"Who needs a mount when you can fly!"
There are a few golden rules in martial arts films that characters must follow in order to live. First off, don't pick a fight with the silent man standing perfectly still. Secondly, don't mess with the man out for revenge. And lastly, don't ever challenge the old master with the Fu Manchu mustache. Any character that breaks these rules will probably end up a dead man. Imagine now that you are that silent badass martial arts expert with the Fu Manchu out for revenge in a expansive world filled with dangerous enemies, and you have the core design of NCSOFT's beautiful new MMO, Blade & Soul. Set in a mythological Asian world, Blade & Soul blends fast-paced Far East martial arts with beautiful visuals, all within an MMO universe.
Developed by NCSOFT's Team Bloodlust, Blade & Soul launched back in 2012 in South Korea. It attracted a huge following in the Asian market for its amazing visuals, fantastic gameplay, and outstanding competitive combat system. While it may have taken a while, NCSOFT is finally preparing to launch this acclaimed MMO in North America and Europe this winter.
I got to sit down with Blade & Soul Producer Nicholas Courant and Brand Manager Julianne Harty earlier this month to check out the localization of the game, as well as get some hands on action with it. I had gotten some previous experience with the game by briefly playing on the Korean servers, but as anybody that has played it knows, quick reflexes and precision timing are everything in Blade & Soul. This isn't a typical MMO where you tab to your target, unleash all your powerful cooldowns, and then sit and wait for those attacks to come back available. No, Blade & Soul plays much differently, following a system where you must manually face your target, combo together your skills, manually parry or dodge enemy attacks, and unleash devastating counter attacks to take down your enemy. Although there is an English translation patch for the game, playing with a 300+ ping to a server half a world away pretty much solidified that I would not be able to accomplish my goal of being a martial arts expert in Blade & Soul. At least not until I got to check out the localized version and play around on a local server. Now my dream can finally be realized.
As with any MMO, Blade & Soul starts off with creating your character. The 4 races you choose from include the large and powerful Gon, the all-around versatile Jin, the female only Kun, and the tiny but deadly Lyn. You must then choose the class you wish to play, as they are restricted by the race you have chosen. Your choices are the stealthy Assassin if you are a Jin, the axe wielding Destroyer for the Gon, the magical Summoner for the Lyns, the versatile Force Master for both Kuns and Lyns, the strong and quick Kung Fu Master if you're a Gon or Jin, or the deadly Blademaster for Jins and Kuns. All 6 classes play very differently from each other, and each has its own learning curve. While the Summoner might be easier to pick up for beginners, the Kung Fu Master is a hard class to master, meant for those more familiar with the game. Whichever race and class you choose, Blade & Soul offers one of the most incredibly detailed and stunning character creation systems you will find, allowing you to adjust almost anything on your character. A player could spend hours in character creation alone, just putting the final touches on their soon to be martial arts hero.
After character creation is over, you are thrust into a vibrant world on your way to avenge the death of your fallen master in the classic Wuxia storyline. Wuxia, which literally means "martial hero," is a broad genre of Chinese fiction concerning the adventures of martial artists in ancient China. As you explore the world in Blade & Soul, you will see a fusion of Asian cultures that delivers stunning landscapes and vistas. Getting around this world requires you to master the movement system known as Qing Gong. A simple double tap of your forward key will have you not only sprinting though the landscape but also grants you the ability to jump high and then gracefully glide over terrain. Yes, the world of Blade & Soul is a world with incredible verticality, where you have the ability to jump and glide over just about anything. Fear not if you fall into a river or fall off the huge mountain where your quest was located; you can easily climb back up by way of the Dragon Streams. Dragon Streams are glowing pillars of light, and when you interact with them, they take you on a beautiful roller-coaster ride over the terrain in order to reach your destination, a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Who needs a mount when you can fly!
The world isn't all sunshine and rainbows, though, and eventually you will come into contact with enemies. All too often in MMOs, I find myself falling asleep or not paying attention in battle, but combat in Blade & Soul keeps you engrossed and feels visceral. Combat starts off simple, as you move the camera reticule toward your opponent, use a gap closer (if your class has one), and start off with the auto-attack skill. You must then start to chain together your skills in order to take down the opponent. The tricky part is understanding that in order to pull off these combos, you must pay attention to what the enemy is doing. There is no healer class in Blade & Soul, so you must manually dodge and parry enemy attacks in order to gain the advantage. You can also knock down enemies, giving you access to other skills that are only useful for enemies that are knocked down, and some classes can launch the enemy into the air in order to pull off even deadlier combos. Combat is quick, responsive, looks amazing, and probably most importantly, it's fun. There are plenty of MMOs with action combat, but all too often, I still feel like they are tab target snooze fests. Blade & Soul makes combat much more engaging, as you will find yourself juggling enemies in combos that just feel awesome. As I got to test out combat on the local server, I noticed that playing Blade & Soul on a lag-free connection made combat feel as smooth as butter and it jump-started my excitement for the North American version.
You can imagine that with a combat system like this, PvP would be an important aspect, and boy, is it ever. If you're looking for an MMO with good PvP, Blade & Soul has it covered. The Korean version already features mass PvP battles, but the real draw is that it boasts one of the most competitive scenes for MMO PvP, due to its great one on one system.
Blade & Soul also brings more to the table than its fantastic movement and combat systems. I can't stress this enough: I despise having to put on ugly armor just because it has better stats. Blade & Soul offers a solution to this with its awesome customization options. Blade & Soul's wardrobe system gives you the option of wearing outfits you have found in the game without having them replace the armor you are currently wearing. Style choice and stat choice are finally two entirely different entities, giving players so much freedom with the way they want to present themselves. I mean, what fun would being a martial arts expert be if I couldn't look awesome while doing it?
I wish I had had more time to experience the other parts of the game, such as the crafting system, but from what I got to test out, I am already excited for the localized version. At launch, the Western version of Blade & Soul will be fully localized into English, German and French, including voice-overs! If I piqued your interest even a little, make sure to sign up for the newsletter at bladeandsoul.com
for your chance to get into the closed beta coming this fall, and make sure to check out the first major livestream at twitch.tv/bladeandsoul
on Thursday, May 21 at 10AM PDT / 17:00 UTC.