Blade & Soul Western Launch Review
The gathering and crafting system is also very different from the ones that many gamers out there have experienced: Rather than farming materials from the game world frequently like in other MMORPGs, players will simply have to go on a scavenger hunt to find materials in the world. Once they find the material, they’re free to order and re-order the materials they found from the gathering guild of their choice. Once the order is complete, they’re free to use their materials with a crafting guild of their choice to create various items and equipment. The major downside to the crafting gathering system is that ordering materials or crafted items is locked on a set time limit while also acting as a currency tax sink. Some orders can take 30 minutes while others could take hours to finish too, making it an even slower crafting system than standard MMORPGs. Its rather tacked on feeling but gets the job done while at least offering some temporary fun for explorers that enjoy the initial scavenger hunt. Once again I remain neutral on this design decision, as players will either “Love it or Hate it.”
Another unique thing about Blade & Soul is the item auction system including cross-server functions. The development team decided it would be best to have a completely unified account system per region that allows players to communicate, queue up for dungeons/arena matches together as well as have access to the same marketplace. The only downsides being that only one unique player name can be reserved per region, This ensures that no player will be affected by any form of progression; so if you’re the kind of person that enjoys playing on smaller servers but doesn’t want to worry if there’s enough people around the server to complete any instanced content, Team Bloodlust has you covered.
As for the bidding system that I discussed previously in CBT, it still works the same way as before. Instead of a traditional “Need or Greed” looting system, Blade & Soul features an auction system where players can use their in-game currency in order to bid on items they want. At first, I had my doubts about this system, but after all, I’ve kind of gotten used to it. While it is still possible that an auction looting system will have some form of abuse, the items that players bid for are always worth as much as players are willing to pay for them during the auction. Whenever a player wins an auction, all the money that player puts in will get distributed among teammates. Along with loot boxes given to each player at the end of a dungeon that will guarantee an extra shot at the gear you need to advance your weaponry, completing a instance run in B&S will always ensure that you’ll get something of value out of it. The only real drawback to this system is when experienced players know of the rare super low RNG items, particularly class exclusive ones, and force a bidding war to make the poor pug they’re with pay exorbitant prices to finally claim the gear they’ve been aiming to get for a week.
At the time of this article, the current endgame for Blade & Soul is very lacking, as players will be focused on one endgame dungeon, some faction PvP missions, costume hunting or Arena PvP. While this sounds like just enough for those that are into every aspect of the game, many others will feel the repetitiveness very quickly, especially for PvE related ventures, as the goal of upgrading your equipment even further will be slowed down by crafting, more daily quests and a boatload of RNG.
Character creation is one of the game’s crowning achievements, allowing players to recreate themselves or any person from history or fiction. It’s so incredibly flexible and easy to use, very few MMORPG character creation systems even come close. For those that would really like to see how flexible it is, we held a contest a few days back from the date that this article was released on, which showcased a ton of different creations with characters from popular games and anime, famous people and even MMOHuts very own JamesBl0nde. With only a few features that I would have liked to have seen included, like dual eye colors, some extra hair options, and a physique slider, I have very little negatives to say about Blade & Soul’s character creation.
Outfit customization, however, did not get the same amount of love and attention as the character creation tools. All costumes in Blade & Soul are only available as a single piece outfit, rather than a set of outfit pieces that players can mix and match. Costumes also cannot be dyed or recolored in any way, which heavily cuts down on personalization. The only costumes in the game that can be customized and dyed are the clan outfits, which are not available to anyone until an individual clan has reached a certain rank, and even then it’s still an expensive undertaking as it costs a ton of materials and gold pieces to unlock. Compared to most other modern MMORPGs, the lack of a true costume system is rather disappointing. If this kind of option was available, it would have made Blade & Soul’s overall cosmetic customization one of the best in the industry. Alas, they were only able to achieve what they could as the extreme body manipulation from the character creation likely pushed their ratio stretching to the limits. The one plus side is the sheer number of outfits unlockable in-game, many of which don’t even require cash shopping to claim.
In terms of stat customization, players will be on the search for various jewelry and equipment pieces known as soul shields (also known as Bopae), which are little medallions that come in eight different pieces. When pieces of the same particular soul shields are used together in a set of three, five or eight, players will unlock bonus stats. While it is possible to mix soul shields together in order to get partial bonus boosts from each of them, they work best as a full set of eight. While this system is very straight forward, the amount of soul shields players will find in the game world can be very overwhelming especially to your limited inventory, but most of them can be seen as useless compared to dungeon, wheel of fate or currency stone soul shields, so they’re not really worth investing in.
Visuals and Presentation
Despite being a game that started its development several years back when the Unreal 3 Engine was still relevant, the visuals for Blade & Soul still hold up fairly well today, thanks to the game’s impressive use of lighting, fantastic modeling and outfit detail implemented by Hyung-Tae Kim’s handiwork, and interesting environments. However, it is hard to deny that from a technical standpoint, the visual engine does show some age, because the power of Unreal Engine 3 and DirectX 9 can only do so much. When looking closely in some areas, there’s a distinct lack of high quality textures that tend to look muddy or washed out, as well as some low polygon counts on some of the environmental geometry that’s either tucked away neatly, or show in plain sight but can’t be reached due to barriers and invisible walls. Personally, I would be less disappointed from the technical age of the game if they could find the time to upgrade the textures a bit, but the pros mentioned above certainly outweigh the cons here.
The music in Blade & Soul is also an impressive achievement as they went all out with a soundtrack that combines Asian orchestral, rock and more, all of which sets the mood for danger, adventure and many other feelings that will make the journey from start to level cap a very exciting one. Primarily composed by famous Japanese musician Taro Iwashiro, his work presented in Blade & Soul can only be regarded as a feast for the ears. Personal favorites being the Intro theme song, Fly into the Sky (heard during the first Dragon Pulse quest) and Bloody Battle (Blackram Narrows Dungeon). Other composers have also contributed to the game’s ongoing soundtrack, and even more so, they put in the same amount of effort as Taro Iwashiro in an attempt to make the game feel rich and lively. (As a fun teaser note: They’ve even brought in a few noteworthy composers from North America including Jamie Christopherson, Mr. “Rules of Nature” himself, to contribute to some of the later songs in the game.)
It’s very rare that I would ever praise an MMORPG’s soundtrack so highly for such immense quality, but this one hits all the right notes. So much effort was put into this soundtrack that I would go as far as to highly recommend listening to it outside of the game from time to time. Even a month in and our site’s team playing are still using in-game music over our typical Spotify playlists.
Now while the visual presentation is decent, and the musical presentation is spot on, does the story actual deliver?
Well, sadly, this is where most of my praise on the game’s presentation comes to an end. When it comes to story presentation, I usually don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about them in these kinds of games, because well… it’s an MMORPG and most people don’t play them for their grand storylines. But for this game in particular, and as a person that has been playing the foreign versions of the game, using modifications such as Project Izanami to play and get a better understanding for the story in the game, I am absolutely going to be spending a ton of time discussing it. This is a case study in how poor localization… no more accurately, “Westernization,” can ruin the experience.
The voice over work that NCWest has provided for the English localization of Blade & Soul is very poor, as most of the voice actors sound like they did not care enough to sound even remotely close to the character they are trying to portray in most scenes. While some of the key voice actors like Master Hong and Hajoon sound decent enough, others, for example, Dodan’s sidekick Chengun, sounds most like his voice should belong in a Saturday morning cartoon rather than the world of Blade & Soul.
Other various storyline NPCs sound like their recordings were done in a tin can rather than a proper recording studio. Another example of poor recording quality can be noted very early on in the game, when the character Yuran speaks as she’s assisting Jinsoyeon in destroying the Hongmoon School, then yet again when confronting the Player Character in Blackram Narrows. Not only does Yuran’s voice actress not sound close enough to the character she’s portraying, but her voice is so much louder and impactful, as if she was using a completely different set of recording tools compared to everyone else. While casual players might catch on, those that have worked in the industry will have ears to pick up the fact that NCWest literally phoned this one in, having voice actors send in recording files remotely, rather than having all their voice actors’ record in the same studio. I can’t say this with absolutely certainty, but the only other possibility is that there was zero quality control in the studio recording sessions otherwise.
A secondary complaint that only those familiar with the Korean version will comment on is the lack of voice acting for generic NPCs. The Korean version voiced almost every piece of quest dialogue whether it was the main quest or side quests. Western players with shorter attention spans are even less likely to care about side quests that aren’t voice acted. On that note it’s a sort of pipe dream that players will read both the quest dialogue and then the additional thought bubble internal monologue of what NPCs really think about you or their assigned mission. While I do understand that hiring decent English voice actors can be more expensive in the west, it is rather disappointing that NCWest couldn’t spare a pretty penny to give the English version the same love and care as the Asian versions.
Speaking of the player character (the character you create and play as), there were many times in the game where I wanted to question the lack of common sense and extreme gullibility that my player character had in terms of dialog responses during most of the quests in the game. But it wasn’t until I reached Yehara’s Mirage, when I participated in the “Make New Friends” quest and rang the bell inside of the tavern…
It was at that point that I came to realize the fact that with NCWest’s localization efforts, they made the player character out to be some kind of complete idiot that lacks any common sense, all for the sake of pushing the story forward. At the begin, the Hongmoon teachings of Master Hong will tell the Player Character to focus on nobility, compassion, kindness, inner peace and many other themes that many would expect from a Kung-Fu movie. Instead there are many times later on in the story where the Player Character forces themselves to go directly against the Hongmoon teachings, and it really annoyed the crap out of me.
Back once again to the eastern versions of the game for comparison: the Player Character is much less of a dummy and way more sensible in the way that they respond to situations with dialog responses. There are even times when the Player Character is seen as way more of a jerk in most of their responses, as well. From my experiences using Project Izanami while playing the Taiwan version of Blade & Soul, there are times where, just like in the English localization, the Player Character will act a fool for the sake of pushing the plot forward, but it’s not nearly as frequent.
NCWest also thought it would be a good idea to have an abundance of memes and western references thrown in for good measure. With Blade & Soul being an Asian themed, Martial Arts fueled, and anime inspired game, those three things already make the game niche as can be for a western audience. Yet they would go so far as to add these little tidbits of western pop culture, literally for the lawls. There were more times than I could count when I felt I could get immersed in the world I was playing in, until things like this…
I kind of just get pulled out of the experience. I can only guess that NCWest thought that these things would make the game more appealing to westerners. Some of them may even be amusing to see the first time around, but afterwards they seem so out-of-place and come off as obnoxious.
But wait, there’s more! One of the biggest disappoints here is that some of the quest dialog has been completely altered from the foreign versions of the game. Some NPCs have had their personalities watered down or switched with other characters to make them less impactful; others have had their quest lines completely changed to be less offensive to certain players. To my surprise they even altered the route of the main storyline in certain places. I won’t go into any more details regarding which changes have been made, but for anyone that has been tracking the developer for this game, then you’ll know which ones I am talking about.
Did NCWest really fear that some of their players would be so affected by culture shock that these changes were necessary to make the game more appealing? Perhaps. But one thing is for sure, those that were expecting an English localization of the game that stayed faithful to its Asian counterparts may be disappointed here.
Blade & Soul comes equipped with various community features that many would come to expect from a modern MMORPG, including guilds, customizable chat tabs, friends lists, ranking systems, and more. As also mentioned, because of the limited single username per region, this allows for a unique account-bound friends list that lets you add friends from any server in your region, making it easy to group up via cross-server dungeons/arena on the regular.
Also with the two warring factions, both of them have their own faction chatroom, so players within their chosen faction can communicate with each other. Interestingly enough, the two factions seem to have two completely different communities of their own, one of which is filled with competitive players and the other having more chill and laid-back types. While this may vary from server to server, I’ll let those who read this figure out which group is housed in whichever faction based on the different ideals that they represent.
There’s also plenty of guilds looking for new players on a regular basis, many of which are very civil and willing to help out new players here and there. Of course, there are a few sour grapes that pop out from time to time, and when they do, they’re very much a pain to deal with. But then again, they can easily be dealt with by using the block function.
Overall Conclusion: Great (4/5)
As it currently stands, Blade & Soul does live up to a handful of expectations that longtime fans of this game have been waiting for, while failing in more niche requirements that may rub people the wrong one. With the core combat systems being very fast-paced and engaging, the arena PvP being fierce and focused on skill over gear, and the decent quality visuals that still hold up well enough in 2016, there’s a fair amount of features to enjoy here.
From a more personal standpoint, while most of the western players out there will simply not care enough about questing and the story in general to get all up in arms about it like I was, I truly do believe that NCWest should have given this game a lot more love and care with their localization efforts. It’s one of those cases of glass half empty syndrome. Had the glass never been presented, we wouldn’t even be talking about it. But when you compare the high percentage of proper grammar, correct spellings, and UI optimization to the poor quality we typically see ported from Asia, we recognize that the team was in place to have made it happen. They just lacked the right direction or resources, resulting in an inferior release in NA/EA versus the Asian versions.
I’m certain that things for the game will be better as more updates roll in, as they seem very fixated on giving players a steady stream of new content to play with. Until then, as of the time of this review, the lack of class balance for PvP, as well as the lack of a robust endgame and poor choices in westernization prevents the NA/EU version of Blade & Soul from getting a much higher recommendation from me.
Still, I’ll be sure to continue playing and will be looking forward to seeing the game when it has more content available down the line, because what they do have in store for the game’s future will be bright and dandy. While my words may be quite harsher than normal for a “Great” rating on this site, it’s simply because Blade & Soul should have been a perfect game given the sheer time it took to bring to the west. Yet it still is held back from its true potential.
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