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Martial Arts Movies and Action MMO Gameplay Come Together In Blade & Soul

A unique premise and combat system make this MMO worth paying attention to.


The massive multiplayer online game market is such an incredibly huge and diverse one. With so many titles to choose from, an MMO absolutely has to do something new or interesting if it hopes to catch the attention of any gamers. For the Korean action MMO Blade & Soul, that something is its unique martial arts-themed world and its combat system.

For the uninitiated, Blade & Soul is an incredibly popular MMO that was initially released only in Korea in 2012 and it garnered even greater success as it launched across China, Japan, and Taiwan. The game's world is steeped in Asian mythology and heavily inspired by Wuxia, a Chinese epic literary style focused on martial arts heroes (i.e. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers). It will be releasing in North America free-to-play this winter.

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Blade & Soul’s premise is simple (and probably familiar to any martial arts film fan): a mysterious antagonist kills your martial arts master and you have to pursue them to find out why. It literally feels like something cut out of a Wuxia film with its grand vengeance-fueled martial arts film premise and its vertical environments filled with Asian architecture. But even if Blade & Soul's story and setting don't draw you in, then its combat might be what grabs your attention.

Blade & Soul's combat system is more akin to action-based MMOs such as TERA and Guild Wars 2. But what differentiates its combat is how much it feels like a full-on action game. When engaged in battle, combat is presented with over-the-top attacks and quick dodges that look like something you'd see out of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. For instance, I got to see a character launch an opponent into the air and then follow up with an air attack flurry that smashed them into the ground. But this action game feel isn't just in its presentation, its also reflected in its gameplay.

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As opposed to other action MMOs, stringing together attacks and abilities in Blade & Soul is much more reliant on precision and reflex rather than just timing and position; you really only have a window of 1-2 seconds in-between moves. Furthermore, the moves you use can only be chained into combos depending on the situation or previous skill you used. So you're not just randomly using powers as their cool downs wear off, you're coordinating a string of attacks and abilities in a specific order to cause the effect you want. This makes combat more contextual and focused on the moment-to-moment than combat systems from other action MMOs.

"We want people to internalize [the combat system] and understand how a character plays," NCsoft community director Omeed Dariani said during my hands-on time. "It’s kind of like a fighting game, because when you start talking about high-level PvP, you can't be looking down at the keyboard or looking down at tool bars, you have to know what your characters do."

My hands-on time with Blade & Soul was very brief so I wasn't able to try the combat system’s more advanced techniques, but from what was shown, the game has the potential to attract players looking for a change of pace from other MMOs.

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But how Blade & Soul will compare to the popularity of other MMOs largely depends on how well it can transition to a Western audience. Typically, Asian MMOs get a bad rap for having way more grinding than Western MMOs, but NCsoft has addressed that they will be reducing this element so players can focus on Blade & Soul’s quest and side-quest content. Additionally, the game's free-to-play model could also be a big issue depending on what content you'll have to pay for.

With its epic Wuxia inspired world and unique combat system, Blade & Soul looks to have a lot to offer players when it launches this winter. While its too early to tell if it can overcome the struggles of transitioning to the West, there is no denying that what's at its base is quite special.

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