- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 06 April 2016
- Written by JOHN MORANO | STAFF WRITER
MMORPGs, or massively multiplayer online role playing games, are often thought of as “time sinks.” Games in this genre typically expect players to sink hundreds of hours into them (perhaps thousands, in some rare cases). Black Desert Online is an entirely different animal in that it expects the average player to log over 1000 hours, and quite quickly. Black Desert has been designed to accommodate players with limited free time; due to several innovative new systems it allows one to accomplish hours of work with minutes of play. I personally feel that these features make Black Desert an ideal MMORPG for college students, but more on that later.
Similar to the popular Guild Wars: 2 and TERA, Black Desert is an action MMORPG in a high-fantasy setting. In terms of quality, it’s on a level of its own; Black Desert is hands-down the best-looking MMORPG on the market today but still manages to be very well optimized. The sound is also praise-worthy, containing a number of orchestral tracks, all deliberately lacking vocals so as to increase longevity. Two of Black Desert’s shortcomings are the voice acting and story, even though this is pretty standard in MMORPGs (particularly ones translated from Korean). As such, I was personally willing to give Black Desert a pass on this, although some might not.
Moving onto the gameplay, action combat in MMORPGs is notoriously clunky and imprecise, but Black Desert is by far the best I’ve ever seen. There is no comparison between Black Desert to others in its genre, and the quality of its combat is closer to what I would expect from an Assassin’s Creed title. Gameplay in Black Desert isn’t limited to combat though, as there are a number of occupations in game called “life skills.” These include fishing, cooking, hunting with a rifle, alchemy, taming horses, trading and more. It’s perfectly viable to neglect combat somewhat in favor of sharpening your life skills.
Most MMORPGs have something called “afk timers.” This means they keep an eye on you and lock you out if you are inactive or “afk” (away from keyboard). There are a number of reasons one may want to leave the game running and go afk, especially in a game like Black Desert. For instance, I’m actually afk from Black Desert while writing this review, and while I’m sitting here typing, my workers are gathering me things like grapes and chicken to be used in cooking later; they wouldn’t be doing this if my game were closed. Black Desert’s developers (Daum) recognize this, and have opted to eliminate afk timers so that players may do exactly what I am doing. These afk rules allow us to play Black Desert much more casually, and to sink a little bit of time into it when you would otherwise be unable to.
It isn’t just the prominent features that have impressed me; the amount of fine detail that went into Black Desert is stunning. As I was walking through a wheat field fighting ghouls, I noticed that my sword was actually cutting down the wheat where the blade made contact with the crop, not just warping through it. Later, after I had been running around a battlefield, fighting cultists, I noticed that my character had built up a layer of sweat on his body (it dried after a while out of combat). If you wade through a river or get rained on, your clothes and body will actually drip water until they dry. My armor also became more visually damaged as its durability decreased, with a plate eventually falling off and leaving my shoulder exposed; this was not only immersive, but also a helpful visual hint informing me that I needed to get that fixed.
All these features are great, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the contribution system. By playing the game and completing various tasks, you get something called “contribution points,” which allow you to make use of land and dwellings in game. Using these, I can turn an in-game building into a refinery, storage, a shipyard, etc. I could also opt to use it as my own house, within which I place furniture, cooking utensils, and store my pets (most of this affects gameplay, and few facets of this game are purely cosmetic). Or maybe I instead put my points into a farm. I can then set one of my workers to harvest from that farm regularly and bring me materials to be used in cooking. Workers will continue to work while I am afk, so long as I am online they have beer for energy (yes, you pay your workers in beer). Another effective use of contribution points is investing in different nodes and chaining them together, making a trade route.
Black Desert is the perfect action MMORPG in so many ways, but it does have what some would call a fatal flaw: pricing. Black Desert costs $30 to buy, and if that were all, I’d stop right here, slap a 10/10 on it, and beg my readers to buy it (this is a must-play for MMORPG fans). Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as Black Desert suffers from Free-To-Play syndrome (despite being buy-to-play). Black Desert has a cash shop along with the aforementioned entry fee which sells in-game content for real money. While none of this content is absolutely necessary, much of it cannot be acquired through normal gameplay. While this is fairly standard unfortunately some of the items, such as pets, are quite useful. According to Daum this business model will allow all future DLC to be released for free. This has worked as promised in the Korean version of the game for several years now, with numerous DLC expansions being released at no cost to the players. Perhaps for some this promise will make the cash shop’s presence more tolerable.
When all is said and done, Black Desert is a 10/10 game, if one ignores its business model. For some lucky gamers the business model won’t be a concern, and in this circumstance Black Desert gets my highest of recommendations. The rest of us need to consider how much money we are willing to spend, and whether or not we are willing to tolerate the presence of this cash shop content. Personally, I’ve found Black Desert’s virtues to outweigh this admittedly serious flaw, but I can certainly sympathize with those who feel otherwise.
IMAGE COURTESY of www.mmorpg.com