At first glance, I thought Blade & Soul: Table Arena was doing everything it possibly could to repel me. NCSoft’s VR debut is based on an MMO that I’m told is hugely popular over in Korea. It’s also billed as a card battler with scores of units. In my head, I was picturing a stat-filled slog with matches that would last much longer than my interest could muster.
As it turns out, I was very wrong; Blade & Soul’s multiplayer competitions are short, sharp and sweet. In other words, it’s everything I wasn’t expecting.
Every time you boot up the game you’ll be introduced to a lobby-like area in which you can pick up your characters, represented as toy-like statues, and assemble a deck that’s suited to your play style. A press of a Touch button brought up stats to read through, while the unit in question animated itself in colorful ways. I felt like I was digging through a toy box. Once you’ve got your line-up you’ll find an opponent and have a brief few seconds to stare them in the virtual eye as your match loads.
Matches are very easy to get to grips with. Both players face each other, looking down on a map from behind a fort. The object is to bring down the other player’s fort by sending units in to chip away at its health. If units meet on the field that’ll do combat, and various defenses will also distract them before they reach the wall. Each match lasts just a few seconds and you’ll have to balance deploying units with a regenerating meter that dictates how many can be used at a given time. If the meter’s low, you’ll have to wait for it to build up again to send out your next wave. Units have varying values so you’ll have to wait longer to bring out the big guns.
I quickly learned that it was best to send units out in batches rather than deploying whoever I could quickly. As the same time, the units I could use were randomized, so I’d occasionally send out the less useful, cheaper warriors to serve as fleeting distractions. It was a tactic that won me the battle and scores of loot, but I feel like the game’s intricacies can’t really be discovered in a quick hands-on session. I’d want time to get to grips with each unit and discover their strengths and weaknesses before I was really to proclaim any tactical prowess. What I played, though fun, felt a bit more on the side of anarchy.
“We wanted a sensible amount of session time,” the developer told me when I asked about the decision to go with shorter matches. “Basically for one single match, you don’t want it to drag to long. We wanted to give more variety to gamers in the sense that every opponent you meet would come up with a different strategy.”
Blade & Soul looks to be a case of not judging a book by its cover; I had a lot of fun with the madness of the game’s multiplayer battles, and could see myself playing more than it releases in the future.