While the western market has had its fair share of MMORPGs, there's been one game in the genre that has seen its popularity grow overseas. A martial arts MMORPG called Blade & Soul launched in Korea in mid-2012 and has spread to neighboring nations from there. Japan, Taiwan, and China have since been enjoying the game, where China, in particular, has seen the game's player base grow to 1.5 million people. Now NCSoft is ready to bring the game to western markets, announcing that Blade & Soul will be hitting closed beta in the United States and Europe this fall.
Blade & Soul carries a martial arts theme, set in the age of Wuxia. While that's already a departure from most MMOs out there, NCSoft is looking to go a few steps further to set their game apart. Unlike most conventional MMORPGs, this game carries more of an action-RPG atmosphere. While attacks are bound to hotkeys, as in normal games of this genre, players must react to enemy attacks appropriately, lest they be overwhelmed. Attacks can also be strung together to create combos, with certain attacks bringing up entirely different follow-up options across a number of hotkeys.
The environment is evocative of a fantasy world, albeit something closer to a classic martial arts film. There's an emphasis placed on verticality, with high mountainous regions and towering waterfalls. Each character comes with a gliding ability and an air dash that allows them to traverse the world, while also appreciating the view. To get to higher places, there are fast travel spots called Dragon Streams. Each Dragon Stream comes with its own unique animation that shows characters reaching their destination in flashy style.
Blade & Soul's martial artists can also wield weaponry and find new weapons throughout the game. That would normally lead to the inevitable inventory issue found in many of these games, but NCSoft has found a keen way around that. Unused weaponry can be "fed" to the player's equipped weapon, offering high stat boosts on top of making inventory space. That makes it possible to forage across dungeons for elite weaponry to use or simply to feed it to an older weapon. In fact, NCSoft notes that it's entirely possible to proceed through the game's high-level content with a training sword, as long as it is leveled up with other weapons found over the course of the game.
With Blade & Soul having had a head start in Asian regions, that means there's an ample amount of content to find. The Asian regions currently have six story acts for Blade & Soul. The closed beta will kick off with three of those story acts, with the rest of the content set to trickle in at a later date. NCSoft will also be monitoring closed beta users to determine how the content is consumed, making sure to look out for certain issues, like whether it's too grindy.
Blade & Soul will ship with its fair share of dungeons, with NCSoft making sure that dungeon queues go cross-server. So even if you're in a low-population server, there shouldn't be much trouble in looking for a party to raid one of the game's dungeons. PvP will also be included, with players able to go one-on-one or engage in the open-world… sort of. The game will include special faction-based PvP armor. Anyone that dons this armor can take part in open world PvP at any time. Those players can all engage with one another, while anyone simply looking to enjoy the story peacefully can don the game's other garments and be left alone.
Whether Blade & Soul can reach their heights of popularity in this region that it has in the eastern markets remains to be seen, but it looks to offer enough originality and novel twists on the MMO formula that it could very well be a standout effort. NCSoft will offer a further glimpse at what the game has to offer during a livestream on the game's Twitch channel tomorrow at 10AM PDT. The closed beta is set to begin this fall with sign-ups coming soon. Blade & Soul will be free-to-play on PC.