By Michael Sagoe (mikedot)
Welcome back, all future martial arts legends. Another closed beta test for NCSoft’s next MMORPG hit, Blade & Soul, has once again drawn to a close. With plenty of time spent during this long Thanksgiving weekend, I have returned to give you all my thoughts on this wuxia-based fantasy land, this time focusing on the PvP aspect of the game.
It should be no surprise to anyone that has been following this for years now that Blade & Soul’s combat system makes for some exciting player vs. player action, and as one of the most popular MMORPGs in Asia, NCSoft owes most of the game’s success to the thriving eSports scene they’ve generated, with live competitions happening in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan. The game is so popular in Asia that NCSoft hosts a yearly “world” tournament where players from each of these countries will compete to see who the best martial artist around.
With several ways to enjoy PvP including open world/faction PvP, Arena PvP and more, it’s pretty clear that this is B&S’ main attraction. NCWest acknowledges that PvP will be the key to the game’s success in the West. And as a way to kick off the start of CBT3, they decided to invite Jaesung Lee, former B&S World Champion from South Korea, over to the states in order to play exhibition matches with players from the US and EU. For those that want to know more about Jaesung, he’s won 1st place in the 2014 World Championships, KR PvP Season 4 and the GameMeca League Playoffs. He also has a partnership with Twitch.TV and posts gameplay guides frequently on his YouTube channel. If you’re ever interested in learning more about Blade & Soul’s PvP scene, Jaesung is the man you’ll be turning to.
Now to start things off: I decided to try out some open world PvP action, as it is the first kind of PvP that players will be introduced to early on. With how open world PvP works in Blade & Soul, players can participate in battles between two major factions: Cerulean Order and Crimson Legion. Players can also participate in battles with lesser factions such as the Bamboo Guard against the Blackram Marauders. By equipping a specific outfit, you can flag yourself for PvP against the other players that are wearing an opposing faction outfit, thus making players vulnerable to be attacked by these players at any given time.
With the main two factions in the game, players can also earn prestige points by completing faction quests and defeating opposing faction members to unlock better outfits, equipment and other perks. The overarching goal being to give players some tangible reason to fight, which I feel is sorely lacking in modern MMORPG PvP these days.
With that said: I decided to join the Cerulean Order because their ideals of justice and order appeals to my character a bit more. And because I feel my character looks good in blue.
Many of the scraps I got into early on were a mixed bag of confrontations. Most fights were quick affairs where one side carried a solid advantage over the other, as players of any faction rank and level can attack any other opposing player without repercussions. With no restrictions on stats and equipment, most of those fights ended with someone getting killed in either one to three shots. Rarely did I ever find myself in a encounter where me and my opponent(s) were fighting on equal ground and the only determining factor for the fight was pure skill, but despite this, I was still enjoying myself and all the chaos that came with it.
Still, just like with open world PvP found in other MMORPGs, it’s not for the faint of heart. Ganking and griefing is very common, and there are even times when players will camp the starting areas just to pick on newer players that just dawned their uniforms for the first time, so wear your colors with caution.
The quiet village of Jadestone turns into a battleground as Reds and Blues clash.
Now that I was all warmed up from trying to survive in the open world, it was time to dive head first into the arena. As one of the main attractions for Blade & Soul, players get to compete against others from across all US and EU servers (respectively.) With equalized stats and levels, players are free to jump in at any time and enjoy some skill-based competition. However, despite being able to jump into the arena at any level, players are very much recommended to reach the game’s max level before getting serious about competition, as players will have access to more skill points and talents to play as effectively as possible.
Wanna prove yourself? Got a beef with someone? Settle in the Arena!
When I first started off with 1-on-1 matches, I was pretty confident in my skills as a player as I’ve been able to fend off a couple of attackers in open world PvP, but once the match started rolling, I slowly began to realize that this was going to be an entirely different beast to deal with. I’ve fought against many assassins, tons of blade dancers, some destroyers and a few kung-fu masters here and there… and they all resulted in me either getting completely destroyed or losing by an inch of life.
As I learned more about each of the available classes through trials of combat, the gameplay started to feel more like a dynamic fighting game, complete each class filling out many different fighting game archtypes. As a fun little way to pass the time while waiting for some of my matches to queue up, I attempted to match each of the classes up to some commonly known archtypes out there:
- Blade Master – Dynamic (Stance)
- Blade Dancer – All-Rounder
- Destroyer – Grappler
- Summoner – Zoning (Puppet)
- Force Master – Zoning
- Assassin – Mixup
- Kung Fu Master – Rush Down + Dynamic (Counter)
Assassins, Blade Dancers and Destroyers were easily my hardest matchups to deal with, as the Assassin’s toolset of switch teleports, invisibility, flash bombs and more make this class particularly difficult to fight against. Blade Dancers and Destroyers, on the other hand, have a unique (and somewhat frustrating) parry skill which allows them to attack and defend at the same time while twirling around like a mad man. If you’ve ever heard of the phrase “Spin to Win”, well Blade Dancers and Destroyers will take this phrase to a whole new level.
I was still pretty determined to keep on competing in ranked battles, because despite each and every one of my losses, I always felt like there was something I could have done to turn the tides in my favor. Kung-Fu Masters are one of the more difficult classes to learn, as the general playstyle is focused on staying close to your opponent, maintaining good counter play, and capitalizing on your opponent’s mistakes. Kung-Fu Masters live and die by how well they can counterattack, so if your intuition, timing and more importantly your latency isn’t on point, you’re going to have a hard time with the Kung-Fu Master.
But once I got into a good rhythm and managed to defeat my opponent, it always felt like it was a victory well deserved.
There is one thing that needs to be pointed out regarding combat in Blade & Soul: Latency issues.
B&S is a very ping dependent game that requires players to have very decent connection speeds in order to play effectively, more so than most other MMORPGs out there. If you’re not connected to the servers with at least double digit ping that’s 50 milliseconds and below, then classes like the Kung-Fu Master become nearly impossible to play. To further express how important ping is to this game, former world champion Jaesung Lee who participated in matches against US and EU managed to get almost completely stomped by EU players while playing from NA, and also got defeated by a few NA players, as well. While he did say that the EU and NA players were very skilled, he also expressed that he’s very used to how the game plays back in South Korea, as their internet connection speeds are extremely fast and he generally plays with only 5 milliseconds of ping to deal with, so he wasn’t entirely able to keep up with the connection differences.
Also despite stats and gear being equalized in the arena, damage output is a pretty hefty issue due to the fact that the NA/EU version is playing with a lower level cap than the Asian versions of B&S. Since NCWest announced that our version will be launching with the updated Skill 3.0 set, but not the LV50 level cap, this effectively made some classes more powerful than others. Without the level 50 cap, we’ll be missing out on several extra skill points to distribute and talent specs that would otherwise balance things out. NCWest expressed that a level cap increase will be available shortly after the official launch, but until then, players can expect Destroyers and Blade Dancers to dominate the scene for a while.
There was one other game mode available for arena PvP, and that was the 3-on-3 match which pits two teams against each other in one single round. However instead of a chaotic 6 player melee, players will instead tag-in and out of battles, Marvel Vs. Capcom style.
As cool as it may sound, this mode does not seem to be enjoyed by players as much as the 1-on-1 mode, and perhaps it’s with good reason as the balance issues I’ve mentioned before will make some team compositions difficult to fight against, along with some technical issues with the tag/assist mechanic. I only got to participate in three 3-on-3 matches, and sadly did not enjoy my time spent in them as much. Organized factions on the other hand will probably use this mode for grudges and other boasting reasons.
Despite balance issues, my time spent with Blade & Soul’s PvP was a complete blast. The wild nature of faction PvP along with the fighting game essence of arena PvP really sold it for me, and I really can’t wait to see how they’ll expand upon with in the future. As far as I know, there’s also a 6-on-6 capture point mode that’s currently available in the South Korean version as well as plans for some kind of win streak match type were players can fight new opponents one after another.
But you know what I would really like to see in the future? As an idea to stay true to the whole wuxia and east fantasy style, I would like to see some sort of guild battle system where players can create their own martial arts dojo, just like with the Hongmoon school. Then, in true wuxia fashion, other guilds could invade other dojos in order to unlock (or steal) unique skills or other perks ala Age of Wushu.
Other than that, thanks for reading and keep your bookmarks set to this site for more details as I detail more of my time spent in the Blade & Soul closed beta!