Choose a blade and slay your enemies in frantic, free-flowing sword fighting.
PC Release: May 7, 2014
By Ian Coppock
As I venture out of my comfy single-player shell into the wider world of multiplayer games, I take it upon myself to find games more novel than first-person shooters. Sure, Call of Duty gets a lot of players, but I find its kill everything-spawn-repeat gameplay boring. One thing I do not find boring is the concept of swordplay, and though I’ve crossed blades with thousands of computer enemies, never once have I dueled a human player. Blade Symphony allowed me to experience a novel multiplayer game and fight human enemies in a single stroke. No pun intended.
Blade Symphony is a multiplayer sword fighting game presented in a third-person format. Players can choose from a wide selection of characters, blades and fighting styles, and compete against each other in an array of open-world maps. There’s a short tutorial to help new players nail down the basics of blades.
Blade Symphony‘s look and feel evokes fantasy games rather than a dry sports simulator or medieval fact book. After choosing from a group of characters whose bizarre armor and masks looked like something out of Infinity Blade, I chose a sword and sat down to fight some people. Blade Symphony goes for a fusion of different visual and historical styles. You can fight anywhere from a stereotypical Chinese temple to a futuristic shopping mall.
Blade Symphony allows its players to traverse these maps in search of a fight. Once you’ve found an opponent, you can choose from a light, normal or heavy sword fighting style and get to work chopping them to pieces. You can use everything from heavy slashing attacks to acrobatics in breaking your opponent’s defense, and put up a defense of your own with well-placed parries.
Blade Symphony‘s gameplay is remarkably smooth. There’s a lot of chaos implicit in jumping around trying to stab people, but the clashes between opponents work well and give you room for both attack and defense. The developers stated in an interview that Blade Symphony was heavily inspired by the lightsaber battles of Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and boy does it show. The same wild-flying saber battles I experienced in that game are alive and well again in Blade Symphony.
The problem with fighting enemies in Blade Symphony is that there are so few to choose from. I’ve had this game for almost three years, and in the time I’ve spent playing it, I’ve only found human players about 10% of the time. I don’t log on as religiously as, say, Russian players, who seem to have taken to this game with the same zealotry that they have Dota 2, but I was disappointed to find the community so prohibitively small.
Here’s the thing; even if your game is as novel as Blade Symphony, you have to do some marketing to promote it. Multiplayer games are unlike single-player games in that your ability to enjoy them depends entirely upon other people doing the same. Shark Attack Deathmatch 2 is a fantastic multiplayer game and one of my favorites, but its community is dead in the water because the developers have done no marketing. Blade Symphony suffers the same problem, and most of its maps are empty as a result.
Despite the fact that Blade Symphony‘s community is small, I have a pleasant time playing with what few humans I do manage to find. Most everyone is polite, and, ironically for a sword game, abides to an unspoken code of honor. This is a rarity in multiplayer’s bleak, hateful landscape. Most players I encountered bowed before fighting me, and the customary “gg” sign-off evolved into much more elaborate and helpful compliments.
Multiplayer games are made stronger by an amicable community. Dota 2 has one of the largest communities on the internet right now, but most people I encounter in that game are assholes. Maybe it’s the stress associated with putting together a perfect strategy, but I have almost never encountered friendly, hospitable people in Dota 2. Blade Symphony, by contrast, has a great community. Perhaps it’s because the objectives in this game require a single player, and thus no one has cause to chastise a teammate? I honestly don’t know.
Though Blade Symphony‘s maps are empty more often than not, they pack a lot of good design. Levels contain many areas alternating between massive battle arenas and smaller, more personal dojos. The range of maps contained in the game are eclectic; European castles, Asian temples, and a riot of medieval and contemporary settings in-between. At their height, these maps are a hive of activity, with duels happening all over the place.
Though its small consolation to a game whose community is so sporadic, Blade Symphony‘s visuals are also quite beautiful. They feature a lot of bright color to draw the eyes and keep players engaged in a vibrant world. The only issue is that the game’s anti-aliasing is as sporadic as the community’s engagement, and at one point there was none at all. I think they’ve since fixed that.
Blade Symphony‘s primary game mechanic is its private duel tool. You find another player, challenge them to a duel, and fight cordoned off from the rest of the players. In other words, you don’t need to worry about your opponent’s buddy cutting into the match (literally) and finishing you off. Just as an aside, though, it would be cool to create a 2-on-1 duel in the same vein as the Darth Maul fight scene in The Phantom Menace. The last time I checked, though, the only swords you can pick are single-bladed.
If you are indeed more of a team-based fighter, Blade Symphony has a group sword-fighting mode, where teams move from objective to objective battling any that oppose them. It’s in this mode that I suspect more of the vitriol endemic to team-based multiplayer games arises, but I haven’t tried this mode yet. So far I’ve stuck to the private duels against friendlier, single opponents.
Blade Symphony could’ve done with an inkling of narrative. It’s true that narrative is by no means necessary for a multiplayer game, but if you’re not going to market your product, at least create a world that players will want to get sucked into. A lot of the games on Steam that have found huge success with no marketing have such a novel world or premise that it spread purely by word-of-mouth. Blade Symphony is certainly novel, but it needs something more than the occasional people in its community if it hopes to attract more players.
The other concern is that though there’s a huge variety of characters and blades, a lot of them are just skins. You can also switch between different fighting styles no matter what sword you pick. It’s great to be able to pick up unique weapons, but giving them their own special abilities or advantages would also increase the novelty.
I can discuss all day how amazing a game looks and how beautiful it is, but unfortunately, these things don’t matter if there’s no one around to share them with. Multiplayer games with no players are like a seashell; beautiful on the outside, hollow on the inside.
It is because of this game’s tiny community that I hesitate in recommending it to you. I’d rather your hard-earned money not go toward wandering through levels looking for someone to cross swords with. If what I’ve written inspires you, though, you’re welcome to chance the money, because the few duels I’ve had have been fun to play. Blade Symphony is ten bucks on Steam. Hopefully some of that money will go toward marketing.
You can buy Blade Symphony here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.