When the song “Kung-Fu Fighting” comes on, I can’t help but wonder to myself “Was everybody really kung-fu fighting? And even if – in that one shining, fast-as-lightning moment – they were, are they still? Or have they moved on with their lives, back to the hum-drum doldrums of day-to-day drudgery?” It’s a sobering line of thought, to be sure. Now, though, there’s finally hope. NCSoft is offering everybody the chance to resume their dazzlingly graceful fisticuffs for the rest of eternity (or until it pulls the plug on servers, at least) with Blade & Soul, its “wildly successful Asian martial arts fantasy MMO.” How wild? So wild.
So, what’s it like? Well, NCSoft’s page goes to great lengths to reassure us that this isn’t Just Another MMO, but kind of fails to explain precisely why we should believe it. Here’s the official FAQ answer to that very issue:
“Unlike other Asian fantasy MMOs which often imitate Western concepts of fantasy, Blade & Soul draws upon the deep and fascinating mythology of a myriad of Asian cultures, which promises to bring Western players a completely new experience rich with intrigue, mysticism, and high-flying martial arts.
“In the words of Art Director Hyung-Tae Kim: ‘Blade & Soul goes much further to infuse users’ experiences and growth – the people they meet and the situations they encounter while playing the game – which we feel ties in much closer to the genre.'”
Which means… wait, what? More importantly, though, the class roster seems worrisomely traditional, featuring seemingly standard roles (rogue, spellcaster, warrior, and only one hand-to-hand fighter) – but with thematically appropriate names. However, NCSoft is adamant that this one won’t be another monotonous grind climb up slog mountain (“I assure you, Blade & Soul will never run out of content to keep players engaged in the game. This game will not be a repetitive grindfest,” says its executive producer), and it’s working on “aggressively tailoring the title for Western players.”
And then there’s this combo video I found while hunting for screenshots, which paints the combat, at least, in a far more impressive light.
At this point, though, who really knows? Blade & Soul could very well hold its own in a monstrously crowded MMO arena, or it could get trampled right out the gate. Tera, for instance, heralded from the Korean school of MMO design, but its combat was definitely a cut above, and questing – while tediously traditional – was pretty speedy. That said, it also hasn’t been doing so hot lately. At this point, unfortunately, all we really have to go on for Blade & Soul is NCSoft’s word. Given, however, that it tends to enjoy that whole “making money” thing, I suspect it might be a teensy bit biased.
Update: I asked NCSoft about whether Blade & Soul would be subscription-based or free-to-play. Unfortunately, it’s “not announcing details on other aspects of the game at the moment.”