By Michael Sagoe (mikedot)
So the NA/EU version of Blade & Soul has been out for a while now, and with my time spent playing the game these past months since early beta, I figured that now would be a pretty good time to follow up on my launch review to give my thoughts on the current state of affairs a little over a month afterwards. I could simply start (and end) things off with this one very simple image that explains the current state of the game…
…but that would make for a pretty short article, so we’ll go into a few details regarding the game’s situation.
The Bot Epidemic
Ever since the game was in closed beta, botting has been a rampant issue in the game. From the early leveling zones to the high level dungeons, it’s nearly impossible not to see a whole group of players with gibberish names running around on auto-pilot. The majority of bots that players will run into are destroyer bots, because with their hefty amount of CC, damage and ease of play, they are very easy for botters to macro up a powerful and dependable rotation of skills. Occasionally, you’ll also see a few summoner bots running around for the same reasons as destroyer bots.
While they may seem fairly harmless, their lasting effects on the game has been damaging over time.
Botting in PvE
Botters can mostly be seen at just about every world boss zone and every low-to-mid level instance, as they mindlessly attack mobs and farm instances endlessly for every bit of copper they can get. While having one bot farming a mob or instance may not be worth much, having multiple bots spread out across the entire game would can add up to several gold a day, and all that gold eventually winds up affecting the marketplace economy over time.
Botters have also been known to sneak into some high level dungeons, as well. Except here, rather than blowing through the dungeon mobs with any legitimate players in the instance, the bots will simply enter the dungeon and stay put near the entrance, effectively forcing legitimate players to play through with one or more party spots going to waste. And the real kicker here is that some of these bots will actually bid during loot auctions, causing everyone who actually participated in the instance to have their hard work trivialized, with only a share of ill-gotten gold to show for it.
Botting in PvP
Due to the excessive amount of botting in this game, the arena scene has taken a huge hit. A large chunk of matches that players will be paired up into will be up against destroyer bots; while these bots are fairly easy for a max level player to defeat, these bots tend to pray on lower level players as well as other destroyer bots, completely inflating the player ELO rating system. Now most honest players can just get a free ride from a 1300 to 1900 ranking within a matter of minutes due to how many bots they’ll be faced against compared to actual opponents. But that just emphasizes how the whole ranking system has been trivialized, with Platinum rank becoming the new silver rank and Diamond rank becoming the new gold rank.
While most of these bots can be found in 1v1 matches, fans of 3v3 matches will have to deal with a far worse issue: AFKers. Because of the small but fair amount of zen beans players can earn from a single 3v3 match, some have chosen to play the AFK game and completely sit out an entire match despite queuing up with players that are actually interested in playing through. Some of these AFKers are also bots, while others just lazy deadbeat players. With 3v3 matches being structured in a tag-team fashion, just having one player sit out the entire match can spell out an easy victory or an early defeat for players, and it’s all too frustrating to deal with, even when you’re on the winning side.
From my point of view, the insane amount of bots in both 1v1 and 3v3 matches has made B&S arena completely unplayable. Early on during the game’s launch, having a diamond, platinum or even just a gold ranking used to be seen as a badge of honor, but with the rankings becoming so inflated, having any kind of rank doesn’t mean much when over 90% of your matches won’t even be against a living human being.
But that’s not all: There’s also plenty of bots being abused in the Misty Woods faction PvP zone, as you can see them near and far as they fill up most of the accessible channels and attack each other to forcibly complete faction daily quests.
With the botting issue so rampant, you’d think that NCSoft would make this their top priority, but as of late, they haven’t done much to deal with the issue other than adding a separate spam block list for all the bots that promote their gold farming sites through in-game chat. While I don’t expect the bot issue to be dealt with within a single night, I am rather disappointed that NCSoft did not anticipate such a hefty impact from them and try to plan against them accordingly, considering that botting has been issue in every single version of B&S around the world, including the South Korean version which is still under the pay-to-play business model.
In the end, though, I can’t really blame NCSoft directly for all of this, but rather the development team, Team Bloodlust, for making the game so easy to bot.
With Silverfrost Mountains being released within a mere few days, many people are excited that we’ll be getting one of the more feature packed expansions for the game, but at the same time there are also plenty of players (like me) who aren’t so happy with these updates being released at such a rapid pace. With the game’s current end-game content already being tedious as it is, what with having to grind a hefty amount of daily quests, heroic level dungeons and gold farming for equipment upgrades just to be able to have enough attack power to participate in the current end-game dungeons, it’s understandable that keeping up with the B&S gear treadmill can be a pain.
While small servings of content such as the Rising Waters and Mushin’s Tower, the game was being kept on a healthy path of interesting activities without making the grind an impossible affair. But releasing a full blown expansion when the previous content update is only three weeks old is overdoing it. We’re talking an entire new continent to quest in, a raised level cap of 50, five more Hongmoon skill levels, two new storyline acts, eight new dungeons, two world instances, a new faction PvP zone and more…
While having so much new stuff to see and do is nice, how is anyone that’s isn’t already a veteran super active player supposed to digest all of this? Most players haven’t even completed Mushin’s 8th Floor or the Nayru Lab 4-man dungeon yet, because again, the tedious gear treadmill and farming gold to prepare for this game’s content is a fairly huge roadblock. Now that our superior grinded friends will be busy rushing onto the next big thing, those that fell behind will have to work extra hard to find others to join with to take on these challenges – basically pugging near end-game content.
Personally speaking, between my daily life and the leveling event that NCSoft issued to their players during the release of the Warlock update, I had very little time to work on my main character to prepare for such an expansion. I was honestly expecting this update to come in early April at soonest, not mid-to-late March. At least then I would have had an extra week or so after the leveling event to focus on my main character again.
Wanting to play catch up with the foreign versions is great and all but pacing your content updates out so players won’t get overwhelmed is just as important. Overall, a content update this big is simply being pushed out too soon, and I’m certainly not the only one that thinks so. Because as we found out with the Unchained update, when massive pushes aren’t given time for proper testing, everything can go terribly terribly wrong.
Ever since the Unchained update, client optimization has become more and more of a concern for players, especially since a mysterious stuttering issue has been introduced since this update, causing some players to have their game skip and freeze nearly every 3 seconds during in-game battles and even cutscenes. And of course, with a game that requires player’s skill to be on point and focused at all times, screen stuttering is a big no-no. So far, there hasn’t been anyway word from NCSoft regarding when the frame skip issue, along with other optimization fixes, will be introduced into the game, but at the very least, they have finally officially acknowledged it.
With most of the bad issues put aside, the actual game itself is pretty nice. The current open instances including E.Fleet and Nightshade Harbor are very open-ended and expansive, and offer up some simple but fun quests that can be done with huge groups. The 6-man dungeons also offer variety in setting and gameplay with unique boss mechanics that get more challenging as players go along. For all those that felt that classes in B&S did not feel distinct enough due to the lack of a holy trinity, these end-game battles give each class their chance to shine distinctly. With Blade Masters and Kung-Fu Masters as your main tanks, Assassins and Summoners as your support, and every class as a DPS class with key CC interupts, party compositions truly start to shine at the endgame.
Along with a steady stream of updates for the cash shop, the inclusion of currency exchange has made obtaining Hongmoon Coins for the in-game cash shop much easier than before, so everyone that wants to dress their character in the latest fashions can do so without spending any real money. Sadly, the inclusion of the currency exchange hasn’t done much to deter the gold farmers from flooding the game.
With what little content the game had from its NA/EU launch, Rising Waters and Unchained update, NCSoft has kept players occupied with simple events such as the Valentine’s Day and Warlock leveling event that offered some rare goodies including unique costumes and exclusive attack gems. While these events weren’t too creative in practice, they were still welcoming distractions for many of us before the Sliverfrost update arrives.
In its current state: Blade & Soul for NA/EU is littered with problems and issues, some of which can be ignored, others than need to be addressed ASAP and some that will be addressed within a matter of days. While I am happy that we’re getting a level 50 cap and will finally have access to crucial Hongmoon skills, as well as more stuff to see and explore, I really feel like the bot issue needs to be settled in some form of fashion. While I don’t expect every bot to be eradicated in a single swoop, just some kind of reassurance that they’re being dealt with would be nice. I truly hope that with this Sliverfrost mountains update, some changes to the game’s bot prevention will be included, but other than that, things will keep on chugging along for this martial arts themed MMORPG.