Blade and Soul
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Blade and Soul is an MMORPG game with a twist - it forgoes orcs and rat infestations for a fantasy world influenced by Chinese and Japanese mythology. From the martial artist classes, the costumes and the different areas to the various enemies you encounter, it all has a pleasant and refreshing Asian look and feel. Like any MMO it's an absolutely enormous task to cover it all, but I'm going to endeavour to break what Blade & Soul brings to this crowded genre. 

Do you enoy crashing your enemies with brute force as a Destroyer, or do you prefer beating them with a series of lighting fast combos as an agile kung-fu master? The seven different classes offered by Blade & Soul all have distinctive and unique play styles so you are bound to find one that suits you well. 

After you have opted for a class it’s time to start the detailed character creation process. Each race is compatible with only a subtotal of the seven classes, so it's important to pick a compatible one before going on to customize its appearance to your liking. The tweaking choices are abundant. A variety of settings are available for the facial features, body dimensions, and skin colour to make your character look as close to your desires as possible. It's a well organized experience that helps you start the game in good stead.

Having created your character it's time to take your first steps and begin this all-consuming adventure. The main story starts with you as a new student of the Hongmoon school, a trainee under the famous Master Hong. Suddenly one day a woman known as Jinsoyun, aided by her gang of cronies, destroy the school and slay all the students with their dark powers. As the sole survivor you start a journey to find Jinsoyun and extract vengeance and justice. Although it isn’t the strongest of plots it does a decent job of keeping you interested enough to follow it if you're not speeding through the game in a hurry. Occasionally, on key moments you will also be treated to a cutcscene and the main characters have full voice acting.

Visually Bladed & soul does not disappoint, especially considering it was released back in 2012 in Korea. Set the graphics on the highest settings and it will look fantastic, particularly taking into account its genre. The vivid colors combined with a unique art style create an impressive atmosphere. Each area has its own distinct enviroment and feel and there are more than a couple of beautiful costumes to pick from. Many of the female ones are extremely revealing though, while their breasts tend to jiggle at even the tiniest of movements to an utterly ridiculous and unrealistic degree. It's kind of par for the course by this stage though. The performance of B&S suffers a bit due to framerate drops when you are surrounded by a large group of players, especially while fighting. Lowering the graphics settings doesn't seem to help either.

While a fine game, Blade & Soul's main weakness derives from its questing. For the most part they consist of generic tasks such as tracking down and killing a group of enemies or monsters or gathering various items and ingredients. Truth is it quickly becomes routine and you often find yourself trying to complete the quest as fast as possible in order to gain your satisfying chunk of XP. The side quests mostly follow the same format, however completing them is worth your while since they are the fastest way to level up your character, rewarding a decent amount of XP and items.

If you're after a change of pace then the many and varied dungeons should help you out. For the most part they're fun and the sense of playing with a party is more rewarding than playing solo as always, even though there doesn't seem to be a significant amount of synergy between the classes or skillsets. Dungeons come with a few issues as well, however. Some of them are quite short while a couple of others make you wait for ages to defeat waves of relatively weak enemies. This poses a general problem overall in fact. I would like the difficulty level of the game to be a bit higher since I rarely felt as if I really needed to do my best in order to complete a mission or a dungeon. Even the hardest ones could be completed with a non-full party without a problem.

So far I guess the game sounds just like another mediocre MMORPG with nothing particularly enticing to compete against the big fish available out there. What is it that keeps all of those millions of gamers playing hour after hour? The answer is Blade & Soul's PvP action. There are two available PvP modes for 1v1 or 3v3 combat.  Each one has its own matchmaking rating ladder and winning or losing awards points depending on your opponent. While PvE combat is mostly a repetitive process when matched against human enemies, it transforms into a frantic duel where every millisecond matters. Blade and Soul is an action RPG where well-timed combos, blocks or evades can turn the tide of battle in an instant. You need to be quick and precise and use your skills wisely so as not to spend them without achieving any results.

As I mentioned earlier, each class plays very differently so you need to know what to expect from each enemy in order to counter them effectively. For that purpose the game allows you to rearrange your skill points on the fly when out of combat, so as to match yourself better against specific classes or even AI monsters. It also compensates for the difference in gear by equalizing the stats of the enemies so as to have a more balanced match even if your opponent is multiple levels higher. What it doesn’t compensate for though is the skills you unlock as you increase in level which is a definite disadvantage. So reaching the current level cap of 45 is a necessity before you try to engage heavily in PvP and enter the road to the platinum rank.

The PvP action of the game offers so much depth and flexibility that has even become a quite popular e-sport in Asia while the well known leading e-sports platform ESL is already creating a new Blade and Soul division for competitive matches.

The new patch already being released increases the level cap to 50 and re-balances the classes with new skills and also adds a new one to the mix.  A new end-game dungeon has been added as well, along with Mushin’s tower, where you fight through floors of increasingly strong enemies. We hope to see content added to the game in the future as well because admittedly the game is a bit feature-light in that respect.

What needs to be mentioned is that Blade and Soul is a free to play title and you are able to give it a try any time you want. As such of course it also has a market that offers items that can be purchased with real money. Thankfully the game does not fall in the trap of the well known term Pay to Win. Your money will get you cosmetics or convenience items and services. Expanding your inventory space, offering a slight but not negligible in-game currency or XP bonus, or a premium server queue to name but a few. However none will offer an unfair advantage against a free account. For those looking to save some time it could be worth parting with small lumps of cash.

Overall it's clear Blade & Soul is an MMORPG which stands out from the crowd for different reasons from the norm. Of course it's got all the usual questing systems, dungeon raids, and character customisation, but where it really comes into its own is its competitive edge. PvP combat is as good as many fighting games, so provided the advanced loop grabs you Blade & Soul could occupy you for months to come.