‘Naraka: Bladepoint’ review: bringing a sword to a gunfight

Dodge, hack, slash, parry, win?

I always bring a knife to a gunfight. Or a spear. Or my fists. Basically, if there’s a way to mess around with melee in a game I will, because I just find it more satisfying than shooting most of the time. Maybe that’s why Naraka: Bladepoint is so much more appealing to me than most battle royales, or maybe I’m just very into all things East Asian. Probably both.

Anyway, Naraka: Bladepoint is a battle royale game that laughs in the face of ranged combat in favour of fights that are far more close and personal. You start every match by choosing your hero and your spawn point, and from there, go about and do all of the normal battle royale stuff like picking up loot and making sure you’re not going to get swallowed up by the shadow.

The shadow is the ring here, and it’s represented by a rather demonic purple haze that looks a bit like a snake. It’s a really cool bit of visual design that ties in nicely to the rest of the Chinese mythology used as the basis for many of the characters and the world itself. It’s also a fair bit more terrifying than just a ring, because you kind of feel like it might gobble you up at any moment.

Thankfully, the movement options you have in Naraka: Bladepoint are fairly varied. Along with being able to run, jump, and slide, you can also double jump, climb up walls, and even use a fancy grappling hook to get about. This all allows you to jump in and out of combat at a moment’s notice, which is perfect whether you prefer close combat or you attempt to buck the trend and take people out with a ranged weapon.

Naraka: Bladepoint
Naraka: Bladepoint. Credit: 24 Entertainment.

The melee system is fairly deep. You’ve got both horizontal attacks and vertical attacks, both of which can be charged for a different effect based on the weapon you’re using, you’ve got the ability to cancel your attacks to mess with your opponent and throw off their timing, and you can parry people, which knocks their weapon out of their hands leaving them open to an absolute beating.

The ranged weapons are simpler, but each one offers a different experience. Bows can be charged to allow for extra damage, muskets are great at range but not much use up close, pistols are basically chargeable shotguns, and you can even find legendary weapons that are basically flamethrowers or rapid-fire missile launchers.

All of this can be changed too. Naraka: Bladepoint has pickups called Soul Jades. These give passive buffs like increasing your health or melee resistance, but can also give weapon-specific buffs like an extra attack on your light combo, or new over-the-top special moves. It means you’ll often find yourself scrabbling around for the ideal set-up, and it means looting is essential from start to finish.

Of course, the hero you choose also has abilities. Each one has a special ability and an ultimate ability, but as you level up, you’ll also get the chance to customise other passive buffs for them, and even change up the abilities themselves too. You can also change their hairstyles, outfits, and even facial features in some cases. Basically, you can find a way to play as a character that’ll feel unique, and that’s awesome.

Naraka: Bladepoint
Naraka: Bladepoint. Credit: 24 Entertainment

The game kicks off with a tutorial on the controls, followed by a tutorial on the basics, which is then followed by multiple matches against bots. It’s not really made clear that you’re facing off against bots, but you’ll know that’s the case because you’ll probably win your first handful of matches. I actually quite like the approach, outside of not telling you you’re playing against bots, because the movement systems and the specifics of the melee combat do take a while to get used to, so a slightly longer onboarding is necessary.

One of the coolest things about Naraka: Bladepoint is that you can actually host your own custom matches. It’s clearly a feature aimed at streamers and content creators, but that doesn’t mean that you and a gaggle of friends can’t get together and just enjoy the beautiful map in-between sporadic bursts of hacking and slashing at each other.

All of this so far is good stuff, and I really like Naraka: Bladepoint from a gameplay standpoint along with the character customisation. However, you have to buy Naraka: Bladepoint, but it still has a free-to-play monetisation model. Along with a battle pass, which is fine, you also have cosmetics to buy and loot boxes. There’s a lot of things you could spend money on.

Naraka: Bladepoint. Credit: 24 Entertainment

On the one hand, it’s all cosmetic, so it’s not like you need to get involved with it, but on the other hand, microtransaction in paid games, despite being the case in a few other titles at launch such as Overwatch, still feel kind of grotty. It makes sense, because the game’s clearly aiming to be around for a long time, but it’s also definitely going to raise some eyebrows/forum comments about the evils of capitalism.

I’ve also had a few lag spikes in key moments in battles. I’m hoping it’s all just teething issues, and I’m assuming that’s the case, but it’s worth keeping an eye on if you’ve yet to get involved with the game. There are also some server issues when it comes to placement, with no Oceania servers, nor any in South America, despite both being available during the beta. Again, I’m hoping these things will be addressed, but as it stands, it’s important to keep in mind.

At its core, Naraka: Bladepoint is a fascinating take on the battle royale genre, and one that feels as though it’s specifically aimed at me, and all of the other weebs out there who are obsessed with melee weapons. The movement’s incredible, and the customisation systems are a huge amount of fun to play with. I’m hoping it’ll keep being supported for a long time, because I want to see some of the technical issues ironed out, and I’d love to see new heroes in the mix too. This is a game very much worth checking out if you love the idea of battle royale games, but you’re a terrible shot.

Naraka: Bladepoint is out now on PC. We reviewed the PC version.

The Verdict

Naraka: Bladepoint is an interesting spin on the classic battle royale formula. The combat and movement systems help keep everything feels absurdly fluid; the upgrades and hero customisation help you find a playstyle that fits you. It’s fun, but the technical issues need ironing out before it’s a whole-hearted must-play.

Pros

  • The ability to host custom matches
  • Deep character customisation
  • Strong combat system

Cons

  • Terrible microtransactions, although most are cosmetic
  • The occasional stutter
  • Hitboxes can feel janky
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