Bless Online launched on Steam for free the other day to exactly zero fanfare, as far as I can tell. Certainly nobody mentioned it on Twitter or in the blogosphere. I had to use my feed reader’s search feature to find the announcement on MassivelyOP.
I’m a big fan of free trials when it comes to MMORPGs, and very rarely have I ever spent money on one without trying it out in some way first. (Not counting the old days when you had no choice. Let’s say I haven’t played without a trial since 2006.) So now that it would cost me nothing but time, I finally downloaded Bless Online, installed it, and gave it a shot.
In summary, it’s exactly what all the reports have suggested it would be: Average.
The most memorable thing about my first 53 minutes in the game was my utter disbelief at how poorly the voiceovers had been recorded. Or compressed. Or something. They sound like 10khz, 8-bit files… almost as if they intended for this to be a mobile game. Or maybe they recycled the files from some old Amiga game in the 90s. It was extremely jarring.
Other than that, there really isn’t much of anything memorable about the experience. Throw a dart and you can hit seven other Asian games from the last five years that are basically identical. I can’t think of anything that distinguishes this game from any other. At least, not at the beginning. (And my philosophy is that if the beginning isn’t fun, there’s no point in playing to the end game, which is almost always less fun.)
However one distinguishing feature might be the baffling interface. I spent a good eight minutes (video evidence available upon request) puzzling over the instruction to “Place the Mixed Element Tactic Combat Stance in the empty slot on the Chain Skill tab” in the Tactics window. And then I did it wrong so I had to spend another three minutes fixing it. This was right at the beginning of the game mind you. I don’t even think Black Desert Online was so confusing at the start, and that’s saying something. If you’re also confused in this step, the best advice I can give is that the interface does not give you any hints about what you’re supposed to do, or whether you’ve done it or not, so just keep clicking on stuff. :)
I’m trying to think of something positive to say about my first hour. I hate that I’m always ranting and raving about how terrible games are all the time. This would be a situation where I should just stay quiet and let people enjoy the game, except if I don’t write it down then I would never remember what I thought.
Here’s something: Once I got past the awful tutorial stuff at the very beginning, and got into the “racial starting zone” story, I was at least mildly interested in following along with the story. The thing that I like about long-form story arc chains in MMORPGs, as opposed to each NPC having a different little one-off side quest, is that it at least gives me an incentive to run to each new NPC. There is a feeling of revealing a picture a little bit at a time, which is fun for me. I found myself wondering about the world behind this game as I listened to the terribly-recorded voiceovers, which is generally a good sign. So it’s possible that I could stay engaged with the story, if nothing else.
That being said, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before. Basically they took all the words and concepts and ideas from every other high fantasy ever, shuffled them up a little, and there’s your game.
One big problem I’ve noticed lately with getting older is the terrible realization that 90% of everything you encounter is just a repeat of something you’ve seen before. Many times. But if you’ve never seen a Tree of Life in a story before, or seen Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies, it might be fresh and interesting for you.
The voice acting was competent, about the level of Elder Scrolls Online. By which I mean it was spoken with good diction and tone and breath control. But as with ESO, there wasn’t much passion or interest behind it. More like radio voiceover artists as opposed to voice actors, if you know what I mean. And I already mentioned that the technical quality of the recordings is very poor. I can’t even explain how they could have managed to make them sound so poor, unless they literally recorded them over Skype or a cell phone call. Which unfortunately speaks volumes about the Neowiz development process and attention to detail.
As far as the look of the characters and animations and settings and so forth, it looks a lot like ArcheAge. A lot like ArcheAge. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but again, I’ve seen it before. In ArcheAge. I encountered some significant lagging and stuttering and glitching in the Bless Online graphics now and then, which I did not encounter in ArcheAge.
I found the UI fairly cluttered. And I mentioned the confusing parts up above. As far as the look of the UI (fonts and layout) it’s very reminiscent of Black Desert Online.
I think I can sum up Bless Online by saying “it’s okay.” However after playing games this long I’m just not excited about games that are just “okay.” I want to be amazed and delighted and surprised, and Bless Online just isn’t that. It’s no wonder people who went into this game expecting The Second Coming were very disappointed. It won’t be winning my MMORPG of the Year award.
But hey, it’s free, and maybe worth playing to occupy your hands while your mind and eyes are busy watching something on Netflix. I wouldn’t recommend getting too invested in it though. :)
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