By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Black Desert Online is one of those MMO experiences that comes around once every five years or so. Like other quasi-sandbox titles like EVE Online, Black Desert is the type of game that requires you to study and learn, just to stay within the range of ‘average’ in terms of player ability. Hundreds upon hundreds of pages in guides and hundreds of hours in videos have been created simply to help other players eek along in their adventures within Black Desert. There are so many interlocking mechanics and systems, that you’re going to have trouble wrapping your head around it. And that’s why so many people are falling in love with the game. The last game to come out that came near in complexity was ArcheAge, before that was Age of Wushu and honestly nothing really caught on prior besides EVE. Black Desert Online is the latest in the crème de la crème of sandbox MMOs – the elites that aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and experiment. Let me tell you why Black Desert will go down in MMO history.
First off is the insane amounts of customization. There are hundreds of tiny ways to tweak your character to create your dream avatar. Or maybe you’ll want to use all these options to recreate your favorite book or movie character. Or maybe you’ll want to create a deformed monster that will make everyone cringe when they accidentally turn to see your face up close in a tight corridor. You can do all of this and more with the complex and in-depth character creator offered in Black Desert Online. To give you an example, I watched a streamer spend over an hour fine-tuning a single character to her preferences. There’s also been several websites in various languages created specifically for the purpose of sharing and distributing character designs for Black Desert.
There’s tons of options. You can literally pull and shape parts of your hairstyle. But, if you’re like me, you’ll use bdotemplates.com and choose a nice design from someone else!
The customizations doesn’t stop there. That’s just the first step. This is one of those games where there are multiple systems that offers tons of customization. From skills, to gear, to what you actually do in the game, to decorating your house. Enchanting your gear and then socketing it is pretty important if you want to be decent in either PVP or PVE. It’s to the point that the gear itself is easy to get and not that rare, but the enchantments are what make it good.
Speaking of Enhancement. It’s a bit of a headache. It can require millions of silver and hundreds of hours just to get the bare-minimum of ‘decent gear.’ If you want to go for the best-of-the-best, you can look forward to a grind that will have a decent chance of making your eyes bleed. People have come up with strategies to build “failstacks” (which is when you purposefully fail on a non-critical item so you can succeed on a critical item), but even then it’s still a hassle. I’m a bit on the fence on this system, as I enjoy the hard work and dedication it takes to get decent gear, but I also hate the fact that you have to partake in this hard work and dedication if you ever want to be half-decent in PVP. I prefer it when games reward your ability and knowledge of your class rather than your ability to grind for hours a day.
The (+11) means I’ve built eleven ‘failstacks’ trying to get this to +15.
For skills, you have the skill tree. This is similar to what a lot of other games have and it allows for some customization of your class. Though, in reality, there are certainly builds that are better than others. This means that unless you’re OK with gimping yourself, greatly decreasing your character’s ability in combat, you’ll wind up with one or two (or more, depending on your class) skill builds to choose from. Still, it’s a great system and when combined with Awakenings you get a lot of progression for your character (in terms of skills).
By far the most beautiful looking MMO I’ve ever played. And while it is probably the best looking MMO, that’s not the reason I think it’s the most beautiful MMO I’ve ever seen. While you’re exploring around, completing quests, unlocking nodes, etc… you can’t help but notice that the landscape tells a unique story. You might come across the ruins of a village, the location of a landslide, a small brook. It feels like this world has both a history and a future, rather the that “stuck in time” feeling that most MMOs give me. And it all feels natural in a way that I’ve yet to see in an MMO to date. There’s always a little something off about the world design in most MMOs. Sure, I’ve played games with beautifully sculpted land before, but they still felt artificial. It’s different in Black Desert. If you cranked up the graphics a bit and did a bit of touching up on my screenshots, I would definitely mistake it for a photo from real life. Even with my outdated PC, the toned down visuals still get the job done.
To that end, towns make sense. All too often, you’ll go into a city or town in an MMO and run into one of two occurrences. Either the city will have enough housing for hundreds but only a small fraction of the population actually being visible to you. Or you’ll go into a small town with just a handful of houses and there will be way too many NPCs to actually live there. Either one of those two can be immersion breaking for me. In Black Desert, the world designers seem to have taken special care to make the villages, towns, and cities make sense. When you visit Calpheon, there are tons of NPCs around, but there is also more than enough housing in the place to allow for it. You feel like you’re in a busy capitol everytime you visit the place. Every other location is similar. Be it the smaller city of Heidel or the tiny goat ranch in the mountains. It all makes sense and stays out of that immersion-breaking zone that so, so many games fall into.
A lot of farms around Calpheon are either diseased or infested with something.
But it’s not all great, there are a couple of things that don’t make sense… Such as the land-to-country ratio. While cities look fantastic and practical, the rest of the world feels lacking. The ratio of farm-to-monster-infestation is way off. There might be enough land to feed a city the size of Calpheon, but a majority of the land in the game isn’t farmland (though there is a decent amount of it) and most of it is infested with one type of monster or calamity in some way or another. This is where the game disappoints. I walk through Calpheon on a rainy in-game morning and I can’t help but think that if I had a VR headset I would be in virtual heaven. But then I step out of the city and the same staleness that inflicts every other MMO rears its ugly head.
Speaking of walking through Calpheon on rainy mornings… the weather in this game is incredible. In most games, rain (and snow) are just a semi-annoying fps hindering effect that doesn’t serve any purpose and doesn’t do that great of a job in improving immersion. I mean hell, most other MMOs I’ve played seem to struggle when it comes to making it so rain doesn’t bleed through the ceiling inside structures. But the weather effects in Black Desert are on a completely different level. Honestly, I know it’s cheesy, but I have to say they’re “Next Gen.” In what other MMO will rain cause your character to become noticeably wet? Outside of Final Fantasy XIV, no game has rendered their characters and implemented weather effects on them in a way that can even be comparable with Black Desert’s level of detail. Hell, in what other game can you sit and watch a puddle on the road grow overtime as it continues to rain? I’ve yet to see that type of detail when it comes to rain in any other game. And I’ve got to tell you, I’m becoming very impatient for the patch that adds snow effects to the game. I’m the type of person that falls asleep to RainyMood and frequents /r/winterporn and Black Desert is doing an incredible job of mimicking real life when it comes to weather. And the weather doesn’t just look well, it actually affects parts of the game. But I’ll get into that under “gameplay.”
If you’re the type that likes to take screenshots of the land in MMOs, you’ll have a non-stop supply of potential vistas and epic moments. Using the various features present in Black Desert’s Screenshot Feature, you can create some real art. There’s also the option to set filters for both regular play and screenshots. If you wanted to, you could play the game in black and white or sepia. I’m not sure why you would want to do that, but the fact that you can is pretty neat.
For the most part, very intuitive. There is one major issue, however. And it’s in the form of interacting with objects and NPCs. All too often I’ll run up to an NPC and try to talk to them, but I’ll accidentally talk to the random guard or candle stick next to them instead. I’ll literally be in front of them and have my target on them, yet the game seems to roll a dice to decide what I’m actually trying to interact with. It’s infuriating. If I want to decorate my house yet still retain the benefits of the buffs my furniture gives me, I have to take special care to space everything out or I’ll have to fiddle with my decorations each time I want a buff, then put everything back the way I had it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to interact with my drawers that give +1 luck for two hours, only to have my character instead jump in my bed or interact with my mounted wolf head instead. Again, it’s infuriating.