul gold with real money) will not going to have problem playing this game because they will use there shit-ton of money to buy the BNS gold.

For these reasons, many Korean players move to NA B&S version. Korean players do not transform their hongmun weapons too high because they are worried about the 2.0 or 3.0 patch later.

Based on recent rising water patch, some conclude that there are possibility that hongmun weapon tree will exist after the 2.0/3.0 patch.

These are information from Korea Blade & Soul, so this is possibility if NA BNS follow the Korean updates.

I currently have True Profane Sword. Should I upgrade to Awakened Siren Sword?

If NA change to Korea ver, NC will get rid off Hongmun weapon transformation tree. This makes pointless to upgrade Hongmun weapons.

I agree that right now NA B&S is not pay to win. However after 2.0&3.0 patches (like korea or china ver), game will become pay to win if NA follows the Korean patch. what I saw from Korean ver B&S market, level 6 white ridge weapon (this is level 50 legendary weapon) was 40,000 Blade And Soul gold or higher. Also people buy fully upgrade lvl 12 white ridge weapon for $1000-2000 dollars in Korea right now.

Korea have website called “Item Mania.” People sell and buy game items with real money. ncsoft made the upgrade system for legendary weapons miserable in patch 2.0-3.0. Also ncsoft will make weapons trad-able, which will turn this game into pay to win.

Many people failed to upgrade the legendary weapon. First of all, getting a legendary weapon is hard. Upgrading (not transforming the weapon) is very tedious (need shit-ton of materials). It is not 100% success upgrading. If upgrade fails, weapon is no longer upgrade-able. Then we need to redo the process of getting a legendary weapon and upgrading process.
– See more at: http://www.blade-soul.com/news/blade-and-soul-is-pay-to-win–or-not#sthash.4e0Rs9uv.dpuf

Korean MMO Black Desert Online Is Finally Out Next Month

The speed at which MMO’s make it from Korea to the west is painfully slow. In fact, it’s often slower than the in-game grind itself which typically sucks up much of your time. One in particular that we’ve been waiting on for a while is Black Desert Online. This one stands out from the crowd you see, because it looks absolutely lovely, in a genre populated by the visual offspring of a downtrodden ogre and lusty kobold. So at least you’ll have something great to look at while you’re slaying your thousandth mana wyrm.

The long wait for it to launch is now nearly over though, and Black Desert Online will finally be coming our way in March. Before then there’s also time to squeeze in a closed beta test which is set to run from February 18th to the 22nd, and you can apply to join that now.

Black Desert Online will be buy-to-play, much like The Elder Scrolls Online has become. So you just need to grab a copy and then it’s subscription-free forever. I’ve been watching plenty of footage and it’s certainly much more action-based than we’ve come to expect from typical MMOs. You can leap about the environments and actually climb things, Assassin’s Creed style, while the impressive game engine allows for some large-scale castle siege battles for those into their PvP.

There’s a trio of purchase options for those who want to pre-purchase, ranging from $30 for the base Traveler’s package up to $100 for the Conquer’s package. Each comes with a different set of in-game bonuses, including mounts, housing tokens and skill resets. I’m not a fan of this but the more you pay the earlier you can access the main game, as well as the $100 tier guaranteeing you entry to the closed beta test.

If you’re at all interested then the character creation tool is available for everyone to have a mess around with right now. It’s a free download and it really is quite powerful, possibly with more customisation than we’ve seen in just about any game ever. Every single minute detail can be tweaked as you see fit, including the individual bone structures. From everything I’ve seen it just seems a flimsy excuse for a bit of digital purving.

Black Desert Online is launching in the west on March 3rd.

Black Desert Online out next month

Black Desert Online – the massively multiplayer online role-playing game with the best character creator we’ve ever seen – comes out on 3rd March.

A second closed beta test is planned for 18th February. You can put your name down on the official website for a chance to get in, or pre-order for guaranteed access.

Black Desert Online’s character creator was released as a standalone, free download last month. It lets you import your characters into the closed beta test and the full game, when it comes out.

Check it out in the video below. It really is that good.

The 10 Best Things About ‘The Division’ Beta

I’ve had plenty of complaints, worries, and other quibbles with Ubisoft’s upcoming shooter-MMO The Division, which wrapped up its beta yesterday.

But I’ve also had a lot of fun with the game. Here are the things I enjoyed the most so far.

(Credit: Ubisoft)

1. Cover mechanics work great.

Third-person cover shooters are only fun if taking cover works the way it’s intended. Fortunately for us, The Division’s cover mechanics work great. While I don’t find the actual shooting to be anything special, I really like how well moving from one cover to the next works. It’s very smooth and satisfying and after I’d gotten the hang of it, seemed to work without a hitch.

2. Weapon customization is excellent.

I love how much you can customize your guns in The Division. Some games let you customize one or two attachments, but this one gives you tons of options and there’s a plethora of different attachments to choose from. No two guns will be the same, but not in the same way that a game like Borderlands has bazillions of guns. These ones are all more “realistic” and can be customized so that your gun is its very own unique snowflake. This should be fun to play around with more extensively in the full game.

3. The augmented reality UI is incredibly slick.

Yes, there’s problems with default key-mapping on PC, and I never could get my mouse to left-click on any menus or shoot a gun, leading me to use my gamepad exclusively, but the UI itself is great. And while there may be a few too many menus and submenus to navigate, at least the experience of navigating them is pleasant. I also like the little lines in the air that lead you to your map marker or objective. Very easy to follow and unobtrusive.

4. Seeing what your character is equipped with is really cool.

Along the same lines as the user interface is the fact that as your character runs around in third-person, you not only see the different outfits you put on, but the gear and abilities you have equipped. This definitely adds to the immersion level, and is something I’ve wanted to see more of in video games for a long time. Of course, all the loot you pick up—the unrealistic amount of loot you can pick up—remains hidden from view unless you’re in the Dark Zone, where it’s represented as a hazardous materials tube.

5. The graphics are terrific.

New York City looks incredible. The day and night cycle and the dynamic weather is simply stunning. I left the game running at one point and came back a few minutes later to find my character engulfed in a blizzard, which was both surprising and really cool to see. Christmas lights hanging from trees, pools of water reflecting the city above…everything here is simply gorgeous, graphical downgrade or no. Better yet, it looks amazing on all three platforms.

6. The Dark Zone is an incredibly cool concept.

Whether the Dark Zone turns out to be a disaster or one of the coolest implementations of a PvE/Co-Op/PvP hybrid remains to be seen. But so far it’s been one of the most interesting gaming experiences I’ve had this year and I can’t wait to see how it evolves after the full game launches. The potential for really cool emergent storytelling and organic community-building is there, but so is the potential for cheating and frustration.

7. Classless RPG system gives players lots of freedom.

I like roleplaying games that make you choose a class, but sometimes it can feel restrictive. Sometimes these classes are set in stone, other times you can choose from sub-classes (think Destiny) but still remain boxed in by your over-class. Other games, like Dragon’s Dogma or Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, allow you to pick a class and then keep switching it up until you’ve tried everything. But I really like the open-ended system in The Division, even if the beta severely restricted how we could experiment with it.

8. It’s really easy to join a group.

One thing The Division does better than almost any game I’ve played is make socializing a breeze. I’m generally a pretty anti-social gamer, so I don’t go out of my way to join a group typically. But it’s extremely easy to see who’s around and find other players to play with in The Division, which is a no-brainer for this sort of game, but still rarely executed so smoothly.

9. Load-screens are quick, well-disguised, and seamless.

Some games have terrible load times that make you wait, bored and restless, even though this is 2016 and we should have figured this out by now. The Division handles its fairly brief load times much better, by disguising them. For instance, the load screen between your base and the outdoors is that bit where you have to walk really slowly. The load screen itself is masked behind that much less jarring action, and fewer moments spent waiting means more spent having fun.

10. The mission was actually pretty good.

I’ll be honest, one mission isn’t enough to really give us a glimpse at how good the rest of the campaign will be, but I liked the first mission and I was a little disappointed when I couldn’t play more of them. I hope that Ubisoft has placed priority in making missions diverse and varied, and I hope they continue to release story content after the main game because story content is the antidote to too much loot grinding.