Tag Archives: Blade and Soul

Four Things Western MMOs Can Learn from the East

I’m not a fan of the favoritism some people have when it comes to Eastern versus Western MMORPGs. Historically, I’ve spent more time in Western games, but I’m not going to write off a whole hemisphere because of it.

An enemy encampment in Blade and Soul

Ultimately, I think both regions’ design philosophies have their pros and cons, and both could benefit by taking lessons from the other. This being an English language site, I’m guessing most people here have a pretty good idea of what Western games have to offer, so let’s start with a look at what the West can learn from Asian games.

Strong Character Creators

These days the gap between Western and Eastern character creators isn’t as stark as it once was, but the best MMORPG character creators are still found in Asian titles like Aion and Black Desert. These games let you tweak virtually every aspect of your character’s appearance in excruciating detail, allowing you to create the avatar of your dreams.

Western games just don’t quite match up. Even those that do offer a lot of options, like Elder Scrolls Online, don’t offer the same fine touch as something like Black Desert. Just because there’s a slider for your character’s nose doesn’t mean you can get it looking exactly the way you want.

Some may find such things frivolous, but for those for whom it matters, it matters a lot.

More Imaginative Settings

Both Western and Eastern MMOs are perhaps a bit too hung-up on the high fantasy genre, but it seems to me as if there tends to be a bit more flavor in the settings of Eastern games.

A flight path in Aion

There’s a certain alien feeling to the worlds of Eastern MMOs that you don’t just find anywhere else. The creatures are stranger, the landscapes more otherworldly, and the cultures more fantastical. There’s often a strong magitech influence that you don’t see as much of in Western titles, which hew closer to traditional fantasy archetypes.

This may simply be another set of cultural tropes that only feel fresh because I’m not as used to them. This is definitely true in cases where the MMOs draw on quintessentially Eastern concepts, such as wuxia MMOs like Blade and Soul. Either way, though, the settings of Asian MMOs often feel like a breath of fresh of air.

Part of the reason I tend to hold a relatively high opinion of Aion despite it being a fairly generic game is that I found its world so enchantingly strange.

Better Combat Animations

One of the stranger differences between Western and Eastern MMOs is how much effort is put into combat animations. Our developers here in the West just can’t seem to make them anywhere near as good as their Asian contemporaries.

It’s not just that Asian games use more and bigger particle effects when it comes to combat abilities, although they certainly do, and I definitely appreciate it.

But even at a more fundamental level, the animations are just better. They’re faster, they have much more of a feeling of weight behind them, and their sound effects are much more dramatic. If I hit someone with a sword in Rift, pretty much the only feedback I get is seeing their health drop. If I hit someone with a sword in TERA, I feel it.

We’re starting to see a little more effort put into combat animations in Western MMOs. Neverwinter’s are pretty weighty, and World of Warcraft has improved their animations a lot in the most recent expansion. But overall the West is still lagging far behind the East on this front.

Scythe Classes

A reaper character in Kritika Online

If there’s one thing I love in Eastern games, it’s the opportunity to play classes that fight by swinging a giant scythe at their foes. You can’t tell me that’s not awesome, because it objectively is.

Examples include the oracle of Dragon’s Prophet or the Reaper of Kritika Online, both classes who can slice through their foes like so much dry wheat.

This is an experience that for whatever reason Western developers simply don’t offer. If scythes appear at all in Western games, it’s usually just a staff skin for caster classes, a mere stat stick that isn’t actually used in combat.

That’s not good enough. Just having a scythe is not enough. I must be able to slice through my foes like the Grim Reaper himself.

On that note, Eastern games tend to offer a lot of weapon choices and archetypes that are often neglected by the West.

Spears come to mind. Classes that favor a spear as their preferred weapon, such as Final Fantasy XIV’s dragoon, are fairly common in Eastern MMOs, but often neglected by their Western counterparts. It’s pretty strange when you think about it, as spears and polearms were one of the most popular weapons of history. Swords, by comparison, were relatively rare.

I can think of a few other archetypes that seem more common in Eastern games: martial artists, archers without pets, gunslingers… Again, this may simply be a different set of cultural tropes, and perhaps from the perspective of someone in Asia Western games feel like they have better class choices, but I enjoy the variety. Perhaps developers in both hemispheres should just try to expand their class choices in general.

Especially where scythes are concerned.


Best PvP Systems for MMORPGs

PvE (Player vs. Environment) systems in MMORPGs are systematically all very similar. Obviously some games deliver more enjoyable challenges from artificial intelligence than others. Yet the core gameplay boils down to the same objective: kill bad guys and take their loot. On the other hand, PvP (Player vs. Player) in MMORPGs vary widely by objective, scope, and type. Which PvP system is the best for MMORPGs? To some extent, this depends on the game. Arena combat is a better fit for World of Warcraft than Eve Online. That doesn’t mean arena combat is better than Eve Online’s free-for-all PvP combat. People seeking a PvP MMO typically come to the table with a vision in mind. To me, the best PvP systems for MMORPGs coincide with the experiences people see in those visions.

In the spirit of competition that draws many to a seek an MMORPG with a good player vs player system, I’ll be eliminating one system at a time. By the end of this post, there will be only one. Highlander style is the best style, after all. This we learn at a young age.

baby knows only one pvp system can win

5. Duels

First on the chopping block is duels. It’s a fun time waster challenging friends to fight mano a mano, but that’s all it’s really good for. MMORPGs where duels are the highest form of player fighting are typically placed there as an afterthought. Blade and Soul is the only MMORPG where high end PvP is built around dueling. While it’s an improvement over dueling random folks in town, matches still tend to get repetitive. The problem with duels is that there’s not enough dynamic play for a strong PvP system. Strategies change depending on the class but not dramatically so. The player skill element arises from playing one’s class well, assuming gear is even and class balance on point. There’s not as much to react to compared to stronger 1v1 venues such as RTS games and CCGs.

4. Battlegrounds

Next has to be PvP battlegrounds. This PvP type caters to players looking for a quick, instanced PvP experience. Usually fighting in battlegrounds is incentivized with unique gear rewards. The problem is that battlegrounds are inherently casual experiences. People hop in by themselves or with small groups and just run around like headless chickens. There’s no sense of community here because the battlegrounds’ instanced nature changes who plays from match to match. There’s nothing really on the line and the lack of any pressure from a loss diminishes the PvP experience. The mentality going into battlegrounds then becomes grouping with the few people that care about teamwork and hoping for the best. There’s just too random many people in a battlegrounds fight to communicate effectively. Big PvP battles require coordination to get the most out of them, and that’s not something battlegrounds handle very well.

3. Arenas

Battlegrounds and duels are weak PvP experiences so cutting them felt good. Arena PvP though can be pretty awesome, and it’s next on the list. In 3v3 and 5v5 matches (or even larger like the original Guild Wars), class dynamics really start to matter. Even 2v2 displays expertise greater than the sum of its parts. Teamwork is huge in the arena and World of Warcraft’s arena competition has shown how important player skill and class knowledge are on the big stage. What makes arena combat great is also what keeps it from rising to the heights of greatest PvP system.

wow's pvp arena system

WoW’s PvP arena as an e-sport

The small group on small group battles requires everyone to be on their ‘A’ game to succeed. Not only can that be overly stressful at times, but it also significantly limits the audience that can participate. The people that play an MMORPG and can enjoy arena combat day in and day out are relatively few. Arena players instead typically gravitate towards MOBAs or arena shooters. So while arena type combat is enjoyable, it doesn’t mesh with the virtual worlds that are MMORPGs.

2. Open PvP

Open PvP systems allow players to kill each other with little to no restrictions. It creates a dangerous world, which fits in well with the games built around that concept. Open PvP can be full of lame griefing, but it can also create a unique atmosphere. To ensure that players can still enjoy the game, good developers will incentivize and discourage particular activities. This may include huge penalties for indiscriminate killing or major bonuses to joining a guild that necessitate ‘choosing a side’. What’s enjoyable about open PvP systems is simply the freedom that the game gives to the players. This creates wild stories, such as the ones that Eve Online is known for. The price of admission isn’t always worth it though, and that’s why it’s hard to rate as the best player fighting system.

I considered creating another heading for guild wars or territory wars but felt those played equal parts to the highest ranking forms of player vs. player combat. In a good open PvP system, players are encouraged to band together to survive and/or thrive. This isn’t just because there is safety in numbers, but because resources and territories can be controlled by large groups. Open systems without these type of objectives to fight over might even be a worse experience than only offering duels.

One other note: open PvP is generally exclusionary to other PvP types. You’ll notice that World of Warcraft, for example, uses all PvP systems on this list except for the open variety. That doesn’t necessarily mean WoW does all of these well. As noted earlier, Blade and Soul is built around duels. World of Warcraft includes dueling because it’s simple to do so, but it doesn’t add anything to the game. More on this in the next section.

1. Faction Wars

What separates faction wars from the rest of the bunch is its perfect mix of approachability, coordination, teamwork, scale, and variety. Faction wars can cater to both big guilds and individuals, admittedly with different levels of success. Still, there’s a lot to be said about an involved faction war system. The best example of how to integrate this system into an MMORPG is Dark Age of Camelot. The Realm vs. Realm play in that game is legendary, bringing together thousands of players to assault other realms while defending their own.

DAoC Pvp system rewards

This castle could be yours!

The greatness of a factional PvP war system is that it essentially combines the best components of all of the above systems without any of the flaws. Like duels, individual skill matters, but there’s no shortage of variance. Unlike casual battlegrounds, faction players will see the same people assisting the realm. This camaraderie leads to trust which leads to coordination. Arena combat might be great for small groups, but it’s really only for the best of the best. On the flip side, any competent human can contribute positively to their faction. And finally, against open PvP, faction warfare still gives the thrill of big battles and potent enemies but with a safe zone to protect against uneven ganking/griefing. In factional PvP systems, help is almost always just around the corner.

As I alluded to in the open PvP section, listing factions and war as bullet point descriptions doesn’t make a true faction war MMORPG. Games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic might meet the technical definition of a factional MMORPG. Yet, I would in no way consider these faction war MMOs. A proper faction PvP system is more than just telling players to pick a side and fight the other side when seen. Proper rewards and incentives must be given, which can be as simple as the World vs. World server ladder in Guild Wars 2 or as complex as the aforementioned Camelot. So don’t be fooled by fancy terms when seeking a new MMORPG. Look into the details of what that MMORPG experience offers to see if it truly is what it says it is.

If you’re not sure which of these suit you best, try looking at individual MMORPGs. This list of PvP MMOs should help out.


Frankensteining My Perfect MMORPG

“The perfect MMORPG”. A concept as elusive as the holy grail. We rush from MMORPG release to MMORPG release hoping to be enveloped by the warm embrace of perfection. The truth is that the perfect MMORPG is highly dependent on the user. Perhaps some have already witnessed a virtual nirvana. But most of us can only dream of the possibility. And dreaming is exactly what I intend to do today.

perfect mmorpg is not perfect world

Sadly, the Perfect World doesn’t contribute to my Frankensteined perfect MMORPG.

As a fun exercise, I’ll combine the best features from every MMORPG into one perfect MMORPG. In my opinion, this will capture the best of what every virtual world has to offer.

Character Creation

It all starts with character creation and nothing beats Champions Online. The freeform character development is exceptionally fun. Pretty much every type of superhero one can imagine can be created. The superhero MMORPG also offers pre-defined archetypes, but that’s so…blas√©. In addition to a wealth of character powers, there’s also about twenty different options for character appearance. All of this combines into the best character creation out there.

Questing

What will we do once in game? It wouldn’t be a modern MMORPG without a quest or two. I can’t really think of a better MMORPG questing system to steal than the The Secret World’s. Whereas quest givers in every other MMORPG are overly obsessed with my rat killing count, TSW challenges my self proclaimed heroic title. Missions in this game utilize puzzles, voice acted cutscenes, lore heavy items, stealth, and an impressive tie-in to The Secret World’s immersive environment at every turn. In a lot of ways, TSW handles missions even better than many single player RPGs. I’m more of a sandbox guy at heart, but I’ll jump on a fitting themepark with quests this good.

Combat

Blade and Soul's combat is a fit for perfect MMORPG

Where The Secret World falters is combat. Luckily, our perfect MMORPG can ignore that completely. Blade & Soul offers an amazing combat system that does away with hotbar button bloat. Instead, the player builds and releases powerful abilities based on combo attacks reminiscent of Street Fighter. Reaction time is relevant but so is strategically reading one’s opponents. Additionally, the game does away with traditional class based roles that widens grouping possibilities.

Economy

Despite a great combat system, Blade and Soul does feel a bit restrictive. Part of that is the game’s economy. Instead of putting the power in the the collective players’ hands, advancement is pretty much self sufficient. In my perfect MMORPG, I want to see a truly interactive player economy. For that, none is better than Eve Online. Every module, ship, weapon, and implant can be freely sold and traded between players in Eve Online. Regional markets replace global auction houses from most MMORPGs. This gives traders a chance to take advantage of changing market conditions. Where some see price gouging arbitrage, Eve Online players see opportunity. It mimics the real world so accurately that even economists study it’s ecosystem.

PvP

While everyone wants to get their piece of the pie, some prefer more direct confrontation. It’s been around for a long time, but Dark Age of Camelot’s PvP has yet to be surpassed. Strangely, most developers still insist on World of Warcraft’s inherently unbalanced two faction system. DAoC realized early on that three factions would self regulate. The game makes proper use of PvP and allows players to level up purely through it. Castle sieges and relic conquests keep content from growing stale. Some might say a free for all system would be better, but instant camaraderie via factional warfare is a better choice for a universal, perfect MMORPG.

Dungeons

The dungeons in WildStar are the best

PvP isn’t all there is to the endgame though. Great dungeons and raids can bring both casual and hardcore guilds together in unique ways. WildStar clearly excels in this like none other. In fact, the challenges that WildStar’s dungeons present have been toned down since launch. They were just too hard. The method to success in a WildStar dungeon is rarely ever obvious. What’s really great about the instanced dungeons in WildStar is that the fun begins early on. Even the first instances in the game limit trash mobs in favor of inspired boss mechanics. The dungeons in WildStar respect me as a player. They may ask too much of my PUGs at times, but it comes with the territory.

Etc, etc.

All in all, I couldn’t ask for a more perfect MMORPG than what I created above. There are a few traditional pain points I avoided. Visuals and bells and whistles aren’t as big of a deal because a many games handle this well. If the art design is coherent and well put together, I’ll be happy. The World of Warcraft style is just as appealing as the Elder Scrolls Online. And I suppose if I cared more about story, I’d double dip into The Secret World. To me, the best stories come from the players though. Events like killing the sleeper in EverQuest, World of Warcraft’s Corrupted Blood plague, and Eve Online’s trillion ISK scam can’t be beat.

While such a real world amalgamation seems unlikely as games grow more niche, I can always dream. How would you Frankenstein your Perfect MMO?


PvE Leveling is a Waste of Time

It’s truly amazing the amount of resources that developers devote to PvE only for it to be a generic time waster. Even the big MMORPG releases in Blade & Soul and Black Desert Online aren’t bucking the trend. We create a new character, giddy for a new world to explore. That world turns out to be full of quests. Quests to exterminate local monsters and deliver goods to nearby farmers. These quests get pretty repetitive. After all, such quests and monsters exist solely to bridge the gap between new character status and max level. It’s pretty rare that the content that gets us to max level compares to that of a single player game. Really, we’re just wasting our time on low quality content until we ding max level and move onto the real content. And it’s such an unnecessary shame.

world of warcraft quest giver

Marshal McBride here to deliver another generic quest!

There are tons of ways content could be delivered so as not to be a waste of time. Challenging gameplay, intriguing stories, puzzle elements, escalating intensity, or maybe some actual multiplayer elements given that we’re talking about MMOs. Basically, successful single player games deliver high quality content, just less of it than a MMO. MMOs could deliver that same quality of content, but they don’t. Instead they insist on tons of garbage, practically automated content to waste our time. This isn’t in an indictment on PvE leveling but on how developers approach PvE, especially in regards to the leveling experience. Publishers spend a lot of money on games so let’s stop wasting time for both of us.

Imagine if before The Last of Us really began, there was a 80 hour series kill quests before Joel (the game’s main character) was strong enough to start the game. Some of us might tough it out to get to the good stuff, but that early content would just be fluff. A waste of time. But that’s what we do in a typical MMORPG. I think with its mission based setup, Warframe does a pretty good job of respecting our valuable time to provide meaningful content. Warframe blends story elements and good action pacing that is intrinsically enjoyable. But what about the traditional open world setting of most MMORPGs? Open worlds should rather easily deliver exploration, a type of content that games like Skyrim thrive on.

Last of Us grinding zombies

Joel grinding on some zombies to prepare for The Last of Us

And yet open world MMORPGs since Ultima Online have failed to deliver this world of exploration. Open world games follow World of Warcraft’s lead of opening up the game world one zone at a time. In turn, the primary benefit of an open world is lost. There’s no real exploration because players can only access specific zones based on their level. It’s really a shame because these worlds are created with no short amount of effort spent by the developers. And yet these worlds feel completely artificial, lifeless, and wasted because the game world becomes nothing but a series of glorified, interconnected hubs. Some games such as Wildstar and Guild Wars 2 do their part to encourage exploration, but it’s secondary to the main PvE content. The bland PvE leveling content that just wastes our time.

PvE Leveling Dulls Character Development

I like to jump into MMOs and MMORPGs because I like the feeling of developing a character for the sake of the character. I like to not necessarily have some epic tale that’s going to resolve. Or if it does, I want to continue playing that character. This, and the ability to interact with other such characters played by real people, is what drives my passion for the genre. Unfortunately, I have to engage in activities that really feel don’t mesh with my desires. And it just doesn’t have to be that way. I finished Wasteland 2 and Divinity Original Sin and enjoyed those irrespective of the power my characters were gaining. There’s no reason another MMORPG couldn’t provide the same satisfaction. After all, they are just RPGs with lots of other players. There’s actually more developers could do with that!

Instead, the content is always derivative. The problem arises from the expectation of having enough to do. And it’s a lot easier to create content when it’s of lower quality. Part of the notion of “content need” arises from keeping the player base large enough, but that’s pretty irrelevant if content is all soloable anyway. Why not just create some procedurally generated dungeons for those “high content” seekers and craft a meaningful journey for everyone else. I don’t want PvE leveling to be a waste of time. I want meaningful PvE content created with some thought and care. Single player games have been doing it forever and they live and die by it. MMORPGs need to start taking the journey more seriously, because a mindless grind is a waste of the players’ time and a waste of the developers’ time.

 


Blade and Soul First Impressions

After years of waiting, NCsoft’s wuxia MMO Blade and Soul has at last landed on Western shores. After all this time, was it worth the wait? Read on for our initial impressions of this free to play MMORPG.

I know kung fu:

A screenshot from the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

Blade and Soul does not leave the best impression out of the gate.

I was a little put-off as early as character creation. The character models, at least for females, are bizarre, to say the least. It’s not even that they’re over-sexualized, although they are. They’re these bizarre, disproportionate horrors from the darkest depths of the uncanny valley.

Thankfully, Blade and Soul’s character creator offers a dizzying variety of options — almost as many as Aion — so with some effort, I was able to create a character that somewhat resembles a person.

I was then dumped into a very lengthy and somewhat tedious tutorial experience. It wasn’t as bad as Final Fantasy XIV’s glacial intro, but it definitely took a lot longer than it needed to, even considering that Blade and Soul’s mechanics are a little different from that of the average MMORPG and thus probably need a little more explanation.

The problem is that the tutorial is very story-driven. It sets up the main storyline that you will follow through the game, so it’s very heavy on cutscenes and dialogue. Which would be fine if the story was interesting, but it isn’t.

The plot is thin, the twists are obviously telegraphed, none of the characters are around long enough for you to care about them, and the voice acting ranges from mediocre to cringe-inducingly amateurish.

To be fair, Blade and Soul is clearly taking a lot of inspiration from anime, manga, and old kung fu movies, and if you’re a big fan of those genres, Blade and Soul’s story will probably hold a lot more appeal. I can certainly see some people enjoying it in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. But the story left me cold, and frankly, even if camp was the goal, they probably could have done a better job.

A character introduction in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

 

Thankfully, once I left the tutorial behind, my experience with Blade and Soul improved somewhat.

One of the main selling points of Blade and Soul is its intense action combat, which places a high emphasis on using abilities in combos for maximum effect.

The main thing I found to separate Blade and Soul’s combat from that of, say, TERA is how much interaction you have with enemies, for lack of a better term.

Even in action combat games, there’s sometimes a certain stilted to nature to combat. Your enemy stands there and does its thing, and you stand here and do your thing. You dodge telegraphs or block attacks from time to time, but it can still feel a little wrote.

In Blade and Soul, combat flows more organically, with more back and forth. For example, blocking and countering enemy attacks is a crucial part of play. This is similar to using interrupts in any other MMO, but rather than a niche tool against spellcasters, it’s a crucial part of every fight, offering both offensive and defensive benefits.

What you can do to enemies also extends far beyond the usual “they play a standard hit animation when your attack connects.” For example, as an occasional viewer of mixed martial arts, I was delighted to find my kung fu master in Blade and Soul had the ability to grapple and “ground and pound” enemies. There’s a tremendous satisfaction to throwing an enemy to the ground, leaping atop them, and beating them into submission.

And yes, it does work on other players.

Gliding in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

The other thing I enjoyed about Blade and Soul is its movement system. Rather than a traditional mount system, players get around through sprinting at superhuman speed and performing acrobatic leaps and glides.

I like systems like this so much more than mounts. It’s far more interactive, and just fun, than a passive movement buff in the form of a horse with absurd armor.

The only problem with the movement is how limited it is. You run out of stamina very quickly — though I assume that improves as you level — and the maps are so tiny that there’s no potential for exploration. It’s so fun to move, but you have few places to go.

Put a movement system like this is a game like Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft, and I could waste countless hours just running, leaping, and gliding around. The environments in Blade and Soul are very pretty — I love the vibrant colors — but they’re terribly claustrophobic, and that sucks some of the fun out.

Your technique is flawed:

There are a lot of things about Blade and Soul that are odd. Not necessarily bad, but odd.

Acquiring and upgrading gear is an unusual process. Sometimes you’ll get items normally as drops or as quest rewards, but other times you’ll get tokens to use at gambling terminals for random items.

A kung fu master character in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

Once you get an item, it needs to be “unsealed” by a special item before you can wield it. It smells like a monetization scheme, but to be fair, I always had plenty of unsealing charms just by playing the game.

On the whole, Blade and Soul’s cash shop was a fair bit less heavy-handed than I expected. I’ve definitely seen better free to play implementations —¬† there’s still some exchange of cash for power here — but on the whole it’s not half bad.

Back to the oddities of gearing, some items can be upgraded, essentially leveling with you, by sacrificing similar items and/or special upgrade tokens. In theory, I love this. I’ve always felt MMOs treat gear as entirely too disposable, and I’m thrilled by the idea that the weapon I started the game with could stick with me through leveling and into endgame.

The implementation is imperfect, though. Upgrading past certain points requires very specific items, and getting a hold of the exact item you need can be a real headache. It’s not an insurmountable challenge, but it’s more trouble than it needs to be, and it erases the value of item upgrading as an insurance against bad luck.

Similarly, Blade and Soul’s daily log-in rewards are a strange beast. Rather than specific rewards for each, you progress down a gameboard, unlocking goodies as you go. There’s no real gameplay, though — your progress is entirely random. It’s nicely flashy, but I think it’d get old fast. I’d rather just have clearly defined rewards, myself.

Moving on to multiplayer content, I did not find dungeons in Blade and Soul a terribly pleasant experience.

The Daily Dash "game" in the free to play martial arts MMORPG Blade and Soul

Blade and Soul lacks the traditional trinity of group roles, but it’s not clear from the perspective of a new player what, if anything, replaces it, and I found the dungeon runs I participated in to be mindless, rushed zergs.

Blade and Soul also requires players to bid on item drops in an auction against the rest of the party, which wins the award for the absolute worst loot distribution scheme I’ve ever seen. It’s all the fun of having to pay for loot you’ve already earned plus the social tension of competing against your allies.

PvP is a bit more interesting, though still a bit rough.

Blade and Soul is the only MMO I’ve seen that focuses its PvP on one-versus-one competition. Lots of games have duels, but it’s always some irrelevant side feature. Here, it’s the main course.

Levels and stats are also normalized in PvP, making it entirely skill-based. However, it does suffer from a common problem of MMO PvP: an excess of crowd control. I spent entirely too much time in each duel stunned, rooted, and otherwise not able to fight back.

On the whole, Blade and Soul’s PvP matches are incredibly intense, frenetic, and challenging. I can see some players adoring them, and others being totally frustrated. I fell closer to the latter category myself, but I do admire them for doing something different.

Is it worth it?

To be honest, I was disappointed by Blade and Soul. It’s mechanically solid, but a lot of odd decisions and underdeveloped areas make it feel somewhat flat, and even the strong combat isn’t enough to make it a memorable title, in my view. Yes, the combat is very good, but these days MMOs with good combat are much more common than they used to be, and Blade and Soul’s combat isn’t that far ahead of, say, Skyforge‘s or Neverwinter‘s.

Still, it’s probably worth a look if you’re hungry for some challenging one-on-one PvP or you’re a big fan of cheesy kung fu movies.


Six MMOs to Watch in 2016

A new year — and a shiny new site — are upon us, and now is the perfect time to take a look at what 2016 will offer for MMO gamers everywhere. Today, we’ll be covering the titles most worthy of your attention in the coming year, from exciting new entries in the genre to old favorites with interesting new developments coming down the pipe.

Blade and Soul:

Blade and Soul fight

North American MMO players have had a long wait to get their hands on this title, which has been live in Korea for some time, but after years of waiting, Blade and Soul is finally on its way to the West.

This free to play wuxia-themed MMO promises combo-focused action combat inspired by fighting games, stylized graphics, and competitve one-on-one PvP .

It looks like a pretty exciting title, but Korean games do have a somewhat mixed history in the West, and Blade and Soul’s North American release was delayed long enough that some of the initial hype has died down. We’ll have to wait and see how it does when it launches on January 19th.

If nothing else, the martial arts theme does offer a welcome break from the Tolkien-inspired fantasy settings that have long dominated the Western market.

World of Warcraft:

WoW Legion Suramar previewWorld of Warcraft has had a pretty rough go of things lately. The Warlords of Draenor expansion has been harshly criticized for a lack of content, a bizarre storyline, and several questionable design decisions, such as attempting to disable flying mounts in all new content.

As a result, WoW lost nearly half its players in six months, and subscriber counts are now lower than they have been since before the launch of the first expansion nearly ten years ago.

But even vastly diminished from its once dizzying heights, WoW remains the largest pay to play MMO on the market by a significant margin, and Blizzard isn’t taking its decline lying down.

Later this year, WoW is set to launch its Legion expansion, bringing a return of the Warcraft universe’s most iconic threat, the Burning Legion, and at last adding the oft-requested demon hunter class.

Even if it’s not the titan it once was, WoW remains a pillar of the MMO genre, and if Legion does well, we could perhaps see it reclaim some of its former glory.

Star Citizen:

star-citizenThe MMO community loves controversy, and at this point, Star Citizen may have taken the crown for most controversial title in the industry.

Depending on who you ask, the sci-fi MMO is either a promising new space sim, a messianic savior coming to deliver the MMO genre from publisher-mandated mediocrity, the poster child for feature creep and unrealistic ambition, or a shameless scam to harvest cash from gullible gamers without ever delivering a finished product.

No matter what perspective you take, Star Citizen is a fascinating game to watch, and even if it doesn’t launch this year — or at all — it’s already providing endless entertainment. Some of the best PvP around can be found in discussions over the crowdfunded title.

Black Desert:

Black_Desert_SceneBlack Desert is an ambitious new buy to play sandbox from Korean developer Pearl Abyss. Already launched in Asia, Black Desert is hoping to launch in North America sometime this year.

Some of Black Desert’s selling features include frenetic action combat, a dynamic weather system that impacts gameplay, gorgeous graphics, extensive support for player housing, a conversation mini-game with NPCs, and deep crafting and trading systems.

Black Desert is another Eastern game that has long been anticipated in the West, and in a lot of ways, its story echoes that of ArcheAge. Both ambitious, visually spectacular Korean sandboxes hoping to find a following in North America.

ArcheAge has suffered more than a few setbacks and controversies — from server instability to questionable cash shop practices — so a lot of the hopes that once rested on it have now been placed squarely on Black Desert’s shoulders. Will it live up to the hype, or fizzle as did ArcheAge? Only time will tell.

Star Wars: The Old Republic:

SWTOR agent 5Star Wars: The Old Republic went through some big changes in 2015. With the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion, Bioware radically changed the game’s leveling path, along with a number of other systems, to put the focus squarely on the main storyline, rather than the side quests and other filler content that garnered the game much criticism.

Meanwhile, Knights of the Fallen Empire’s new content has thus far focused almost entirely on single-player story content, and that doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon.

This change in direction is very gutsy, and it puts the focus squarely on Bioware’s strengths — namely personal story — but these changes also amount to an attempt to excise much of the MMO elements from SW:TOR, and that has garnered criticism from some players.

2016 is the year where we’ll learn whether Bioware’s gamble has paid off. It will be very interesting to see if SW:TOR continues this focus on solo story, or backtracks towards a more traditional MMO content model.

EverQuest Next:

EverQuest-Next-Screens-Player-CharacterThe third entry in the EverQuest franchise made a big splash when it was first announced a few years ago with its promises of adaptive NPC AI, unlimited multi-classing, a reboot of EverQuest lore, and a voxel-based world to shape or destroy as you see fit. But since then, there hasn’t been much news. EQN’s spin-off/test bed, Landmark, has languished in early access for some time, while news on EQN itself has been scarce.

A lot of fans have grown concerned, fearing that EverQuest Next will never see the light of day. But Daybreak Games insists work on the title is ongoing, and with Landmark theoretically nearing completion, their focus should now shift to EQN.

2016 is the year we’ll see what Daybreak has been cooking up all this time, and whether EverQuest Next is the transformative game it was thought to be when it was first announced.