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Chances are you haven't heard of Blade & Soul, despite it being an MMO by NCSoft that was released more than three years ago in June 2012. Since then, it's expanded its reach to China, Japan, and Taiwan and is currently in the midst of technical alphas and betas, which have gone surprisingly well enough to have the developers refine its initial Q1 2016 release date to now January 19, 2016. To the small but vocal community in the States who have been waiting for Blade & Soul to arrive, that announcement alone is, well, a blessing.

The core innovation that Blade & Soul brings to the MMO genre is its timing-based combat system. While other MMOs in the NCSoft family like WildStar and Guild Wars 2 have active skill-based combat as well, Blade & Soul's system takes a healthy amount of influences from the fighting genre, introducing juggles, knockdowns, dazes, and other crowd-control abilities that require precise execution to pull off. To emphasize this, Blade & Soul does away with the “Holy Trinity” of classes by doing away with a healer class altogether, making sure that every player has the chops to go toe-to-toe with an enemy. While each class tends to have at least some way to heal damage, the point is to learn the intricacies of the combat system and react to enemies and other players by noticing openings, finding attack strings, and keeping your enemy locked down and helpless while you dish out devastating combos.

In my six-hour session with Blade & Soul at the NCSoft HQ in Korea, I mainly experimented with the Kung Fu Master, one of the most difficult classes to learn. One of his core abilities for defense is the counter, a parry which requires you to time it appropriately with the enemy’s attack animation so that you take no damage and your enemy not only loses the attack but gets damaged in the process. It may seem as though you only have access to a small set of skills, but other skills rotate in depending on various conditions so you need to stay attentive for these windows of opportunity open.
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