Desert Oasis: Finding the plot in Black Desert’s story

Exploring the who, what, when, and where of BDO

    
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In our preview of Black Desert’s new Guardian class, one of the more surprising conversations to come out of the comments was the opinion on the game’s story. Some saw it as a “word salad”; others found the story fun to experience despite the tropes. But it’s something we haven’t discussed much here in Desert Oasis: What exactly is the story in Black Desert

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first fired up the game, I ignored the story. I skipped dialogue and finished quests as fast as humanly possible. Before I even started, I already had a predetermined judgment on Korean MMOs: that the story was probably not worth my time.

Of course, with Pearl Abyss eyeing the global market, things have changed. Black Desert’s story received an overhaul in 2019, and with the announcement of Crimson Desert, it seems the company’s making an honest effort to improve its storytelling chops.

I wouldn’t call Black Desert’s story bad, but it is a mess. It’s got some legitimately great story elements. The Black Spirit, for example, makes for a unique call-to-action for our player character; its chaotic neutral nature gives players a reason to slaughter endless waves of goblins, but it’s also chill enough to not mind spending all day fishing. And check out those teeth!

What makes Black Desert such a messy story is its lack of documentation and awkward translation. World of Warcraft and Guild Wars both have books to expand their story. They also have well-managed wikis that go in sleep-depriving depth with lore topics. Black Desert is the complete opposite. There are no expansive novels, and the lorebits we do get are oftentimes translated awkwardly. The in-game knowledge section can be pretty vague too, with many of the details being short blurbs or spoken in the first person by an unknown speaker.

So let’s try to alleviate the confusion by exploring some of the more basic elements of the game’s plot. Most of this information comes from my own research, the wiki, and a roleplayer website that compiled story bits from various sources. I also reached out to Pearl Abyss to confirm that some plot points are still canon.

Calpheon and Valencia: Present day

According to Pearl Abyss, the game is set between the year 285 and 286 of the Elionian calendar. Your character goes by this calendar, though I’m not sure if Valencia uses it too. The name’s derived from Calpheon’s god: Elion. Elion is seen as a benevolent and loving god, and since he’s the god of the conqueror nation, of course he’s going to play a role in everyone’s life. In fact, the Valkyrie class is actually a dedicated disciple of Elion.

The game’s core landmass has no official name from what I can glean; however, it’s separated in the major regions of Balenos, Serendia, Calpheon, Kamasylvia, Valencia, Mediah, and Dreighan. The Republic of Calpheon, of course, currently controls the regions of Balenos and Serendia, so they are all seen under the Calpheon banner. Kamasylvia maintains a good relationship with the Republic, even going as far as helping it in military operations. On the other hand, Calpheon, Mediah, and Valencia are not on friendly terms. The conflict between Mediah and Calpheon is relatively recent, but the animosity in Valencia has gone on for much longer. In fact, it’s been going on for about 50 years. The narrative set up between these two powerful nations is that Calpheon is a faith-centered republic, while Valencia is a very logical and science-based monarchy. While they are not in open war, there is an escalating tension reflected in a recent patch note. I thought that was a pretty fun way to mix mechanics with lore.

There’s a lot to dig into when it comes to Black Desert. For this week, we’ll mainly focus on the events going on in the Calpheon republic.

Trouble in the Calpheon Republic

Not all is fine and dandy in the republic. Even though the cities of Calpheon, Heidel, and Velia all enjoy a level of autonomy, it wouldn’t be a republic without its fair share of political drama. The encroaching buying power of the Xian Merchant Guild from Calpheon is putting great pressure on Heidel’s market. Historically, the League of Merchants helmed by Bobby Laurent enjoyed prosperity and controlled Heidel’s market economy. But the Xian Guild’s aggressive buyout strategy has started to put a strain on League’s hold of Heidel, which spells trouble for Heidel’s autonomy.

Jordine will be a playable character for the upcoming Shadow Arena!

Not taking the heavy-handed move lightly, Grand Chamberlain Jordaine Ducas goes on a journey to destroy Calpheon. Aligning himself with the ancient Shadow Knights and the cult of Kzarka, he’s given a sword filled with dark energy. I’m not exactly sure what it does, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the weapon you want killing you. In my eyes, this is one heck of an escalation.

As for that mysterious dark energy, it seems to be all over the place. It’s unclear whether these are multiple black spirits or just excess energy (this is where the translation gets awkward), but regardless, both of them are running rampant. The issues range from predictable events such as vegetables sprouting legs and attacking people to more dramatic ones, like how imps started gathering in large numbers and building altars to a mysterious deity. And then there are the most dramatic cases where a Black Spirit takes over a host’s body and begins rampaging.

For now, at least from the player character perspective, the best that can be done is to purify sites that seem to exude this black energy. An early example is the Cron Castle Ruins. Long ago, King Bartali III wanted to achieve immortality. A mysterious alchemist from the desert visited him and gave him a scroll, telling him the spell within would grant his desire.

We don’t know whether he knew it, but the scroll had an association to Hadum, the God of Darkness. Again, the translation isn’t exactly clear, but it apparently asked for the low price of organs from “100 boys and virgins” for it to work, but it was very vague. I’m not sure whether that meant 100 boys and 100 virgins, or a mix of 100 boys and girls, or just 100 virgin boys, but either way the spell ended in a massive explosion. Was that the actual intent of the spell, or did Bartali III misread the ingredients list? We don’t know, but the long-lasting effects manifested into the darkness afflicting the area for years to come. It is within this context that you drop into the story, with your weapon, the black spirit, and a very laser-targeted amnesia!

I’m only scratching the surface, and we haven’t even talked about the most instrumental (and adorable) character in the game: the Black Spirit! He and his teeth deserve a column, so that’s exactly what we’ll do in our next entry.

The Great Valencian Black Desert is a dangerous place, but thankfully there’s always a chance for respite. Join Massively OP’s Carlo Lacsina every other week for just that in Desert Oasis, our Black Desert column! And don’t worry; he promises he won’t PK you. Got questions or comments? Please don’t hesitate to send a message!

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Lethality

Great article, looking forward to more on this topic!

You hit the nail on the head… it’s messy. But I do think that a lot of the concepts presented here, along with some of the nuances (the push/pull between religion and alchemy, among others) put the “setting” and the “story”(but not the storytelling) in a world-class as far as MMOs go.

I would love to see a novelization of the core BDO story. Or a movie :)

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Natalyia

BDO’s done a lot of work over time on the story – it’s vastly more coherent now than it was at launch. As the level cap raised, and the number of XP boosts available rose to let people catch up, a lot of the original areas of the map became largely irrelevant too.

So the story now splits at two points. First, in Heidel, where you can either ally with the Merchant’s Guild, the Chancellor, or take the Black Spirit’s advice and ignore these petty fools. All three take slightly different roads to Calpheon, and all three have a decent story to tell along the way.

From Calpheon to Altinova the storylines then merge, only to fork again once you reach Altinova, where you can continue to try to track down Ilzera, or side with the rulers of the City to try and aid it.

There’s still a ton of information not in the main questline, lurking in the books, NPCs, and side-quests of the world. But the main narrative no longer feels like quite such a random collection of events.

I suppose for a character whose memories are largely gone, it’s not unrealistic for there to be big gaps, but it felt less like a narrative choice and more like, as Arktouros said, someone took the story and turned it into a randomly scattered puzzle. The scattered bits are still out there to find, and are still worth seeking out, but the path of the main questline now makes much more sense on its own merits.

If you like BDO, but thought the story was… pointless, it’s worth taking an alt through the new storylines. It doesn’t take forever, and try a new class – who knows, you might find one you really like. :)

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Arktouros

I’ve ran all 19 of my characters through the quest lines.

Gotta get them Rulupees :)

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Arktouros

I’ll share the vid that gave me all the context I needed for the rest of the game back in 2016 in regards to the game story (non mocking, if done a bit silly).

Most of this remains in the story overhauls, and the source of a lot of this information is entirely from the Knowledge category unlocks you can make in game. It also represents other aspects of the game play, such as Balenos and Serendia not having a castle to siege for those region holders as they are both sub regions held by Calpheon and the Calpheon Tax carts from those regions reflect this.

The biggest issue with BDO’s story is all of that information is in the game, but it’s like someone took up a coherent story into puzzle pieces them fired them out of a cannon and they landed randomly somewhere throughout the game. Some are amity game knowledge unlocks. Some are object knowledge unlocks. Some are under History category of Knowledge and others are under Race or Environment and many other categories. I remember first time I killed Jordine back in 2016 wondering why I was being handed “Pure Water” to weaken him and it didn’t make sense until a year later when I was grinding out random quests I had a whole quest line that explained it all and going to the Origin of Pure Water and all this randomness. I had no idea why Harpies or Trolls or Saunils were attacking until randomly came across some random NPC quest on a mountainside that lead to this huge series of quests that explained it all.

It’s like Dark Souls. If you really wanna get BDO’s story, which you totally don’t have to, you’re going to have to work for it.