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A Game of Knowledge

William Murphy Posted:
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This week, I’d like to tell you all a little story. It’s a story of treasure maps, hidden caves, idiot workers, and an imp named Red Nose. Black Desert Online continues to utterly grab me by the Ghoulies, and I’m finding out just how refreshing it is to play an MMORPG that doesn’t prescribe to preconceived notions of what an MMO should be. Pearl Abyss did things their own way, made the game they wanted to make, and while it’s not perfect is sure is refreshing.

But first, a story. There’s a quest in Velia that begins in one of two ways. I don’t want to spoil everything for you, but suffice it to say – you actually have to piece together a treasure map, find a hidden cave, and read up on some lore. It’s so far from the usual “go here, kill this” quest that MMOs have made the norm that it really stuck out to me. Sure, BDO has plenty, hundreds even, of kill quests. But Pearl Abyss has also taken the time to lovingly craft exploration and mystery quests. You actually physically piece together the treasure map in your inventory.

Please make this a playable race at some point…

This lost treasure quest isn’t anything that’ll take you dozens of hours to complete, and you might not even need to fight a single person… but it’s hint that the developer knows quests can be made interesting, and I’m hoping I find more of them as I go on. Speaking of going on, I’ve spent over 50 hours in Black Desert as of this writing and I’m still level 19, and I’ve just barely started doing quests and exploring Heidel – the game’s first big city.

There are so many different activities to get wound up with, you’ll quickly realize there’s no prescribed path to play on. BDO gives you breadcrumb quests to direct you to new places, but they’re not necessary. You’ll find areas of the game world, even in a place you think is level appropriate, that is simply too tough for you early on (stay away from the Bandit Camp and Cron Castle early in your travels).  There are paths into mountains where you can get away from society, find a fishing hole, or a rare mushroom spawn. 

This sense of exploration and learning permeates all of Black Desert. In fact, early on you’ll get a quest that basically tells you “never stop learning”. In most MMOs, the only way to progress is by leveling up. In BDO, you can actually progress without killing mobs. Your main character level is essentially tied to combat, but similarly that main level only affects combat stats and the ability to tackle tougher monsters and enemies. You could waste weeks or months simple running trade packages, fishing, gardening, cooking, and crafting in general. None of this would level your character’s combat level up, but you’d be leveling all of your other tradeskills up, and making a boatload of money in the process.

Rob “Grakulen” Lashley’s workers on the job in the wild…

Similarly, Knowledge is something BDO wants you to seek out. Reading books from the shelves of your house, which can be done AFK like fishing, can actually give you random world knowledge which increases your energy, which increases the amount of crafting, talking to NPCs, and other things you can engage in before you need to rest. Oh, and you can actually lie in a bed to recharge energy faster. Plus, your alts, all part of the same family, share the same energy pool and can be used to do tasks like fishing, crafting, or harvesting while your main might be out of energy (which recharges at one point per minute, or three per minute while lying down in game).

A lot of games focus hard on lore, but few games focus this much on NPCs, their personalities, interests, and desires. By talking to many NPCs, which is a pretty silly mini-game of picking subjects/people they want to talk about and hitting arbitrary number goals based on their reactions, you can learn new knowledge, unlock special quests, and even get vendors to sell you rare and special items. As you talk to people, you’ll learn about them, and BDO might be the first MMORPG that has me actually remembering certain NPCs and their names because of this design. You’re not “talking” to the NPCs as you would in a game like SWTOR, picking things to say or responses. It’s all tied to this mini-game. The closest comparison might be Vanguard’s fondly remembered diplomacy system.

I feel like I could spend weeks playing Black Desert, and still only have scratched the surface of what the game has to offer. My guild is pretty big, so we’ll eventually be getting to the Guild Wars and siege system, of which Black Desert aims to make its elder game experience. Speaking of guilds, there are guild missions, and never have I played a game that makes the cooperative task of collecting ore or lumber actually something fun to do. That is, of course, if you have an active and friendly guild who likes to do such things. But, it’s worth noting that you needn’t ever join a guild or even party up in BDO to get enjoyment. Exploring, crafting, and working the economy are all solo tasks.

Ok, the horses near trade managers is getting out of hand though…

And for those wondering, the open PVP part of the game starts at level 45, so I’m not quite sure just how rough that will be. I’ll be striving to get to 45 at least before I score the game, to see if the Karma system really works as a way to curtail griefing and needless ganking. I’m optimistic, but you never know until you get there yourself. For now, I’m quite happy with how Black Desert Online is performing for my personal tastes. It’s like the High Fantasy version of EVE I always wanted, and I’m beginning to hope other MMO developers take note of its myriad systems and realize you can indeed make a world out of your game, and not just incessantly focus on questing and dungeons and then wonder why people say it’s the “same old MMO song and dance”.

Oh, and a final note for this week? Be sure to cash in your silver coins to Storage Managers for gold bars. Silver actually weighs you down, and will encumber your character in time. And yes, this copy of Black Desert Online was provided to us by Daum Games for review purposes. But for the record, I’ve also spent $60 on Daum Cash to use in the shop, because I like to support games I believe in, and so far I’m a fan of BDO despite the bumps in the road during launch.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.