Is Naraka Bladepoint worth playing in 2024? I went to China to find out
7 mins read

Is Naraka Bladepoint worth playing in 2024? I went to China to find out

When you look down the most-played games on Steam, not a lot’s surprising.

Some competitive Valve games? Cool, fair enough. Palworld? Slightly depressing, but I understand it. GTA 5? It’ll be Trevor and the cockroaches left after nuclear war strikes.

But nestled consistently in the top performers with hundreds of thousands of players every single day is Naraka Bladepoint, a melee-focused battle royale developed by the relative newcomer 24 Entertainment and published by NetEase Games.

Naraka first released in 2021 and went free-to-play in 2023, but over its relatively short life it’s been remarkably consistent, and only just reached its all-time peak a few months ago with nearly 300,000 concurrent players.

I’d always written Naraka off as completely centred on domestic Chinese gamers, but – not content to leave the mystery unsolved – I went to the J Cup World Championships in Chengdu, China to find out more.

Chengdu is the perfect location for Naraka; a very modern, competitive online video game which incorporates characters and environments based on traditional Chinese mythology. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province in the West of China and, as well as playing a key role in the famous Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, is an area that’s been inhabited for more than 4000 years. Today it’s a city of more than 20 million people (more than double London by some measures), which blends traditional buildings and streets with luxury shops and giant skyscrapers.

Yueshan riding a horse while wielding a long Polesword in Naraka: Bladepoint
Half pole, half sword, all deadly. | Image credit: 24 Entertainment

Held in the shadow of Chengdu Global Center, the biggest building in the world by floor area, in a 3000-seater venue packed with fans whooping and waving flashing inflatables along to every second of chaotic action, the J Cup Solo championship and Trios team competitions were tense, spectacular, and intriguingly different events.

After playing more of the game for myself and watching the highest levels of competitive play, the first thing I realised was that, despite melee combat’s reputation for button mashing, Naraka Bladepoint is an incredibly technical game, which is both its biggest draw and steepest obstacle in terms of accessibility.

Within the combat triangle of light attacks, charge attacks and parries, you can half-charge and hold different kinds of attacks to blur the lines between each, creating layers of grey and complicated manoeuvres and combos in the heat of battle.

Two players fight each other with melee weapons in Naraka: Bladepoint.
It’s a looker. | Image credit: 24 Entertainment

This gives it a high skill gap which is perfectly suited to esports, but can also be confusing for newcomers. If you’re unfamiliar with what the community has dubbed “hold-checking”, where you make out like you’re throwing a charge attack to bait a reaction, it’s very easy to wonder why someone else’s light attack beats yours (it’s because they charged it longer).

However, Naraka isn’t just about mastering the rock-paper-scissors battle system (where sometimes you have a very papery rock and a pair of stone scissors). In Solo, the pre-tournament favourite and champion AoW_Mike is considered a brilliant all-around player not just for his 1-on-1 skills, but his sense of timing, map knowledge and reading of a situation.

So, as well as memorising twitch-intensive moment-to-moment combos, there’s a cerebral element to Naraka that’s definitely misunderstood. Knowing when to attack, when to run away, understanding the shape of the match, how to score points and when to use your ultimate abilities is as important as raw technical ability.

Two warriors duelling in Naraka Bladepoint.
Duels are the highlight of the game.

ELD.Froztivus, one of the best players from North America, is a great example of this. While the Naraka pro scene is largely dominated by China, players from other regions have made an impression on the last two Championships. Froztivus is an exceptional 1-on-1 player and absolutely dominated the Realm of Yang (a duelling arena that appears during matches) whenever anyone dared to square up to him.

But although he won the final match of the solo J Cup, Froztivus placed 7th overall because he couldn’t translate that duelling prowess to a high-enough score consistently.

On the trios side, teamwork – as you’d expect – is key, with each player performing a specific role with a specific character. The best Naraka characters are quite different in solo and trios, with survivability playing a bigger role in the former. Many characters with glaring weaknesses on their own come to the fore in team play, where a dedicated healer, tank or ranged focused cooperator can cover for them. This means that almost all of Naraka’s roster gets a look in at some point, so the meta isn’t completely homogenous like some games.

It also means that there’s a place for you, whichever type of character you like to play, in one of Naraka’s modes, even if you’re only interested in one of the solo or trios, not both.

But while trios is a viable competition, Solos is where the most tension, drama and glory is. In the climactic final match of J Cup, the points leader, Mike, got knocked out early, leading to a tenterhooks finale where the previous year’s runner up, KLA.T225, had a clear shot at avenging his near miss and taking home the title.

All it took though was one unlucky exchange to send him crashing out of the game, sealing triumph for Mike and tears for T225.

Exchanges like this show Battle Royale at its high-stakes best.

kratos look-alike in Naraka Bladepoint
Character customisation FTW.

But while on the one hand the genre feels past its peak with high profile flops like Hyper Scape, on the other it feels like the biggest hitters have just consolidated their dominance of the market, with the likes of Apex Legends, Fortnite and PUBG still raking in massive audiences and concurrent player counts.

So, with that in mind, when you’re thinking, “should I play Naraka Bladepoint in 2024”? In short, Naraka Bladepoint has surprising depth, a thriving pro scene and obvious continued investment. It is vastly more popular in China than anywhere else in the world, but American players still compete at the highest levels.

While its technical combat system takes time to learn, a mobile version is in the works which hopes to bridge the skill gap and provide a more accessible entry to the game as hobby and esport, but you’re still entering into a niche where you’ll find most of the players likely outside of your region.

But with that said, it’s not likely to run out of steam with updates any time soon, because new characters and weapons drop with competitive seasons and are specifically balanced to shake up the meta.

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