ZAM gets a front row seat for NEOWIZ's upcoming MMO at the Korean Gstar conference
If you've seen any of the trailers for Bless — the one below, for example — it's difficult to think of any title currently on the market that looks quite the same. As the head of NeoWiz's American office was keen to remind us, all of the footage shown in the trailers and screenshots are rendered with the in-game engine.
I was in attendance at a presentation conducted by NEOWIZ in beautiful Busan, South Korea where my bulging eyes were greeted by a stunning display of the modified Unreal 3 engine at work. To add a little meat to the elegantly crafted bones, we were given details of what we can expect from Bless, which is still early in development.
There will be 10 races to choose from by launch, but the standout so far has to be the Pantera. Making the Thundercats look flea-bitten, these massive feline creatures are tremendously cool down to every follicle of their fur — which you swear you can see individually at times.
The NEOWIZ team has worked with Epic to create a rather special engine to realize the near-photo authenticity of their impressive character designs and the sweeping world they run amok in.
As was explained at the initial presentation, the Unreal 3 engine's FPS roots caused some barriers initially, due to its problems rendering wide expanses with the same vivacious detail and splendor that it could at close quarters. To remedy that issue, NEOWIZ partnered with Epic to create their "Landscape" tool — as the devs named it internally — which could open up the engine's field of awesome to whole new horizons.
It was promised that all of those jaw-dropping vistas would be explorable, with no zoning or invisible walls to hold you back.
Such is the commitment to making the world something varied and full of personality, the designers explored various countries around the world — the real one that is — in order to inspire Bless' topography and architecture while ensuring authenticity and variety.
Even the day/night cycle has a level of detail you might not expect in your MMO, as I watched a demonstration of the sun pathing across the sky with the resultant shadows being cast directionally from each piece of a city's many structures. Great news for sundial fans you might say, but it is an example of the lengths the developers are going to in order to make their world breathe around the player.
Aside from the jaw-slackening world and character models to make you want to invest in a better monitor, graphics card and eyes, the narrative options and depth of story and lore were pressed as a strong point for the game.
Recurring NPCs whose futures rest on your choices were mentioned, with their involvement in your story ranging from being an ally, an enemy or the byline on a tombstone being dependent on how you choose to interact with them. Something that has been implemented in other games, so it will be purely down to the execution to see if that aspect of Bless can set it apart.
There is an extensive phasing system in order to make the world change according to your actions, certainly nothing revolutionary in that regard, but an intelligent way of making story lines adapt to the player and a direction that the industry is embracing more as the technology improves to pull it off with more panache.
Endgame was mentioned briefly, with max level opening up a different set of quests and opportunities as the NPCs of the world react differently once you have become the powerhouse of magic and sinew that you will undoubtedly race to be.
Having gained fame through your achievements, local guards fill their pants at your very presence, they will not dare bother you with the passing concerns of the town, instead you will be sought out by the movers and shakers to take on more dangerous tasks fitting someone of your stature.
A couple of intriguing examples were outlined regarding those "Royal" quests — an internal placeholder name. Firstly, you can be tasked with helping out lower level players who you will in turn need to help you complete your mission; a nice way to foster community and develop a reason to head back to those lower level zones.
Anyone who has enjoyed helping out lowbies in games where the challenge has been enough to make it worthwhile — EverQuest being my most vivid memory of that in action — will know the benefit of that part of MMO socializing; making it a tangible approach in Bless is a nice addition.
Secondly, another example quest involves killing an NPC in a foreign town — each race has its own separate starting city — which will require some display of stealth to slip by the guards and opposing faction NPCs who would raise the alarm and bring a riptide of trouble your way, which sounds like fun to me.
PvP in the Realm vs Realm style, which is all the rage in MMOs it seems, will be a large part of the endgame, though beyond that, details are still sketchy — something I will rectify after a one on one interview with the game's producer, coming soon.
Combat is still at an early stage, but the basic outline was that it will be targeted with active dodging and blocking. This involves a mixture of approaches with the tab target model being something that has its benefits with familiarity and ease but also its shortcomings with a sense of dynamism.
NEOWIZ has a beautiful game on its hands, of that there's little doubt, but whether its gameplay matches the visual quality is a question that remains.
I'll try to answer it with my next article where I give my impressions from actually playing the game. But not to be a complete tease, I will confirm one thing: Bless' graphics really do look as good up close and personal as in those dazzling trailers.
Pantera for the win.
Scott "Jarimor" Hawkes, Editor in Chief