Despite battle royale fatigue inching its way into the collective gaming consciousness in recent years, Naraka: Bladepoint is proof that the last-fighter-standing formula still has loads of unexplored potential. This high-flying third-person brawler blends the tight sword clashes of Soul Calibur with the frantic supply gathering and ever-constricting circle of Apex Legends to glorious results. After sinking 35 hours into the full release, its superb melee combat and exhilarating gravity-defying antics are still making me grin, even if irritating network connection issues and lifeless bot matches sometimes hinder the fun. Naraka: Bladepoint isn't afraid to punish you for not respecting its mountainous skill ceiling, but once you find your footing, putting it down is a challenge in and of itself.
In standard battle royale fashion, Naraka: Bladepoint pits 60 combatants against each other on a war-torn isle, each controlling one of seven unique heroes either in teams of three or solo. Instead of scavenging for assault rifles or bullet-proof kevlar, however, you'll search for spears, daggers, katanas, and tons more sharp-as-steel lethal instruments along with breastplates and magical trinkets called Souljades that add passive buffs. The loot-and-scoot way of life will be familiar to anyone that's played Fortnite or Call Of Duty: Warzone before, but the similarities end once the time comes to put up your dukes. Battling other players means engaging in wild, up-close brawls that flow more like a fighting game than any battle royale.
From the instant an opponent parried my first sword swipe, sending me face-down into the dirt, I knew Naraka: Bladepoint took a healthy degree of skill to "get good" at. Charging into battle with no plan in mind against players that know what they're doing will almost certainly yield similarly humbling results, as frantically swinging melee attacks leaves you open to counter attacks and air juggles. Taking time to learn the differences between standard, special, combo, and charged attacks while keeping an eye on your weapon and armor durability (which depletes quickly) is vital to success. It is equally important to monitor the competition's body language, waiting for the perfect opening to cut them down. Once I got into Naraka: Bladepoint's lighting-fast rhythm and strategic duels, though, I started having an absolute ball parrying and dodging with the best of them. Those initial encounters may have been a smidge embarrassing, but it's all part of the learning process, and sticking with it will yield endless hours of breathless yet rewarding brawls.
There are also ranged weapons like bows, muskets, and hilariously gargantuan flamethrowers to find if popping folks from a safe distance is more your thing. This isn’t a shooter though, and killing enemy players solely through those means is tricky. In my experience, crossbows and the like are better for last hitting someone trying to flee after a close-range tussle rather than an entirely different means of fighting. Still, proficiency with them can come in handy, especially during team fights when you might be able to more safely fire shots while your allies take all the heat.
Practice in all of Naraka: Bladepoint's various disciplines pays off big time once you hop into trios. Initially, I was skeptical that any 3v3 scenario would devolve into a mess of crane kicks and spear stabs. In practice, however, they're more akin to the tactical team fights of League Of Legends than a lawless royal rumble. Coordinating your hero's unique abilities along with those of a teammate can lead to diabolically amusing results. My favorite hero thus far is Matari, a stealthy assassin that can vanish and teleport around the battlefield. In an ideal scenario, I'd get friends to charge right at an opposing team while I skulked around behind them, unleashing vicious combos before they knew what happened. That plan of attack doesn't always work, of course, and in those moments I could (hopefully) dart away with a blink, or hope my buddy could intervene as Tianhai, a tanky hero able to soak up excess damage once he transforms into a giant beast called the Vajra. The hero toolkits are so diverse and meld together so well that I'm sure we'll see creative matchups for months to come.
If you're someone who loves a good backstory to their multiplayer avatar, though, it might be best to look elsewhere. Even after using Matari for hours upon hours, I couldn't tell you a single thing about her personality. Everyone of her mid-match quips is woefully cliche or lacking any enthusiastic delivery, and none of the other heroes fair much better. Sure, there are little snippets of lore sprinkled throughout the menus, but it's always dry exposition with almost no flavor. With how enjoyable and expressive heroes are in battle, I wish there was more to their stories.
Despite how joyous Naraka: Bladepoint's deep melee fights against other players are, however, bots can suck the fun right out of it. For your first few hours of ranked play, you'll almost exclusively face dullard AI-controlled adversaries that barely put up a fight. They'll happily eat a katana to the face and often don't bother putting up a counter-attack of their own. Developer 24 Entertainment insists that bot matches exist to ease new players into Naraka: Bladepoint since the skill ceiling is so high, but you'll likely learn next to nothing from these insipid encounters. I prefer to get blitzed by an actual person, learning from what I did wrong, then mindlessly wail on idiotic bots – and while other games have been known to use a similar tactic to start, you’ll face bots for much longer here with no warning.
If nothing else, at least bot matches allowed me to gracefully swing about the map without a care in the world thanks to how incredibly scalable Naraka: Bladepoint's terrain is. It doesn't matter if you're marching up tiny hills or leaping up towering cliffsides — if it's within sight, you can climb it, especially once grappling hooks come into the equation. Like every other item, they're found throughout the map and are as important as healing herbs or the finest blade. There were several instances where I forgot to fight anyone because hook-shotting from treetop to treetop was so blissful, and as long as your grappling hook reserves are full, you'll never have to touch the ground. It ends up feeling like if Spider-Man threw in some wonderfully overly dramatic Naruto landing poses every once and a while.
But no matter if you're swinging across the heavens or locking horns with an enemy, Naraka: Bladepoint can fall apart at the seams if the servers are acting up. Now, while that's true of almost any online multiplayer romp, it's especially noticeable here when so much of Naraka: Bladepoint relies on pixel-perfect precision. Frustration sets in fast when a parry maneuver goes unnoticed due to lag, but thankfully connection woes have been a pretty infrequent since its admittedly rocky release day. Hopefully that stability will remain from here on out.
This article was originally published by IGN.COM