Some friends and I were discussing Black Desert Online earlier this week and we eventually began to chat about the wider genre and how, seemingly, many people have grown tired of the typical formulae surrounding “theme parks”. My brother, who rarely plays MMO’s any longer, asked why I thought Black Desert Online had been so well received.
I’ve always found that the pursuit of more content was often a futile effort and is, at times, a noose around the genres neck. If developers were to approach the problem of content supply from a perspective of “We can’t ever provide enough content at the speed our customers consume it” then solutions might be much more forthcoming. Instead and since the launch of World of Warcraft, we find ourselves in a position where every development studio attempts to satiate a player base by providing a continuous stream of content, instead of providing them with the tools to entertain themselves.
This is partly where I think Black Desert Online has bucked a trend. While there are undoubtedly theme park elements in the game, there’s also a greater sense that there are enough core changes here to a tried and tested design formulae, that it feels distinctly different. Whether it’s nodes and management of your workers, fishing, a fairly unapologetic approach to world PvP (everyone is fair game) and a game world that doesn’t attempt to hold your hand: it’s at odds with everything else on the market.
Its been a long time since an MMO has genuinely captured my imagination as much as Black Desert Online and I think it’s in part because Pearl Abyss have gone about not only creating a believable world, but there’s no sense you’re being forced into doing something specific. All too often I’ll log into any other MMO and be presented with a list of what I haven’t accomplished (I loathe achievements) and will feel I’ve little choice but to complete them. Here I can quite comfortably log in, socialize, trade and do whatever I choose to do, without feeling guilty about spending time accomplishing nothing.
Logging into an MMO just to explore, or watch the sunrise, or socialise - actually talk to strangers while doing something trivial - is something I’ve dearly missed. I’m not suggesting I didn’t do it in other games, but it never seemed to be at the forefront. Instead, there was always an irrelevant achievement I had to do or an irrelevant cosmetic item that I had to have.
When you’re provided with some sandbox elements, it gives scope to drift off the rails that we’re so used to travelling on. Even something as minor as ensuring almost all experience doesn’t come from Questing is unconventional but it also instantly opens up the play experience. You instantly feel you can do something with your time other than rush to the level cap. Even now, weeks after launch, I’m only level 25. At the halfway point I still find myself getting easily distracted every single time I log in.
Only yesterday when I had very little time to play, I spent the best part of an hour climbing a cliff only to find a boy at the top herding some goats. The view was breathtaking but it’s the fact that there was no drive for me to do it other than to explore that made me realise just how special Black Desert Online can be. If I was playing Guild Wars 2 in the knowledge that I only had an hour, I’d come away disappointed if I hadn’t cleared several achievements. It seems incredibly rare to come across an MMO that strives to encourage you to do as you wish and for that, I think that’s why Black Desert Online has carved its own path away from the crowd.