Is Blade & Soul Worth Playing in 2021?
Alright, I know what you guys are thinking.
And you’d be right. This is an MMORPG that caters to a very specific demographic of player: .. pretty much all of you. And me, too, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have spent the last couple weeks streaming it.
Now welcome back to another episode of “Is it worth playing” – where we sift through every MMORPG available right now in an attempt to find the best MMORPG in 2021. Today, we’re taking a look at what is arguably one of the best free to play MMORPGs available: Blade & Soul.
I mean, sure it’s considered by many to be heavily pay to win, but let’s be real here…. what free MMOs aren’t pay to win to at least some extent, am I right?
I love Blade & Soul. This is the first MMORPG that Mrs Stix and I played together full-time as a couple back in 2017 before I made the journey from Australia to America to be with her.
I remember, very clearly, Mrs Stix asking me to log in to play with her during her busy week when we only had a few hours to do anything together. I also distinctly recall wanting to get on cam with her too… to chat, of course. C’mon, guys. Don’t make this weird.
We spent several weeks playing through the entire story together, farmed every outfit we possibly could, ended up wasting a ton of money purchasing outfits from the cash shop. Died repeatedly in PvP because Australian ping had a multi-second delay between input and recognition of that input from the server.
This is one of, maybe 10 MMOs that I have hundreds of hours experience in. One of maybe 5 MMOs I frequently ended up coming back to at least once a year to see the state the game is in.
You might think I’m crazy, given this game released in Korea all the way back in 2012 and both North America and Europe in 2016.
I mean who has the energy to dedicate that much time to an MMO that dated, that old, that… oh wait. Even nearly a decade after releasing, Blade & Soul both looks and plays better than most MMOs released in 2021? Huh. If you told me Blade & Soul would outperform current-gen MMOs a decade after release, I’d have laughed at you.
But the proof is in the pudding. Blade & Soul just underwent a massive overhaul when NCSoft rolled out their Unreal Engine 4 update. This brought with it a slew of new or altered features and mechanics.
Most notably were the performance issues that improved performance for some players… kinda. This one was actually debated quite a bit and has been rather hit and miss with players.
The drastic reduction in loading times, which has made transitioning between areas so much easier. No more 20 to 30 second loading screens. Now they’re 4 to 6 seconds on average, which is a quality of life change you never thought you needed.
And finally, the graphical changes, which while they aren’t drastic, are definitely easy to discern when compared to what they once were.
Speaking of the graphics, Blade & Soul is an absolutely gorgeous MMORPG.
Yes, the game utilizes a segregated world, which means that zones are disconnected from one another by a small loading screen, but imposing a minor load between zones allows for them to reduce lag quite substantially. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work in theory.
There are a plethora of different regions, each with their own unique aesthetic look and feel. Abilities all have high quality special effects.
And let me use that as a segway into the combat, which many players believe is the pinnacle of the action MMO genre. Or at the very least, was at one point.
Every class has their own unique style of play. And I genuinely mean this. In typical MMOs you have “the tanky sword and shield guy,” “the greatsword or axe wielding berserker guy,” “the dude that keeps you alive,” “the annoying elemental dude that stands in the AoEs,” “the pew-pew archer,” and sometimes the “stabby-stabby dagger dude.”
And, while, yes, Blade & Soul is much the same in terms of utility and what each class provides, I feel like there’s more.. personality? That the classes themselves provide more… of a uniqueness to them than what I’m traditionally used to.
Like the Gon Destroyer is a class that can literally pick you up by the head and spin you around like Trunks did to Imperfect Cell back in Dragon Ball Z. Or the Soul Fighter which is an amalgamation of telekinesis and martial arts. Just.. unusual class archetypes that you don’t typically come across.
And that – at least in my opinion, helps set the classes apart from what I’m used to.
My only issue is that classes are race-locked. As an example, Summoner’s are restricted to Lyn only, meaning if you want to play as one, you’re required to create a walking potato. Which I’m not really fond of, and I’m sure people will viciously scold me for stating. I’ve already prepared myself for that outcome.
So we spoke about the world, we spoke about class identity, but something we haven’t is this game’s narrative. Most MMOs have a narrative. A story present that gives you a purpose. Without it, you’d just be.. some random person existing in a world.
Then you have games like Final Fantasy XIV or Star Wars The Old Republic. Games that have so much story that at times you wonder if you’re playing through a graphic novel. Thankfully, I’m a fan of narrative in my games, so this has never been an issue for me.
I’m that guy that goes onto Wiki pages and reads through individual character history so I know who’s who, who likes who, and who hates who.
Blade & Soul has a very strong narrative, with the story being connected to every zone you move through. Actually, rather than being “connected to,” the story is the main reason you move to each zone.
Talking to various different NPCs located throughout the world, hunting bad guys, trying to ignore the mail that Hajoon sent you for the umpteenth time.
And while I laugh at how horrendous the voice acting can be at times, I can say with certainty that while the story is very.. Shounen, with super-powered characters flying through the air, launching energy at each other, exchanging blows, it still somehow retained my interest.
But then I’m a fan of Anime like DBZ, Yugioh, My Hero Academia, One Punch Man. So that speaks volumes about the types of story I’d vibe with. Although I also love Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Code Geass, Death Note. Even Fruits Basket, Carole and Tuesday… yeah, I’m a weird, mixed bag.
So I’ve talked about what I enjoy. Then there’s what I didn’t. And that is the PvP, the Hongmoon level grind, and the constant removal of content.
On the one hand, there are various types of PvP modes available, including the option for open-world PvP. While I’ve only participated in open-world PvP when it’s coordinated, I have done plenty of Arena matches. And they consist primarily of OP classes CC-locking you until you die. Which is, in my opinion, never fun.
I know that isn’t always the case, but it happened to me more often than not both in 1v1 and 3v3, so I didn’t last in PvP long. I preferred PvP in games like ArcheAge, WoW and Aion. Where, while sure, there’s CC, it isn’t nearly as bad. Unless you vs RMD or RMP in WoW. Rogue+Mage any healer was the bane of my existence.
While most MMOs have you grind to max level, then begin having you queue for dungeons and raids, Blade & Soul has you.. well, do much the same, with the addition of grinding for your Hongmoon level.
This is an additional level atop your base level, that provides you continued, progressively more powerful statistical bonuses like Attack Power, Defense, and HP to name a few. Meaning even if you hit max level, you’ll be grinding XP to level your Hongmoon level almost endlessly, while also grinding for gear.
Swords of Legends, I believe, implemented something similar, and is a feature I believe should not exist within the game, especially given how difficult it is to play catch-up to players that have been grinding their Hongmoon level for as long as they have.
Finally… like TERA, Blade & Soul, for whatever reason, continues to introduce, but also remove content from the game. Abilities, dungeons. I don’t understand why. Additional content is good. Less content is the exact opposite of what we want.
✔️ Blade & Soul has one of the best combat systems in the MMORPG genre.
✔️ It has a gorgeous world, an extensive character creator, and with the Unreal Engine 4 overhaul, provides you a better performing game than ever before.
✔️ There’s a lot of class diversity, with each class having their own distinct purpose and role.
✔️ The leveling process isn’t slow and tedious.
✔️ The narrative is deep and provides a reason to navigate each zone, while providing you insight into the various characters you meet along the way.
❎ Yet at the same time, the narrative drags on at times and the voice acting is absolutely laughable.
❎ The PvP can be pay to win, and is far too unbalanced for me to enjoy personally.
❎ While the leveling process isn’t tedious, grinding your Hongmoon level is one of the most arduous processes I’ve ever been put through.
❎ The population is unfortunately very low these days. Probably numbering in the tens of thousands of active unique players per month, which honestly isn’t terrible, but it isn’t growing, only continuing to stagnate and decline. At least in North America.
❎ And finally, NCSoft is in charge of the game… and we all know what NCSoft cares about.
Ultimately, Blade & Soul is a very fun MMORPG. It’s beautiful, it plays incredibly well, and is by far one of the best titles in the genre, especially given it’s free.
Sure, it has its problems: Pay to win, unbalanced classes, a terrible developer and publisher that cares more about whales than it does about a healthy playerbase, but at the same time it does so many things well.
This is a game I come back to year after year, and I’ve had fun every single time I’ve chosen to.