Blade & Soul, the martial arts MMORPG from NCSoft, is coming to the small screen with the imminent launch of Blade & Soul Revolution. Here’s what happened when we got back to chasing down Jinsoyun while on the go.
I can still remember back in 2012 when NCSoft brought Blade & Soul westward. This visual treat brought a new flavour to a genre stuck in something of a fantasy rut. Using wuxia storytelling concepts and combat mechanics that broke the skill bar, it shook up the traditional MMO experience. Now, Netmarble and NCSoft are set to re-run this gauntlet all over again with the release of Blade & Soul Revolution on iOS and Android. While it’s not quite here yet and the final build is still under development, we were lucky enough to pick up our sword and get some time at the Hongmoon school, before things ultimately go sideways for pupils of this ancient establishment.
A Blast From The past
While This new collaboration from NCSoft and Netmarble comes with the same Revolution denomination as 2016’s Lineage 2 Revolution, it is far from the same sort of reimagining. As we discussed with Hyun Jin Jang, Blade & Soul Revolution Development Lead, Blade & Soul Revolution is close to a wholesale port of the original 2012 Balde & Soul, shrunk down onto small screens.
Waking back in the Hongmoon school after years away is certainly something of a throwback for anybody who has already played through the big screen original. Just as before, you’ll find the same unsuspecting pupils rushing around their day at the start of this encounter. Narratively nothing much has changed for the jump down to mobile, meaning that Jinsoyun and her compatriots are still set to burn your beloved school to the ground and the same single minded tale of revenge will unfold just as many of us remember it. What’s more impressive is the same familiar look also remains almost untouched.
Character creation is by far the earliest representation of impressive presentation. 4 Races (Jin, Yun, Gon, Lyn) and 5 Classes (Blade Master, Kung Fu Master, Destroyer, Force Master, Summoner) are available on launch, all presenting a different way to play. Just like before, however, classes do still come race and gender locked. While it’s unfortunate that this still stayed in place, I’m sure that the argument will be made that it’s in the name of authenticity and if you want to play a Summoner then be prepared to roll a Lyn once again. On the plus side, Blade & Soul Revolution does a great job at rehashing the original character creator, without losing players in a myriad of available options. Blade & Soul’s desktop version has millions of potential combinations and after experiencing Black Desert Mobile’s incredibly in depth avatar system, I feel like the balance of pre-sets and sliders in Blade & Soul revolution makes sense. Plenty of variables are available when crafting a character, including more than 20 hairstyles, a similar number of face pre-sets, and several pages of sliders for body type. There’s a seeming lack of facial nuance on offer and while I will continue to complain about this every time I encounter, Blade & Soul certainly doesn’t stop players from putting together a unique new warrior.
This successful port of the established Blade & Soul aesthetic is in many ways crucial to Blade & Soul Revolution and its combat system. Taking the decision to stick with the mix of free form combat and skill based combos that make the Blade & Soul franchise so unique, Netmarble brings players right down into the fight. The twitchy real time reactions required to block, parry, and sidestep enemy attention all remain meaning that getting gud actually requires your attention. Running around AFK will only get you so far in Blade & Soul Revolution as you get close to the action and ditch the top down ARPG camera controls. The result is an action oriented mobile experience that requires the same foresight, planning, and swift reactions as the original making Blade & Soul instantly feel like a considered port of the source material.
While great looking mobile RPGs are commonplace now, very few manage to translate the look at feel of a big screen title without taking a few shortcuts. Games like Lineage 2 Revolution and Still Alive might look shiny and new from a distance but get up close and personal and the limitations of mobile processing become extremely evident. Blade & Soul Revolution, however, manages a truly authentic visual reproduction of the desktop original, with character models that seem to be torn out of the 2012 original and look fantastic on six inches of IPS display. The decision to keep combat almost untouched from the first Blade & Soul is noticeably enhanced by this, giving players blowing out particle effects and clashing swords a realistic opportunity to identify a when to block or simply get out of the way before the axe falls.
Take a tour of the various dungeons and environments early on in Blade & Soul Revolution and it becomes evident very that this praise also extends to almost all the visuals in game. While performance may vary from device to device NPCs I cut down seemed fluid and well defined, environments we’re crystal clear, and the Snapdragon 765 inside my Motorola G 5G rarely ever did anything but slice through encounters with ease.
Change With The Times
While visual changes are few and far between, putting Blade & Soul Revolution on iOS and Android screens makes the traditional weapon of any keyboard warrior largely irrelevant. Control systems are inevitably nothing like you might remember, and for any mobile veterans still instantly recognisable. Placing player movement firmly in the bottom of the screen, where a virtual analog stick takes over from WASD, Blade & Soul Revolution falls back on a UI that takes plenty of inspiration from similar mobile games. Opposite the basic movement controls, a skill wheel is snuggled into the bottom right corner of the screen. While navigating the massive world on offer, this skill wheel provides players with extra movement mechanics including the stylish and speedy windwalk. Run into trouble and this changes, exposing a basic attack, two dodge skills and a set of four active combat skills.
Fans of Blade & Soul might remember that NCSoft’s blend of beat ‘em up style combos use a dynamic skill bar that allows players to chain skills together and form devastating attacks. Netmarble follows suit this time around with a skill wheel. Rather than swipe left or right to rotate through available options, however, players will find that skill icons automatically change, presenting the next step in a pre-set sequence of attacks. This dynamic UI is editable, allowing warriors to level up these attack forms, choose alternative options, or rearrange the way chained skills are utilized.
In building up this form of combo system, Blade & Soul Revolution retains a flow and ferocity that sets it apart from side scrolling AFK engagements. While the game can play itself if you’re looking to AFK, this mix of free form combat rewards active engagement, allowing skilled swordsmiths and conjurers to anticipate and react rather than just blindly tanks and spank while working on yet another review. In short, Blade & Soul Revolution’s control systems actively engage anybody looking to level up and take on many of the challenges that are on offer.
Dungeons, Dailies, And Log In Bonuses
Beyond the Black Ram pirates and Bamboo Village, that make up early encounters, Blade & Soul Revolution’s core adventure still follows a well-trodden path. The main quest line unfolds across a number of open-world areas that are peppered with enemies and the odd filed boss, as well as plenty of inter-zone loading screens. These wait times don’t cut too far into the feeling that Blade & Soul is an expansive singular world, rarely taking more than a few seconds and putting my experience on an old physical hard drive to shame. Beyond the not so open hills and desert plains, there is plenty of other instanced content to pick up and play.
Like any MMORPG dungeon encounters are spread across the game providing tons of loot and increasingly varied challenges for anybody taking on this tale of revenge. While many of the basic PvE encounters are simply a test of strength, dungeon bosses, much like field bosses, begin to require some definite care and attention, leaning heavily on the kind of twitchy player performance veterans of this series will be familiar with. Just like the desktop sized variant, dungeons open up as your character progresses and can be tackled with a variety of help. Standard dungeon encounters, unlocked in the dungeon menu, can be taken on with 1-4 players. Later raids allow a maximum of 16 players in one space, and even larger clan dungeons are on offer that drop in up to 50 players at once.
Clan’s aren’t only important for unlocking PvE content. These social systems are incredibly important in Blade & Soul Revolution, and from early indications, there will be plenty of management systems in place so you can meet and greet at the Clan hall or prepare for Clan Wars. This combat focused set of scenarios are battleground affairs that plunge a raid size battlegroup of players against each other in a head to head battle for supremacy. This shouldn’t be confused with Faction War, a PvPvE styled event that pits up to 50 players per side in an all out battle of wits skill, and MOBA styled mechanics.
Without diving too deep into each and every encounter, t’s safe to say that there are plenty of encounters on offer and with each of these, a chance to rank up, add achievements and progress your character. As with any fully featured MMO, Blade & Soul Revolution’s progression system is as varied as it is complex. Standard XP and level systems spin out into skill upgrades, gear, accessories, and other loot drops. These sorts of systems are largely a carryover from 2012 and will require some time and thought. This also encumbers players with a variety of materials, enhancement stones, reforging stones, repair bills, and a ton of RNG enhancement systems that frankly were just as well left behind before the port to mobile.
While I’m not the greatest fan of this spill over from the game’s original design, even if it’s been tweaked for mobile, sticking to the script means Blade and Soul Revolution also inherits a fully formed crafting and marketplace system that should, although I can’t confirm this, provide little to no need for flashing that credit card. I’ve yet to see the in game shop during our access to Blade & Soul so let’s just hope that this works to encourage players to craft the best gear and not gacha.
There are plenty of familiar desktop mechanics bundled into Blade & Soul Revolution and the team behind this port has done an exemplary job of balancing reverence to the source material with more necessary mobile modifications, but free to play monster still rears its head. While I don’t have any monetization details yet, achievements, daily log in loot, and check-ins are in place and eager to keep you clicking through pages of rank up rewards. Thus far, these do seem to be stuffed full of useful loot and local reputation rewards even drop in game stat boosts, so we’re still waiting to see how the free to play systems are integrated into the experience post launch.
We’ve spent around a week in Blade & Soul Revolution, and have found the entire time to be thoroughly refreshing. Nostalgia certainly counts for a great deal and Netmarble has managed to flawlessly drag this big-screen MMO down onto mobiles without carving out its soul. The overall presentation captures everything that made Blade & Soul special when I first tried it out and combat remains fluid and forcefully engaging. Quests are, of course, no different to the original and you might end up skipping the narrative to get to the end game this time around. Still, there’s plenty to be enthused about. Tons of content, fantastic performance across mid range to flagship phones, and the opportunity to play a mobile game that doesn’t just kick back and let you idle your way to victory make Netmarble’s new mobile adventure a fitting tribute to Blade & Soul. You can head over to the official Blade & Soul Revolution website now to find out more and pre register ahead of launch.