Black Desert Online (or BDO for short) was supposed to be a game changer. It was hailed as the next big MMO – a borderline revolutionary sandbox online game with reactive and engaging combat, realistic graphics, a seamless open world, and the best character creator you’ve ever seen. It released first in Korea (the developer Pearl Abyss is a Korean company) in 2014, then underwent a series of closed/open beta tests before it was unleashed on NA/EU regions in 2016.
The sad truth is that it got and still gets a very mixed reaction. That’s where my experience falls – somewhere smack in the middle of really loving it, and feeling like it’s stale and recycled material.
When I first booted into the game and was presented with the character creator I was floored. Nevermind choosing a class (I chose a sorceress – the effects looked really cool to me); the character creator, if you’re someone like me, is the best worst thing I’ve ever come across. I’ve stated time and time again on posts that I’m aesthetically focused, and BDO gives you a toolbox bigger than any I’ve come across for creating your character. You can manipulate literally every part of your characters face in any way you please, giving you the ability to really mold a character to your liking. For example, every zone (part of the facial structure) on the face is adjustable, and each zone has multiple sliders for tweaking, to the point where I’m not even sure what some of them do.
Then there’s more basic things like a height slider, and with that comes body adjustment, allowing you to shape individual parts, like width and depth of the left and right thigh, length of each forearm, and also muscle definition. It’s something that’s 100% worth experiencing if you like creating characters like I do. In terms of providing an insane character creator, BDO definitely without question delivers. That being said, there are so many options that it’s very easy to get lost in the creator – either just overwhelmed with options, or lost meaning you’ve spent hours upon hours on it…or both. An interesting point of note is the ability to save your creation for future use, or upload it to the “beauty album” and have other players rate and comment on your character, or download it themselves for their own use (I’ve downloaded many others creations and used them as templates).
When it comes to the actual combat system, it’s a mixed bag. If you’ve played TERA then you already have some understanding of how BDO’s combat works. Unlike World of Warcraft where abilities are bound to keys and you’re queuing up one ability after the other, BDO’s abilities are bound to mouse button presses, combined with what direction you’re moving (and a few keys thrown in there). The abilities are built in such a way that they’re meant to be chained for combos, also meaning that animations don’t cut off others, they all chain together to create the combo. It makes the combat feel more fluid than a game like WoW, and in many ways (for me) much more rewarding. Also, targeting is handled by a reticle, but it’s more like what direction you’re facing when you start attacking, whereas WoW has a straight forward targeting system. Combat feels more reactive and, well, challenging.
This all sounds so positive so why does BDO get such a mixed reaction (including from me)? For one thing, the level progression feels…well it almost feels a bit awkward and some have said it feels “lacking,” but I have a theory as to the reason for this. For a player new to MMOS (or used to others), elements of leveling in BDO can overwhelming. When you level up or also as a reward from certain quests you’re rewarded skill points (similar in concept to WoW’s talent points). Here’s an example of the skills screen:
It’s a little like the old WoW talent trees, except there’s no real laid out and straight forward logical progression of where to go. After the tutorial, BDO doesn’t hold your hand and point you towards which abilities to take next or which to put more points in via a logical path, you’re left to figure that out on your own. Some of course are locked behind level restrictions, and some abilities can only be unlocked when you’ve leveled certain ones up to a point, but that’s where the obvious ends. I think that this contributes to how people feel about the level progression in BDO.
To me, this is actually a nice and refreshing change. We’ve become so accustomed to MMO’s holding our hand that BDO’s system feels a bit confusing. It makes Min-maxers really sweat, and that makes me grin. However, I can also see how that would put off new players/players new to MMO’s.
Another factor (and potentionally a more legitimate reason) could simply be the nature of the grind – its filled with this overwhelming sense that you’ve done all this before: talk to this guy, go there, kill this, go back to that guy for a reward, go here, kill that, collect those, etc. That’s not even to mention that you’re running everywhere.
In truth, I haven’t 100% gone into the mount system, but I believe they’re semi temporary meaning your mount can be killed and you’re stuck running again until you can buy another one. Thank God there’s an autorun to quest/marked point feature. It’s great. I can set my character to run and I can go eat a sandwich then come back and I’ll be where I need to be.
The fact that this all happens on one continent with areas/regions/towns that don’t feel all that different from the last you were in may also contribute to the stale feeling of leveling. At least in a game like WoW when you go from zone to zone the ambience, architecture, wildlife, enemy types, etc all change. Because BDO is one large cohesive sandbox world it doesn’t have that type of feel. Maybe they felt they could overlook those kinds of details in favor of gameplay.
Despite that being the general overall consensus, I kind of like what others have called a lack of progression – in a world of MMOs that all feel a little too familiar it’s a mildly refreshing change. I feel like I’m not JUST striving for numbers to better myself, I’m striving for understanding my character and the classes abilities and not 100% concerned with crunching decimal points and percentages. As a side note, a ton of +__% XP buffs have been implemented for returning players and new players, more than likely a ploy to get people playing, but also to for now ease the grind to level 50+/class awakening, which is a system I haven’t experienced on any character yet so I can’t speak to that. Korean MMO’s are notoriously “grindy,” so it may also be a way to attract a more western crowd.
Going back a step to leveling up, I’m not expecting some crazy fireworks to go off everytime I gain a level, but in a long line of games where your goal at some point is to get to the highest level possible, it just feels a little empty. To this day, Wildstar still has my favorite level up announcement:
And the announcer is even better. I know it’s a love/hate thing, but I’m in the loved it camp. Here’s a link to just some of the level up soundbytes.
Anyway, BDO has a crafting system, and to me it’s a bit convoluted, cumbersome, and just overall confusing. I can 100% understand how it can be intimidating. I myself am a fairly seasoned MMO player and I cringe looking at it (mechanically and the UI I mean). To be fair, I didn’t really engage in it the first time I played BDO (I failed to mention that I played it at launch in 2016, got to level 35 with my sorceress, then lost all momentum and stopped playing until yesterday – Dark Knight class launch on March 1st, 2017), and I don’t really at least for now plan on investing too much time on it this time around either.
However it’s integrated into a system I DO love, which is buying a house and designing the interior. Again – I’m a sucker for weird little aesthetic things where I’m given freedom to create, and the housing system gives me that. When SWTOR opened up this feature I threw money at Bioware just for more furniture and I spent so many hours designing my Nar Shaddaa sky palace that by the time I stopped playing SWTOR I had clocked just about as many hours designing it as I had leveling, if not more.
Yes there is a cash shop, but from what I’ve seen there are only few items that could be considered Pay2Win items, mainly the items that allow you to resurrect where you died. You can buy convenience items like inventory and storage/bank expansions (you will get these while leveling as well). Really, the cash shop is primarily comprised of costume items for your character (and yes, lingerie and bikini’s are options. This IS a Korean game after all) along with things for your mount and decorative packs for your house. Also available are dyes – I didn’t mention that most armor’s different parts can be customized in terms of colors, allowing you to build a set to your liking (yay more customization!), which aren’t available only exclusively in the cash shop. Oh and you can buy little pets to follow you around in your adventures (the red fox is the cutest thing ever).
I am ok with a cash shop existing in a Free2Play game (meaning there’s no subscription) seeing as how the company has to make money somehow (you only have to buy the game once for a standard game price and then you can play it all you want) as long as it stays to primarily cosmetic and mild convenience items. A bad cash shop is one that sells in game currency and high level weapons/armor.
There are still many features of BDO that I haven’t fully experienced: large scale open world siege battles, the awakening system, really engaging in the crafting/trading/professions system, and the newly integrated naval exploration/battles (which, being a huge Wind Waker fan, looks amazing). Given all that I feel like I can’t give a totally accurate assessment of the game as a whole. What I can say is that I have very mixed feelings about what I have seen and I think it’s definitely obvious I am a huge fan of it’s customization options. I have to give it more time I guess and try to fully indulge in all the game has to offer. I can say though that I am thoroughly enjoying the Dark Knight class. Sure it feels in many ways similar to the sorceress, but theres a big enough gap in the time since I’ve last played to now that it feels fresh. I just wish the class was named something different.