Released in 2012, the Korean MMO Blade & Soul has been one of the most awaited titles for western players over the last few years, even reaching a point where no one expected an announcement about its localization anymore. These doubts only lasted until last May, when NCSoft announced that the game would be published in Europe and the United States. Distributed on a free-to-play model, the game developed by Team Bloodlust intends to immerse players in the great themes of Asian mythology, honoring martial arts in its gameplay. We offer you an overview of the main features of the game before its release, scheduled for January 19, 2016.
World and story
The central plot Blade & Soul’s basically revolves around dark betrayals and ascents to power. If the thing may at first seem a bit cliché for the genre, the MMO manages to impose a strong narrative made of endearing characters and multiple twists. Beyond its classic quests facing the hard-pexing, Blade & Soul manages to register the player in its global frame with a story led with talent by a long series of scripted quests and accompanied by cutscenes that are pleasant to watch. Asian martial art films regulars should have a good idea of what to expect here. Put simply, the story tells us about a millennial war between two nations, Woon, a country located in the West, and the Empire of Poon-Je, to the East. This conflict is largely responsible for the current chaos reigning on four continents. To make matters worse, one of the four guardian lords protecting the world from the invasion of demons went traitor and joined forces with these same demons. And is up to your character, a young martial art apprentice with a huge potential, to make things right. Classic save the world intrigue that, however, complies with the principles of the Wuxia genre, and spans over six large acts at present. Note that only the first three acts will be available at the game’s release.
The first set of hours in the game can leave a strange impression, that of a world made up of narrow corridors and extremely linear progression. Players will have to stick to the ride for a bit and progress through the story before the title inally opens a world with more advanced exploration opportunities. First observation, and undoubtedly one of the great strength of the game, the verticality of the decor works perfectly with the player’s ability to be able to sprint and jump, allowing them to glide in the air in a style that should remind most of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Blade & Soul placed its elegant movements in the very heart of the gameplay; players will not have access to mounts, not that they’d need any when they have the ability to run up walls and float in the air at all times. These martial feats will thus allow us to explore a universe mixing Asian folklore and fantasy, with shimmering colors and areas entrenched in the Chinese medieval architecture.
Also noteworthy, Blade & Soul is running through the Unreal Engine 3, engine that was at the cutting edge of technology at the time of the launch. Today, if the MMO remains technically very well made, one only wince slightly at the rendering of some textures in the scenery that may seem a bit dated. Unfortunately, this is the price of a long wait for the Western release of the title. On the bright side, Blade & Soul retains a marvelous character modeling, as well as enemies and NPCs that benefit from the inimitable artistic abilities of the South Korean illustrator Kim Hyung-Tae. Known for his characters with “slightly” extravagant proportions (especially when it comes to female characters), the man has worked on series like Magna Carta or War of Genesis before taking the head of the artistic team of Team Bloodlust within NCsoft (a position he left in 2014 to found his own mobile game development studio).
Races and classes
Blade & Soul offers players a choice of four races, and currently seven classes, to create their character. Like it or not, but, due to certain details of the lore, some of the classes and races will be gender-locked. The Yun race, for example, will be made up solely of women, somewhat like the Viera race of Final Fantasy, being known to have an intense respect for nature. The Gon, descendants of the spirits of the land, have the most massive frame of the game. Proud and brave, they enjoy a great physical and mental strength. The Jin, human archetype, do not really possess special characteristics, other than the fact that they have mastered martial arts like no other. Finally, the Lyn race might just be the most popular one. Cute little beings with large ears and a tail, the Lyn descended from Qilins, animals known for their unrivaled malice. Design side, the extravagant style of Kim Hyung-Tae has led to numerous debates on the hyper-gendered female characters with unrealistic proportions. More details about the different classes can be found here.
The Kung Fu Master
Undoubtedly one of the most agile classes in the game, and probably the most difficult class to play because of the low reaction time required between its combos, one must be extremely fast to chain attacks and counter those of opponents when playing as a King Fu master. The class has excellent stun-lock and tanking skills, provided they are sufficiently reactive its cons. It can be played by the Gon, Jin and Yun races.
The Blade Master
With much better blocking abilities as compared to the Kung Fu Master, this class is often considered the main tank of the game. With two combat postures, these sword-wielders combine speed and devastating strength to wreck havoc on battlefields. When well played, the class has a heavy DPS and is probably one of the most fun classes gameplay-wise (making it currently the most played class on B & S). It can be played by the Yun and Jin races.
Forget finesse and graceful pirouettes, the Destroyer does not need pretty moves to fight. Reserved for the Gon race and using a two-handed, the class is probably the easiest to play with thanks to its ability to deal damage to multiple enemies at once. With its unique capacity to grab enemies and make them unable to respond to attack, the Destroyer is a crucial figure in dungeons. Advanced players also enjoy the ability to interrupt the techniques of enemies, making the Destroyer surprisingly oriented towards group support.
Fans of “kawai” feline characters, the Summoner should delight you. Exclusively for Lyn, this class represents the cuteness of Blade & Soul and in this sense should not be to the taste of everyone. It is even said in Korea that the class is so easy to play that it is the most suited one for beginners. That said, at higher levels the class grows more complex, with numerous tactics and abilities to be mastered.
The Force Master
The Force Master can be considered as the mage archetype of the game. It is currently the most powerful class of B & S despite its many PvE and PvP nerfs. Its gameplay is largely dependent on its positioning, being a master of ranged combat with fire and ice spells. With a lower life pool than other classes, the Force Master compensates for this weakness with a panel of defensive spells that vary from the invocation of different protective barriers to the ability of imprisoning themselves into ice to become invulnerable. Playable by the Yun, Lyn and Gon classes.
Master of poison and bleeding DOTs, the Assassin is the second biggest DPS class of the game (even if the classification still depends on combat situations). With its stealth capabilities, it can also lay numerous explosive and smoke traps on the battlefield. By far one of the most potent classes when it comes to playing solo, the Assassin remains very useful in parties, its multiple DOTs preventing opponents from regenerating their health between attacks from teammates. Can only be played by the Jin race.
The Blade Dancer
Another class restricted to the Lyn race, the Blade Dancer is basically the jack-of-all-trades class of the game. Very fast, it relies on a high movement speeds to escape and attack opponents with fluidity. With many crowd control capabilities, the Blade Dancer should easily please thanks to its multiple AoEs. A support class, therefore, but not without power.