STAFF REVIEW of Bless Unleashed (Xbox One)

Sunday, April 12, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Bless Unleashed Box art Ever since a friend showed me Everquest back in 1999, MMORPG’s have had their hooks in me. Since then, I’ve literally put thousands of hours into various MMO’s over the past two decades. To say that it’s my favorite genre is an understatement, so when a new one comes along, I tend to dive into the deep end feet first and completely immerse myself in its gameplay and world. Bless Unleased (simply referred to as Bless from here onwards) was no different, as I’ve actually been playing it well over a month now, and usually I review games quite quickly purposely, but being an MMO, it’s not one that can be rushed. Truth be told, I wanted to hit end-game and max level before writing this review, but as it turns out, Bless has a serious grind to it, along with some gating that forces you to halt rapid leveling and progression, which is nothing new to me, but others will, and do already, find the grind very taxing and frustrating.

If you’ve played numerous MMO’s before, you’ve probably heard of Bless before. Now, this isn’t the failed PC MMO Bless Online. Yes, it’s the same studio and set in the same universe, but it’s a completely different experience, and not just because it’s an Xbox One exclusive on console. Also, Bless is completely free to play (F2P). Now I know what you’re thinking; probably something along the lines of “but aren’t all F2P games simply pay-to-win (P2W)?”. Honestly, this is usually the case, but with over 200 hours already put into it, I’ve not felt compelled or forced to open my wallet and drop some money into the game. For complete transparency, we were given a Founder’s Pack which netted us some items, mounts and bonuses, and I’ve also spent some money on other items and conveniences, not that I never hit a brick wall where it felt forced like in other F2P MMO’s.

As you begin your journey in Bless, you’ll choose one of five classes: Crusader, Berserker, Ranger, Mage or Priest. All of the classes fit the typical roles you’ve played countless times before in other games, where the Crusader is your heavy armor tank with sword and shield, Mages nuke from afar and Priests heal, but Bless changes thing up quite drastically with its action oriented combat. There’s also no real ‘holy trinity’ where every group absolutely needs a tank to soak up the damage, a healer to replenish life and damage to kill things. Yes, some of these classes fill these roles in certain ways, but get those traditional MMO roles out of your head, as Bless does things differently, for better and worse.

Once you’ve chosen your class and customized your character to how you want them to look, you begin your adventure within a dream with a highly powered character. You have a very powerful character with lots of abilities unlocked and start blasting away at enemies. This is how the game teaches you the basics of combat in its tutorial, but being an action based MMO, there’s no simply spamming a hotbar of a few abilities like in most MMO’s. Instead, you’ll need to be actively dodging enemy attacks, watching for visual cues and utilizing different combos for your attacks and abilities as you unlock them with each new Blessing you receive. Once you defeat a boss at the end of this dream state, you awaken in the world of Lumios, taken down a road filled with despair, enemies and of course, you’re the one that will save the world.

Like any MMO, you’ll begin as a weakling and with little to no gear and abilities. As you quest, level up and gain experience, you’ll slowly start to become stronger as you progress and find new gear and combat abilities. This is an MMO though, so you’ll constantly see and interact with thousands of other players during your adventures. Sometimes this is helpful, as you’ll be killing a boss and anyone else is able to join in and help for their own credit as well.

Your quests begin simple enough, usually having you run to somewhere nearby, killing a few enemies or doing a fetch quest for someone, the usual MMO fare we’ve come to expect over the years. Bless begins no differently, as the quest chains will guide you on a specific path from one area to the next, generally keeping you within enemies that are meant for your level range. As you defeat enemies and monsters, you’ll earn gold, experience and sometimes new gear. Gear is more than a simple comparison of choosing the one with better stats, as there’s a whole ranking from E to A class and rarity that can be improved, for a cost. Keep in mind though, as you level up, enemy scaling is also in place, so even though you may be max level and go back to the beginning area, enemies will scale to your level as well, so in one way you never feel like you’re becoming more powerful because of this.

Combat in Bless is interesting yet challenging. Instead of a hotbar of abilities you spam over and over like in most MMO’s, Bless as action based combat where you have numerous different combos that all have their own uses and situations to be used in. For example, I play a Priest, so one of my combos allows me to do some big damage quickly, but leaves me open to attack while I wait for the animations to complete. Another combo I have is shorter and does less damage, but pushes back enemies if successful, allowing me some breathing room when I’m soloing. As you press the different attack buttons there are prompts on the screen to show you what button press will link into the next combos, granted, after you’ve put in enough hours into your character, these become second nature, as I already know I need to hit ‘RB’ three times then ‘B’ three as well for my big damage combo.

Somewhat like a Souls game, you’ll also have a stamina bar linked to your running and dodging. This becomes incredibly important, so the quicker you learn it the better. Enemy attacks need to be physically avoided, or you’re going to sustain a lot of damage, so you always need to be on the lookout for tells from enemies, either from their wind up or certain animations to indicate the imminent attacks. Regular enemies obviously won’t hurt as much, but when you mistime your dodge from a boss, you can easily die in one hit if your gear isn’t up to snuff. Factor in that health doesn’t replenish automatically unless sitting at a campfire, eating foot or using potions, you’ll quickly learn how important dodging is, or else you’ll go broke from having to constantly buy potions or waste hours sitting at a campfire as your health slowly refills.

While your core attacks are your combos, your main abilities come from your Blessings. Think of these as specializations. You only get access to the abilities within each of blessings, so there are different uses and times you’ll want to switch from one to another. For example, one of my Blessings that I’m currently working on is much more PvP focused, and since I loathe PvP, I don’t plan on using it very much if at all. The one I currently use almost exclusively is very heal focused, allowing me to drop heal orbs for allies to pick up but still has some utility and damage abilities as well. And yes, as a healer I can’t simply target you and heal like in other MMO’s, another factor as to why communication and being very aware of your surroundings in Bless is extremely important.

As you complete quests you’ll earn Skill XP (SXP), and once filled to 100%, you’ll earn a point that can be used to unlock new abilities or improve ones you already have. Each Blessing has a finite amount of abilities, usually four, but the later ones will cost many skill points to fill completely, so you’re going to learn that there’s a real grind early on. If you do manage to completely fill a blessing with skill points you earn a passive bonus that is permanent, so it’s worthwhile investing the time into doing this for the long term.

Once you reach a certain level you’ll gain access to partake in Arenas, Lairs and Dungeons. Arenas are for two players facing off against a single boss. These start easy, but the later ones become quite challenging and will require teamwork. Lairs is the same deal against a single boss, but consists of a party of five. Lastly, Dungeons are five players in a traditional pathway filled with mobs on your way through to some bosses. Most have three bosses within, but unlike most MMO’s, the only rewards you get is after you defeat the final boss and loot the chest. Mid-dungeon bosses don’t drop loot, so if you’re unable to finish the final boss, you’ve wasted a lot of time with no reward.

The problem with these chests you get for completion though is that they need to be unlocked with keys. How do you get said keys you ask? Well, if you have certain perks, you’ll get a maximum of two keys a day. TWO. That’s right, I’d love to spam dungeons all day at the chance of getting the gear upgrades I desperately need, but when you’re only able to open two a day, you don’t actually want to do more as they don’t stack in your inventory, which is always at a premium. Yes, you can purchase more bag and bank slots for real money if you wish, or find pieces to unlock them hidden within in the world, but obviously that convenience becomes quite tempting when you’re constantly struggling for bag room early on. Because of this design, it feels as though Bless discourages you from playing how you want at times.

Currency starts out simple enough with you earning gold, but eventually you’ll be introduced to Star Seeds, Artifact shards and cores, and a ton of other marks for different Unions. You’ll eventually become a millionaire in gold, but quickly realize that doesn’t have much value later on for the most part. Star Seeds can be gained once a day and you’ll be able to convert a small amount of gold into Star Seeds, which is then used for many things like upgrading equipment, buying and selling on the marketplace and much more. Star Seeds become incredibly important, so you’ll need to find a balance of selling items versus breaking them down for artifact cores when it comes to having enough resources to upgrade your items.

Let’s talk about the enhancement process for a minute shall we? The majority of your gear will start out either rank C or B and usually blue in rarity. If you spend Star Seeds and Artifact Cores, you can upgrade them from +1 to +5. From there, you can turn a +5 blue into a purple item, increasing its gear score with each upgrade. After it’s +5 at purple, you can then turn it yellow into a legendary and so on. Sound easy? Technically yes, but it’s going to cost you a fortune of resources, even if you're successful.

There are two different NPC’s you can use to upgrade your gear, the Common or Master Enhancers. Common costs much less resources to upgrade, but there’s a chance that your gear goes down a rank if it fails. So if you have a +5 item and fail 3 times in a row, you’re back down to a +2 item. The Master Enhancer doesn’t have this issue, but the flipside is that he costs an exorbitant amount more to do the upgrades. You can still fail the upgrade, and will often, but you won’t lose a ranking if utilizing the Master. Factor in that the percentages of success aren’t shown and failing numerous times in a row completely drains your Seeds and Cores, and you can see where people start to become frustrated. That being said, finally getting that upgrade to Legendary or Mythic is an amazing feeling and makes you forget the dozens of failed attempts previous.

Being F2P, I fully expected there to be a cash shop, and there is, but you can’t really buy power. Sure, you could spend money and then sell the items on the marketplace which in turn could be used to buy upgrades and boost your gear score, but it’s not all that practical to do so. The cash store mostly has cosmetic and convenience items, the most importantly being resurrection scrolls. These allow you to instantly revive yourself if needed rather than waiting for someone else to do so after a long prompt, which becomes near essential in the later dungeons. You could spend cash on more bag space or some fancy new costumes, but I’ve not felt much need to dump much cash into the game.

Because it is F2P and we were given a Founder’s Pack, I did purchase a Bless Pass. This is the equivalent to Battle Pass/Season Pass that other games use, especially Battle Royals. Everyone has the base tier of Bless rewards for doing specific objectives in game, but should you purchase a Bless Pass, you gain extra rewards, like costumes, gold, Star Seed boosters and more. Is it worth the purchase? That will come down to preference, but I’m glad I bought the inaugural pass to check it out.

I’ve been fully engrossed with Bless since its early access and launch. I’ve logged in every day, done all the content I can up until this point, and the game is still halting my progression in numerous ways. Gating is a way that developers ensure players don’t progress too quickly, usually to buy them time to add or change endgame content as everyone is leveling up and gaining gear. The first major gating players ran into was a large level gap from 17-20 where you simply ran out of quests, forcing you to grind mobs for minuscule XP so that you can progress. Next, dungeons require a certain gear score to queue up and get in, and if you go in with the bare minimum, you’re going to have a bad time, so much time and effort was spent into upgrading my gear.

Now, in the mid-30’s of levels, I’m gated from questing any further until I earn enough Prestige Marks by doing a series of quests that appear at random, and since I can’t be on the game 24/7, I sometimes miss and have to forego completing some of these. I’m already aware of what the next few methods of gating are going to be, so prepare for a repetitive grind of doing the same quests and bosses every day until you’re allowed to progress. I completely understand the need for an MMO to be a time sink and that you need to put in the time to receive the rewards, but this goes far beyond being reasonable at times.

The other major complaint I constantly deal with in Bless is its open world PVP. Once you reach around level 20 and venture further into the world of Lumios, essentially everywhere is a free for all PVP zone. Now, in the beginning there were no real restrictions with who could attack who, so you would have higher level players picking on lower ones, but some small improvements have been made in the last few patches. There are a few safe points in certain towns and soul pyres where you rest, and there’s a harsher penalty for these outlaws, but it still doesn’t change the fact that at some point, you’re almost forced to PVP, something I absolutely loath in games like this. There’s no dedicated PVP server as well, and I understand the intent was to make the world feel more lively, but when there’s little to no checks and balances for those that don’t want to participate, frustration comes in once again. Only recently they’ve made it where people can’t PVP in the big boss areas, as nefarious PVP players were killing everyone at the end of a battle with no recourse.

It’s not often that a MMO gets a dedicated and exclusive console launch, and I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I’ve been hooked ever since that first day. There’s a laundry lists of issues I have with Bless, one that could write a lengthy article about on its own, but when it comes down to it, I’m still logging in every day to play with my friends, work on my quests and clear a few dungeons. Visually Bless is quite decent on an Xbox One X, with characters, environments and animations feeling current, and it’s clear it was designed for a console from the ground up with its ease of use for controller combat. Audio is decent as well, as many NPC’s are voiced, and even though you’ll hear the same combat sounds a million times throughout your adventure, it’s always impressive on a scale that MMO’s demand.

As an MMO, Bless Unleashed it perfectly serviceable, but those that want to make rapid progression are going to be sorely disappointed and frustrated with many of its draconic design choices. MMO’s are hard to review, as they are constantly evolving, being updated and changing with what the community and developers want. As of this point in time, I can certainly recommend giving Bless Unleashed a shot since I still find myself logging on every day, and given that it’s completely free to play, there’s no real reason not to. Be warned, as you’re in for a long and arduous grind if you stick with it, and it’s incredibly challenging when it comes to combat in the later dungeons, but I only expect Bless to improve in many facets in the future.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.2 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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