Blade & Soul hits western shores this winter

Much like TERA, having a discussion about this game's attitude towards women is mostly a matter of shaking your head in exasperation.

Remember when comic books had little call-outs on the front cover proudly proclaiming that something happened because the readers requested it? I always thought those were kind of hilarious. “Because you demanded it, here’s the latest issue of a comic that absolutely must have been scripted and planned out months in advance, thereby completely putting the lie to the idea that your demands had any bearing on it!” Kind of silly.

In this case, though, I could actually use one of those starbursts. Yes, it is indeed because you collectively demanded it. The rumors were trueBlade & Soul is coming to the West, and it’s coming despite the fact that basically everyone (including me) had given up any and all hope that the title would ever be localized. And it’s a thing to be happy about, even if you previously hadn’t figured that Blade & Soul was a game you needed to be concerned with.

The downside to this particular announcement, made at an NCsoft press event earlier this week, is that I wasn’t told why the game has taken so long to release here. A belief that Western players wouldn’t care about a wuxia game? Decisions on business models? Forgetting the game existed? No explanations were offered, and frankly, does anyone care at this point? The important thing is that it’s here, or at least it will be. The game is currently being internally tested and localized, and from what I saw of the localization, it’s still understandably rough. Closed beta testing is expected to kick off in the fall, with a release in winter.

And yes, it’s launching free-to-play.

Those of you who already know the game inside and out can now go about your day happier. Those of you who have no idea what it’s all about might want to read on a bit further because with any new game announcement, the question is why in the world you should care. And it’s a valid question, considering that this is not the first wuxia game to come out stateside and it took a long time getting here.

Surprisingly, the length of time NCsoft has taken to export the game westward is part of the reason why you should care. As was pointed out during the press presentation, the game has been out for over a year in Korea, and that means the developers have had time to balance all of the classes, add in more content, expand the game, and otherwise make it better. There are six “volumes” of the game’s story available now in Korea, but the game is launching here with just the first three, which ensures that players will have tons of content and story to explore while still knowing there’s plenty of polish waiting in the wings.

It also means that the game has had time to add other elements that you can’t generally expect from a new game. There’s a fully functional group finder in place that pulls groups together cross-server, along with a detailed breakdown of what rewards can be earned in dungeons. There are buckets of costumes. And critically, there are refinements to the game’s combat system.

Okay, yes, I can work with this.

Blade & Soul is an active combat game, and while the usual follow-up to that is that the people who prefer tab-targeting combat should keep reading, here it’s… not that. This is a game that really seeks to emulate the feel of wuxia cinema in every way, including the combat. Just watching the demonstration videos makes it clear that the combat is very much about visceral feel, timing, and quick maneuvers. (There’s more about that in my hands-on; please look forward to it later today.)

Even above and beyond the active combat, though, there are interesting systems. For example, the game allows you to level up your weapons using weapons you collect over time, meaning that you can indeed take that sword at level 1 all the way up to the level cap. There’s also the free gliding, sprinting, and so forth, which is at once a great way to explore the game and just relaxing to watch.

It’s a rare thing to get a game that’s been so long delayed over here, and fans watching from afar had likely given up hope that the game was ever coming out in the west. But it is happening, and it’s happening sooner than you think. That’s without even getting into things like the game’s clever costume-based open PvP that allows you to opt in or out as you wish, or the intriguing systems that we were only shown in brief like ability customization, or the character creator…

It looks intriguing at a glance, and you can see more in screenshots and the official announcement trailer. But how well does it play? Well, I answer that question in my hands-on piece. Stay tuned!

Disclosure: All of this information was obtained during a press event held by NCsoft in an absurdly expensive hotel directly on the beach in Santa Monica. Lodging, meals, and transportation were provided by NCsoft. I also got some swag out of it, chiefly a power recharger for mobile devices. I did not go to the beach. I’m not that far from the coast where I live; I can go to lots of beaches. Don’t tell me that California’s beaches are better. I’m not having that debate.
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