Over the course of my first day in Black Desert, I did a lot of the things you’d expect from the first day in a new MMO: I killed some imps, couriered some items for spectacularly lazy NPCs, and learned a few skills. But I also spent a much larger amount of time doing things that might seem a bit more novel: I built a raft and sailed the sea; I made a hefty profit buying trade goods in one settlement and selling them off in another; I bought out all the real-estate I could, set up a residence for myself, and used the vacant lodgings to house the workers who built my raft; and I, honest-to-god, spent a solid half an hour extracting blood from dead weasels.
Black Desert is a curious and sometimes arcane creature; for the majority of my first play session, I felt more than a bit lost. And I loved it. It’s been a long time since a game has managed to make me feel lost in such a way that I actually enjoyed the experience. Sure, there have been plenty that have made me feel lost through various means, including convoluted UIs full of flashing buttons, poorly translated quest text, and indecipherable tooltips that provide no useful information.
But the “lost” sensation I experienced while playing Black Desert was something different. The information was all there — the game does an excellent job of making information readily available, though some of it is admittedly not as clearly phrased as I would prefer — and although the UI isn’t the prettiest I’ve ever seen, it’s clean, efficient, and gets the job done without putting players at risk of seizures with blinking, flashing widgets.
Before I dive into the game’s many intricately interwoven systems that led to that sensation of lost-ness, I guess I should start from the beginning, which is to say character creation. I honestly feel like this is the game’s weakest point right now, for a number of reasons. For starters, the class selection in this beta test was unfortunately limited. Of the game’s twelve classes currently available in the Korean version of the game, only six were available: Warrior, Ranger, Sorceress, Berserker, Wizard, and Tamer. But it’s somewhat expected that the Western version of the game wouldn’t be quite caught up to the Korean version, especially at this point in the localization process, so I’m not going to let the limited selection weigh too heavily on my opinion.
What bugs me about it, though, is that the classes are gender-locked; of the Korean version’s twelve classes, eight of them are actually just gender variants. For instance, the Valkyrie is the female version of the Warrior, the Witch is the female version of the Wizard, and the Ninja is the male version of the Kunoichi. As far as I understand it, the male and female versions of a given class play exactly the same as one another, using the exact same skills and such, so I’m really kind of confused as to why some of them (Valkyrie and Witch, specifically) weren’t in the game while their male counterparts were. [Commenter Leilonii was kind enough to point out that of the “gender-mirror” classes, only the Witch and Wizard are identical in mechanics and playstyle; the others are based off of the same archetype as one another — both Warrior and Valkyrie are sword-and-board melee classes, for example — but have at least somewhat differentiated playstyles. -Matt]
Hopefully the missing gender-mirror classes will be added by launch, and that problem will be completely rectified. Other than that, however, the character customization options are fairly solid. They didn’t exactly take my breath away, and I kind of felt like all characters of a given class had some uncanny resemblance to one another. I don’t think I saw a single youthful-looking Wizard, for instance. All of them looked to be at least middle-age, but since I didn’t create a Wizard, I can’t say if that’s just coincidence or if the customization options simply allowed for only wizened old Wizards.
At any rate, the customization options were sufficient for me to create a character (a Warrior) with whose appearance I was more or less satisfied, and I jumped eagerly into the game. It started me out, as most games do, with a sort of tutorial segment where I learned how to access my inventory, equip items, and of course, fight.
Black Desert features an action-style combat system in the vein of TERA and Blade and Soul, and it’s a pretty damn fun one, too. You perform attacks and activate abilities by entering certain input commands – often directional keys plus mouse clicks (Back + RMB, for example) – and the game puts a heavy emphasis on learning your character’s combos, which are abilities that can be seamlessly chained together into multi-hit attacks.
There is a traditional hotbar that you can use to activate abilities, but an ability activated via hotkey is slightly less powerful than the same ability activated via command input combos, so obviously it’s highly encouraged that players know the command inputs for each of their abilities and the combo chains at their disposal. [Commenter Leilonii was also kind enough to point out that using abilities from the hotbar does not, in fact, reduce their efficacy, but simply increases the amount of resources they cost to execute. Thanks again, Leilonii! -Matt] It’s very reminiscent of a fighting game, really, though obviously the command inputs are (mercifully) not as complicated as the ones you’d see in Street Fighter, for example.
My class of choice, the Warrior, turned out to be a remarkably agile and versatile fighter. Armed with the time-honored sword and board, he was capable of dishing out the damage while avoiding damage through a combination of evasion and shield-blocking. It’s really hard to describe the combat in Black Desert, but the best word I can come up with – vague though it may be – is “visceral.” I just can’t really convey the joy I felt at shield-charging into a gang of goblins, straight-up body-slamming one of them to the ground, countering an incoming attack with flawless timing, and following up with a lethal riposte that opened a combo that didn’t end until I had taken every last one of them down.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to describe any of the combat I experienced as flat-out “hard,” there were definitely more than a few encounters that were suitably challenging, forcing me to rely on quick thinking (to recall the appropriate command inputs at the appropriate times) and quick reflexes (to block, counter, and dodge inbound attacks) in order to emerge victorious. I didn’t take part in any PvP, but I certainly imagine that the combat system makes going toe-to-toe with other players an especially intense affair.
My only combat-related trepidation comes in regard to PvP, which – as I understand it – is a fairly major part of the game, especially in the endgame. The command input and combo system is oodles of fun, but I feel like it’s going to require some remarkably finely-tuned balancing to keep player-vs-player combat from becoming one-sided in favor of a particular class or group composition.
At any rate, after the opening tutorial quests, which were sufficient enough to help me find my footing but mercifully quick, I was more or less let loose in the world to do as I pleased. Now, here’s where things get a little tricky because there are so many systems and mechanics at play in Black Desert, and so many of them are intertwined, that I’m not entirely sure where to begin.
I guess one place to start is by answering the question, “What can you do?” The short answer is “a lot.” Like I intimated in the opening paragraph, the breadth of options at your disposal is pretty incredible. But just for the sake of trying to better organize my thoughts, let’s break things down. At the most basic level, just about any activity you take part in is going to tie into one (or more) of three basic areas: Resource harvesting, crafting, and trading.
In order to discuss these things, however, there are three basic systems that need to be explained first. The first of these is energy. Each character has an energy pool, which can contain a certain number of energy points at any given time – a character’s maximum energy is fairly low at the start of the game, but it can be increased as you progress through the game (more on that in a moment), and a character’s energy reserves will regenerate naturally over time – the natural regeneration rate can be boosted by resting in a bed – and they can also be refilled by completing certain quests that grant energy points as rewards. Energy is kind of a catch-all resource used to do a number of things, including (but not necessarily limited to) harvesting resource nodes, crafting items, and gathering knowledge from NPCs.
That last one is a bit unusual, and it brings us to the second system we need to go over: knowledge. Throughout the game, characters will amass knowledge in a variety of areas. Practically everything you do gives you – or at least has the potential to give you – knowledge of a certain subject. Now, knowledge isn’t a “resource” in the same way that Energy is, but it does have a far-reaching impact on a number of other facets of the game. For starters, gathering knowledge is how you go about raising your maximum energy level – the more knowledge you collect, the higher your maximum energy pool will be.
Knowledge has an effect on combat, too. When you first fight a particular kind of monster, its health bar won’t actually deplete; instead, it will simply change color (from green to orange to red) to give a general indication of the monster’s current state. After you’ve killed enough of that type of monster, however, you’ll gain knowledge about it, which will allow you to see the monster’s exact health. Knowledge of a type of monster may also grant some other kinds of benefits when fighting against those monsters, but I wasn’t able to confirm anything during my time in the beta.
One of the more unique ways in which knowledge is used is the NPC friendliness system. When a player has gathered a sufficient amount of knowledge on subjects in which a certain NPC is interested, it’s possible to initiate a “conversation” with that NPC, which takes place in the form of a minigame. I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to convey the mechanics of the minigame via text, but I’m going to try; just trust me when I say that, no matter how convoluted the following explanation may be, the minigame is actually quite intuitive and fairly interesting in practice.
The minigame goes like this: First, you’re given a goal, which changes with each conversation; sometimes it’s to earn a certain number of points by “scoring” subjects, and sometimes it’s successfully sparking the NPC’s interest in a given number of consecutive topics. With that in mind, you choose a number of subjects on which you have the requisite knowledge and arrange them in the order in which they’ll be discussed.
The minigame then goes through each subject, in order, and determines whether or not the NPC’s interest was sparked by the subject in question, which is influenced by the NPC’s interest rating listed for each topic. If the NPC’s interest is successfully sparked, you score points for that subject. If, when all is said and done, you’ve met the goal set forth for you, then your intimacy rating with that NPC increases. Once your intimacy rating is high enough, you’ll unlock unique goodies from that NPC such as additional quests or an expanded shop inventory from which to purchase.
Phew, OK, that finally brings us to our last prerequisite system: contribution points. Thankfully, this one’s pretty simple. Basically, as you complete quests, you’ll earn contribution points. Like energy, you have a set pool of contribution points and the maximum number of points you can have at once will increase as you progress through the game. Unlike energy, however, contribution points don’t regenerate, and that’s because they’re not exactly “spent,” per se. Instead, contribution points can be invested into things like housing and trading nodes (we’ll get there eventually), but those investments can be withdrawn at will, returning all contribution points spent on them.
And that brings me to the end of this first half of my impressions piece on Black Desert. Join me on Monday’s second half, which will dig into the game’s robust crafting, gathering, and economic systems!