The long wait for the western release of Black Desert Online is nearly over. For many gamers, the launch date of March 3rd couldn’t come soon enough, especially after doing so well in both the Korean and Russian markets. I only got to see a small section of the game during the Closed Beta Test 1 last December, so I made sure I got to see as much as I could in the Closed Beta Test 2, which was held last weekend.
So, here are my thoughts on what was on offer – all the great things, all the awful things, and the hotly-debated microtransaction store.
The Good …
I could have very easily slotted in the Character Creator suite here, but I already covered that a few weeks ago so go check that out if you want to see how lovely it is. Instead, we’re going to focus on the good stuff once you’re in-game, starting with…
I won’t spend too much time here because you can get the picture by looking at the screenshots and videos that are readily available. The short of it is that BDO really is one of the best looking MMORPGs I’ve ever played. The character models look great, the game world is highly detailed (especially the social hub towns) and the day / night cycle mixed with the weather system gives it a living, breathing feel. Even the animations look natural regardless of whether you’re exploring, crafting, or slaying whatever is in your way. Speaking of which…
Oh, how I loved the combo-based combat in BDO. Containing all the plus points of WildStar’s twitch-based combat but without the lightshow on the ground, it honestly felt like an action brawler at times. Juggling enemies in the air, slamming into multiple foes at once, dodging out of the way of incoming fire – everything felt satisfying and fun.
While I played as a Warrior during CBT1, I decided to see how a ranged class handled in CBT2. So, Yolona the Sorceress was born and, oh boy, she did not disappoint. Coming off like a short-range mage with rogue-esque tactics, the hit-and-run style gameplay I was using not only felt great, but looked fantastic in action. There are only two ways they could have made it better – the addition of wall-running (but that would have been so ridiculous that I may have died of euphoria.) and the inclusion of a male version of the Sorceress. Still, what’s there in the combat is damn fine stuff.
While I only really got to sample how it all worked in Heidel, I really, really liked the way housing is handled in BDO. Being a phased part of the game world means players won’t have to rush or squabble over who gets what, and the fact you can set your properties to be workshops, storage, or even a shop opens up plenty of possibilities for players. I expect guilds who take up residence in a town will have that neighbourhood vibe that I haven’t really seen since Star Wars Galaxies.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of the phasing mechanic is how it feels a part of the world you’re spending time in, which is one of the reasons I never really spent much time at my house in WildStar. One thing that isn’t quite as robust as Carbine’s MMORPG is the object placement mechanics (especially rotating items) but what is there gets the job done. I can see plenty of virtual homemakers spending plenty of silver on this part of BDO, which provides a lovely segue into…
While a lot of the mechanics went way over my head, I can still appreciate the complexity and scope of what is available in BDO. From the way players hire workers to gather resources, to the way crafting works in both its simple and advanced forms, the systems in place have a scope similar to that found in EVE Online. George pointed out to me a comparison to Runescape (which I sadly have not played) while I would compare it to SWG’s economy – automated resource gathering mixed with player-based crafting and selling.
I especially liked the way players must prepare certain resources before using or even selling them. To me, it means that there were be a clear separation between those who take the economy side seriously and those who are just brawler-based consumers. There’s not to say a player couldn’t do both, but it would require a serious amount of time and energy. That’s on top of the way BDO uses Contribution Points to ensure a player can’t do everything on their own. It’s a topic that could easily become its own article, but the short of it is that Pearl Abyss really have thought this part out very well.
While there are players who won’t like the micromanagement that comes with owning one, I couldn’t get enough of how animals are handled in BDO. Horses were a personal highlight, as I levelled up my faithful steed Loggins as he adventured with my Sorceress. While I did pay for him with silver, I like how I could have captured and tamed a wild horse instead. I didn’t get to look into it, but the fact you can breed them as well showed yet another aspect to BDO’s already detailed economy.
As for the pets? Absolutely freakin’ adorable. My cat, Baboo (yes, there was a running theme with my animals – prizes for guessing what), helpfully gathered some of my loot and sat in front of my Sorceress while on her mount. My other half Rebecca made quite the high-pitched noise upon seeing this, which scientifically means it ranks highly on the Kawaii scale. While I didn’t get to try out the other types like dogs and hawks, the fact there are differences in their abilities (which as finding resources or other players) is another aspect I like, as it allows groups of players to ‘specialise.’
Don’t worry – I’m sure PETA will ruin the fun by claiming BDO encourages the virtual slavery of animals or some other stupidity.
The Bad …
So, we’ve covered what I liked, but for every good point of Black Desert Online there was a rather hefty bad point lurking around the corner. It’s time to look at what I consider the worst parts from my time in CBT2.
A lack of guidence for non-combat systems
This is perhaps the biggest offender as to why the economic side of things went way over my head. While there is some explanation in-game, I found there wasn’t enough to stop me from getting confused every time I tried to do anything that wasn’t a quest or combat-related. I had to get someone to explain how nodes worked in terms of using Market Sellers, as well as how enchanting and upgrading items actually worked. It’s quite clear that Pearl Abyss and Daum Games know this is an issue too, because the help icons take you to Black Desert Lore – a fan resource site.
That’s not to say everything was poorly explained, as the combat (and the way combos work) was actually well done. The animations that play were particularly helpful in showing me how to kill all the things, so it puzzles me that something similar wasn’t done for all the other mechanics in the game. I’m not saying tutorials for crafting should have been forced upon the player, but visual guides should have been available considering the complexity of certain systems in BDO.
In fairness, a large part of the problem here could be down to poor localisation, but the plot was mostly nonsensical. Something about a black spirit using the player to gain its power back, some treasure hunter doing… something… and a fallen king doing bad things to reclaim lost honour? I think? I certainly couldn’t tell you the names of the NPCs I met.
It’s such a shame, then, that I quite liked the way quest text and conversations were presented. Had the content made sense I probably would have read them in more detail (or cared about the characters beyond wanting to know their location.) I guess there’s only so much you can do, especially when translating a game into several different languages, but it really affected my enjoyment and immersion as a result.
So, with the localisation being fairly terrible, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the voice acting was acceptable at best, and absolutely awful at its worst. The fact Daum Games felt Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday was a good choice for the introduction voiceover is baffling for a number of reasons, but at least it was consistent with the quality of the in-game vocal performances.
Those who are aiming for the end-game and guild-related content probably won’t care, and those more interested in killing things probably just skipped the cutscenes, but it seriously hampered my ability to immerse myself.
No support abilities
The lack of the genre’s Holy Trinity may be a selling point to some, but I honestly dislike that there isn’t a healer role in any capacity – not even as a few optional support spells. Games like Guild Wars 2, which has done its best to do away with the trinity, at least allow players to swap out abilities, but BDO expects you to either take damage or deal it, leaving the healing to health pots alone.
I can appreciate this means that all players can get into the thick of the action, but this is a game that manages to get the complexities of a player economy done right. For it to not have combat support functionality suggests that everything could just boil down to zergfests. Well, I say that, but…
PvE is soloable
This is something I really, really disliked. Sure, it made me feel like a badass that my Sorceress didn’t die once during the beta weekend (/flex) but despite quick-respawning enemies and end-of-chain bosses that could take a beating, I was disappointed that I didn’t need help. At all. My annoyance was amplified by how players were often competing for enemy tags, because why would you want to team up if you didn’t have to?
I’m sure someone out there is screaming at the screen saying that end-game content contains open-world bosses that require many players to beat them. You’re right – they do require more than one player – but that’s only once you’ve gone through each of the zones levelling up from 1 to 50. Speaking of which…
The repetitive road to level cap
If you have no interest in the economic game, linking nodes, or fishing, and don’t have a guild that can start a (exceedingly expensive) guild war, you hope you enjoy doing the same kill / fetch quests in the same manner for a long time. With PvP in the end-game content, as is the desert exploration side of things and the open-world bosses, BDO is very repetitive in its open-world content.
Maybe if the localisation had been better I could at least have enjoyed the story inbetween quests, or if the structured PvP had lower level bracket it would help break up fighting monsters, but here we are. Sure, there’s the economic side and the mini-games to interject if so desired, but from a combat perspective it’s repetitive PvE until max level, and I find that little disappointing.
This issue is no doubt tied back to the lack of a healer role, or perhaps it’s because Pearl Abyss wanted to make sure players remain in the open-world, but I really wish there had been some dungeon instances. The action combat could have created some epic encounters, as players work together to fight waves of foes before taking on a boss at the end. Instead, the open-world bosses are the only thing even remotely close, and those run the risk of turning of being zerged by players.
I concede that the Guild War and node conquest side of things can be classified as group content, but not everyone will want to put their lot into PvP for epic encounters. Maybe we’ll see something down the line, but I’ve got a feeling such a thing is a long way off (if even a possibility.)
… And The Money
And so we reach the topic that a number of publications – MMORPG, Ten Ton Hammer, and MassivelyOP included – have already thrown their weight behind. While I don’t feel BDO hits the Pay 2 Win line, it certainly dances close to it in a way that makes me feel very uncomfortable. We’ll get to that eventually, though, as I first want to cover the costs.
Let’s get straight to it – €32 for a complete costume kit is excessive, especially when you compare it to other games on the market that offer the same for much less. Hell, costumes in BDO are bind on equip, meaning they’re bound to the character in question and not the account. The very least they could do is make the costume pieces usable by any account character of the same gender.
Or not, because some of those Sorceress outfits on a Berserker? *wolf-whistles*
Pets on the other hands cost €9, which as (god damn cute) vanity items I’m not too annoyed about. You can argue that their auto-loot bonus adds to their worth, but one item every 12 seconds isn’t anything to shout about, especially if you’ve just murdered an entire pack of enemies.
Likewise, the set bonuses for a complete costume and the accessories (including the needless fan service of underwear) aren’t anything particularly overpowered when you get down to it. With bonuses maxed out at 5 points it’s actually fairly easy to do with in-game items if you know where to get them. That said, if you put them on at the same time at, say, the start of the game, there’s certainly an advantage over a player who doesn’t.
How? Increased knowledge gain leads to an easier time dealing with mobs; slightly higher luck increases loot drops; that auto-looting pet helps the clean-up before moving onto the next pack. As slight an advantage as it might be, I still felt a difference when I eventually put all those items on my Sorceress at Level 16. Of course, it’s an advantage that clearly doesn’t last, and it is completely optional, but the perception of an easier starting experience is now there.
Money doesn’t grow on trees
Do I blame Daum for taking this approach? You may be surprised to find that no, I actually don’t. It’s ultimately a symptom of a great problem with the genre. With gamers no longer wanting subscriptions in their games, the carving up of content through microtransactions is the only way to make their money, which the company needs to keep the game alive. An MMORPG can’t run on enjoyment and critical acclaim alone, after all.
But do I think Daum can do a better job with their Pearl Store? Absolutely. Guild Wars 2 is perhaps the best example of pricing content, and the addition of flash sales (as well as being able to buy Gems for cheap from places other than ArenaNet) helps greatly. I just hope that Daum heed the calls of their players and addresses the issues before launch.
Or, you know, they admit this was all a long con in which they were going to lower the prices anyway to cheers and rejoicing from us consumer peasants.
So, should I buy Black Desert Online?
It really boils down to what you want from your MMORPG experience. If you’re after a fantasy world with action combat that delivers a complex player economy and guild warfare, you’ll be right at home with Black Desert Online. The gorgeous visuals and highly detailed world is an added bonus in my mind, but a damn fine one. On the other hand, if you’re after a high-quality PvE experience – be it for its story or the chance to slay bosses with friends in dungeons – this really won’t be for you. With the end-game being so PvP focused there isn’t much for those who don’t want to dive into crafting or trading.
I certainly think Black Desert Online has an audience waiting for it, and I really, really like the combat systems, but I don’t think it will be the MMORPG for me in the long term. Maybe I’m wrong – perhaps I just needed to get to the desert and fight dragons appreciate it. Maybe I’ll crack under the pressure and get it for launch in a few weeks’ time, desperate for more smoke-based carnage on my Sorceress. Either way, hopefully this article has given you a better idea if picking up Black Desert Online, and becoming one with the Black Spirit, is the right choice.
Black Desert Online officially launches on March 3rd on PC. Pre-orders (with up-to-up 96 hours headstart) are available on the Black Desert Online website.