Thursday, March 17, 2016

Black Desert Online: Not Fighting

After getting to around level 14 in Black Desert Online (BDO) with my first character, I spent a few days playing with almost no progression toward the next character level. For most MMOs, that would be a terrible experience, but in BDO it just means I was busy exploring everything else.
After those first few hours of play, I reached the major hub town of Velia. There's plenty of options for fighting nearby, mostly goblins, but I got distracted by all the other things you can do. Character level in BDO is important in terms of which areas you can safely visit and which monsters to fight, but it doesn't seem to be important for the various gathering and crafting choices. Much more important is how much energy you have, which is a resource used by almost all non-combat actions. It regenerates on its own, but it's fairly slow (especially when logged out). Doing quests can add energy, providing an incentive to keep moving on available quests.

In most MMOs, the most important thing is how well you fight. Anything else you do (like crafting) is clearly secondary and really doesn't matter much if it doesn't improve your battle-readiness. BDO is much more balanced. If you'd like to focus on trading, or gathering raw materials, or one of the crafting skills, there's enough depth to focus almost entirely on those aspects.

The non-player characters in BDO have more depth than I'm used to. Each one has a certain set of interests, usually other NPCs in the area but occasionally monster knowledge or other subjects, and you have the option to increase your "amity" (friendliness, basically) by discussing those interests. Of course, you have to know what you're talking about, so you have to first go meet the other NPCs or defeat the monsters or whatever else the person is interested in. Then you can play a small mini-game to increase amity, and at certain thresholds you'll get new quests, or knowledge, or other bonuses. It's not easy to increase amity by large amounts, and it eats up your energy, so you have to work at getting friendly with each NPC.

The amity system adds depth to each area. Instead of just talking to everyone in an area when I first pass through, then coming back once to turn in quests, I've got incentive to re-visit several times. I can choose where to focus my efforts, rather than just talking to everyone with a quest sign over their heads. For example, if I'm playing a character with interest in cooking, I can spend time to chat up the local NPC cooks, gaining bonuses and cooking info and quest options.

A common problem in MMO crafting is that the gathering of materials becomes extremely repetitive. There's only so many wolves you can skin for furs, or trees to cut down, or rocks to mine, before the player gets tired and looks for something else to do. BDO has all those things, but also provides a way to hire NPC workers to do the grunt work. You can invest "contribution points" in map nodes to gain several benefits, one of which is the ability to assign a worker to harvest resources in that area. Those might be crops or animals on a farm, trees in the woods, ore near a mine, etc. So if you're tired of grubbing your own potatoes to make soup, hire someone to do it for you!

Of course, hiring workers comes with its own set of support tasks, many of which require money and/or contribution points to set up. You have to feed them to keep up stamina (although they seem to do fine on just beer), provide lodging, and make sure they're assigned to tasks. If you want them to do something more than simple gathering, such as making goods from raw materials, you can also provide them with workshop space. Managing your work force can be a whole game in itself, if you choose to pursue it.

The aforementioned contribution points are also used to make trade connections, by investing in connected map nodes. Once you've connected two nodes, you can make trips between them with trade goods, usually turning a fairly decent profit. It's pretty slow at first, as you have to walk from one city to the other carrying all your inventory in a backpack. Before long, though, you can afford to get a donkey for heavy lifting, then a horse, then a horse-drawn cart, and so on. Just look out for bandits on the road! The trading system can also be a whole game in itself.

Yet another use of contribution points is to expand your storage space. Each town has its own storage, but it's pretty limited at first. You can add to it by choosing to use various spaces around town (and in the surrounding farms) as storage space. Those are the same spaces that are used to set up workshops and other processing facilities, so you have to be careful which ones you use. It's nice to see a game where the expansion of storage facilities is integrated into the game world, not some add-on purchase option.

BDO encourages the use of multiple characters by sharing contribution point investments and storage space. Each character has their own energy level and skills, so you can specialize. As an example - I created a second character and parked him in Velia to serve as coordinator for my workers. He cooks up their food (that is, beer) and gathers up the inventory, to sell on the marketplace or ship off to other cities. If my main character out of energy or otherwise not available, I can take a few minutes to switch over to him to feed the hungry workers or otherwise manage the work force.

Between hiring a work force, learning crafting skills, doing some trading travel, and talking to NPCs, I spent most of a couple of days in BDO without making any appreciable progress along the main quest line or gaining character levels. And it was still plenty of fun, despite there being some annoyances along the way (more on that later). That's a well-designed sandbox-style game.

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