With the maelstrom of news about the initial launch of Bless Online being mostly negative, it was pretty tough for me going into this Bless Online early access preview to not have that in the back of my mind. That said, I asked myself to do the same and approached the game with what I feel was a pretty open mind.
Having come through the other side of my time in Bless, I can say that there is the potential of an okay MMO hiding underneath the layers of clumsy launch noise. More or less.
While the game’s first few days landing with a wet thud as a result of server and connection problems isn’t exactly new to MMO players, the other problems of Bless Online’s early access are definitely immediately apparent. The game doesn’t seem to be terribly well optimized and it has more than a couple questionable translation and localization issues. These matters can be ironed out, but there are a few things that are in the game that potentially no amount of time can fix.
For one thing, Bless has a couple of very odd UI elements to it, such as the one that loads skills onto your hotbar; instead of having you drag and drop them into place, you have to click the skill in question and then click a button to specifically equip the skill into the empty hotbar slot. Hardly a dealbreaker, to be fair, but just one illustration of a few odd design choices in the game, like the game’s mount and familiar system that sounded neat on paper but ended up being clunky and awkward.
Above and beyond all of these small complaints, one of the more prevalent problems I had with Bless is the question of uniqueness. At the brass tacks level, Bless Online is your rote, standard, hub-to-hub MMO where you roam around the land, picking up the shopping lists of random NPCs to advance your character level and the game’s story. If people were hoping Bless would shake up the paradigm, then they must have truly been underwhelmed.
This, of course, would have been pretty easy to ignore if the game’s plot was interesting at all, and though my Pantera’s story got off to a unique enough start, the more interesting hook of the opening area was pretty much tossed aside in rather short order.
Combat, too, starts off with a neat enough hook but begins to deflate over time. Every fight starts off by hitting one of three opening attacks. From there, you have a choice of three different linking strikes that leads you through a three ability-long chain that offers bonuses and benefits. In theory, it’s an interesting enough hook, but in practice it begins to feel a bit toothless. For now, anyway.
For what it’s worth, combat does have the right level of grunt to it. Much like a game like Black Desert Online, the animations of my Berserker’s attacks as she cleaved into enemies was particularly satisfying purely from a visual standpoint. That, however, wasn’t really enough for me to want to see more…particularly since a couple of her attack skills pretty much looked the same animation-wise.
Perhaps that’s because there’s only so many ways one can swing an axe. That said, I’ve played a Warrior in Final Fantasy XIV and a Berserker in TERA enough to know that isn’t entirely true.
I’d be remiss about talking combat if I didn’t bring up the dev team’s current stirring of the soup here. At the interim, when I started playing, I got to a skill chain that essentially killed enemies in about two strikes. After a version update, however, my brutalizing axe suddenly felt like it was made of soft sponge cake.
It wasn’t until I started taking a harder look at the brow-crinkling confusion of the ability tooltips that I discovered there’s a system that lets you ramp up a skill’s damage output by spending gems you earn every level. This was a literal game-changer for me and was a system that was just not explained as I played, as suddenly my skills had a bit more bite to them once more.
And that, really, is one of the best examples of what Bless Online is doing right now. For better or for worse, this game is very much under construction. It will lean on the crutch of its early access label as hard as it possibly can, likely reminding folks that it’s in ongoing development and that things are going to be dodgy in most of its communication to fans.
At the heart of the problem with Bless, then, is the fact that it feels woefully incomplete regardless of the caveat of being a game in active development. Whether it was rushed out the door to get a return on investment ASAP or was kicked out early because there was a lot of eagerness from Western players is not really up for me to say, but it’s very clear that Bless Online was pushed out too soon.
It’s already been made apparent that the road to this point for Bless Online has been a pockmarked one and all indicators are that Bless Online will simply be just below average after the game has had enough time to bake in the oven. That said, I would like to be proven wrong and still hope that things can shift towards the better. Because, genuinely, there are a couple of things that Bless does well. Not uniquely, but competently. Which I, personally, don’t take umbrage to. I’m a fan of a shallow but fun “junk food MMO” time and again.
As it stands right now, though, Bless Online just is not in a good place. Even mentally divorced from the throes of a rough launch, this game is painfully not worth its asking price. I do hope that, given time and enough updates, it will become a good MMO and I hope to revisit Bless later down the line. The game is very striking visually, and once the team decides that balance is in a more suitable place combat could be interesting enough – a process that they’re already apparently working on. Until that time, though, it’s best that players keep away.Related: Bless, Bless Online, Early Access, MMORPG, Preview, Steam Early Access