Blade & Soul Packs a Solid Punch So Far [Review-in-Progress]

My Kung Fu Master, BanchoLeomon, at Yehara's Mirage.

At this point through my adventure in NCSOFT's free-to-play Blade & Soul, it's clear that players should come and stay primarily for the game's combat system. At the time of this writing, I'm a Level 37 Kung Fu Master (almost at the level cap of 45), which the game declares as the most difficult class to play. At the same time, the Kung Fu Master exemplifies everything that Blade & Soul excels at— counters, combo-oriented juggles, and reaction-based dodging. Even if your character is a few levels higher than all the enemies in an area, you can't take things for granted. There's no cure for sloppiness.

Since there is no healing class, every player needs to be adept at combat, whether that's ranged or melee, which breaks away from the plain "holy trinity" that other MMORPGs rely on. In fact, most of the healing I've done isn't even done through the dumplings and healing tonics, but through landing strikes that recover health so long as they hit.

If you've ever wondered what it might be like if Capcom made a Street Fighter MMO, Blade & Soul isn't too far from it. Unless you're facing a boss that has clear red and yellow telegraphs, you need to watch animation frames and create opportunities by doing all manner of CC attacks that stun, daze, knockdown, or knockback your opponent. By putting the right skill points in the right trees, you can construct multi-hit combos that can destroy a giant without him even lifting a finger. And the game gives you the ability to respec your skill points for free so you can experiment and customize your own style as you see fit.

Extending the Street Fighter analogy further, high-level PvP is based on spacing and catching your opponent for combo setups. Sure, you can play the equivalent of footsies, but it's all about finding a weakness and having the reflexes at which you can end a fight quickly without having too many exchanges. You only have a few escape moves if you become CC'd, and since these defensive moves work on a cooldown, you need to use them sparingly and rely on blocking and dodging. The balance between classes is actually quite even so it's all about skill.

The only major fault with Blade & Soul that I see so far is that the PvE is rather mundane and the quests, no matter if they're optional or required for the story, stick to the “kill this enemy X times” or “pick up this item X times” formula. For an occasional change of pace, you can delve into a six-man dungeon on the helpful cross-server lobby or destroy field bosses in an impromptu group of fellow players—especially for finding materials that will evolve your current equipment to a higher level—but the vast majority of experience points you'll earn are done through completing boring side missions.

The active combat system does help a lot in making the slog tolerable; however, you usually have two or three combos that become your bread-and-butter, and you'll use them over and over again against the majority of enemies. Luckily, you'll unlock a few more moves over time, which will prompt you to rethink and recalibrate your attack strategies.

Having launched in just the past few weeks, Blade & Soul is still very much a work-in-progress. Players who don't pay for a premium subscription will be stuck in long waiting queues at peak hours, and all sorts of gold sellers and bots have parasitically swamped the global chat and party finder chat to the point that they're useless. NCSOFT is in the midst of addressing these issues.

As for myself, I will be continuing my journey and will hopefully reach the third and final continent soon to experience the “endgame” content. I put that in quotes since Blade & Soul has an extensive schedule for content with additional dungeons, more classes, and all sorts of catch-up to the Korean release of the game. Check back for the full review of the game within the next two weeks.