Bless Online is a highly anticipated high fantasy MMORPG that enters its third iteration with a Steam early access release after two separate launches on the eastern markets. And with the competitors churning out expansions to extend their existing games, the MMO audience seems ripe and ready for a new(ish) triple-A game in the genre.
Unfortunately, Bless falls to live up to massive expectations, falling victim to the starved market, the hype and most importantly, the sub-par quality, even for an early access release. With the developer claiming the game is 70% finished, after playing it, we can't help but feel that this number is actually much lower. Let's break down why that is.
Bless Online is available for purchase at Steam.
[Bless Online] Steam Early Access Launch Trailer
MMO's are usually not what you would call a pinnacle of storytelling and only the likes of Elder Scrolls Online have in the past only marginally kept the player's interest for hours upon hours that you are expected to play. Bless is no different in this regard, featuring a story that's as cookie cutter as they get. It seems rather interesting at first with a surprising amount of cutscenes but it won't take long before you start clicking away at inconsequential dialogue choices that are offered by bland NPC's.
Some of the lore stuff can also be pretty interesting, but it's buried underneath an uninteresting questing system with generic characters embroiled in a story of an empire facing rebellion and all that. Some of the in-game cutscenes are very well realized and the quest markers and waypoints at least make it easy for you to follow and go where you need to go to complete them.
Much has been said about the improvements to gameplay in the western release, especially when it comes to combat which was supposed to be completely revamped. Other than that, the amount of content that is featured in the Japanese version of the game had us believe that it would be transferred here to give us a fair amount of things to go through before and after hitting the lvl. cap. sadly current state of Steam release is severely lacking.
The current version of Bless Online ships with 5 playable classes and that is your first choice when creating a character. The Berserker, the paladin, mage, ranger, and guardian with some of them being gender and race locked. There are also the assassin and the mystic which are currently not playable, to be implemented at a later date. You pick one of two factions, Hieron or Union, and all your future characters will have to belong to that faction. Races on offer are your standard humans and elves and a bit more unique, Mascu, Lupus, and Pantera. All in all, the choices here are fairly standard but needlessly limiting in terms of gender, classes, and factions.
The creator itself, in contrast, offers a lot of options and freedom when molding your character appearance. Numerous face sliders, hair options and even "pull character limb to extend" option. All in all, it's fairly easy to make a good-looking character to call your own.
The world and combat
Bless Online has at least one thing going for it, the size and diversity of the persistent world. Different biomes with appropriate architecture, wildlife, and enemies dot the landscape and some open areas would be seriously impressive in scope were they not dragged down by poor performance, but more on that later. A great thing about the diverse lineup of enemies is that they are fully implemented into the mount and pet system. This means that Bless can sometimes evoke the Pokemon feels as you can tame more than 600 different creatures that each comes with different buffs, traversal options and more. This was very well done and exploring the different creatures can be a lot of fun.
Much has been said about the combat pre-release. Eastern iterations of Bless received much criticism due to combat feeling very static and boring so the Steam release was supposed to be a bit more dynamic and action-oriented. Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag and you'll either love it or hate it. How much you'll enjoy it largely depends on your class of choice. Developers call it "rhythmic combat" and it's a strange action/tab targeting hybrid with heavy reliance on combos. What this means is that once you use a skill and your character enters the animation to perform it, you get 2-3 contextual buttons that you can press in order to continue along the combo chain to sustain the attack.
While my first impression was very bad, as I continued to play, I got into the groove of it and even managed to enjoy it. The Berserker was my first class of choice and I found the system really slow. Attack animations often lock you in place and you can't switch up your combo mid-animation. Once switching to a ranger class, the combat felt faster and a bit more dynamic as I could move more freely while attacking from a distance. This was an ironic twist as the Berserker is currently the only class to feature more action-oriented combat, probably to the disappointment of many players with action combat still being refined for other classes.
Berserker or no, the entire system lacks options as combo chains are fairly linear and transitions between different skills are lengthy. This makes the system often feel more like traditional tab targeting than fast action as it was often portrayed during pre-release. It's certainly not as flashy with most skills lacking any sort of visual flair or uniqueness to make them stand out among the competition.
Balancing and PVP
Right from the get-go, the classes, guilds and the economy were very unbalanced. Since then, Bless has received multiple patches that address this along with damage output and end-game content. These patches showcased that Neowiz, while transparent is not in tune with the player base who they use as the first line of testing for these changes.
For instance, a patch reduced damage output of all classes by nearly 70% which unbalanced dungeons and made the sometimes slow combat feel even slower as well as more grindy. Such a huge drop is equivalent to XP throttling and is something that should have been heavily tested and consulted with the community. Also, the economic system is easily exploited and downright broken with tutorials on how to basically cheat the system poping around the internet with little to no consequences for the ones doing it.
While balancing is all over the place, the PVP aspect can be enjoyable when the stars align but even then, not without problems. Instanced PVP has a daily limit which runs on a strict schedule so you can't exactly do it at any time you want. Team dynamics are poorly implemented and you'll get no such thing as a rock-paper-scissors system in terms of classes. In a game that heavily focuses on PVP, balancing is everything and these things need to be addressed urgently if Bless means to keep any semblance of relevancy.
Also, in PVE after clearing dungeons, sometimes you get no drops and since the damage reduction, they've become extremely unbalanced, difficult and grindy, making end-game feel extremely sluggish and unrewarding.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Visuals and performance
When it comes to visuals in an MMO you usually don't expect much due to the sheer scope of the game and the fact that numerous players with different system specs will be populating the same world. Most of the time, developers opt for the optimization route rather than an eye candy one and this should have been a number one priority for the developers here. Unfortunately, it wasn't.
Bless runs on Unreal Engine 3 and looks the part of a standard high fantasy MMO with nothing in its visuals really standing out. Character models received the most care in this department. The environments on the other hand look washed out, uninspired and empty – especially when you deviate from main roads. This is even with the fact that player avatars populate the game and they are the most dynamic part of this otherwise static world. The game is also plagued by numerous bugs, heavy pop-in, and hilarious character animation freezes.
It's not uncommon that worlds in MMO games to be huge and for the developers to have difficulties in filling them up with visually interesting things. While a world that's on the bland side could be excused somewhat, the awful performance that plagues Bless can't. We tested the game on an I7 processor with a Nvidia 1080ti and the results were abysmal. Not only does it take a couple of minutes for all the assets to load even after you start playing (at which point you've already sat through one lengthy loading screen) during which you get around 20FPS, the improvement is only marginal once they do.
Most of the time the framerate would hover in the 60-40 FPS range and would take a nose dive whenever anything of note would occur on the screen or you bring up any element of the UI. When on the topic of the user interface, while it is clear and easy to use, the main problem is the lack of customization. UI takes a large portion of the screen and not a single element can be resized. You can hide it to take screenshots and you'll be surprised at how positive of an effect it has on the overall visuals. (see screenshot above)
The poor performance holds the game back immensely as it would otherwise be a fairly standard, even a half-enjoyable experience as far as MMO's go. It's safe to say that if you own a low to mid-end PC, the game is going to be downright unplayable at times.
Sound and music
Music in Bless is filled with your usual orchestral fantasy tracks. Some of them do stand out, especially the main theme. Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe really lend their talent here and you can hear that the music is a step above of what MMO's usually have to offer.
The general sound design is also well made, each biome comes with its own set of appropriate environmental and background sounds so it's never eerily quiet while you go about your business. Combat effects are also up to par with each combo progression sounding more intense and impactful. Voice acting, on the other hand, is serviceable at best. It goes hand in hand with the bland and uninteresting characters which play their stereotype to the letter.
For the purpose of being thorough, we even playtested the Japnese version of the game which featured better performance, all classes, and full endgame content. This makes it all the more baffling that segments of the game that aren't being reworked don't make an appearance in the western version. There's also the fact that in many areas Neowiz just didn't learn from their own mistakes which makes every problem of Steam release even more mindboggling.
The developers, however, do seem to support the game and are fairly responsive to feedback. Patches have begun to roll out with goals to improve performance, fix localization issues, and balance the game out a bit.
Despite combat being half enjoyable and this being a big, promising world I can't recommend Bless Online as it is now. Especially not when the competition does so many things so much better. If you do decide to give it a go, keep your expectations in check as it is an early access game that is going to need a lot more time in the oven to reach a satisfying level of polish and enjoyment.
|+ Big persistent world||– Abysmal performance|
|+ Character customization||– Lack of endgame content|
|+ Pet and mount system||– The combat|
|+ The combat||– Poor localization and untested patches|