Past and Future of Bless Online: Why the Western Release Was Doomed

There was a time, not too long ago, when the prospect of a western release of Neowiz’s Bless Online seemed like a good thing. A very good thing, in fact, considering that we are severely lacking new MMORPGs of undisputed quality. I’m going to take a look at the past, present and future of Bless Online, and I can tell you right away that there are quite a few clouds looming on the horizon. It’s obvious that expectations were set too high, but in no way does this serve as an excuse for the current state of the game, or any game, for that matter.

For some reason, our minds had been tricked into thinking that Bless Online could be the game that we needed to quench our thirst. When the official announcement dropped, it caused quite a stir. Could this be the next big thing?

Future of Bless Online - bless online lupus

Unbeknownst to all but the most attentive player, red flags were raised everywhere. There was something that just didn’t feel quite right about this game – is it as good as we were making it out to be? It’s a mystery how the hype surrounding Bless Online managed to remain incredibly high and squander all suspicions, right up until the day that this MMORPG landed on Steam, self-published by Neowiz. Clearly, this was because no publisher dared to pick it up. If this isn’t a huge ‘caution’ sign, I don’t know what is.

Time is the best teacher, and we have indeed learned a serious lesson with Bless Online. I don’t like to point any fingers, but you are to blame. Yes, you, the player who has decided to spend $29,99 on a broken mess of a game, ignoring all the blatant signs that pointed to a rushed release. And let’s not even talk about those Founder’s Packs, which could go right up to $149.99 – I mean, how badly did you want that temporary mount skin?

Don’t get me wrong, you are not alone in this, my cherished and deluded Bless Online fan. I am as well to blame for the occasionally deafening hype that placed this MMORPG on top of other, worthier games. MapleStory 2 comes to mind, although its chibi style may not be suitable to everyone’s tastes but at least with this one you know what you are getting right from the start.

Future of Bless Online - bless online boss

Perhaps Bless Online’s biggest problem was a matter of misinterpretation from its target audience. The fact that it looks good, with its original medieval European setting and airs of grandeur – that were quickly shattered by the likes of Black Desert Online – made us think that this would equally play like a dream. This was despite all the previous warnings from the Korean version and all the drama surrounding Aeria Games’ initial attempt to bring Bless Online to western shores. Graphics can be deceiving, and indeed all the eye-candy wasn’t enough to cover what was fundamentally a rough game, in need of further development.

If you missed out, here is a quick recap on the Aeria Games-Neowiz stranger than fiction soap opera. Aeria Games, a publisher of several free-to-play titles, signed Bless Online for a North American and European release. However, as time went by and news was slim to none, the deal was effectively canceled due to “quality concerns.” Seeing that Aeria Games isn’t exactly worried about having a few run-of-the-mill MMO games in its catalog, this sounded like a huge red flag if ever I’ve seen one. This eventually resulted in Neowiz taking action and deciding to self-publish Bless Online in western territories through Steam – Gabe Newell’s digital distribution platform can be a blessing, but also a curse, as you surely know by now.

Personally, however, the one thing that made me scoff and look the other way was Neowiz’s business decision to put a price tag on Bless Online. This felt like a mistake, a disaster waiting to happen, a misconception of huge proportions and, above all, a complete disrespect for a large part of its potential player base. Attaching a price tag to a game that was free-to-play in every other region (Korea, Japan, and Russia) felt like a colossal disregard for the western market. It felt like – and let’s not be afraid of words – a blatant cash-in, a way to earn a few bucks while the Bless Online name still has some zing to it.

Future of Bless Online - bless online dragon

Once again, we are to blame as well. There is this ethos, this weird notion that free-to-play games are inherently bad, they smell funny, and pick their noses. But if you pay for a game, then it suddenly starts to smell like roses and has silky smooth hair. As if by magic, the cash shop is a lovely place to be, everything is cosmetic, and you can even get a free pup for your trouble! It doesn’t work like that, and many full-priced games already include shameless micro-transactions (Middle-earth: Shadow of War is a perfect example before changes were made), so there really is no excuse to turn a game that was originally designed around the in-game store into a buy-to-play title. Players everywhere need to stop asking developers to put a price tag on their games; this isn’t going to improve your experience whatsoever.

Even worse was Neowiz’s reasoning behind this decision: “we decided against F2P to prevent us, the developers, from being tempted into P2W.” Really? To me, this shows a huge lack of confidence in your game, in your ability to provide players with a fair cash shop that doesn’t break the delicate balance of your game. What transpires is the urge to sell both the game and its virtual items while they’re hot and then we’ll see what the future of Bless Online brings.

Early Access can’t be an excuse for everything. This label is being abused left and right, with broken games asking for players’ money to grant them an early entry into… well, a bugged, unfinished mess in most cases. How can a game such as DayZ remain in Early Access for five years? Isn’t this enough already? Bless Online’s situation isn’t very different, to the most observant of you. The first closed beta took place in South Korea during 2014 and early on we had reports that the combat was dull, bland and needed a lot of work before the game could fulfill its potential. Years passed, and the announced changes were slight – Bless Online still felt like the same game: the same flawed but beautiful MMORPG that was unable to keep up with its promises.

Future of Bless Online - bless online pvp

There is no way that Bless Online should have released in Early Access. For a game that was in development for so long, already had three previous launches in other regions, this was telling that something wasn’t right. The development team didn’t seem able to change the core of the game (Rebuild Project and all) to make it rub shoulders with the big boys – Black Desert Online, Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XIV and so on. The game was rushed out of the door with a price tag to profit on the western hype, as the North American and European markets that were dying to play something new, something grand. How naïve of us.

There are a couple of things that you can’t escape in life. Death, for one, awaits us all; and Steam reviews, which are going to haunt a game for all eternity and beyond. The future of Bless Online is grim, mirroring the troubled past and disquieting present. It’s nearly impossible to see a game making an astounding comeback from ‘Overwhelmingly Negative’ reviews just as No Man’s Sky miraculously managed to do. There is only so much that Neowiz could do to improve on the game, and even fundamentally changing the combat mechanics and squashing tons of bugs wouldn’t do much good if unnecessary rollbacks keep happening and characters keep on being accidentally deleted from existence, never to be seen again.

Maybe I’m being too harsh; Neowiz deserves some credit, after all, and the Korean release is still going strong, so there is hope for… wait, what? The Korean servers were closed on September 2018, you say? Well, that is a bit worrying, right? What should be, allegedly, the foundation of any game – the original release – is a thing of the past, and the studio is now solely focusing on the Steam version of Bless Online, with all their efforts going into “making it successful for years to come.” I can’t help but feel somewhat doubtful of this plan.

Future of Bless Online - bless online fight

I really want to believe that the future of Bless Online is shiny and medieval, but when I glance over past decisions, I can’t help but feel that too much damage has been made. It feels like this once ambitious MMORPG is damaged beyond repair, and no amount of PR talk and patching is going to restore its good name. Even if 2019 eventually brings the official launch with a switch to a free-to-play model – as it should have been all along – the brand is tarnished, possibly beyond return. Bless Online definitely needs players urgently, but no player base boost is ever going to hide its flaws.

The final nail in Bless Online’s medieval European coffin is called Bless Unleashed. The announcement of this Unreal Engine 4-powered Xbox One exclusive stirred the hornet’s nest, with PC players crying foul, unable to cope with the prospect of an improved version of Bless on console, while the original version trails behind. I can’t say that I don’t understand the outrage, as the timing for this reveal feels less than ideal, undermining the already flimsy faith that any player may have for the future of Bless Online. Oh, and the worst of all – the Xbox One version is going to be free-to-play.

It’s almost as if Neowiz is doing its best to sabotage its own plans.

Future of Bless Online - bless online mounts

I really wanted Bless Online to succeed. After all, competition breeds quality and fosters better designs, encourages developers to push for better games, to aim higher, to win a slice of the ever-important and very profitable MMO market. However, decision after decision, it just didn’t feel right. It was never going to compete with the current heavyweights of the genre, and the price tag meant that many players wouldn’t even feel tempted to try it, which means less cash shop sales, in my opinion. “It’s better to wait for the initial reviews,” many of you said, and rightly so.

As someone who has followed Bless Online since its announcement in 2011, I feel a sense of disappointment as I look back on the years. The early excitement was replaced by utter disbelief as the game failed to evolve, culminating in an underwhelming Steam release. I can say that I am curious to see what Neowiz is going to deliver with Bless Unleashed, but this time my expectations are set to low, and no amount of beautiful medieval architecture and furry fighters are going to change that.

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Saying Goodbye to Gigantic

MOBAs and I don’t get along, and not for lack of trying. I’ve gotten kind of close with Heroes of the Storm but never ultimately saw it hook me. I’ve squinted in confusion at esports broadcasts of League of Legends and Dota 2. I’ve tried the MOBA side of Master X Master and then ran screaming from it.

That was all until Gigantic came along.

Of course, if I didn’t have bad luck I’d have no luck at all, which means that Gigantic – a MOBA I could enjoy for once – is going to be shutting down very soon. So I wanted to take an op-ed moment to say goodbye to Gigantic, the only MOBA that actually did something genuinely unique.

goodbye to gigantic

The first thing that had me intrigued by Gigantic was definitely its graphics style. As much as I am definitely a person who values gameplay over looks, I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that visuals are what make a first impression and boy did Gigantic’s visuals impress. Something about its bouncy, stylized and cartoon-ish quality made me think that this would be a MOBA that would be honestly fun to play.

Sure enough, when eating that bait I found it absolutely delicious and was hooked. The screenshots might look a tiny bit chaotic, but given time all of the objectives and icons on the screen began to make sense. There were a pretty small number of things to pay attention to, they were explained clearly via gameplay, and it all fell into place in a natural-feeling flow. The only competitive video gaming experience that’s done conveyance better is Splatoon, frankly.

Finally, the last thing that got me absorbed was finding a character to love. And her name was Mozu. Honestly, every character in this game is full of vibrancy in their designs and animations, but I adore my adorable wand-waving goblin-mouse daughter with all of my heart. The deal with Gigantic and myself was sealed.

goodbye to gigantic

With all of the fun I was having, though, I didn’t really play super deeply. There wasn’t a competitive mode, but I also didn’t feel like there needed to be. I just liked playing for fun, yet at the same time, Gigantic often felt like a game I could eventually learn and improve at. I’m not claiming to be even close to a mediocre player, but there’s a rare few PvP-centric games that give me a drive to improve and Gigantic was definitely among that small number.

That was likely helped thanks to Gigantic’s progression system, which seemed to offer rewards simply for being around. I assume those rewards scaled up if you managed to be top of the charts in your team, but even in games where I was playing at my worst, I still felt like I was a contributor of worth and reminded me of as much. I’ve got plenty of kill assist badges to prove it.

That seems to be the thing missing from MOBAs for me; that sense of encouragement without forcing a competition ladder on you. There wasn’t a competitive mode so almost instantly I felt like the pressure was off. I guess for some people that meant that Gigantic was, ultimately, a pointless MOBA. I’m just going to chalk that up as an irreconcilable difference of opinion – frankly I find climbing a competitive ladder the antithesis of fun.

That sense of fun also wasn’t ruined by reading a miserable chat scroll. There didn’t need to be chat because communication was on the screen and combat was moving at pace and matches had a tug-of-war feel. This meant typing in chat was wasted time, which meant grumbles from other people didn’t pierce my perception of fun and a casual environment.

I’d be remiss if my look back at Gigantic didn’t also take a moment to consider why this game didn’t catch fire. The biggest reason seems pretty cut-and-dry to me; Gigantic arrived at a time when the well of MOBA excitement had run dry and people were disinterested in the game type. Many were either into established titles or otherwise wouldn’t feel engaged with PvP gaming until the arrival of Battle Royale Fever that now grips us.

So why the late arrival? The ups and downs of the title’s beleaguered development and release cycle has been documented by many and even by the devs themselves on a couple of occasions, which all combined to see a game that kept having to delay itself. While I certainly have made no friends with any flies on the walls of Motiga’s offices to confirm as much, this seems to lead to some possible poor decision-making at the higher levels.

Then again, I could be completely wrong here. I repeat, I don’t have that information.

In any case, by the time Perfect World decided to pick up publishing duties, it was already too little too late. This makes the whole closure of Gigantic just that bit more frustrating to me because this game genuinely, honestly is something unique in  the MOBA genre.

goodbye to gigantic

That said, if I’m completely honest with myself, I saw it kind of coming…but that didn’t mean I had to like it and elected to enjoy the game for what it was in spite of the writing on the wall. And you know what? I’m glad I did. It’s the same tactic I used when I saw that City of Heroes was going to be shuttered. It’s a similar tactic I’m using with the assumption that WildStar is inching to the chopping block. I’ll focus on the good times of the game instead of trying to wrap my head around the question of “why.” My brain is not that malleable or flexible anyway.

With that in mind, and in the off-chance that anyone who worked on Gigantic is reading this, I want to say thanks. Thank you to the devs who worked to make this game come to life, however eventually that was. Special thank you to the designers and animators that brought me my wonderful girl Mozu. Even thank you to Perfect World for trying to make it happen, though arguably you could have tried harder to make it work.

Gigantic pulled a neat trick in making MOBAs not feel like alien Rubik’s Cubes. It made me feel like I could actually be good even though I believe myself to be chronically bad at PvP games. It had a lot of good ideas and great characters, and I genuinely hope the minds behind all of that enrich other games out there.

I’m sure going to miss it. So this is my farewell to Gigantic.

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High Expectations: The Problem with Playing Too Many MMORPGs

Over the weekend I decided to give Final Fantasy XIV a try. It’s one of those games I’ve been covering in the news for years but never played. Nearly every friend I have who plays MMOs has played this game and loved it, many of them still playing it today, so I thought I would find out what all the hype is about. This is when I discovered that I’ve come to expect certain things because of the MMOs I’ve played through the years, and those expectations keep me from being able to enjoy what is, by all accounts, one of the best MMORPGs currently on the market.

Right from the start, I found myself comparing FFXIV to all the other MMOs I had ever played in the character creator. How complex was the character creation? Would it compare to games like Neverwinter with their fingernail length slider? When the creator went beyond just how they look I was comparing the experience with Guild Wars 2. What was the importance of picking a birthday? It wasn’t explained anywhere, and I still have no idea.

ffxiv survey results

My next surprise came just moments after I finished character creation. It was the lack of voice acting in cutscenes that are, at least in my mind, begging for voice acting. It honestly came as a complete surprise that there wasn’t any, and I’ll be honest, it was kind of a deal breaker for me because, yes, I have been spoiled by the likes of Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online, and Rift.

So all of this got me thinking about the hordes of people out there who have played just about every MMORPG in creation and still find themselves on the MMORPG Subreddit asking for recommendations. Are they, like me, judging every game on the best things of all the games they’ve played before? It’s human nature to, so of course they are.

Each time we play a new game our tastes are refined and what we consider a minimum requirement for a game changes. Before City of Heroes introduced /walk, I never knew how much I wanted it. When Rift changed the speed of walking and made walking impossible to use to get anywhere, a little part of my love of the game died. When I got to Tera and there was no way to walk at all, it was a dealbreaker. From 2009 to 2011, walking went from not being a consideration at all to being vital to my enjoyment of an MMORPG.

Playing Multiple MMORPGs

In 2012 I went from loving the complexity of Rift’s combat system to playing Guild Wars 2, which taught me that one tray of abilities is really all you need. Now games that require you to have five trays of abilities just seem like they’re overcomplicating matters. I didn’t quite appreciate this when I played The Secret World, though. I guess it just hadn’t clicked with me yet.

Instead, what The Secret World gave me was an appreciation for a very sleek UI and complex storytelling in an MMO. Now, I don’t expect any MMO to live up to the storytelling in TSW/SWL but it did raise my expectations a little bit.

Equally, all player housing in MMORPGs gets compared to Rift’s Dimensions. The first time I laid eyes on them at Gamescom I actually squealed with joy. They are, to this day, my idea of a great housing system.

I’m a bit picky about my MMOs. I don’t play them all, I wouldn’t even say I play most, but every one that I have played has given me a lasting impression of what a good MMO should be. Something as simple as not including the ability to walk is enough to kill my interest in a game.

Playing Too Many MMORPGs

It seems to me that the people who play more MMOs are less happy in all of them. The more they play, the higher their expectations are. There also aren’t enough MMOs being released to keep them happy as they quickly burn through one and move on to the next, having not been satisfied in the previous. A cycle that continues until…well, some just give up on the MMORPG industry altogether. Others keep going, keep repeating this cycle. They’re the ones who will never be happy because unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect MMO.

But those who take their time and lovingly devote themselves to a small handful of games find themselves so much more fulfilled. They’re happier with the games they’re playing and they have fewer expectations for future games to live up to.

So, I guess there are two main types of MMORPG players in the world. Those who seek perfection and those who find happiness with the flawed games they love. I won’t say that there’s a right way and a wrong way to enjoy games, but it does seem like one side is much happier than the other.

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If you’re one of those who isn’t happy with any games right now, find a new MMO that is coming out and immerse yourself in the community. Once the game comes out, take your time and acknowledge everything you appreciate about the game. Read everything. Turn on walk and give yourself a mission to see every corner of the world, if that’s what it takes. Along the way, you may just find your happiness.

Or maybe you’ll find that one of the most popular MMORPGs on the market just isn’t for you and your hunt will continue. Either way, you’ll have experienced something new and gained a new appreciation for the things you loved in the games you’ve played. Who knows, it might even inspire you to revisit those games you used to adore.

I’ll be letting my FFXIV trial expire and uninstalling the game. It wasn’t for me, but I am glad I tried the game. It did make me appreciate Guild Wars 2 again in a time when my interest in the game was waning. It did exactly what I needed it to do.

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If You Could Do It All Again – Progression Servers

We live in an age of the geek ascendant. Superhero movies continue to draw in billions of dollars and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. The movies and shows we loved in the past are being remixed, reworked and rebooted, for better or worse.

Gaming is making more money than ever and continues to work its way into every aspect of peoples’ lives. You can play a game pretty much anywhere now.

So given that gaming is so popular and also given that costs are so high in development, why do we never see reboots? Where is the Amazing Spider-man of Azeroth and where is the superior Spider-Man Homecoming of the Alliance and Horde? Clearly World of Warcraft itself in this example is the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, for better or for worse.

This whole idea came from the news of RIFT Prime. RIFT Prime, if you hadn’t heard is an upcoming vanilla and progression server from Trion Worlds. They are bringing back the subscription model for it and they are dumping lock boxes and the vast majority of items currently available in the store. They also promise to progressively unlock the content of the game through in-game milestones and monthly achievements for players.

All in all, that sounds like an awful lot of fun. Be sure to watch here for more when we get our hands on it.

What I would like to discuss is not a vanilla server like Blizzard is working on for World of Warcraft. It’s not a progression server like Trion is doing for RIFT or like Daybreak has done previously for EverQuest and EverQuest II. It’s not even a retooling like Funcom pulled off with Secret World Legends, ripping out the combat in The Secret World and repackaging the game with new combat mechanics and some graphics love.

I would like to discuss what you would do if you could do it all over again. Creating a brand new MMO from scratch is a labor of love, as well as a vast undertaking in terms of hundreds of hours of work to say nothing of the financial cost. Yes, there are ways to bring down some of these. There are ever improving tools available to developers and hobbyists to create games and scale them up for larger and larger audiences. Between free engines available to people and new technologies like we are seeing used in Crowfall or by SpatialOS, the future looks very interesting for people to experiment in. What if you didn’t have to though…?

What if we not only got a vanilla World of Warcraft or a vanilla Everquest II but then took them in a different direction entirely? When some of these MMOs have been out for years upon years and built constantly on the content they began with, there are always some bits that people did not like nearly as much as research might have suggested. There is always that one release no one likes. In terms of Guild Wars 2, I can point to specific moments in the Living World that I just hated (We are all looking at you Braham) and wish we could get rid of.

I am not suggesting a head-canon type situation where you just ignore what you do not like and pretend it isn’t there. I am suggesting continuing the development of the games we enjoy but if the vanilla servers get enough promise and population, bringing them in entirely new directions. Every expansion ever has contained the “true ending” from the previous iteration. Either factions must work together to beat a bigger bad giving you a generic ending that favors no one, or the nominal good guys win like the Global Defence Initiative always does. The only real difference that springs to mind in the typical “you won!” ending method would be XCom 2 taking the view that you lost in the first game but hey, that’s XCom baby. If there’s ever a Dwarf Fortress 2, it will likely up the ante and physically punch players to remind them of losses.

I personally would love the opportunity to see the ‘What If’ games, the separate small servers who go off in experimental directions. What if Wrath of the Lich King ended differently, leaving one version of Azeroth with an entirely different playing field? What if Mordremoth had won at the end of Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns and the server brought in PvP as Sylvari run wild over the other races of Tyria? Or what if Heart of Thorns had broken off differently, with the first season of the Living Story focusing not on Scarlet Briar but following through Malyck’s journey of self-discovery and the sleeping Dragon that was such an intimate danger to all Sylvari.

What if RIFT Prime keeps the Blood Storm around longer? What if the Dragons that originally sold so many people on the game were all still around and the content went another way?

What we will have in Secret World Legends isn’t really a new story told with an old game, they’re going to build on what the old game had and move on from there. There are all sorts of possibilities present in a reboot and new directions they could take. What we have in Final Fantasy XIV was a wiping clean of a damaged slate and starting anew.

How many expansions have there been for the games we love where you have been left wondering, what if we had taken another path? What if you could do it all again…but the expansion you know should come after is riding entirely on the outcome of what we are playing.

What if that tangent server, that restart, ended up in an entirely new place? How exciting would our worlds be then? Clearly there would be issues in execution. Issues with divided teams and divided directions. At least in games with multiple servers, if the new MCU Spider-Azeroth ends up outperforming the original, you can migrate people over. Why not experiment with it at least once? Why not take the worlds that players know better than the one they inhabit and then change course in an all-new way, instead of playing the greatest hits all over again?

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