When was the last time you saw a beautiful MMO? I mean a real head-turner. I'm not talking about the situation where a newer game is running on a monster rig, but game that is just plain lovely from the ground up.
Upcoming Neowiz MMO Bless is a head-turner, and easily fits all the above criteria. This includes nearly photorealistic environments, impressively detailed characters and enemies, and glorious lighting. Bless has pushed the online game bar quite a bit farther up as far as visuals goes, and I think it's going to be awhile until something else looks anywhere near as nice.
Epic's Unreal Engine 3 is the muscle under the hood for Bless, supporting its striking visuals. Neowiz explained how they squeezed every last ounce of power out of the engine, and then went in to modify it in cooperation with Epic Games Korea to squeeze out even more power. These modifications let the team introduce new features to the base engine, giving them the ability to do things that UE3 wouldn't normally be able to pull off.
Neowiz explained that UE3, given its FPS roots, isn't able to show vast areas. One of their new co-developed tools, which they call Landscape, let them go beyond the engine's ability to display the expansive world in Bless. Another modification enables seamless and realistic day-to-night lighting transitions. I saw shadows shift as the sun's position changed, and was impressed by the lighting during sunsets and dusk.
The overall look of Bless leans toward photorealistic with its locales, while its buildings and land formations fall firmly in the fantasy realm, with plenty of real-world inspirations tied in. Endless deserts, overgrown ruins, dense forests, and massive castles dazzled in flyovers. There's nothing else out there that even comes close to touching the detail shown in this game.
Characters from game's ten races are beautifully detailed and impeccably rendered on-screen, though they don't feel especially original. Imagine more shapely, Korean-tinged adapations of Final Fantasy Online characters and you'll have a good idea of what the characters of Bless look like. Outside of your standard low-level creatures, like spiders, all of the enemies I saw during gameplay and previews, from the sublimely animated tree nymphs to sparkling unicorns, were remarkable. Neowiz says that they had nearly 200 devs and in-house artists working on Bless, and it seems that they all worked hard to make this game as lovely as possible.
Looks aren't everything, but they were far more prominent than any other aspect of the game, as Bless is still in the pre-alpha stage.
Examples of combat looked very nice in action. Fantastic scenes showed heavy axes coming down in heated battles, or swords slashing into clinks in duels. Cat ladies shooting arrows and pretty girls on mounts flying into sunsets cut to magical blasts, earth rumbling, and then to air-to-ground fire. Mounted pursuits led to a massive dragon emerging from the fog. All of these impressive scenes were rendered with the game's engine, using no CG.
But I experienced none of this. In fact, what I experienced in gameplay was quite standard. Neowiz says that the combat in Bless was designed to be familiar. It seems that they've knocked that goal out of the park as there is nothing you'll have to learn or adapt to in Bless, at least in this state. No learning curve whatsoever. At this point, as far as combat is concerned, this is as standard as MMOs get.
The promise is that Bless will eventually have a lot to do with interacting with other classes, and will have a focus on party roles, but for now it was mostly just me as a solo paladin, taking on kill quests. My hands-on time with the early build had only the base framework of combat available. I was able to move, target, and attack, but planned aspects like active dodging and blocking were not available.
In a sort of staged, abbreviated version of what I'm guessing will be Bless' natural progression, I accepted my first quest (after some language help, as the game only had Korean as an available language at this point) and took on the assigned orc killing quest in a scenic port village. In a very standard affair, I disposed of these using the provided base-level magic attacks to clear the way to take on a giant orc, and then I reported back to a NPC that sent me into the next stage of my kind of guided tour.
I later moved onto a forest area where I took on trees and spiders, and then some "corrupted unicorns" to earn more bits of armor and more attack types. The last bit of the demo had me going up against countless undead attackers, where the super powerful (and super pretty) AOE attacks that magically among my abilities proved to be quite useful. In between each of these segments I was treated to a mounted flyover of the world. At this early stage, full control was not yet possible, but at least I was able to take screenshots, some of which are shown below.
In my playtime I got nothing in the way of experience that I could tell, and I know nothing of the details of aspects like crafting or looting, as none of this was available in this abbreviated experience. Neowiz says that it's just too early right now. All we have at this point is promises of what's to come.
The story of Bless sounds promising. Neowiz says that they've crafted an emotional, interactive background story for this game that centers around its 10 races and two factions. The character classes include: Guardian, Berserker, Paladin, Ranger, Assassin, Mage, Warlock and Mystic. Deep lore and history will provide a backdrop to a new conflict started by humans and their desire for power.
Gameplay sounds like it could be interesting in the end, though this early demo was no indication of that. Expect PvP, RvR, and and endgame that has max level players coming back knighted after accruing fame and fortune, able to take on new Royal Quests.
I hate that the best I can do for you in this preview is tell you that Bless sounds quite interesting and is pretty. It is very, very pretty. Again, no MMO looks anywhere close to this. Their tweaks to Unreal Engine 3 and their outstanding artwork have made for a staggering game.
But the problem may lie in that other MMOs do play like this. While admittedly early, my playtime with the game pointed to nothing special about it. Perhaps the striking, expansive world and the promised deep backstory will be enough for potential players. Perhaps the familiarity and approachability will be a plus to some potential players.
If nothing else, Bless should be on your radar as an MMO to watch out for. It's certainly beautiful, but it's going to be all about the execution. It could go either way right now, so let's hope for the best.
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