Wandering the Black Desert (Forest)

I never played Ultima Online. Tucked away in rural Ontario, I never had a chance to run around an overcrowded, experimental landscape, building chairs and being torn apart by black-armoured PvPers. It was the new frontier of gaming at the time, and arguably the first true MMO (as EverQuest is arguably the mother to the modern era of MMOs). It was a time when an online game was as much a text-based roleplaying game as a videogame.

Black Desert seems close to that philosophy, at least in that it provided a ton of domestic systems in a facsimile of a fantasy-medieval world. The first closed beta plopped me into a tree-laden wilderness. My Sorcerer- a red-haired woman wielding dark magic- was awakened by a small, black spirit, urging me to continue on, and immediately pulled into a fairly-basic plot about ancient ruins and dark magic. Not having a lot of time to be mired with a linear quest in an open world game, I spent most of my playtime blundering around the wilderness, following quest chains and learning as much of the system as I could. I also tried a Tamer, because they’re A) adorable, and B) able to summon a demonic wolf-monster in combat.

black desert online insert4Everyone’s talked about the character creation, so I won’t go into that, and really, being able to move individual bones in the face is all well and good, but isn’t going to make a huge difference given the camera angles involved. Classes are locked to a certain race or gender (rangers are always elven females, for example, and wizards are elderly men), but I’m not certain if this will change. Honestly, it doesn’t bother me any more than playing a female Sorceress did in Diablo II.

Combat is, in a word, enjoyable. My Sorcerer darts around the battlefield, sweeping claws of black energy across foes, and launching torrents of death across distances. Moves are mostly keys to button combinations centred around the WASD movement core, with different combinations allowing for different moves. Combat in MMOs is becoming steadily more dynamic and akin to brawlers than World of Warcraft, and this applies the former philosophy strongly. Even with the Sorcerer, dark magic was mixed with martial arts flourishes. The tamer was more of the same, but faster and closer-up. Movement is the key – avoiding enemy strikes, darting in and out, and closing distances between multiple foes makes combat move far quicker than in most games. I rather enjoyed hashing out good combinations of powers, and putting one’s cursor over a skill showed a helpful display. You can, if you want a more traditional approach, key powers to number keys.

Enemy density seemed quite high in the beta – lots of wolves, imps, and other animals clustered together, though they were not initially hostile. I had one boss fight, a Violent Imp I fought in a cave, which brought me trouble – the beast hit like an elephant, and I had to employ all my tricks, retreating a safe distance to shower it with the Sorcerer’s magic.

When I got sick of combat, I wandered into town, led by a rather confusing chain of tutorial quests that seemed to branch out endlessly while introducing me to a highly-detailed crafting system and elaborate social system of trade networks and buildings. Players can rent houses, either to customize as dwellings or to increase their storage, or invest in local areas such as towns or farms in order to harvest crafting materials automatically. The crafting system is elaborate and complex, and requires Energy; a personal resource that depletes every time you harvest, discuss certain topics, or engage in a conversation system that increases social standing with your subject, unlocking further quests. I didn’t find running out of either was too much of an issue, as Energy regenerates by a point every two minutes and upon some quest completions.

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After renting a house, making awkward attempts at cooking and at the fishing minigame (which amounts to timed button-presses, and seems fairly solid), I took to unlocking one of the trade routes before the beta’s close. Investing contribution and energy in a node unlocks further options, such as hiring workers to harvest resources for you or craft those resources rather than expending your own time and energy. There’s even a system for guilds to occupy territory for bonuses, and fight for it with other players (my only death involved a duel with a wizard and a lot of fireballs, so I can’t speak authoritatively on PvP).

There’s much I didn’t get to try. I missed an event where horses were spawned to test taming, for example, so I only knew by Star-Wars spoiler-filled map chat that it was a difficult process involving ropes, sugar cubes, and being kicked in the face. I settled for my donkey, Speedwagon, and rode about, attempting to haul wine to nearby settlements for trade, while avoiding bandits on the map (who spawned if you appear hauling trade goods). The trade pack even prevents fighting if you carry it on foot, necessitating a pack animal. I even saw some players with horses and wagons riding around. Fortunately, collision seemed to only apply to character models, bouncing them aside as you run past.

black desert online insert1I ran graphics on the lowest setting and everything looked pretty good. Forests felt like forests, there were canyons and caves about, and everything felt open, with no clearly made walls to deal with. Enemies worship and wolves eat slain prey, rather than just wander, though it’s largely static; your player character leans against fences when nearby or sits down on them if you leap up, and reacts otherwise to the environment. Weather affects what kinds of crafting one can do. There’s good design here.

In short, it’s a promising world, with fun combat and an attempt at a social mechanic that ties you to an area as long as you require questing. Un-investing and moving is entirely possible, so relocating when you’ve leveled up is possible, though the nature of the game means that early areas will be woefully under populated as the game’s lifespan progresses. Enemies are the standard leveled cluster fare of online games, so you have to move along to other climes to keep up, and I worry that the game needs a more dynamic spawn system and some kind of level scaling (although PvP is always an option for that). This is only early days, but the lack of instances beyond one’s home (multiple people can rent the same building, which creates instances for each of them to avoid limited geographical space) means that there is some concern with enemy spawns being tagged and depleted, preventing quest completion.

That wasn’t very short. But I look forward to trying out the game in the future, and seeing how they address the issues present in the beta and expand upon their strengths.