Blade & Soul released last month in North America and Europe. It’s one of the most popular MMORPGs in Korea, hailed for its PvP and martial arts aesthetic. But Blade & Soul originally came out in 2012, and it shows. The PvE experience is linear and a bit boring, making players grind lots of “kill X amount of Y” quests. The story is lackluster and the characters not very memorable. Since Blade & Soul’s initial release, other MMOs have improved upon the genre’s model, and it’s disappointing that NCSoft didn’t take this opportunity to try out some of these updates. So is it three years too late for Blade & Soul to make an impact in the west?
Check the games page on Twitch, and you’ll see that the most popular games are PvP-centric eSports. And this is what Blade & Soul is known for.
Currently streaming on Twitch: lots of PvP
MMOs have been overtaken by MOBAs in popularity, and we’ll soon have combination MOBA-FPS games like Overwatch looking to take a slice of the eSports pie. With eSports projected to be a billion dollar industry, now might actually be just the right time for Blade &Soul to branch out into the North American and European markets. Even ESPN is taking eSports seriously with a section dedicated to them on their official website. There are MMOs that have an eSports scene. Guild Wars 2 comes to mind, though their first league season had a rough start, including a professional team leaving a match in protest of the game’s then-current balance. And of course there is World of Warcraft, which still hosts arena tournaments every year. Could Blade & Soul bring MMO-style PvP into the upper echelons of eSports to stand with the FPS and MOBA genres? It’s a pretty big “maybe”, but at this point,Blade & Soul has the best chance.
And the PvP in the game is great. The combat system prioritizes action and reaction. Gone is the ten-button static rotation. Combat is based around combos reminiscent of Mortal Kombat, as well as reacting to what your opponent is doing. A perfectly timed block can break your enemy’s combo while launching you into your own.
A 1v1 match between a Force Master and Kung Fu Master
PvP games have to worry about different classes feeling similar, but each class in Blade & Soul has its own rhythm and flow, and more than one viable build. Since armor and stats are equalized in the PvP arena, it really does come down to player skill. You can start PvPing at early levels in the arena and the open world. But while your armor and stats are equalized, you have to use the skill points for your current level. Here is where the game stumbles. A level 20 character up against a level 45 character—the level at which all skill points are unlocked—is going to be seriously outmatched. It’s still possible to win if the gap between player skill is wide enough, but that hardly makes for a truly competitive match.
The martial arts inspiration makes for fun and engaging combat
This is a problem that another MMO franchise, Guild Wars, solved years ago. In the first Guild Wars, equalized PvP was an option right from the start, and Guild Wars 2 continues that tradition. Players can create a character and join the PvP lobby immediately, with all their skills unlocked and available. Both Guild Wars 2 and Blade & Soul are published by NCSoft, though they have different developers. Blade & Soul should take a page from its cousin MMO and allow players who are interested solely in PvP to skip the PvE content.
Of course that would mean NCSoft would have to adjust their microtransaction model. Right now Blade & Soul is free to play, but there are many quality of life items players can purchase from the in-game store. Some of those items include faster levelling, which appeals to those players who want to get to competitive PvP faster. But plenty of other PvP games have a healthy microtransaction model and profit margin without becoming pay-to-win.
Hopefully Blade & Soul finds a way to attract a large eSports following, its PvP system is too good to be held back by its outdated MMO shell.