It has been almost three years since the massive multiplayer online martial arts role playing game "Blade & Soul" was released in Korea, and after three years of "optimizing the game for the Western audience", it will finally be coming our way!
When it was first announced, Blade & Soul differentiated itself from the other MMO's out there at that time (World of Warcraft), mostly in the sense of its combat system. Unlike your average day-to-day MMORPG in which you just click your enemies and bash a few buttons to cast some spells until they drop, in Blade and Soul every single fight with a hostile creature (or more than one) sort of feels like you're in a round of Tekken or Street Fighter.
You actually have to pay attention during fights now, as blocking the enemy's attack and casting a counter spell at the exact right time can really pay off!
During the 2nd Closed Beta (CBT2), I've gotten to play the (at that time a little bit wonkily) translated version by Atomix, and for the first time I felt like combat itself in an MMORPG was actually quite a lot of fun, as opposed to just the loot being "worth my while". As you perform certain combat moves (or cast spells, if you're the Summoner or the Force Master), the buttons on your action bar change accordingly, allowing you to chain certain moves together, creating "combos" if you will. The Blade Master that I played, and the Kung-Fu master, were particularly good at this, basically stun-locking every minion smaller than yourself in place more than half of the time.
The other most boring part of any average MMORPG is of course: walking (or riding your mount), and Blade & Soul has done something about this as well: you can run insanely fast! And although this uses up your stamina, every time you run through a gate or enter a dungeon for example, it will completely replenish, so most of the time that you're travelling larger distances, you'll go through enough gates or tunnels to almost be constantly sprinting. And there's more: you can even fly! Well... sort of. Besides being able to run very fast, you can also jump very high, and after you've jumped you can press a button to go into a weird Karate-kid stance that allows you to glide and travel large distances through the air.
Finally, as if all that wasn't enough, in the largest areas of the world there are Dragon Streams, that allow you to go from one side of the area to another in a few seconds.
But other than the combat system and the speedrunning and "hang-gliding" around the world, Blade and Soul differentiated itself from all the other MMORPGs out there (at that time) in another (to me very important) way: it looks absolutely wonderful! And, although I'm not sure if I would still be in as much awe as I was a couple of years ago, with all the other fancy-looking games out there right now, the refined magicalness of the enormous open world and all its inhabitants is a special experience by itself.
Of course, Blade & Soul has all the other features you'll find in other MMORPGs as well: plenty of NPC's with an exclamation point or question mark over their head, all the dungeons you can hope for, and of course you level up your character, as well as your skills, stats, items, etc. A lot of the "looting" is based around collecting items, as there are many items that will give you stat boosts when they are combined with other items. For instance, most "pack-leaders" (the larger versions of basic hostile creatures) drop tiny pizza-slices that, when combined, form an octagon, and when you equip all 8 parts of the same octagon you'll get some very nice "set bonusses".
To round things up (and we haven't even discussed character customization yet!), it seems NCsoft has definitely put a lot of effort in the localization for Europe and The Americas with dozens of hours of English voice acting, and although it seems the game will also be free to play in the West (although it initially wasn't going to be, but a poll on their .com website a couple of years ago changed that), their monetization strategy (in the form of micro-transactions) remains unclear. Subscribe to the B&S newsletter at bladeandsoul.com to be kept up to date on future betas and release,
and if you want to know more about the game itself and start planning your character build, check out the wiki.
Below are some screenshots from my own gameplay in the Atomix.RO Closed Beta.