I’m starting a new, irregular column on my blog called “Hells to the Noes” in which I talk about things that inspire the aforementioned reaction in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion. Our first topic in this series is NCSoft’s latest Korean import Blade and Soul, a fabulously fast-paced game whose exquisite beauty is not outstripped by its substance.
The story goes that Super You is an average student at a secret martial arts monastery until one day Super Bad Girl shows up demanding Super Shiny Sword and kills everyone except Super You and Venerable Master. Venerable Master invokes Super Saiyan form whereupon Super Bad Girl informs Venerable Master that she Took a Level in Badass and gets Venerable Master to turn over Super Shiny Sword in exchange for your life. Inexplicably, level 1 Not-So-Super You decides to attack Super Badass Girl and you are sent to the bottom of the sea for your efforts. Super Good Girl shows up and tells your waterlogged body that you are Our Only Hope and invokes a Spirit Beacon which pulls your body to the surface and allows Random Fisherman to find your body. Upon waking, you discover that you are in the midst of a war between armies of Kens and Barbies in form-fitting clothing because Factions Are Still a Thing and won’t you please wake up and fight for no reason?
There are two things that Blade and Soul does very well: graphics and action combat. The world is absolutely beautiful and rivals Final Fantasy 14 in terms of sheer gorgeousness. The action combat is quite satisfying and surpasses TERA when it comes to engagement and fluidity. You have the ability to sprint and wire-fu-glide from the very beginning of the game. Your ability to do so is limited only by your fatigue bar which is ample enough to allow you to cover short-to-medium distances at what appears to be an impressive pace.
There are two things about Blade and Soul that grind my gears: story and character aesthetics. The story is about as derivative and unimaginative as they come. There’s fighting because the script calls for an “action beat” every twenty seconds. The character creation screen presents one with a palette of customization options that ranges from the reasonably proportioned humanoid Jin to the Aurin-Elin-Lalafell Lyn to the impossibly long-legged and inexplicably delicate world-conquering Yun sexbombs to mammoth Gon characters with eight-pack abdomens and arms carved out of boulders. Surprisingly, the level of sexualization in Blade and Soul seems to be about a notch below TERA in terms of implied player-avatar skinship and the availability of modest clothing which was somewhat nice to see. I actually found a few players in the starting areas who were wearing outfits that covered most of their skin.
So it was on the island of Random Faction Wars that I woke up in a yukata and platform shoes armed with a katana. I had decided to create a Yun Blade Master. The Yun are an exclusively female race gifted with tall and graceful elfin phenotypes; Blade Masters are relatively tanky characters in a game which, like Guild Wars 2, does not have an explicit trinity arrangement. The level of difficulty for Blade Master was characterized as “Hard.” This difficulty setting is surpassed only by Kung Fu Master which is described as “Expert.” I am surmising that this refers to the level of Street Fighter acumen one possess in light of the situational combo attacks one is expected to perform. As a Blade Master, for example, one engages in a chain of attacks with the left mouse button. Successfully blocking an animation-telegraphed attack opens up a hard-hitting counter-attack on the right mouse button. The Tab key peforms an area attack that can be invoked multiple times by holding down the key until resources are depleted. You also have a gap-closing attack as well as a few others which can be invoked when certain conditions are met. More complex abilities are unlocked as one levels up.
Your starting weapon is your ending weapon and is upgraded by feeding it eligible materials. When certain thresholds are achieved, your weapon becomes more powerful. Soul shields comprise eight pizza-slice sections. You are periodically awarded with pizza slices in certain positions on the pizza pan which can be slotted for bonuses based on their type. The two that I received were Critical Damage and Defense. Soul shields work best when either three, five, or eight slices of pizza are placed on the pizza pan in their pre-designated positions. They also make you strangely hungry for some reason.
PvP occurs when you select a faction and don their uniform. While wearing your uniform, you open yourself up to engagement with the opposing faction. In my case, I chose the Cerulean Order which is diametrically opposed to the Crimson Legion because reasons. I decided not to don the uniform at all after witnessing a random faction-driven beating on the way to the next village. Maybe we could solve all these silly problems if we just got rid of the uniforms and well, you know, perhaps the associated factions as well?
The Daily Dash allows you to spin a wheel and progress your marker along a game board. Specific squares have rewards that are bestowed upon you when you land on them. The end square, number one hundred, has a purple-text piece of equipment waiting for you. There is a window of opportunity when the Daily Dash becomes available during which you must spin the game board wheel. Failing to do so appears to cause you to lose your turn.
Generally speaking, if one can describe WildStar as a space-robot-themed power grinder with FPS and platforming elements, Blade and Soul can be described as a story-tropified quest grinder with elements of wuxia and Street Fighter. It simply wasn’t enough to keep me interested, however. Doing two things out of six or seven very well doesn’t cut it for me in terms of long-term investment. The game does a nice enough job of guiding you through the mechanics of the world in the first five levels; the rather mundane questing and, quite frankly, the Maple Story-esque plasticity of the world were enough to get me to uninstall after only a few hours.
After all that business with doll-eyed anime waifus and legions of stick-figured stereotypes clothed in intimate apparel, I went straight back into The Secret World and bathed in the Filth for a good half hour, fully clothed. I guess Sam Krieg was right after all: I couldn’t wait to get back into that stuff.