Desert Nomad: The misplaced individuality of Black Desert
Hello, friends, and welcome back at long last to another installment of Desert Nomad. I’m very sorry to have kept you all waiting during my impromptu sabbatical, and if it’s any consolation, the vast majority of it was spent dealing with aggro from the dread fiend known as Real Life. But I survived with my sanity more or less intact, and I’m once again ready to recklessly abandon the real world in favor of one in which most of my problems can be solved by swinging a sword, pickaxe, or other suitable implement at them.
Once I had recovered from dodging the barrage of curveballs that reality had so generously thrown at me, I immediately set to work trawling Black Desert’s forums and subreddit to see what had gotten the community abuzz during my absence. Needless to say, I had a lot of catching up to do. The Mediah content update went live, granting players access to a big new chunk of the world, which is accompanied by oodles of new quests, and opening up the Crimson Battlefield 40-vs-40 PvP deathmatch. Unfortunately, however, I can’t write about that yet on account of the fact that I have experienced none of it because of another major content update I missed: The classes I’d been waiting for, Blader and Plum, made their debuts under the new names of Musa and Maehwa, and since my return to the game, every iota of my attention has been focused solely on catching my dashing new Blader up to my former Warrior main.
As I struggled to figure out what I’d write about in lieu of my still-developing impressions of the Musa and the new Mediah content, I happened across this Reddit thread, which led me to this forum post wherein forumgoer JoergH claims that the amount of HP a character gains when leveling up is random. This claim was later confirmed by Daum Community Manager CM_Jouska, who reported that according to the game’s developers, “There is a range for how much HP and MP are gained with each level to add variety between characters,” adding that the developers “believe that no two characters should be identical and that these variations add to the game, making each character more unique.” Naturally, the reactions to this discovery have been all over the emotional spectrum — my own reaction, as is so often the case, is mixed — but more than anything, the statement from the developers made me wonder if they’re really aiming their attempts at encouraging individuality at the right targets.
Let me just go ahead and get this out of the way: All things considered, I’m not particularly fazed by the revelation. While I do try my best to ensure that my characters are at least somewhat efficient, I’m not one to lose sleep trying to figure out how to squeeze every last delicious drop of DPS out of my build. But I also understand that there’s a significant portion of the playerbase who consider that stat-wringing to be their bread and butter, and while the resulting differences in HP and MP from one character to the next may seem so minor as to be inconsequential, as the Reddit thread’s OP, /u/Outrage11, points out, even a small amount of extra MP (or WP, for melee classes) can make a significant difference in the long run. And while it is true that a character’s maximum HP and MP can be increased by leveling up the health skill, the fact remains that one character may have less total HP and MP than another character of the same combat and health levels purely by virtue of the fact that one player had better luck with the RNG, and that kinda sucks.
But the point is that I’m not here to argue whether the mechanic itself is good or bad. I decided to write this article not because of my reaction to the realization that my darling new Musa might fall short of his potential thanks to RNG, but because of my reaction to the dev team’s claim that the mechanic exists to “add variety between characters” in the interest of “making each character more unique.” My reaction was this: “Why start now?”
I almost hate to admit it — no one likes talking trash about a game he otherwise loves, including me — but the fact of the matter is that if the devs wanted characters to be unique and varied, there are plenty of other places where their efforts would have been much more effective, not to mention more appreciated. Character creation, for instance. It’s hard to feel unique when every character of a given class can be customized only within limited parameters, minor variations on the same mold. I think the Wizard is the most prominent example of this, since it’s borderline impossible to create one who isn’t a wizened old sage or, at best, a middle-aged man clinging stubbornly to his fleeting youth. It’s especially frustrating because, unless I’m missing something blatantly obvious, I can’t come up with one reason that it wouldn’t be possible to allow Wizards with the facial features of the Warrior, for instance.
And then, of course, there’s the (at least perceived) lack of aesthetic options in the realms of clothing and armor. Now, I’ve said before and I still think that there is a wider variety of armor appearances than people may commonly think, but I also couldn’t blame anyone who thinks that there are only a handful of options, either. The game doles out new equipment at a pretty slow rate, at least over the course of general questing, and in some cases the differences between one piece of armor and another may be so minute that players who aren’t on the lookout might not even notice the change, leading them to assume that if they wanna look good, they’ll have to shell out for a cash shop outfit. And, depending on your definition of “looking good,” that might be the case; I certainly haven’t come across any armor sets that are acquirable in-game that even approach the ornamental flamboyance of the cash shop costumes. I’m definitely not saying that players need to be handed a dazzling set of armor at level 10, but at the very least, players need to discover that they have options before they’ve grown resigned to the fact that their characters will be in peasant rags forever.
But I suppose one could argue that those aren’t suitable comparisons; after all, the randomization of HP and MP gains is more a matter of uniqueness in terms of mechanics, not aesthetics. While I personally hold both in roughly equal importance, it’s a fair argument, and one to which I honestly have no counter. Although Black Desert may lack (or may at first seem to lack) particularly diverse aesthetic customization options, it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t provide players with plenty of avenues through which they can differentiate their characters in respect to mechanics. There’s no hard cap on skill points, which means one character could theoretically have access to every skill in its class’s tree, but realistically speaking, all but the most hardcore players will ultimately have to make some decisions that will to some extent define their characters’ abilities. This, combined with the nine different profession skills available for players looking to carve a niche for their characters, leaves me unable to say that Black Desert doesn’t provide players with a significant degree of mechanical customization options.
This has all been a roundabout way of saying that while there’s no denying that it’s important to players that their characters be different in terms of mechanics, playstyle, stats, and so on, sometimes it’s just as important that their characters feel different. I’m quite certain that Daum is more than capable of providing ample opportunities to do just that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least admit that, even within the constraints of the current character creation system with its universally geriatric Wizards and curious lack of grizzled old Warriors, players are given remarkable control over the minutiae of their characters’ physical features, but for some reason their agency over the broader strokes, the ones that stand out even without detailed examination, is denied — or in the case of armor variety, excessively delayed. In a game that is all about freedom of choice in nearly every other respect, it’s frustrating to have so little of it in something so basic as customizing the way our characters look.
At any rate, thank you as always for soldiering through another meandering exercise in tangential relation, and I hope you’ll join me next time for another examination of whatever arbitrary facet of Black Desert happens to strike my fancy. Before I sign off for real, I’d like to take a quick moment to make a shameless plug: Massively OP’s official Black Desert guild is, despite my sudden and unexpectedly extended absence from the game, still alive and looking for active members. If you’d like an invitation, head on over to the guild’s freshly reanimated Enjin site. It’s sparse, I know, but it does the job. Just head to the forums and post in the Invite Requests category, and I’ll get in touch with you in-game ASAP. OK, plug’s done, column’s done, everyone go home! See you next time, Nomads.