On Friday, I took a look at the classes, combat, and tricky mechanics of upcoming sandboxy Korean-import Black Desert’s first western closed beta test. Today, I’ll pick up where I left off by addressing the game’s crafting, gathering, and economic systems.
Now then, as I noted in that earlier article, most of the things you do in the game will ultimately fall under the umbrella of resource gathering, item crafting, or trading; we’ll start with the first. Black Desert provides two ways to harvest resources. The first is the “standard” method that most MMO players will be familiar with: You find a resource node in the world, equip the appropriate gathering tool, and right-click the node to gather the goodies it contains. Harvesting from a node requires energy, so the number of resources you can gather at one time – at least in the early game when your maximum energy reserve is still paltry – is rather limited. We’ll talk about that more soon.
The second method, however, is a bit less standard: You can also hire workers to gather materials for you. Here I’m again faced with the issue of systems being so intertwined that I have to explain one to explain the other. So, a couple of paragraphs ago, I discussed the contribution point system and mentioned that contribution points can be “invested” into certain areas, and one of those areas is housing.
Each major city (and many smaller settlements besides) contains a number of housing units that players can rent by investing the appropriate number of contribution points (and occasionally a bit of gold) into the properties they wish to rent. The housing plots are instanced, so there’s no vying with other players to grab a piece of prime real estate, and each is able to fulfill a variety of different functions.
Almost all housing properties can be rented for use as a character’s residence. Residences are your “traditional” player housing and can be decorated and filled with useful things such as crafting stations. But that’s only one of the things that housing properties can be used for. Properties can also be rented out as lodging for workers that players can hire from labor masters, which can be found in all major cities. The laborers, in turn, can be put to work on a variety of tasks, one of which is – surprise! – resource harvesting.
But there’s another intermediate step between hiring a worker and sending them off to get their hands dirty in your stead. Major locations in the game world – cities, settlements, and resource deposits, for example – are marked on the world map as “nodes,” and each node is connected to one or more other nodes. So once you’ve found the resource deposit that you want your workers to harvest, you have to connect the node of the city in which they were hired with the resource node in question.
The catch here is twofold: First of all, before a node can contribute to the chain connecting the worker’s home city to the resource deposit, it has to be activated by way of a contribution-point investment, which must be given by way of an NPC who is stationed at the node itself (though the nodes for major cities are automatically activated without the need for contribution points). Secondly, the resource node you’re aiming for will almost certainly not be directly connected to the home city’s node, thereby requiring you to do a great deal of legwork (and invest a great deal of contribution points) to activate the sequence of nodes that leads to your resource deposit.
I never really felt like I was hurting for contribution points, however, and the legwork was made significantly less tedious by the game’s auto-routing feature, which allows you to simply right-click a location on your map to which your character will then autorun. It’s not ideal for all situations, mind you; the first thing it does is navigate your character to the nearest road, on which he will travel for the rest of the journey, which isn’t always the most efficient way from point A to point B – though traveling on the road does grant a small movement speed bonus – and the roads aren’t necessarily clear of threats that you might need to look out for, but for the purposes of connecting nodes across long distances, it’s an immensely welcome quality-of-life feature.
At any rate, once your resource’s node has been connected to that of your worker’s home city, you can simply assign the worker through the map interface and he’ll get to work. Over time, your dedicated employee will harvest the resources and send them to your storage box back in the worker’s home city. It’s worth noting here that each major city has its own storage box, so if you want to move items from one city to another, you’re going to have to either transport them yourself (item weight does affect movement speed, but you can get yourself a mule to shoulder the burden and quicken the journey) or pay to have them transported by wagon.
While we’re on the topic of workers, it’s worth pointing out that they come in a variety of qualities (i.e., rarities), and as they work, they will earn experience, level up, and gain abilities that will improve their working speed and proficiency. They also have a limited amount of energy which, once depleted, will need to be restored by the time-honored best friend of manual laborers: beer! That’s right, just whip your workers up a keg of refreshing brew and they’ll be back on the job in no time.
There is one final method of resource gathering that deserves particular mention, and that’s fishing. Fishing is the one thing that your workers, as far as I managed to discover, cannot do for you. To reap the bounty of the sea, all you need is a rod, some water, and maybe some bait if you’re feeling fancy. There’s a little minigame to accompany the activity, and it’s fairly fun – as fishing minigames go – save for the fact that it often involves what seems to be a disproportionate amount of doing nothing.
Obviously, you have to wait for the fish to bite – I’m not so uneducated that I can’t grasp that waiting tends to comprise a large portion of one’s time spent fishing – and the time it takes to hook something can vary wildly based on a number of factors such as your fishing rod level, your fishing skill, the bait being used, and how much the body of water has been fished from recently. As an aside, I think that last bit is especially neat; an area can actually be overfished to the point that almost nothing bites.
But the problem with the waiting part is that there is literally nothing you can do but wait. You’re unable to look at the world map – from which many of the game’s functions and a bunch of useful information are accessed — while you’re fishing or, in fact, for as long as you have the fishing rod equipped. In fact, I’m fairly sure that you can’t open pretty much any interface windows with fishing rod in hand.
So, unless you alt-tab and browse Reddit or something, you’re forced to just stare at your character, who’s staring at the water, until something bites. Part one of the minigame involves pressing the space bar at the right time, then part two requires you to input a random sequence of the WASD keys, with bigger and rarer catches requiring longer and more complicated input sequences. It’s not an innovative minigame by any stretch, but as far as I’m concerned, it still beats the pants off of the usual “click the lure when it bobs in the water” method that seems to be common.
Just a few final resource-gathering-related quibbles before we move on to crafting: I find it immensely irritating that, despite the fact that gathering tools have durability ratings that degrade over time until they’re rendered unusable, they can’t be repaired like other pieces of broken equipment, therefore requiring you to either buy or craft a new tool every time one breaks. I think I understand why this is the case – if gathering tools never needed to be replaced, then the tool-makers of the game would quickly find themselves out of business. But it’s especially frustrating in the early game because the lowest-quality gathering tools (the only ones that can be purchased from NPC merchants) have, if I recall correctly, only ten durability points, meaning that they can only be used ten times before they break and need to be replaced.
This wasn’t a big issue, however, once I had gathered enough resources to regularly craft higher-quality tools, but it did take me a while to stockpile those materials. In the interim, I took to carrying around multiples of each type of gathering tool – a few picks, a few logging axes, a few but again, this really sucks in the early game when your inventory space is relatively limited. But ultimately, that probably doesn’t matter so much anyway; when it came to resource harvesting, tool durability was rarely the most limiting factor. But more on that in a bit.
Before that, let’s talk crafting. Its core systems are largely similar to the harvesting systems, so this won’t be quite as meandering of an explanation. Like harvesting, there are two ways to craft items: One is to put your laborers to work. Having your workers craft items is almost identical to having them gather resources, with only one key difference: The nodes that were so instrumental in the resource harvesting process are irrelevant in regard to crafting items. Instead, the crafting system is centered around the housing properties I talked about earlier.
Like I said, each housing property can fulfill many different functions: They can be set up as residences or lodgings, as I mentioned, but they can also be set up as a variety of different workshops – weaponsmiths, armorsmiths, carpenters, shipwrights, and so on – in which your laborers can craft associated items. Some workshops can be upgraded to higher levels, allowing the crafting of higher-quality items, and at least some items, like rafts and boats, can be built only in a workshop.
The other crafting method is to do it by hand. Like manual resource-gathering, manual crafting requires energy to undertake. Black Desert doesn’t have crafting professions in the traditional sense, and you’re not given a list of recipes to follow. Instead, creating an item requires you to make two decisions: Which crafting method you’re going to use – there are seven methods, such as grinding, drying, and heating — and what materials you’re going to use. Like I said, there’s no list of recipes, and although there are a series of crafting quests that give you some basic method-item combinations as freebies, crafting items is often a matter of experimentation unless you just look the recipes up on the internet, of course, but I would never do that, right? (Yes I would.)
Overall, it’s kind of a neat system, but since we do, in fact, have access to the Internet, it ultimately seems to me that it doesn’t amount to much more than the usual gather-materials-and-click-craft system of which I’ve personally grown tired. But then again, it could be interesting if there are recipes that are somehow still secret, waiting for inventive players to discover them and profit from their exclusive knowledge. So far, I haven’t really been able to find any solid information on that, but I would certainly find the crafting system a lot more interesting if that were the case.
And last, but not least, we come to the third and final category: trading. Trading is kind of a unique beast in that it doesn’t really tie directly into many of the other systems I’ve discussed so far. To be clear, the kind of trading I’m talking about here is not the kind that takes place between two players, although that is certainly an important area of the game overall.
Cities and some settlements are home to NPCs known as trade managers, who buy and sell special “trade good” items. Players can acquire trade goods – whether by purchasing them from a trade manager, harvesting them from resources, or other means – then take them to another trade manager to sell for a profit. The node system comes into play again here. Let’s say you buy a trade good in City A and go to sell it in City B. If City A’s node is not connected to City B’s, your trade good from City A will sell for a substantially lower price than normal. But if the nodes are connected, then you’ll receive a “distance bonus.” The longer the distance from City A to City B, the higher the bonus; the higher the bonus, the more you’ll get paid for City A’s goods in City B (and vice versa).
I personally never bothered to do any particularly long-distance trade runs, so I don’t know exactly how significant the payment increase of the distance bonus may potentially be, but even a few relatively short runs between two nearby cities were enough to ensure that I rarely found myself especially strapped for coin. Aside from the distance bonus, there are other factors that influence the price of a given trade good in a given market, but to be completely honest I’m not entirely sure what exactly they are.
Players can also barter with trade managers by spending energy to take part in a minigame that, I can say with complete honesty, I freaking loathe. You just have a pair of scales and two buttons: One for calm bartering and one for aggressive negotiation. The former moves the scales a little bit, the latter moves them a lot. You choose one or the other three times in a row; if, after all three times, the scales are perfectly balanced, your trade goods sell for higher prices. Thankfully, there’s no penalty for failure.
Maybe I’m just inept, but it honestly felt completely arbitrary to me each time I played. There’s often no telling where exactly the scales will end up, and I really feel like the first two decisions don’t actually matter. Wherever the scales end up after those first two clicks, you just gotta try to ballpark whether you think you need to move them a little or a lot and hope that the RNG is merciful. Maybe there’s a trick to it that I just didn’t see, but I think it’s just a shitty minigame and a waste of precious energy.
I talked a bit about energy earlier, but I wanted to wait until the end (yes, we’re almost there) of this piece to really delve into it because, like I said, it’s an incredibly far-reaching system that has effects on many other areas of the game, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m still not completely sure how I feel about its current implementation.
The Black Desert wiki lists these uses for energy: story exchange (the NPC conversation minigame I talked about earlier), greetings, theft, learning from an NPC, proof of defense, world chat, node management, gathering, and contracting workers. Some of those things I’ve discussed, some of them I haven’t, and I’m honestly not sure what “proof of defense” even is, but the point is that energy is required to do a lot of stuff in the game, some of them rather major aspects of it.
There’s one particular item on that list of energy uses that might have made you do a double-take. Yes, it costs energy to speak in the world chat channel. If you’re balking at the idea that your ability to talk in world chat is limited by an in-game resource – the same resource that you need for gathering and crafting, no less – you’re certainly not alone. I saw plenty of profanity-ridden messages of disbelief flood my chatbox as players came to the realization themselves.
I wanted to point that out directly because, honestly, of all the things that require energy, like gathering materials, crafting items, and apparently <i>greeting</i> people – which you’d think would lie within the domain of the “simple common courtesy” skill – world chat is the one use that I have the least of a problem with. In fact, I kind of like the idea. Maybe it’s some unrealistically nostalgic yearning for the times where it seemed more common to interact with other players face-to-virtual-face than to simply stand around typing into general like I was using a chat client that just happened to be in the bottom corner of a video game. Maybe it’s just the hope that limiting players’ reliance on global chat will make them more likely to seek out and form communities with the other players they encounter as they play. Take your pick, really.
And it’s not that I’m necessarily anti-global-chat, either; it is useful. I used it to find a guild, but even though I established contact with the guild’s leader via world chat, I still had to actually meet up with him in-game to receive my guild invitation – I actually had to sign a contract with the guild, which actually granted a for-real salary (in in-game silver, of course) and carried a penal fine for breaking my contract early, which I thought was an interesting and kind of immersive touch.
After I accepted the contract, the guild leader guided me through the city to the guild’s house, welcomed me, and stuck around to chat a bit before we both returned to our respective adventures. It was a small thing, but for some reason it really stuck with me. I feel like the limitations imposed on world chat by the energy requirement – in conjunction with other little details, like the requirement for guild invitations to be given in-person – might be an effort to encourage those kinds of face-to-face interactions.
My other quibble with the system is that energy is a pretty scarce resource, especially in the early game. The maximum number of points you can pool at one time is low, and although its regeneration rate of one energy per three minutes (if I recall correctly — I absentmindedly forgot to note that down before the beta ended) doesn’t seem agonizingly slow, that ultimately equates to being able to harvest one node every three minutes. Most crafting recipes seem to require at least a relatively meager three energy to complete, which amounts to nine minutes of waiting for one item, and that’s assuming you don’t have to craft other materials before you craft the end product.
My knee-jerk reaction here is to bemoan the game’s stifling of my ability to gather resources and create items, and I do think there’s some validity to that perspective. You want to do a certain thing and the game’s standing over you, waggling its finger, and saying, “Nope, you can’t do that for another five minutes.” Nobody likes having their options limited, especially when there’s no solution but to wait.
But underneath the reflexive aversion to constraints, I think there’s something to be said for the system, on a number of levels. For starters, when I’m playing an MMO, especially one that places an emphasis on crafting, I feel compelled to harvest every resource I come across because you never know when you might need a few hundred vials of weasel blood. The energy system removes that sense of obligation from me. Yeah, it sucks when I stumble across that one hard-to-find resource that I desperately need and find myself lacking the energy to harvest it, but I do think there’s something to be said for the way the system encourages varying your activities. But then again, maybe I’m the only one who needs the game to tell me when it’s time to switch things up.
Beyond that, there are ways that I think it benefits the in-game economy, too. It probably comes as little surprise that my grasp of economic theory is limited to only the most basic of basics, but it seems to me that, by using energy to limit how frequently players can harvest and craft, the game (hypothetically) prevents players from simply harvesting and crafting nonstop and then flooding the market with their products. Basically, if my logic and elementary understanding of supply and demand are even remotely sound (which is far from guaranteed), it puts a ceiling on the supply, thereby ensuring that demand remains somewhat steady.
And to cap things off, I think it also encourages crafters to specialize. The energy limitations on crafting make it especially difficult for any one character to become a completely self-sufficient jack of all trades without putting in a time investment that’s exponentially larger than the time investment required to simply max out your skill level in one or two specific areas. Crafters will have to trade with other crafters to get the materials and items that they need, and since harvesting requires energy as well, some may opt to save their energy for crafting and simply trade with dedicated gatherers for resources instead.
One thing you may have noticed that I haven’t discussed is the cash shop, and that’s because it hasn’t been implemented yet. And honestly, that single unknown factor is probably the only hurdle that is keeping me from unabashedly getting excited for this game. I’ve been waiting a long time for a fantasy sandbox game that I can really dive into, and I can honestly say that I was excited to log in and play from the day the beta test started and all the way up until the day it ended.
But then I remember ArcheAge. I remember that I thought that it would be the fantasy sandbox that I could really dive into. It drew me in with its allure of sandbox freedom (and hang-gliders), and then the excruciatingly poor handling of the cash shop killed my excitement on the spot. I think that Black Desert, like ArcheAge before it, will live or die based largely upon the implementation of its cash shop. If it manages to avoid the ever-lingering specter of pay-to-win, I think it has a shot at finding a reasonable amount of success in the West, but one misstep could be disastrous.
Well, friends, here we are at the end. Finally, right? The bizarre thing, really, is that I’m approaching 6,000 words across this pair of articles, and there’s still more that I could talk about, and even more still that I couldn’t talk about because I didn’t even get to experience it during my time in the game. I’m sure I’ll wake up in the morning and think of something super important that I meant to talk about.
Black Desert is, in my opinion, that kind of game. As much as I hate to admit it, it has its hooks in me, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next beta test and its eventual launch. Your mileage may vary, of course, and the game is still in beta, so a great deal is still subject to change between now and then, but I’ll just say this: If Black Desert manages to keep evoking that unique mixture of confusion, wonder, and potential in me, I’ll keep going back for more.
Don’t forget to check out our piece from last Friday about Black Desert’s combat and mechanics!