Blade & Soul Comes to the West

We spoke with NCSoft's Coutant & Dariani about Blade & Soul's western release.

Released in South Korea back in 2013 and since expanded to Asia, Taiwan and Japan, Blade & Soul, developed by Team Bloodlust, is an action-based martial arts wuxia MMO, with its gameplay, business model and more adapted to its respective territory. Since its release, NCSoft has received petitions, emails, PMs and more from western players wanting to be able to play the game. Today it has been announced that Blade & Soul will be coming to both North America and Europe this winter.

We spoke with Blade & Soul Producer Nicolas Coutant and NCSoft Community Director Omeed Dariani earlier this week about the game and its readiness for a western audience.

Currently in its pre-alpha internal testing phase, Blade & Soul's closed beta will launch this fall with the commercial release following in the winter. The game will be free-to-play at launch, and while NCSoft isn't going into fine details about its business model yet, Omeed commented that they want avoid gating content so players won't be separately by an "arbitrary paywall".

When creating your character, you'll choose between four races and six classes. Omeed explained the difficulty gauge for the classes, which is rated based on how reactive the class is in the long-run (the more reactive, the harder it will be). The character creation tool has a plethora of options, giving a huge variety of choice and variance to give you a unique appearance. "This is really, really powerful.. you could spend hours just creating your character," Nicolas commented.

In Blade & Soul you'll be immersed in action-based combat, where tab-targeting is non-existent and, depending on your class, you'll have various combo moves and circumstantial abilities at your employ. The hotbars are minimalistic, and players will find themselves using several reactives and other moves throughout their gameplay. There is not a specific healing class; instead, each class is encouraged to participate because they all have a bit of healing they can contribute to the party.

Nicolas demonstrated some of the Blademaster's reactives and combos, showing off the fast-paced action that we can expect from Blade & Soul's combat system. "Every class plays very differently," Nicolas told us. "We really want you to be thinking about what your next move is, rather than looking for cooldowns," Omeed added.

The story is the heart of the game, currently clocking in at over three million words, and the NCSoft team aims to ensure that it is in its best form for the western release. "This MMO is like a love letter to the genre," Omeed explained. "Tons of references and tropes, inside jokes and things people will recognize."

The cut scenes, which provide a narrative for the player's leveling progress, are completely localized and voiced over. NC Soft has spent a lot of time in localization so that the story remains meaningful. At launch, there will be three acts of the story available; in Asia there is already six acts with more in development, so that means content will continue to flow for western players.

Verticality is huge in Blade & Soul, with the windwalking ability playing into it. Players will be gliding across the land to engage in content found in the lower reaches, then taking one of many Dragon Streams that aids in fast travel to return to the upper reaches. Each Dragon Stream has its own unique animation, giving a flavorful flair to the mechanic.

Instead of vendor trashing weapons you pick up in the game, you can "feed" them to your main weapon, evolving its power. "In wuxia, your weapon is part of the legend," Omeed explained. "What's more epic than killing your ancient enemy, taking his weapon, and feeding it to your weapon? It becomes part of your story."

Nicolas then showed us the armor system, which is called a soul shield. Regardless of which armor pieces you have in your soul shield, your character's armor appearance is instead dictated by the costume pieces you are using. A wardrobe feature allows for costume storage, so that you only need to carry around appearance pieces you want to currently use while stashing the rest. Costume pieces are normally obtained via quests or dungeons.

The game will launch existing systems such as cross-server dungeons. Its PvP mechanic is handled quite well, with open world PvP toggled on or off depending on whether or not you're wearing your faction's outfit. Not only does this easily allow players to opt in or out of PvP combat, but it also lends an immersive visual feel by utilizing the costume mechanic in this way.

"You can play through the full game without having to PvP at all, it's really optional," Nicolas commented, "but it's so cool that you'll really want to try it out." He explained that you can change factions, and Omeed added that there are story factions as well, adding to the complexity of the system.

We were able to go hands-on with Blade & Soul as well, and the game feels pretty solid in its pre-alpha state. The tutorial is clear-cut, combat was definitely frenetic and action-oriented, and the two classes we tried out were quite varied in their gameplay. We played through the intro story which is compelling to watch... but yes, you can skip the various cut scenes if you'd rather get straight into the action.

We expect to learn more about Blade & Soul's upcoming western release at next month's E3. Be sure to tune in to the game's first livestream on Thursday, May 21st at 10am PT.

Thanks to Nicolas Coutant and Omeed Dariani for taking the time to speak with us!

Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor


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