Hands-on with Bless Reborn at Neowiz’s San Francisco media reveal
As you probably have heard, there was a Bless influencer event this week, with a couple of media and a smattering of MMO streamers in attendance. The leak of the price points happened soon before we went in, but none of the people in attendance, devs or streamers, really seemed fazed by it. Most people seemed ready to have a good time.
For someone like me, who was initially blown away by Bless circa 2011, the game had fallen off my radar, especially after the game’s rocky trip to Russia and initial Korean release. The western build-up for me has felt like a big PR push, with the pricing model dangled like a feature that people actually should be excited about. Basic questions like, “How does endgame work?” were easier to find on Reddit, Steam, and fansites than any of the PR I was reading. I was concerned, to say the least, but things like “tame almost any mob!” and “100v100” battles intrigued me. Though nothing I saw is probably going to change any core fans’ mind, it may be useful to those on the fence.
While the leak had some basic information on the price points, it didn’t have the fine details on what was in the $200 founder’s option. The press event also lacked in specifics beyond the mention of 90 days of subscription, lots of premium currency, customer service where they’ll actually look at your ticket, and a bunch of pet/mount skins.
Mounts and pet skins don’t seem terribly exciting to me, but this is also a game where everyone is a pet class. In fact, there’ll be about 660 potential tameables, and nearly anything can be tamed (I was told the biggest “you can’t tame that” rule is mobs in dungeons because it may mess with scripted scenarios).
The taming system is pretty easy too. Use the right consumable and you get a minigame where you strike spacebar at the right time to hit a moving mark on a meter. Do this a few times before the timer runs out and your tame is successful. Neat. It’s no Dragon’s Prophet where you had to rodeo a dragon, but it’s visually different from other taming minigames.
Then there’s the reworked combat. It feels like a cross between TERA and Guild Wars 2. I love the former, and the latter isn’t terrible. The combos I saw for my level 37 character were less like combos than like choosing which button you’re going to press two times next: R, T, or Y. Some are cool, like the guardian knocking its target into the air before slamming it back down, but it felt like less of a choice than a requirement, as the knock up option (the Y button) only lead to the knockdown button (also Y). Combined with different stances, combat could get pretty deep, though my experience felt more like a system of reinforced cycles than truly open combat options.
But what is this game at the end of the day? I’ve seen several commenters get excited about it, especially given the Pokemon-esque taming point and gorgeous visuals (note: there’s forced PvP, but supposedly lots of ways to avoid it, like drinking a potion from the game shop that turns off your pvp that I was told lasts for 20 minutes at the moment).
It might not sound like much to those of us steeped in the MMO genre, but great visuals and simple sounding gameplay are enough to get even non-gamers curious about an MMO. The problem, of course, is that MMOs are such huge collections of interacting systems. It’s not just a character creator, nor taming, nor raiding, nor PvP. It’s all of those working in a shared, persistent world.
This was one of the points stressed to me by Chief Creative Officer Jangchoel Rhee, Senior Combat Designer Seongil Ma, Executive Producer Sungjin Ko, and Advisor (and personal translator for our meeting) Jake Kim. Through Kim, I was told that despite what I’d seen and heard from the international Bless community, the developers consider the game to be a PvPvE game. This, it seems, is why PvP cannot be taken away from the equation. And I get that. If you design outdoor combat for a PvE game, it should play differently from one where you assume someone is going to jump out of a bush and stab you at any moment.
And that is something anyone who’s interested in Bless needs to consider: There will be PvP moments. While I mentioned that PvE games seem to do well in the west, the Neowiz developers noted that there’s room for a good PvP one. There’s clearly competition, especially from non-MMO PvP games like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, but MMO PvP is different, and Neowiz wanted to tackle that kind of game.
But why should we trust the company given its current record? I was told the developers felt that the lessons they learned from their past missteps helped them correct the game’s stability, combat, and UI. When I mentioned our previous interview with Game director Jae-hoon Jeon and how Neowiz didn’t feel gamers of different cultures would “demand different sorts of experiences,” the present developers affirmed that they had changed course. Not only was the monetization system changed again (the team has been careful in trying to avoid ArcheAge’s mistake of trying to build a game around a changed monetization system), but the difficulty for western players has been tiered. Previously, the game was more uniform in difficulty, so easing players into that difficulty sounds wiser.
However, more important is the idea that Early Access is supposed to be when the developers and player base communicate. I heard several times throughout the day’s event, from devs and PR, that the team wanted feedback. That’s something you players will really be able to test. Is the game really PvPvE? Is it really not pay-to-win? Do choices in combat really feel weighty? When the game hits Early Access, you can test this. Make your voice heard. See if Neowiz is working for that optional subscription. If the game “launches” but the team seems to be ignoring feedback, well, Bless will sadly be joining other disappointing EA games.
Before my interview, I got to jump into Bless for a bit. The build we played on was on the US servers (based in Virginia), and it was certainly early access material, with bad translations, voice acting scripts that hadn’t been checked for comprehension, and broken tutorials. One idea that I liked about Bless is a basic, separate MMO-check tutorial, where the game tests if you know how to use WASD and combat systems. It’s far from finished and I was told to leave it be, but from what little I saw, it could be a good idea for someone who is new to the genre.
The proper newbie experience, however, was fairly standard stuff. If you’ve played a AAA fantasy MMO in the past 10 years that had voice acting, this’ll all be familiar. The beast race is cool, and tiny people are adorable, and water elves sound like a cool idea (I just wish they were more water than elf). We don’t have a sneaky melee type and there’s only one healer at launch, an issue many at the event lamented.
However, as MassivelyOP readers know, Neowiz has been adamant about PvP being a core part of the game’s identity. I was even told that the game isn’t a PvP game but a PvPvE game. The problem was, nothing at the event involved PvP. At all. Not only did I not see it as an option, but several streamers complained about the lack of it, especially as many were Black Desert players at some point, if not fans.
This is problematic, not only because we were told that PvP is supposed to be inherently linked with the PvE system, but because it’s supposed to be a feature that makes the game stand out, along with the lore and taming system.
The taming system is actually problem number two. None of the demos focused on taming. The ten minutes I spent in the proper newbie experience didn’t push me into that direction, and it sounded like few people explored it. Our core gameplay was PvE today, but didn’t include the game’s most unique PvE feature.
While taming sounds cool on paper, I just didn’t get to do enough with it at the event to be sold on it. Despite the fact that player-to-player trading won’t be in because the developers fear “black market” repercussions, there are ways to package some tameables and sell them on the auction house, as I had some in-game wrapping paper that would have done that. Having tameables be mounts and pets is cool, and some trading is nice too, but there aren’t any Pokemon-style pet battles, which even World of Warcraft has (though I was told they could implement it in the future).
While some readers are probably aware of how annoyed I get about demos that don’t properly demonstrate our genre, Neowiz did bring a demo that had group play, which I jumped into after my interview.
Press and streamers were in a simple dungeon that showed off the combos I’ve previously mentioned. The tab targetting is a little annoying, as many times I’d use an ability thinking it’d hit a nearby target, only for my character to chase a foe I was trying to unclick. Combat is telegraphed, and the effects are rather quick, but kind of fun. Again, huge TERA vibes, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. But MMOs aren’t about raw combat, and our demo did one thing that many don’t: It made us work together.
We could feel how important each class role was, especially with the loss of a main tank or healer, as death put you at the start of the dungeon but behind a gate so you can’t zerg encounters (unless you use premium currency every 15 minutes to self-resurrect in combat). In fact, one of our streamers wandered away from the healer station at the very start of a fight, leaving me to play tank and heals on two machines at once, and poorly at that. The characters seemed geared better than average, so we were able to pull it off with button jamming on my end, but it did enforce the idea that we needed each other.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the dungeons’ traps system. Traps seemed rather obvious, like grates being needle traps and poisonous gas being, well, poisonous, but they’re not minor things, especially for non-tanks. I saw our DPS instantly crumble from them, though sadly the traps don’t seem to affect NPCs. Another missed opportunity seems to come from the inability for any class to disable them. One streamer claimed otherwise, but sadly some of the streamers were apparently having fun trying to sow misinformation (not everyone who was present is part of the emissary program).
Having group content that required coordination before end-game was nice, and would have been especially good for non-MMO vets. Enough of the people who were present today were vets who enjoyed flexing their MMO muscles. Some of them even represent some of you, saying things like, “I like grindy games I don’t have to think about,” or “I like automated systems so I can run the game while I work.” That being said, despite what you might hear from some of their channels, there are causes to be concerned with Bless‘ upcoming Early Access.
Awaiting the dawn
Early access is slated for May 28th. Hopefully by then, the game’s user experience will be cleaner. The “mount” button will hopefully be translated better, as it means something more like “equip.” I don’t think the voice acting scripts (the acting isn’t terrible from what I heard) can be fixed by then. You’ll be in PvE mode for a bit, and maybe even try out an MMO-training tutorial just for kicks or with a new MMO-fan in the making, fingers crossed. The game should be steering you towards taming cool stuff and PvP, but maybe those will be more memorable because they’re not front and center.
Neowiz has a lot to overcome, and I don’t just mean its PvP priority when the western MMO market feels like it favors the PvE game, or at least non-open world, forced PvP MMOs. When I asked what the team’s done that might put a worried player at ease after Bless‘ current bumpy ride, they mentioned the UI changes, combat improvement, and localizing the difficulty. I was hoping to get some good numbers, or hear a specific story about a player suggestion that worked, but it didn’t materialize.
The team isn’t ignorant about the market, the MMO genre history, or the game(s) they’re being compared to. After all, they also work with Epic Games and help put Fortnite into Korean PC cafes. I even overheard one of the developers tell a streamer that the Research and Development team was looking into Battle Royale as an option for Bless, though the developers I interviewed said anything like that would come after release. They did seem to like the idea and asked me a bit about it.
While I don’t fault them for it, it does make me concerned about the core Bless experience. Again, this was a game that caught my eye. I was hooked on ArcheAge after playing the tutorial in Korean. A free weekend got in TERA won me over and even got my former PvE gaming partner to join me on a PvP server. Like Bless, both of these games are super pretty and push PvP at the endgame.
However, both of these games exposed you to PvP relatively soon as well. The temptation to steal is high in ArcheAge, and fellow players who saw my level 13 strawberry thief swiftly took advantage of my no penalty PvP kill status. I don’t know when PvP starts in Bless, but we didn’t see it today, and everyone noticed that.
Many people publicly said they enjoyed the game today, but after checking for nearby PR and devs, some confided that the game was “playable.” The lack of a second healer was noticed and a bit annoying. No PvP was mentioned by many. A few were confused about what to do with the max level (45) available in the demo. One streamer was sincerely happy, but he also actually played quite a bit of the game before and clearly earned his emissary title. Others seemed like (MMO) streamers first, Bless emissaries second.
To compare to other PvP centric Korean MMOs I have experience with, I left my first ArcheAge session wanting more. I left my first TERA session with a preorder. Today, I left Bless with a confused shrug. I’ve introduced people into the genre with these games in the past. They don’t always stick, but at least they’re good for shared moments. However, I can do the same with a lot of local multiplayer games for far less, and certain free-to-play MMOs, including AA and TERA now. I’m puzzled about the state of the port and just how it’ll fit into the current MMO landscape in just a few short weeks.