Hello friends, and welcome to week two of the February series of Choose My Adventure. For those of you who are just tuning in, this month I’m diving headlong into the mystical martial-arts adventure of NCSoft’s Blade & Soul. Last week, I asked y’all to vote, as first-week tradition dictates, on what my character’s class, race, and gender should be. Despite each poll receiving somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 votes, the contests were all pretty close. But in the end, of course, there can be only one.
The vote for my character’s class, against all odds — or against 4:3 odds, at any rate — went to one of the non-race-exclusive classes, the Kung Fu Master, which came out of the contest with 24% of the votes, beating out the second-runner-up, Force Master, by a respectable 21 votes. The vote for my character’s race, however, was considerably tighter; Yun, Lyn, and Jin all put up a valiant effort with 21%, 24%, and 25% of the vote, respectively, but it was the big, brawny Gon that wound up winning out with 30% of the total vote. And last, but not least, on the subject of my character’s gender, the vote was much more one-sided, and female emerged victorious with a fairly commanding 61% of the vote against male’s 39%. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to Aesong, the female Gon Kung Fu Master.
Now that everyone’s acquainted, let’s talk shop. And by “shop,” I mean “game.” The logical place to begin, as is frequently the case, is character creation. Although you may not be able to tell from the screenshot of my character in the header, Blade & Soul provides a rather impressive variety of character customization options with which players can create characters of all kinds. Whether you want your avatar to be blindingly beautiful, perplexingly bizarre, or just so astonishingly hideous that the sight of it would turn even the most eldritch of Lovecraftian horrors immediately insane, the game’s library of customization options (which includes features ranging from the basic, like hair style and color, to the unconventional, like different styles of eye pupils) and overwhelming array of sliders should prove sufficiently robust.
I have to say, though, that Blade & Soul puts a liiiiitle too much emphasis on the “bust” part. Holy jeeze, guys. You just had to make me play a female character, didn’t you? Now, in the interest of full disclosure (and/or stating the blatantly obvious), boobs aren’t exactly my cup of tea, so to speak, and my experience in that department is admittedly limited. I do, however, have an elementary grasp of the laws of physics, which is more than can be said for the bosoms on Blade & Soul‘s female characters, which lack even the foggiest notion of how inertia works. Each time I rotated my character even the slightest bit, her breasts tried to bolt away from one another like startled deer, only to find the effort fruitless and, after a few more perfunctory attempts, come to a resigned halt. That is, until the next minuscule movement renewed their fervor, at any rate.
Yes, I understand that MMO characters tend to be idealized representations of the human figure and that male and female characters alike are subjected to a degree of objectification, yadda yadda yadda, but such shameless levels of hypersexualization are really just an embarrassment. Listen, game devs: When my male character’s ass bounces around like two bowls of seemingly frictionless Jell-O that threaten to slingshot themselves into orbit every time he so much as wiggles his toes, maybe we can talk. Of course, if male butts followed the same laws of physics as female breasts (read: none whatsoever), there would be no shortage of people eager to tell you how cringingly gratuitous it is. It’s not that I’m surprised to find overzealous boob physics in an MMO, mind you, but it’s kinda like ambrosia salad at Thanksgiving dinner: I know it’s gonna be there, and even though no one’s going to force me to actually eat it, there’s still something vaguely off-putting about the unnatural way it jiggles.
OK, now that I’ve just about worn a hole in my soapbox and stretched my metaphors to their breaking points, let’s move on to the game itself. The game begins at the Hongmoon School, where the venerable Master Hong instructs his pupils, like yours truly, in the ways of the Hong Moon style of martial arts. The school itself is situated atop a series of floating islands, and while that may not seem like the most judicious location for a martial-arts school (or anything, for that matter), it sure does make for a hell of a view. If there’s one thing that Blade & Soul has going for it right off the bat, it’s sheer beauty. Admittedly, I am a huge sucker for the overall “ancient East Asia, but with magic” aesthetic, and your mileage may vary, but no matter where you fall on that issue, it’s hard to deny that the game’s visuals are slick and polished.
After I took a couple of minutes to just admire the tranquil scenery of the place, it was time to get on with my training, which meant getting my first taste of combat. With the assistance of some animated training dummies, I got my first lesson in the art of the Kung Fu Master. I began with only three skills: my basic attack, which is a simple punch-punch-kick combo that generates Focus (a resource consumed by other, more powerful abilities); a powerful straight punch that requires focus to use; and what appears to be one of the Kung Fu Master’s key, class-defining abilities, Counter.
As you might surmise, Counter allows me to deflect one incoming attack and counter with my own. While the ability to block and counter attacks is by no means unique to the KFM — to my knowledge, every class has at least one or two similar defensive skills — the KFM’s counter has the shortest effective time-window of them all (only about one second) so precise timing and/or frantic spamming, as the situation dictates, is essential, though obviously when you’re like level two and have all of three abilities at your disposal, combat is simple enough that facerolling the keyboard will get you through most fights just fine.
Having proven myself capable of holding my own against the training dummies, I was sent to the aptly named Proving Grounds to finalize my training and cement my place as a student of the Hongmoon. For my initiation, I was burdened with the great, momentous task of… beating more animated training dummies. Well, all right then. After I mopped the floor with them — insofar as one can mop the floor with semi-sentient wooden mannequins, anyway — I was accosted by a mysterious masked assassin who, when I tried to attack him, contemptuously countered my blow, knocked me to the ground, and put me in an armbar that instantly dropped my health to zero. Achilles had his heel, and I have my arm, apparently.
But surprise! The masked assassin revealed himself to be none other than a fellow student of the Hongmoon School, a guy by the name of Lusung, who apparently snapped my humerus for the noble purpose of teaching me about the game’s downed mechanic. After receiving a blow that fully depletes your health, your character goes into a downed state. Taking another hit while downed will kill you outright, but if you manage to get away from your attackers — unlikely considering that you can only crawl at a pace so glacial that snails and turtles would give you condescending looks as they sped by — you can attempt to use the Chi Restoration ability to recover some of your HP. Doing so, however, requires a substantial cast time — something to the tune of 15 seconds — during which you are immobile and utterly helpless, although friendly players can assist you and speed up the process, should they feel so inclined.
Once I had crawled shamefully away from Lusung and managed to meditate for a full 15 seconds despite my hideously mangled arm, I was restored to life just in time for Lusung to inform me that “from now on, everything is going to be different.” Hmm, I wonder what he meant by that totally normal, not-at-all cryptic or ominous remark. “Oh well,” I thought, “probably best to disregard it and head back to the school proper, which I’m sure will not have been overrun by wraithlike demons intent on the extermination of Master Hong and his students.” Imagine my surprise, then, when I emerged from the Proving Grounds to discover that the school had been overrun by wraithlike demons intent on the extermination of Master Hong and his students. Just one of those days, I guess.
After fighting off a few of the demons, I was treated to a couple of cutscenes — which were remarkably well done aside from the voice-acting, the quality of which runs the gamut from adequate to eye-rolling — in which (spoiler alert!) Master Hong, along with pretty much the rest of the Hongmoon students, was ruthlessly cut down by a trio of villains clad in matching black leather outfits. The leader of the assailants, who administered the coup-de-grace to Master Hong, is Jinsoyun, a femme fatale seeking the power of the mythical blade Twilight’s Edge.
Though presumed to have been killed by Master Hong himself following her first attempt to acquire Twilight’s Edge, Jinsoyun now wields the corrupting power of dark chi and is back for revenge. After finally getting her hands on Twilight’s Edge, which had been disguised as the staff carried by Master Hong, she inflicts my character with an enigmatic, occult brand known as the Mark of the Black Rose. But of course, with the hubris and surety that only a major antagonist can muster, she orders her lackies not to finish me off because “No one survives the Black Rose.”
Wrong! Instead of dying, which would have made for a disappointingly short game indeed, I woke up from unconsciousness in a little house on the outskirts of a small village (named, creatively enough, Bamboo Village) under attack by a force of marauders known as the Blackram Raiders. Despite the fact that I’ve recently had my arm broken, my entire School slaughtered before my eyes, and a mysterious curse placed upon me, I’m still apparently the most capable fighter in the vicinity — which kind of makes me wonder how the hell this village wasn’t pillaged and razed before now — and so I’m tasked with clearing the nearby beach of Blackram agents and their artillery. Nothing new here, really; run here, punch these things until they die, then report back for your rewards. Well, a girl’s gotta earn a living somehow, and as the saying goes, if you’re good at something — like punching things until they die, for example — never do it for free.
Following a relatively short questline that had me fighting under the command of Captain Dochun, captain of the Bamboo Guard and former student of the Hongmoon School, in order to repel the Blackram invaders and save Captain Dochun’s snotty, arrogant son, Dodan, who is best described as the Justin Bieber of Blade & Soul. Despite Dodan’s delusions of heroism provoking a short scuffle with one of the Blackram leaders, the raiders were repelled and Bamboo Village still stands (for now). After just a few more introductory quests, which took me on a short tour of the village and introduced me to some of its inhabitants, I came to one of the first major decisions of the game, and that, of course, brings us to ye olde voting tyme.
Blade & Soul features a number of different factions that players can champion over the course of the game, and the first of these factions are the Cerulean Order and the Crimson Legion. The Cerulean Order presents itself as a “refined militant faction that has focuses on the future and the well-being of the realm,” valuing order and unity above all else. The Cerulean Order’s adversary, the Crimson Legion, on the other hand, falls pretty soundly on the more anarchic end of the spectrum; the Legion values freedom above all else and believes that government and other restrictive establishments should be torn down by any means necessary. In addition to deciding which guilds I can join — members of a guild must all belong to the same faction — my choice between the Cerulean Order and the Crimson Legion will determine my allies and enemies on the battlefield of open-world PvP.
So, dear readers, should I sign on with the militaristic, order-above-all-else Cerulean Order, or the anarchic, freedom-or-death Crimson Legion? It’s your choice, of course. But wait, there’s more: I also want you to tell me how far into the open-world PvP pond I should dive. Blade & Soul doesn’t have a traditional flagging system for open-world PvP; instead, you determine your participation based on your outfit.
Which faction should I roll with?
- Cerulean Order (46%, 65 Votes)
- Crimson Legion (54%, 76 Votes)
Total Voters: 141
That is to say, if you’re wearing the uniform of the Cerulean Order or Crimson Legion, then you’re fair game for members of the opposing faction no matter where in the world you are, but if you prefer to stay out of such affairs, just change your duds and you’re safe from PvP combat altogether. So with that in mind, should I simply dabble in the open-world PvP here and there, picking a few fights as the mood strikes me, or should I fully commit to championing my faction, keeping my uniform on at all times? Yes, I know that I could ignore it altogether, but then what would I write about next week? I need to get my material somewhere, you know.
How much should I commit to my faction?
- Half-hearted: Dabble in some open PvP, pick some fights, get on with your life (67%, 96 Votes)
- All-in: In uniform the whole way through, no exceptions. (33%, 47 Votes)
Total Voters: 143
At any rate, there are your decisions for this week’s polls, so let the votes fly. And of course, be sure to submit your votes by Friday, February 12th, at 11:59 p.m. EST, and swing by next week for the next riveting installment in my Blade & Soul adventures. Until then, friends!