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Interview: Talking Drakania Awakening With Black Desert's Jesse Joo

Nick Shively Posted:
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Last week, the Drakania class unleashed its awakening form on the world of Black Desert Online. To further dive into the details of the new class specialization, and learn a little bit about recent changes and what the MMORPG has in store for its players, MMORPG.com had the opportunity to interview Head of Game Design Jesse Joo.

MMORPG.com: The Awakening form for the Drakania Class features a unique dual stance system where players can switch between wielding spears and dragon armaments. How did the design team come up with this concept and balance it against the other classes in Black Desert Online?

Jesse Joo: When Black Desert Online's Executive Producer, Jae-Hee Kim, previously spoke about this, he explained that “Unlike previous Awakenings, we will start developing Drakania’s Awakening once we get a feel of what our Adventurers want after they’ve had some time to play Drakania.”

So we observed how players were taking Drakania into battle, and of course, received all sorts of feedback directly from players. With this feedback in mind, we decided to focus on the classical image of a “dragoon” from the fantasy genre, and settled on a “spear.”

During the early stages of development, Drakania’s skills were not divided between stances: some skills embraced the power of a dragon while some emphasized human abilities. We then realized that this play style was a little too similar to other classes -- just with a splash of “dragon” on top.

To give our players a more unique gameplay experience, we needed a different approach. Ultimately, after going down a lot of development paths, we chose to go with a combat style that alternates between two stances. While you can play in just one stance, Drakania’s performance is maximized (and she’s just more fun to play!) when you alternate between stances and adjust to the battle in front of you.

To be frank, the balance aspect was quite tricky. During the development stage Awakened Drakania was able to respond to any situation by switching stances, making her extremely powerful in every aspect. So, we decided to give players the option to switch stances in real-time, putting the onus on player choice and creating a high-risk, high-return playstyle which we will continue to refine after release.

MMORPG.com: The aesthetics and skill animations for the Drakania were clearly pulled from the traditional dragoon class, but were there any specific characters or themes from other games/franchises that went into her design?

Jesse Joo: Pearl Abyss has always chosen the difficult path of blending familiarity and novelty. With Drakania’s Awakening, we wanted to express the “might of dragons,” which has been seen in numerous games, in a slightly different (and new!) way that fits Black Desert’s style. Thus, while Drakania’s core is the very familiar “dragon concept,” we created a playstyle that was entirely unique to her class.

Looking at other games, we could not find a class that wields two spears of differing sizes. And so, our art team focused on creating stylish combos utilizing both hands, while incorporating the difference in weight and speed of the two “Trion” spears.

We also wished to express her as a “draconic commander,” while artfully blending a dragon’s stature into her character. In particular, the weapons were inspired by the spears used in jousting matches.

MMORPG.com: What is your favorite part about the Drakania?

Jesse Joo: I would say that Drakania is a beautiful class to play - she’s all about player choice and adjusting to the battlefield. This answer encompasses the pride I feel as a member of Pearl Abyss.

In lore, Drakania was born with both human and dragon bloodlines, which is part of her dramatic narrative that describes a life of fleeing from dragon slayers. Her brutal combat style of stabbing, ripping, and clawing those who stand before her while going back and forth between the “Dragonblood” and “Hexeblood” states, her visuals, and her powerful voice lines come together to create a masterpiece, so I cannot say that just one aspect is my favorite.

If I had to choose just one, I must say that I love Drakania’s dash. Soaring through the air with her ashen wings, her signature skill just screams out “This is Pearl Abyss’s Drakania Awakening.”

MMORPG.com: The Dawn of Dragons pre-seasons events have showcased an area of the game that needs a major overhaul: World Bosses. Now that grinding provides so much silver, fewer and fewer players doing world bosses with the exception of big events that increase the loot drops. Certain bosses, such as Thundercloud Kutum, are almost never killed on NA servers. Are there any plans in the future to revamp world bosses, and/or field bosses, to incentivize more active participation and minimize players who try to AFK for rewards?

Jesse Joo: The rewards for defeating world bosses in Black Desert are not just silver. It consists of different types of rewards, such as boss weapons that’ll make you want to venture out into the world, guaranteed enhancement materials, reform materials, and special outfits.

That said, the fundamental issue is that the profit from world bosses and profit from the monster zones were not matched well. However, since this is related to another fundamental part of the game, it’s a problem that cannot be solved by adjusting the rewards alone.

We wish to maintain this principle moving forward and introduce more attractive rewards, and improve the World Boss fights so that more players will want to face Kzarka, Nouver, Karanda, and Kutum.

We think the best way to incentivize active participation in boss battles is to continue to deliver more appealing rewards rather than just higher silver profit. We also have some cool mechanics that emphasize player skill - for example, the world bosses in Black Desert are designed to give better rewards the higher the damage dealt to them.

Recently, we adjusted the difficulty of Thundercloud Kutum so that the combat can be more intuitive and fun. In addition, we increased the chances of acquiring attractive rewards, such as the power stone, for those who have dealt more damage. This has led to a significant change in the participation rate. We will continue to make these kinds of improvements in the future. 

MMORPG.com: In addition to World Bosses, life skills (with a couple exceptions) have also been getting left behind. A large number of players spend significant time life skilling and some players only life skill. Are there any plans to improve the silver earned by some of the less lucrative life skills, or create unique incentives to reward high-level life skillers?

Jesse Joo: We’re unable to make all life skills as profitable as defeating monsters because there is a clear difference in difficulty, and amount of effort spent, even if the amount of time it takes is the same.

That’s not to say that we’ll just leave it as is. We recently added new Hunting monsters in the Mountain of Eternal Winter region, increased the overall profit for hunting sea monsters, added “Fairy’s Breath” to Gathering loot, and buried chests that can be opened with Gold Keys, and we will continue to make more improvements in the future.

The same goes for high-level life skillers. Of course, we fully agree that higher incentives should be given to high-level life skillers, as it is extremely difficult to become a Guru. However, we don’t want these rewards to be a barrier of entry for new players who just stepped into the world of Black Desert.

This is one of the reasons why we shifted the requirement of the automatic sprint feature of Horses down one level. Going from Artisan to Professional training was done so that newer players had an incentive to push their training levels higher, even though it was previously a reward for obtaining the higher levels.

Meanwhile, we have been adding benefits for those who reach higher levels of life skills in other ways. This year we added the extra bullet for those who reach high levels of hunting, and the artifact system creates benefits for those who reach Guru Alchemy. We will continue to add attractive incentives for life skillers without introducing them as a barrier of entry for the life skill itself.

MMORPG.com: Are there any plans to create addition unique seasonal items like the PEN Capotia Accessories or Perilla’s Star? The last few seasons have not had any new additions, but the aforementioned have been very helpful to new and returning players.

Jesse Joo: For now, we feel that the special gear that has been added so far is enough. One of the issues with special items is that our players who are already pushing the limits of their character’s progression may take advantage of the unique items and require us to adjust the skill gap between advanced players and the rest of the player base.

Instead, we have been adding +80~+100 Advice of Valks, which are relatively hard for new players to get, as new rewards. These rewards are actually a nice boost to the post-season server graduation progression.

Of course, we will always keep thinking of the season to normal server transitions when designing various events, season passes, or creating special features that can help players better adapt to the normal server.

For this season, we’ve rebalanced the season pass and improved the UI to help ease season characters into the world of Black Desert.

MMORPG.com: The Arena of Solare was a huge hit with almost everyone I play with and I personally can’t wait for its return. Can you tell me what plans you have for the arena?

Jesse Joo: At the moment, all I can say is that we are working hard on making sure everything is ready for the first regular season.

Throughout the preseason, we really felt the passion of our players who love PvP and we know that many players are excited for the Arena of Solare to return.

For the regular season, we are all busy improving the feeling of competition and the thrill of victory through more fun PvP, ranking, and matchmaking systems. We can’t wait to show everyone.

MMORPG.com: Finally, are there any hints about upcoming content that you can provide MMORPG readers? Things like new classes, regions, bosses, items, etc., or anything else you would like to add?

Jesse Joo: Unfortunately, there isn’t any specific content we can share at the moment. And while I do hope to discuss a lot of things with our players at this year’s upcoming Heidel Ball, one thing I can briefly touch upon now is that we’re preparing a “completely different narrative.” It’s going to be something incredibly fun. So, I look forward to sharing more with everyone and answering questions. During the wait, we hope you’ll enjoy playing our very flashy, powerful, and awe-inspiring Awakened Drakania.


Nick Shively