The folks behind Bless Unleashed are not just porting over Bless Online to the Xbox One. This is a refrain that Bandai Namco and Neowiz have been forced to utter on many occasions, one with an almost exhausting repetition to it. They’re not Bless Online, the game isn’t a port of Bless Online, you don’t have to bring any existing feelings about Bless Online with you to the upcoming console title, and so on.
The fact that they are also well aware of the general distaste people have for Bless Online makes this even more of an uphill battle, of course.
Heavens know I was pretty strongly skeptical when I walked into the meeting room adjacent to the main convention center to get my hands on the game for a bit at this past weekend’s PAX East. Sure, I was familiar with the insistence that these are two different games, and since I don’t have a great deal of experience with the original beyond reading our own Matt’s superlative piece on it, a direct comparison is difficult. But at a glance, yes, this definitely does not feel like it’s the same game that has such a vitriolic reception already.
My hands-on time was relatively brief, a runthrough of a basic dungeon experience solo with my choice between the five launch classes. I went with Crusader, mostly because I figured that I’d be less likely to pay too badly for rushing around as a heavily armored tank with a sword and shield, and I had the time to start off playing around with my ability thanks to the helpfully diagrammed combo setup on the screen.
I was informed that the final version would not have the same guide, but it still worked more or less like you’d expect for a third-person fantasy brawler in this vein. Pressing a combination of X, Y, and A buttons deployed various attack sequences. X seemed to start off with the sword while Y started off with my shield, with the general goal seeming to be that X was faster and Y was slower but hit harder. Along with that I had a dodge roll, a shield block, and a quartet of abilities bound to the face buttons once I held down the right trigger.
Of those abilities, one didn’t seem to work quite right; there was a counter-stance ability that I either never mastered the timing for or just didn’t quite function as I understood. The other three abilities – a charge, a wide-area slash, and a short-term attack buff – were all easy to understand and functional. And I wasn’t too clear on the timing on the regular shield block, so that could easily come down to my own inability.
After a few moments of getting a handle on the controls, I launched into the mission proper, which was pretty simple low-level fantasy fare. There are a bunch of orcs here; go kill all of them. Specifically, in this case, the game gave me some lesser orc minions, then a big orc, then an ogre, and finally a cyclops to beat up. The game was pretty clearly aimed at a quick, decisive combat style.
So how did actual combat feel? Decent! At least in my limited timespan it was hard to feel quite as much impact from the heavier shield attacks; it didn’t seem to actually do much more damage, although it’s definitely possible I was missing something. Similarly, the actions felt far more focused on landing a few blows and then moving with your dodge rolls, a bit more Dark Souls than NieR: Automata. This is not a game about perfect dodge timing and ongoing combos.
But within that vein? Yes, it worked well. My attacks connected with meaty impact, my abilities seemed to make a decisive impact on the tide of the battle, and I had to pay more attention than just charging in and hammering an attack button. The dodge roll and healing potions being on cooldown meant that those remained tactical choices rather than automatic spam as needed; I had to ask whether I should heal earlier or be more conservative with potions.
Similarly, the bosses themselves had the sort of tells that you could puzzle out and learn to avoid perfectly, given time. The lack of obvious hit-stun from your own attacks made things feel a little less impactful for me, since the slower feel of combat seemed suited to letting your own blows feel weighty, but the actual mechanics were still fun. It never felt like I was getting hit by arbitrary code or the game cheating; when I got smacked it was my own poor choices.
That was definitely the case when the cyclops at the end managed to plaster me with its eye beam. I really thought I could jump over it, but I could tell that it was going to be a near thing… and then I watched my health bottom out and it became clear that no, that wasn’t going to work. (The correct strategy was to run toward the boss and then behind him during the slow sweep of the eyebeam, although he could also be outranged if you were far enough away.)
My overall experience was pretty short, although part of this was by design (there was a contest to see who could manage to run it the fastest, with sub-two-minute clears being possible compared to my rather brisk three minutes). Still, it was enough to get an idea of what the game would feel like, and my first impressions were definitely not “what a garbage fire.” In fact, what I wanted to know was chiefly when this will be available on platforms other than Xbox One (i.e., on devices I actually own).
The answer given was essentially a non-answer. The team is working on the Xbox One launch; after that happens, then it’s time to think about other things. And it is quite the undertaking, as the promise is that the game will feature new mechanics (obviously), a new storyline, new balance, basically everything new other than the art assets.
Those shared art assets do mean that the game will still have the same richness of character creation, the same playable races, and so forth. There will be a dye system in at launch, but the cosmetic outfit system may not be ready for launch. (It’s planned for inclusion no matter what; it just might not be there when the title launches.)
When asked about the possibility of cross-promotional items for players of the existing MMO, the response was essentially that’s nothing planned right now and the coordination for such would be an extraordinary headache. If the title launches on PC, that’s a different discussion, and it can be held then.
If you’ve already been thoroughly burned by Bless Online and wish to have nothing to do with Bless Unleashed as a result, that makes a certain amount of sense. But at least the brief hands-on I had was a positive experience, and it gives me hope that the final version will actually be fun and playable. And then maybe it’ll come to PC and be fun to play as well. That’d be cool.