Black Desert’s had some exceptional growth over the past year. What I’ve always liked about this game is that it’s never tried to be what it’s not. It’s always been a grindy MMORPG where killing mobs is the primary way of getting stronger. So most of its major content updates include more grindspots and better loot. Over the past year, Pearl Abyss has introduced a variety of grind spots for players to make their cash so they can fund their next PEN attempt or purchase from the central market. Most recently, the studio released more difficult versions of some low-level spots for those with the gear to handle it.
Pearl Abyss has made multiple attempts at getting players caught up, and its most successful attempt came in the form of season servers. But out of nowhere this week, PA announced that there won’t be a spring season. But why? Why is the team suddenly stopping after only three seasons? Weren’t things going honky-dory? Well… kind of.
Season servers as they currently are
Remember how I talked about how great those season servers were when they first came out? Well, they’re still great, but by the third season, I just didn’t have it in me to do another round. Let me quickly explain how they worked: Four servers became special season servers with PvP turned off, with an experience boost, and they could be played only by special seasonal characters. These characters got special gear that’s easier to enhance than boss gear but is just as good. At the end of the season, players had a character that’s powerful enough to grind in higher-end spots. It was exactly what BDO needed at the time. I got a major power boost thanks to these servers.
So why suddenly take a break if things are going so well? The problem is that it was getting stale for veteran players. While this was great for many new players, those players who did not do the servers were missing out on some great rewards. The first few times were fine – roll a character, rush through the storyline, finish the season pass, profit. But after the third time, the thought of having to push my way through a crowd of players to finish the 10+ hour storyline was a slog. And then there was the enhancing, which can still be a pain depending on how well the stars aligned on any particular day. It was starting to feel like Groundhog Day.
The core problem was that the rewards were awesome, but the gameplay didn’t change for veteran players. We had to run through the main story quest and rebuild our Tuvala gear. I don’t mind rebuilding the Tuvala gear. The problem was just having to run through the main quests again. It was literally unavoidable. Some parts of the season pass required story progress, and that caused players to get “funneled” into many places. It’s what creates the overcrowding. Having only four servers with no PvP adds to the crowding as well.
BDO’s early just grindspots cannot handle that many players in one space. Mobs die easily in the early zones and take a while to respawn. Players will need to make large rotations in order to maximize on their time on a grindspot, and that’s not usually possible on season servers since players can’t kill each other (unless a guilds declares war on another guild, and that’s just petty if you have to do that in the PvE server). By the third season, I was pretty set on spending as little time on those servers as possible. It just didn’t feel worth it to me, even if it meant missing out on some sweet rewards. And this was supposed to be fun!
How can they improve?
Lets look at Diablo III for a moment. It’s got a new season coming April 2nd. The seasons have been pretty well-received by actual players over the years, in spite of the game’s reputation in the wider gaming world. It has two game modes, the main story quest and the adventure mode. Adventure mode unlocks after players complete the story on their accounts once. Since the inception of those seasons, I’ve probably participated a handful of times, and it’s always been in adventure mode. I like starting over, but I especially love the freedom. As soon as I roll a character, I’m running nephalim rifts or those mini quests. Both ways are rewarding ways to progress, and players feel some agency in how to go about it. I wish Pearl Abyss would take note of that.
Here’s what I think would be a great way to adapt that for Black Desert Online: After players have gotten one character to a certain point in the story or gear score, they could access a season server for veteran players. Characters they rolled could begin at level 58, have a full set of TRI Tuvala gear, and begin grinding out the time stones to get their Tuvala gear enhanced. In order to give players the space needed, this server could increase all the Serendia, Calpheon and Balenos grindspots to require 150+ gearscore and drop a special item that sells well at the merchant.
I know all of this is possible. Why TRI? Well, after players complete the Mediah storyline, they can trade in their PEN Naru gear for it anyway. With the introduction of more difficult grindspots in Serendia and Balenos, we know it’s possible for Pearl Abyss to tweak mob strength. And 58 is where I feel the game “starts.”
There’s so many ways the studio can improve it, but at the end of the day, these servers need to exist so players can start playing the more difficult grindspots and start spreading out. If a player quits while he’s still grinding at blood wolves, then he won’t ever see how the combat changes from a design where players are madly dashing from one mob to another to one where players have to carefully approach each mob and be mindful of their moveset rather than just facerolling everything.
I think it’s a good thing Pearl Abyss is taking a break from season servers. The first three were successful, and a lot of players were looking forward to the newest season. But it’s just as important to leverage the needs of players who need the help to get into higher-level content – and not bore everyone to death with repetition. Here’s to seeing the new and improved season servers for the summer!