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Personal Feelings of Blade & Soul
Apr 7th, 2016 at 2:54am
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Blade & Soul is launched in North America as of January 19th.  I had the opportunity to play this free MMORPG from NCSoft during two beta weekends back in December and report my initial feelings.

Be the Hero of Your Story

For the duration of the leveling experience, Blade & Soul may as well be a single-player RPG. Sure, you see other players out in the world, but aside from the occasional dungeon help and world PvP, they are little more than decoration and added lag. You, Cricket, are the hero of the story, and everything in the plot revolves around your character coming into his or her own power, and either saving the Earthen Realm from sure destruction or pursuing bloody revenge for the game’s inciting incident.

The story itself is interesting enough, with a few unexpected twists to keep you guessing, but it falls short of mind-blowing. You can opt only to follow the main plot, to branch off and finish all the sidequests in each area, throw some PvP dailies into the mix, or any combination of those, as long as the primary story gets told. It's important for farming Blade & Soul gold in the game. Recurring characters help you along your journey with a pleasant balance of good humor and emotion as you aid them with their respective plights, area after area. Unfortunately, Blade & Soul’s questing never moves past the simple kill x enemies or collect x of whatever that MMORPGs are sadly known for. Regarding actual mechanics, your journey will be exactly what it says on the tin.

More Blade than Soul

Every ability you learn can be morphed in various ways with skill points, providing a seemingly infinite array of options for playstyles. As a Force Master, I toyed with high-damage, low-health builds, crowd-control, self-healing, damage over time builds, and plenty of other combos that just didn’t work out. For leveling, you’re pretty much free to try anything. PvP and high-level dungeons may require more finesse…and a guide.

As fun as the combat is, be prepared to do a lot of it, especially at particular story intervals where the only way to further upgrade your equipment is to grind the same dungeon over and over again. A Loot Auction system ensures that those with the biggest piles of cash will take home the majority of the spoils, and while losers take your cut of the auction, it still doesn’t stop gold farmers from taking exactly the piece you need the one time it drops with insanely high bids. You’ll also be grinding PvP dailies and soloing other dungeons on a daily basis for loot, so enjoy the initial experience while you can–you’ll be rehashing the content again and again and again.

The Daily Grind

PvP is by far the highlight of reaching  the level cap. Once you’re decked out in the best gear, the dynamic nature of combat and unique experience of playing against other humans makes PvP the most variable and challenging of the endgame offerings. World PvP is available, as well as Arenas (1 v 1 or 3 v 3) with the possibility of Battlegrounds in the future. Rewards include better Soul Shields and unique costumes, and special items that make combat easier, such as special potions and stat-boosts. As fun as PvP is, once you grow a few ranks, it can become insanely difficult. While dungeon progression is simple enough if you keep improving your gear, PvP is mostly skill-based. If you’re not willing to min/max your character and learn to play your class nearly flawlessly, you won’t remain competitive.

Blade & Soul pulled out all the stops on appearance and combat, but it lacks staying power. As a free-to-play RPG experience, it’s fantastic. You’ll easily get 50-60 hours out of the main story and sidequests, and the interesting combat may keep you around a bit longer. Still, the endgame falls flat. The shining story and thrill of discovering new areas is gone once you’ve seen the inside of the same dungeon ten, twenty, thirty times. The social aspects are flimsy, the localization is frequently awkward, and PvP, while fun, has a high skill requirement that many players won’t want to take the time to match. As riveting as it was to play Blade & Soul to cap, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting it anytime soon.

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