Monday, March 14, 2016

Black Desert Online: First Impressions

Black Desert Online (BDO) has just recently gone live with their North America/Europe release. Being the MMO addict that I am, I decided to give it a try.
BDO is a buy-to-play game, meaning that you buy it once, then play with no recurring fee. That doesn't mean you never spend any more money, of course - such games usually have extras available through in-game stores and expansions. But at least you're not paying a set fee every month. I like this model, because 1) it means I don't feel like I'm wasting my money if I decide to take a break from the game for a while, and 2) the spend-some-money-now nagging is much less noticeable than in free-to-play games.

When creating a new character, you have to choose a server, which is locked in for that character. When you log in, you choose a channel within that server. Which means you can play together with friends on the same server, and you shouldn't have to worry about it being overcrowded - both of you can just switch to a different channel if needed. Unfortunately, I have friends playing on two different servers (L is playing, and so are the New Outriders folks). I wish MMOs would figure out the scaling necessary to develop a single-server system, or free movement for characters between servers. The closest I've seen is the megaserver system of Guild Wars 2, but even that has limitations. Anyway, I'll probably end up playing mostly with L on his server.

BDO doesn't go out of its way to help you manage your social contacts. There's a friends list, but it took me several tries to add L despite knowing both his family and character names. I'm never sure if he's actually online or not, since the list doesn't seem to update properly. You can talk directly in a one-on-one chat window, but it doesn't have keyboard shortcuts and often scrolls the text up out of view. We ended up creating a clan (the no-cost version of a guild) just so that we'd have a usable chat channel to communicate with.

Unlike most MMORPGs, BDO allows you to choose a class, but not a race. All Hunters are female Elves, all Wizards are male Humans, etc. It's a bit of an odd limitation, but it does make things a bit simpler. There are a lot of options for customizing your character's face and body, so not everyone in a class looks exactly the same. Just about all the new characters look very similar in the early going, though, since your clothes depend on your equipped items (as opposed to costume choices), and starter gear is the same for everyone.

Plenty of effort went into making BDO look good. The graphics are top-notch and the environments look great. My NVidia GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost graphics card is a few years old, but it still manages to run the game pretty well on Medium settings. I imagine those with top-of-the-line graphics hardware are getting some really impressive visuals.

The first 2-3 hours spent in BDO are pretty standard tutorial/introduction MMO play. There's not a lot of emphasis on story, beyond some vague talk about some "Black Energy" causing problems in the world. Your character carries some of that black energy, and there's a black shadow-creature that appears only to you. There's the usual assortment of "go beat up harmless woodland creatures" quests to start out, eventually moving on to imps and goblins. You meet some NPCs with various interests of their own, but it all seems fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Quite a difference from many RPGs (MMO and single player) that toss your character directly into some kind of huge conflict right away.

Your personal shadow fuzzball points you along the main quest path, while at the same time encouraging you to be selfish and power-hungry. Presumably later on it will want you to do some awful things, setting up some story choices. Early on, though, it's just a matter of learning the basics of movement and combat.

Combat is action-based, meaning you need to aim your attacks and be prepared to move around to avoid incoming damage. I freely admit that I'm not very good at such things, but at least in the early going I've been able to keep up with what BDO demands. Combo attacks are reasonably simple to put together, and dodging mostly works well. My only problem so far is judging where big enemy attacks are going to land, since there's no "effect shadow" on telegraphed attacks showing where the damage is going. Several times I've dodged to what I thought was a safe spot, only to get hammered because the safe zone was a little farther away than I expected.

Even in these first few hours of learning the game, it's clear that there's a lot more to do than the usual "go kill X whatevers for NPC Y." Crafting, gathering, trading, running your own worker empire...all that comes later. More on that as I work through it.

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