The recent buzz surrounding Black Desert Online these past few weeks hasn't been all that positive. There's been a fervent argument back and forth about it being pay-to-win, not having any relevant endgame, and even a vocal minority still attacking it for not being free-to-play. All of those are conversations worth having, but after several dozen hours spent playing Black Desert Online, its biggest problem isn't any one of those issues. It's that, for a rather robust MMO, finding out how to actually play it is incredibly frustrating.
The aspects of BDO that have me most interested are the same aspects that can be painful to figure out—and I have to worry how players even less experienced than me are going to get along. There's a woeful lack of relevant information on how to play Black Desert properly, along with a lackluster English localization, and I have to wonder if that's going to be its biggest hurdle in attracting new players.
The problem is that Black Desert Online's localization is pretty crappy. It isn't the fact certain bits of dialogue are stiff or words are misspelled (those suck for a different reason). It's that Daum Games is importing a Korean product and making so many changes to it, that the localization team is obviously having a hell of a time trying to stay on top of it. Now, that's a good thing. I'm glad that the BDO we're getting is significantly different from the BDO in Korea and Russia, but there's a high cost to pay.
One particularly aggravating thing is how stingy Black Desert Online can be with the details. Quests that don't require you to go somewhere and kill a bunch of stuff can have annoyingly ambiguous objectives, like one quest which tasked me with catching a bird. I went to the location on my map and ran around for a while trying to find the dumb thing. After 10 minutes, a bird spawned just as I was looking up a guide for the quest, ran right past me, and despawned. The quest wanted me to sit and wait for 10 minutes to try and catch an animal in a window of 15 seconds, and none of that was communicated to me. Never mind how terrible that quest design is, I was angrier at how little information I was given to even understand what I was supposed to do.
But that cost of localization is more painfully felt when trying to actually gather information about BDOs complicated mechanics—something that you're way better off looking to YouTube for rather than Black Desert's in-game tutorials. The help window opens a web browser that points you to a community-run wiki that details certain aspects. But getting anything useful from that wiki can be next to impossible depending on what information you need. It's hardly a tutorial for how to play Black Desert. At best, it gives you a bird's eye view of certain systems, but very rarely did it ever answer any of my many questions.
In-game video tutorials are also present after CBT2, which was definitely a step in the right direction. I appreciated the ones that illustrated basic combos for each class, but they're still a far cry from comprehensive walkthroughs of BDOs more complex systems.
Learning the ins and outs of the contribution system was a chore that I wasted an hour on when Black Desert Online could have easily walked me through the whole system in minutes. There's many applications of contribution, which I can understand makes it difficult to digest, but managing nodes and comprehending each nuance of the system had me flipping back and forth between various community-made guides and YouTube tutorials.
This problem is even more frustrating when you consider that the BDO we have is somewhat different than the BDO available in Korea and Russia, and finding information related to North America's BDO is tough.
So why does this all matter?
I love the idea that Black Desert is a complicated and challenging game, but much of that so far has come from wrestling with understanding how to play. Instead of the challenge being derived from how to take something like the node network and make it work for you to become rich, I'm mostly just wrestling with figuring out how the damn thing works so I can get started. That's not fun.
I don't envy the position Daum Games is in because there's no graceful way to solve these kinds of problems. I know that because CCP, the developers of EVE Online, have been struggling to do this for decades. When you have a game with a dozen in depth systems, how do you explain them to the player without dumping that information all on them at once and short-circuiting their brains?
There's also the issue to consider that this problem is something a player will only experience once. If you muscle through and experiment enough, you'll eventually learn how something works and will never have to worry about learning it all over again. My concern is that, in such a competitive market, how many players are going to invest the time and energy it takes just to learn how to play?
What I would love to see from Daum is a more hands-on tutorial in the form of optional quests that walk you through each system slowly. They've already done this for some things, but even those quests weren't as comprehensive as I would have hoped. Either way, Black Desert Online has a serious problem with communicating to the player, and I cannot help but worry that unless this problem is addressed, it's going to have a negative impact in the weeks after launch.