Hello friends, and welcome back to Choose My Adventure, where I’m in my third week of exploring NCSoft’s martial-arts MMORPG, Blade & Soul. Last week, I asked you to choose which of the game’s two main factions I should align myself with, and what my level of participation in open-world PvP should be. On the first matter, the Crimson Legion edged out a victory with 54% of the vote to Cerulean Order’s 46%, while you overwhelmingly voted that I should just dabble in oPvP rather than committing myself whole-heartedly to the endeavor.
Unfortunately, only one of those votes actually ended up mattering. As some of you pointed out in the comments, those two factions have population caps in order to keep the contest between them at least relatively balanced, and on my server, Crimson Legion wasn’t accepting any new members. Alas, I had no choice but to join the Cerulean Order in order to get my taste of open-world PvP. For what it’s worth, though, a taste was really all I needed.
As it turns out, you folks in the comments were right once again. My experience with OPvP in the early levels was composed of little more than a bunch of ganks by higher-level characters or groups of characters with the occasional fair fight in between. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the few fair fights I had — though, if I’m being honest, I did lose most of them — and the game does seem to reward player skill — or at the very least, player knowledge. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your class as well as the others is of paramount importance, especially given the roles that positioning and defending play in the grand scheme of things. But to be honest, I kept my faction uniform on for only about an hour, both because I quickly grew tired of getting my shit wrecked every ten minutes and because the Cerulean Order uniform looks appallingly bad on female characters.
In the comments last week, some of you asked me if I would spend a little more time talking about what I think of the game rather than just giving factual details about my experience so far. It’s almost as if you guys read opinion columns for the opinions or something. Well, I’m happy to oblige, especially since this weekend’s playtime (which consisted almost exclusively of questing and leveling up) didn’t provide me with a whole lot of new material to talk about.
Let’s start with the real skeleton of the game: questing. Blade & Soul is structured like your typical themepark MMO where the main focus of the game is reaching the endgame, which in this case doesn’t begin until you reach the max level of 45. Questing is, of course, the main (and in this case, perhaps the only) route to getting there, so you’re going to be spending a great deal of your time doing it. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t offer anything even remotely new or interesting in this department. If you’ve played World of Warcraft or any of its ilk, you know what to expect: Go to a quest hub, pick up all the quests, go do all the quests, go turn in all the quests, move on to the next hub, and repeat ad nauseam.
Moreover, Blade & Soul doesn’t even do you the courtesy of varying the quest objectives from time to time. So far, almost every single quest I’ve done has required me to do nothing more than kill X mobs, gather Y items, or talk to person Z. The very few exceptions to that have been escort quests and, unsurprisingly, they suck as much in Blade & Soul as they do in pretty much every other MMORPG on the face of the planet.
Now, somewhat in its defense, Blade & Soul does occasionally send you to solo instances for some of the quests, and while the quest objectives in these areas generally boil down to the three varieties listed above, they are sometimes delivered in more interesting ways, usually by using the solo instance (and thus the lack of other players to disrupt the proceedings) to convey a short narrative or something of the sort. But really, when it comes right down to it, the questing is flat-out mindless and quickly devolves into outright tedious. It would be pretty much unbearable, honestly, if it weren’t for…
…The combat! The combat system is by far Blade & Soul’s saving grace, and perhaps the only quality that isn’t just rehashed mediocrity. It’s crisp, it’s responsive, it’s flashy, and it honestly scratches some of the itches that tend to be satisfied by fighting games like Street Fighter. With every level gained and each new ability unlocked, the combat just gets deeper. In the beginning, my Kung Fu Master was relying on nothing more than a single counter and a few punches, but now that I’ve unlocked some new skills, I’ve gained the capability to execute combo attacks.
I also think that a large part of the joy I derive from Blade & Soul’s combat is a result of the exceptional animations and sound effects that come with it. There is nothing in the game that has satisfied me more than the aforementioned grapple-to-pummel combo, largely because the sound it makes when my metal-gauntlet-clad fists connect with some poor sap’s jaw. It’s just got this immensely viscerally satisfying clank-thud that makes me giggle with malicious delight.
On the other end of the spectrum from the deep and satisfying combat, there lies the game’s gear progression system which, if I’m being honest, I kind of hate. There are two main reasons for this: The first is that there is no gear, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. While you will, over the course of the game, acquire soul shields (more on those in a minute) and accessories like earrings, amulets, and the like, none of them affect your character’s physical appearance.
Instead, the game provides a number of outfits that can be earned (or bought) and worn, and other than the faction outfits that determine who you can fight in PvP, they have no bearing on stats. On the one hand, some of you might enjoy the freedom that comes from disconnecting physical appearance from mechanical statistics, but I personally find the fact that my appearance customization is limited to preset full outfits — myriad and beautiful though they may be — to be rather restricting, especially when I’m used to being able to mix and match various pieces of gear to get the exact appearance I’m looking for.
The second reason, however, is the way that gear progression is handled. Near the beginning of the game, you’re given a weapon referred to as your Hongmoon Weapon. Learn to love it, because it’s the only weapon you’re going to be using for the entire game. See, weapons (and accessories) can be enhanced, and once they’ve reached a certain point of enhancement, you can combine them with “breakthrough materials” to evolve them to the next stage of progression. So instead of replacing your weapon with new ones throughout the course of the game, you’re just going to be upgrading the same weapon you started with. And since you’re going to be using any weapons that drop over the course of your adventures to upgrade your current one, there’s never any reason to get excited about a gear drop; everything is just enhancement fodder and nothing more.
OK, well that’s not entirely true. There are some occasions when you’ll get excited over a gear drop, but not for the right reasons. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned “breakthrough materials” that are required to evolve your weapon to the next stage of its enhancement line. These breakthrough materials are always rare weapons belonging to the same class of weapon that is being evolved. That is to say, if I want to evolve my Kung Fu Master’s gauntlets, I need to use a rare pair of gauntlets as the breakthrough material. The thing is, most of the time the rare weapons in question come from “weapon chests.” When you open a weapon chest, you have to use a key, and there are two types of keys: basic, run-of-the-mill keys and special “zone-specific” keys. Opening a weapon chest with a standard key will give you a random class’s weapon, while opening it with one of these special keys will guarantee that you pull your class’s weapon from the box.
There are only two real ways to get these special keys, however. The first and easiest is to buy them from the item shop for RMT currency. The second is to do daily quests, which grant reward chests, which in turn ostensibly have a chance to contain one of these special keys. Here’s the thing, though: In the interest of full disclosure, I already have a max-level character in Blade & Soul, and throughout the entirety of my journey from level 1 to level 45, I never — and I mean never — got a key from any of those daily boxes, which almost invariably contained potions or food or something equally mundane. Thankfully, I had some NC Coins left over from somewhere (WildStar, probably), so I just bought mine like the lazy bastard I am. But basically, unless you buy your keys off the item shop, you’re either going to be spending a truckload of time farming daily chests hoping to get keys, or you’re gonna spend a truckload of time farming weapon chests hoping to get the weapon you need. It’s unecessary tedium in a game that’s already chock full of it, and I don’t like it. The same goes for accessories, too, but you’re more likely to pull the ones you need since accessories, unlike weapons, are not class-specific.
The only thing about Blade & Soul’s gear progression system that I do like, really, is the Soul Shield system. Since there isn’t really gear in the traditional sense, a significant portion of your character’s stat bonuses are going to come from soul shields. Here’s how they work: Each individual Soul Shield comes in eight different pieces, and each one has set bonuses for equipping three, five, and eight pieces of a single soul shield. So there is some fun to be had in trying different combinations of Soul Shield pieces to get the attributes and set bonuses that are most beneficial to your character, but in practice, I generally haven’t futzed with it. In between the start of the game and the endgame, your Soul Shield is going to be replaced multiple times, and usually you’re just gonna stick with the one that is easiest to get at the level you’re at rather than worrying too much about farming for the right fragments to get the exact stats you want. Still, it’s an interesting concept, and probably the only part of the game’s gearing system that I don’t actively dislike.
At any rate, you wanted my thoughts on the game so far, and there you have them, for the most part. Now, for this week’s polls so we can move on to week four and draw this stuff to a close. I’ve finally reached the tranquil little hamlet of Jadestone Village, where I can find representatives of each of the different crafting guilds in the game. There are fourteen total crafting guilds — seven focused on gathering materials and seven focused on crafting items — and you can belong to two of each type at any given time. It would take up entirely too much space to describe each of the fourteen guilds in detail, so here’s a link to the crafting section of the Blade & Soul wiki for those of you who want every last bit of information. But for those of you who are good with just a quick overview, here it is:
On the material-gathering side of things, we have the Herbside Service, who gather (surprise!) herbs, fruits, and the like; the Green Thumbs, who gather crops and soil; the Tree Fellers, who (surprise again) gather lumber and tree sap; the Trapper’s Alliance, who gather meat and animal bones; the Fish Network, who gather (actual surprise!) not fish but shells and fish oils; the Stonecutters, who gather stone, of course; and the Prospector’s Union, who gather metal ore.
Meanwhile, on the crafting side, we have the Silver Cauldron, who produce potions; the Earthseers, who produce teleport scrolls and charms for unsealing locked gear; the Merry Potters, who create pickaxes, jars, and a variety of materials needed for item enhancement; the Acquired Taste, who produces food, food, and more food; the Soul Wardens, who make Soul Shields and some very valuable enhancement items; the Forgekeepers, who create weapons and repair kits; and the Radiant Ring, who produces fine jewelry and gems for slotting into gear. In the interest of not making the polls a crazy clusterbang and ending up with a combination of crafting and gathering professions that provide no synergy whatsoever, I’m going to just have you guys vote on which two crafting professions I should take, then I’ll just pick up whatever gathering professions would be most beneficial to them.
Also, since next week is the fourth and final week of this CMA series, I’d like you folks to choose which activity I should try to do to close out the month. Blade & Soul doesn’t offer a whole hell of a lot in terms of variety while leveling up, but there are two things I’m near the level range to aim for: The first group dungeon of the game, Blackram Narrows, and structured arena PvP. It’s worth mentioning that I’ll be at a pretty severe disadvantage in the case of the latter because, although stats are equalized in the arena, I still won’t have a significant portion of my abilities, so I’ll still be pretty outclassed against actual max-level characters. But hey, if that’s the kind of torment you want to inflict upon me, so be it. The choice if yours, dear readers.
Which crafting guilds should I join?
- Silver Cauldron (9%, 14 Votes)
- Earthseers (7%, 10 Votes)
- Merry Potters (26%, 39 Votes)
- Acquired Taste (14%, 21 Votes)
- Soul Wardens (22%, 34 Votes)
- Forgekeepers (11%, 17 Votes)
- Radiant Ring (11%, 17 Votes)
Total Voters: 108
Group dungeon or arena PvP?
- Dungeon! (80%, 114 Votes)
- Arena! (20%, 28 Votes)
Total Voters: 142
And with that, I will leave you to cast your votes. Be sure to get those in by Friday, February 19th (that’s tomorrow) at 11:59 p.m. EST. And of course, be sure to swing by next week for the (probably not so) riveting conclusion and find out what’s in store for next month. Until then, friends!