Choose My Adventure: Grinding away in Black Desert
Let me talk to you, my friends, about grinding. Specifically, about how it gets a bad reputation that it doesn’t altogether deserve.
How does this connect to this week’s adventures in Black Desert? Well, because I wound up doing a fair bit of grinding. It wasn’t intentional or anything, since my designated goal this week was to just trek about and see the sights for a bit. But if you give me a camp full of goblins just sitting in my path, and you have me, a player who’s more than willing to give these things a shot on the basis that the worst possible outcome is that I die… well, I’m going to fight those goblins. I’m going to fight them a bunch.
And, I think, this was ultimately a good thing. Because while the game still has all of the problems that I’ve seen to bother me up to this point, the grinding of goblins was a notable island of things feeling fresh, crisp, and responsive. It’s almost as if I enjoy the game more when I’m away from the things of man.
I started the week with nothing more than a directive to go wander. That’s easy enough; I picked a direction and started going that way. For whatever reason, I picked north.
Why north? I couldn’t tell you. It was literally a one-in-four shot. And it turned out to be the worst shot, because everything north of me was water. But when I could go no further north, I started heading east, then south, until I could head east and then north again. That was my resolution.
My other (and somewhat connected) resolution was to gather as much stuff as I could along the way. This was… well, it was a chance to see the energy system in action, but it was also on the disappointing side because gathering in this game is just the stock-standard “click on a thing and wait for a bar to fill” exercise. I was disappointed.
I recognize that I am intensely biased and spoiled by Final Fantasy XIV here, but darn it, you have a whole game featuring a real emphasis on trading, making goods, shipping them around. Give me interesting stuff to do while I’m gathering, damn it. Give me minigames, give me objectives, make gathering a game in and of itself instead of just a click and a wait. It’s a pet peeve of mine.
Despite that complaint, which I recognize as tangential to the extreme, I do like that the game ensures that gathering can improve your level but not your combat prowess. I like games that track your progress on multiple fronts like that, and the more I understand about the game’s knowledge and energy system, the more I rather like this interplay. At a glance, it feels a bit perilously close to mobile games and limited play options, but in practice it’s more a matter of just encouraging you to do multiple things instead of focusing on one or two tricks.
But back to the travelogue. My journey to the north first hit a beach, and deciding that swimming across was not an option I wisely headed south to the bridge across the river then started back north. That brought me up to the aforementioned cluster of goblins, and knowing that killing these would improve my knowledge (of goblins), I decided to wade in and start smacking away.
While I’m still not fond of how simple the combat currently is, I do want to praise it – again, I believe – for feeling appropriately meaty and tactile. My sword scythes through the air with appreciable heft, and in contrast to some other games I always feel as if my actions have an immediate and visible impact on the game around me. This is true despite the fact that health bars aren’t even visibly decreasing until you’ve earned some knowledge about your targets; at first they just change colors to roughly indicate how alive something is.
I like that feature, actually. It’s cute.
To my surprise, running around and hacking up goblins leveled me up very quickly, which brings me to the praise of grinding back in the introduction . It’s not exactly surprising that grinding is usually seen as one of the gravest possible sins you can commit, but I don’t think grinding is actually the problem; being forced to grind is the problem, same as being forced to do anything. We resent anything that becomes mandatory rather than optional. Having the option to just hack through goblins and get a feel for the range and timing of my attacks was a welcome chance, and I kept at it for a few levels before resuming my journey north.
This also contributed to my whole “I like this game when away from the things of man” feel; I was at my happiest here, smacking goblins. Was I directed to do so? No. There were goblins and I could kill them, so I could. No further incitement was necessary.
There was a castle near what I’ve come to think of as Goblin-Smackin’ Field which I could have investigated, but the map indicated that the enemies within were far out of my league. I decided to just go north.
Unfortunately, I once again wound up against a cliff (darn it!) and thus wound up heading down south. That led me to a mountain pass, which consisted mostly of me running along gamely behind a trading cart. I suppose I should probably ask about looking into trading this week, shouldn’t I? That doesn’t exactly look fun to me, but it is a core part of the experience just the same. Fair’s fair.
CMA: Should I look into the whole trade route thing?
- Yes, it's like the core of the game. (52%, 66 Votes)
- Nah, if you don't think you're going to like it you probably know. (48%, 60 Votes)
Total Voters: 126
Anyhow, heading south eventually brought me into a new area, which had… NPCs. I kind of like to avoid Black Desert’s NPCs. The voice acting doesn’t strike me as very good, and their dialogue thus far always seems to be flavor text alluding to something I’ve seen no evidence of. “Oh,” says the shopkeeper, “you came to visit us even though FANTASY NAME lost the war to ANOTHER FANTASY NAME?”
I have no idea, dude. I didn’t know there was a war, the game hasn’t told me any of this stuff. I could probably ask about this stuff, but thus far talking to you folks is just annoying, so I’m not eager to go ask some setting questions. The whole thing feels astonishingly thinly sketched and exactly the sort of generic fantasy setting that I prefer to avoid.
It also features no desert that I’ve seen. That’s still bothering me, for some reason.
Ultimately, I did enjoy just wandering a bit, although I can’t say it was enough to make me really fall in love or whatever. Given the option, I’m going to keep wandering and exploring next week, although that depends chiefly on whether or not people vote me into finding out how to manage a trade route. It’s the sort of thing I like to imagine my character tramping into town to do, hair full of sticks and leaves, a feral half-mad grin on her face as she plots out the path.
But that’s for next week. Right now, feel free to leave your notes down below or mail them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. (And feel free to shout at me for being slow, I am well aware of that fact lately.) We’ll be back next week for the… wow, it’s really the last week next week, huh? Weird. Time has definitely flown.