Blade & Soul’s main story ends at level 45 in the Moonwater Plains, but the beauty and adventure don’t stop there.
Developer: Team Bloodlust (NCsoft Developer Division)
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)
Blade & Soul is live at last in North America as of January 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 trekked across the gorgeous Moonwater Plains, put my PvP skills to the test, and encountered familiar friends and foes.
Jyan to Jyansei
After a climactic completion to the Cinderlands, the Moonwater Plains are a deep breath of fresh, mountain air. Though strife exists here, in the form of a corrupt army and a plucky rebellion, I was surprised at how few of the quests in the 40-45 level range involved drama, desperation, fire, and doom. Most of my time in the Moonwater Plains was spent rescuing Ploggles (a race of adorable frog people) and running errands for pig farmers, undertakings that were somehow relevant to my main quest.
While the story is weaker, the views and cinematics in Moonwater draw the player into the world more effectively than the plot. As an old fan of .hack, seeing floating sky islands connected to the mainland by giant chains, perching on the edge of a dock above a seemingly endless abyss, and resting in the shade of a mountain-sized lilypad were dreams come true. Around every corner, a new view awaits, complete with soaring orchestral scores. Where the quest falters, the immersive world shines. I know I’ll be revisiting Moonwater again and again, just to explore.
Late-game combat means the player’s spellbook is almost filled out with different abilities, and no fee to swap skills offers a vast array of customization opportunities…though some paths are obviously better than others. Though the skill trees are excellent, if you haven’t done everything else exactly right regarding weapon/accessory upgrades, Soul Shield collection, gem socketing, and item gathering, you may find yourself often dying in the later levels. The paths of Hongmoon and Mushin are frequently unintuitive, and I’ve done my share of backtracking to pick up offering accessories I somehow missed. Be meticulous–Blade & Soul is a game that almost requires a good guide to play effectively.
Red vs. Blue
While on my way to the Sapphire Basin in Moonwater, I once again found myself sucked into PvP in an area nearly impossible to pass without involvement. Two faction camps set up on either side of a river delta fought over resources scattered from a shipwreck, with a few angry pirate-fish thrown into the fray for good measure. I donned my uniform and gave it a shot.
PvP is required for PvE progression, unless you want to spend a gross amount of gold on materials.
As before in the desert, PvP largely involved killing faction-specific NPCs and, when they were all clear, collecting resources left on the ground before they could respawn. Most of the enemies here were lower-level and easy to take down, but one higher-ranking official made things difficult…along with help from the occasional real player. Each kill awarded me Prestige Points, which I could exchange for Faction Contribution Points. Prestige Points are lost upon death or exiting the area, and collecting a higher amount of them grants a higher PP to FCP ratio, so the idea was to kill as many enemies as possible without dying since death forced a reset. Enough FCPs granted me higher rank in my faction, and access to better quests with better rewards, including materials required for advancing my weapon and accessories. Wait, what?
Yup, PvP is required for PvE progression, unless you want to spend a gross amount of gold on materials. And I mean a lot of PvP–not just a few rounds. Though if you’re not good at PvP (I’m not particularly shining myself), you may end up turning out your pockets anyway from the sheer amount of weapon repairs and health potions you’ll need to collect the requisite amount of points. Blade & Soul offers plenty of perks and amenities to serious PvPers, but that’s because it’s so deeply ingrained into the game. Faction Fights are everywhere. Perhaps this is just turning the tables, since PvPers are forced to do PvE content in pretty much every MMO. Still, if you aren’t willing to try your hand at PvP, Blade & Soul may not be the game for you.
The endgame of Blade & Soul is twofold, as I hinted at above. You’ll be running PvE dungeons for Soul Shield pieces and specific offering items, and completing PvP objectives for upgrade materials. There’s also the odd PvE daily you’ll need to complete for items such as keys, unsealing charms, and the like. To Blade & Soul’s credit, dailies are scattered throughout the world, even in early areas. If you have a favorite location or low-level dungeon you want to solo, you can pick nearly any of them to return to. It’s a good way to get high-level players out in the world and ensure old content remains relevant.
At the moment, you’ll still be running the same dungeon (Bloodshade Harbor) again…and again…and again. Though I haven’t gotten to the Narrows yet, I had a small taste of this running Tomb of the Exiles for upgrade material around level 38. I ran it for two evenings straight. The bidding loot system helps ensure that your progression isn’t entirely left to chance, but it still offers far too many advantages to gold farmers. Again and again, I was outbid on items I needed before I could move forward with the story, forcing me to leave the dungeon and clear the same four, unchallenging bosses for the fifth, sixth, tenth time. Ugh.
As I’ve reached the endgame, this will be my final review journal. I’ll take a few days to get a feel for max level (and visit Mushin’s Tower!), and post a summary review with a final score for Blade & Soul later this week.
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.