Blade & Soul Review Journal Part 2: The Cinderlands


My Blade & Soul adventure continues through a vast desert populated by treasure hunters, scholars, and assorted evil.

Developer: Team Bloodlust (NCsoft Developer Division)

Publisher: NCsoft

Platform: PC

Release Dates: June 30, 2012 (South Korea); November 28, 2013 (China); May 20, 2014 (Japan); November 20, 2014 (Taiwan); January 19, 2016 (North America/Europe)

Check out Part 1!

Blade & Soul is live at last in North America as of the 19th. I had the opportunity to play this free MMORPG from NCSoft during two beta weekends back in December and report my initial impressions then. Given the fact that this title is an MMO and expectedly huge, I’ll be exploring the Earthen Realm in a series of review journals chronicling the leveling adventure and endgame content over the course of a month or so before dropping a final score.

This week, I journey to the desert of the Cinderlands, get my first taste of PvP, and grapple with the confusing in-game economy.

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Cuz I’ve been through the desert…

After a cutting plot twist at the end of the Viridian Coast and some grinding in the final dungeon of the area, Blackram Narrows, I was flung into the Cinderlands, a desert region at the heart of the Earthen Realm. Though, it wasn’t all desert–just as with the Viridian Coast, a pleasant variety of biomes greeted me with the desert at the center. There are some truly beautiful locations in Blade & Soul, and I’ve had a great time just looking around.

With a new area comes a new cast of characters. I admit that the full entourage of soldiers, factions, treasure hunters, and assorted townspeople are getting a bit hard to follow. I wouldn’t feel so bad about it if certain NPCs didn’t keep reappearing, asking me if I remembered them from earlier. Though I can usually put the pieces together, at times, there are so many stories going on at once from area to area that piecing the narrative together can be overwhelming. Fortunately, all the sidequests are skippable, and main storylines are tracked easily via a yellow arrow on the map.

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While in the Cinderlands, I encountered my first set of PvP quests while visiting a faction base to pick up main storyline threads. While wearing my faction uniform, I was asked to descend into a valley and 1) kill x amount of enemies, 2) collect x amount of contested items in the middle of the battle and 3) rescue captives in enemy territory. At the time, only a few enemy players were present, but I was still faced with obstacles. NPCs from both factions were facing off in the valley, and those on my side aided me in taking out the enemy soldiers, which included a miniboss.

Killing enemies in PvP mode, whether NPCs or players, netted me Prestige Points, which can be traded for faction rep and items. Quests can be completed for other forms of currency including the points, and various PvP quests are scattered throughout the questing zones, visible only when your faction uniform is worn. They can be completed while you quest, or in the endgame. Though I enjoyed my initial PvP experience, I opted to wait to max level to explore it more, since at lower levels you don’t always have all the skills you need to play your class correctly against other players. Speaking of skills…

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What’s your point?

Blade & Soul has awesome skill trees! Every ability you use has its own little tree, and you get a point every level after 17 to allocate however you like. Though some optimal builds obviously exist, you can pretty much play however you want. Need more knockbacks? Drop points into abilities to add them. Raw power? Self-healing? Sure, there’s probably a move somewhere in your tree that does that if you throw enough points at it.Some abilities even change into different versions of themselves at segments of the tree.

Some abilities even change into different versions of themselves at segments of the tree. At the end of each branch is a super-powered version of each ability, accessible only by putting points in the branches leading to it, and obtaining some sort of tome item I haven’t come across yet. And, if all this is over your head or you just want to make it to level 45 without dying too much, there’s an auto-allocation build for PvE, PvP, and Dungeons specifically to help you along.

When you’re questing, it seems like anything goes–whatever playstyle best suits you. At endgame, though, I imagine some outside guidance will be needed to be adequate in dungeons and actually defeat enemies in PvP. You can remove and add points at any time from the tree with no cost, so mix and match until you find the build that’s right for you. You can save certain builds and swap whenever you like once you gain the ability to do so, so if you have a PvP and PvE build you want to switch between quickly, you can.

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Fair exchanges

Finally, let’s talk money. Not the real life kind, this time (though it’ll come into play), but rather a bit about the in-game economy and how weird it is.

I’ve mentioned before how you never change out your equipment–you just upgrade it with “offering” weapons and accessories, pushing it to the next level with specific ones from dungeons and filling in the gaps between with whatever trash the mobs drop. These offering weapons are pretty easy to get your hands on. The stuff you’ll be farming hardcore will likely be Breakthrough weapons, keys, and unsealing charms. Breakthrough weapons come from chests in high-level dungeons usually and are used to push your weapon to the next level. For breakthroughs, you need to match the weapon type–so while I can upgrade my bangle with offering gauntlets and swords, I have to use another bangle to breakthrough. It’s a random chance for any weapon type when you open a chest, so you may be farming for awhile to get the right one.

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Of course, when you get a chest….the chest is locked, right? So open it with a key. The weapon you get will be sealed, then, so use an Unsealing Charm to break the seal, and *finally* you can upgrade your weapon. Early in the games, keys and charms are handed out like candy, but be careful. It’s easy to waste these unlocking green chests and unsealing crummy weapons. Don’t. Save your stuff–you’ll need it as the game progresses. Otherwise, you may be stuck doing a lot of farming, or paying a pretty penny to pick up the needed items on the Player Auction House.

Of course, all this is subverted if you’re willing to shell out real cash for keys, charms, and “brilliant” keys that will give you your specific weapon type on the first try. Whelp!

That’s it for today. Next time, it’s onward to the Moonwater Plains, and a look into crafting guilds, salvaging, transmuting, and a few more dungeons!

Check out Part 3 and Part 4!

A Premium Account for this game, including beta access, was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.