Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Blade and Soul - Ups and Downs

I've never been very good at spending my free time on more than one general activity at a time. Whether it be working on a game development project, playing my MMO de jour, or something that's caught my eye on the console, typically I tend to only focus on one thing, though I have been known to shift about pretty quickly.  And if you follow me on twitter at all, you know that for me, for the last several weeks, that's been Blade and Soul. So what's keeping me in the game?

Beautiful Game
Aesthetics are really important to me, and Blade and Soul has them in spades. And no, I don't just mean the boob physics! (though yes, they do have that as well - it is after all a Korean game) The world itself though is gorgeous. They combine a strong art direction with a bright palette and thoughtful eye towards zone layout to create a combined experience that is overall very pleasing.

Satisfying Combat
If there's anything that you want to get right in an MMO, its your combat mechanics. And I think Blade and Soul has done a fantastic job in this area. By using contextual abilities, tight animations, and a mix of both defensive and offensive maneuvers, they've built a combat system where not only do choices in your build system matter, but so does player execution. Of course, proper rotation execution is important in any MMO, but in Blade and Soul it's not just the order of operations, but the timing of those operations as well that's key, as well as proper reactions. Sometimes when I'm doing a quest that just has me running around wantonly slaying monsters, I turn off the UI just so I can more fully appreciate the experience.

Easy to Group
Something that has really become important to me more recently is a game's ability to form ad-hoc groups for group content. Less and less am I willing to get tied to any particular social structure for a particular game - I'm just to likely to move from game to game, and I don't want a guild tying me down. But I do want to participate in the group content. So a game's ability to find pick up groups, and the quality of those groups, is really important. And this is something Blade and Soul does exceptionally well. They have an ad-hoc party finder for finding a group for just about any quest or minor dungeon on your server, and for all off the major dungeons they offer cross-server matchmaking. And they provide cross server matchmaking for their PvP arenas as well.

This, combined with the soft role designation off their classes, means you rarely have to wait long to find a group for any group content. And the way their dungeons and mechanics are built, rarely does it take longer than 10 to 15 minutes to run a dungeon. I love this! And the fact that they offer daily rewards for just about every dungeon in the game, means you can easily level by just running dungeons, or PvP, or questing - depending on your playstyle preferences.

The Not So Good
But everything isn't necessarily all lilies and sunflowers in the land of the East. There are definitely some aspects of the game that, as I've gotten further into it, I find less appealing.

I'm definitely not a fan of their crafting. Despite participating in four professions - two gathering, and two crafting jobs, it feels very shallow, and even though I'm level 38 now, and have been crafting since I was level 16, I've yet to make anything that I thought was even a little bit useful. And I chose weaponforging and jewelry making as my professions! Crafting is at least starting to produce things that can bring a tiny bit of coin on the market, but overal, it's been a massive let down. Certainly no where near as good as the comprehensive jobs of Final Fantasy IV, or what Guild Wars 2 offers.

I'm also still on the fence about their itemization. The way it works, pretty much everyone's gear improves in exactly the same way.  Every class uses exactly one weapon, and everyone in my class will have the exact same weapon that I do. The only variation between one Blademaster's weapon and another is how far along the weapon improvement path they've gotten. You can change your weapon's appearance, so at least they don't all look the same, but there's really no room for deviation from the path, or choice. The same applies to your stats gear - the soul shields. For any particular level range, there is a "best" soul shield for your class - usually the one dropped in the most recent epic dungeon. You equip all the pieces of that shield, and you use it until you get to the next epic dungeon. There is a little more room for specialization here, as you might take a defensive set over an offensive set, but again, it just doesn't feel good. I find I like having my stats on my gear. And even SWTOR's itemization - where all your stats live in mods that you slot into your gear, felt a little more intuitive than this system.

Overall though, I'm still quite enjoying the game. I'm currently level 38, and at least currently plan on playing until I get to the current level cap, which is 45. There is new content coming out next week, as well as some very welcome class balance changes.  I don't often play PvP, but when I do, my poor Blademaster gets pretty much wrecked by everyone else.

Until next time - enjoy your game, whatever it is!

OH and XCom2 next week! At least one BnS player I know says he will be dropping this game like yesterday's pajamas to play that when it hits the digital shelves. Will you? 

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