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The Way Forward for a Genre

William Murphy Posted:
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For the past six weeks, I have been whiling away too many hours in Black Desert Online.  Though I’m nowhere near my goal of level 50, it’s high time I stick a fork in this review process and puts a score to Daum Games and Pearl Abyss’ open world MMORPG so I can just get back to playing the game any way I want. Where will the magic number land? Read on, and find out why I think BDO’s western release signals a change in the winds of the MMORPG genre.

I’ve spent an insane amount of time talking about BDO over the past five weeks. This review will not go super deep into the details of each system, as I (and others) have done much of that here already. Instead, I’m going to focus on the bits of the game I love, the bits that annoy me, and the reason I think Black Desert Online is just what the MMORPG needs.

It was probably on day two or three of the head start period where I realized that Black Desert was a game I’d be plugging hundreds of hours of my free time into.  I was making beer in my Velia cottage, to keep my workers happy (or drunk) and working. I then saw that my guild began a quest to collect crafting materials, and wound up wandering around the countryside looking for maple and ash trees, only to be attacked by wandering bears in the dark of night. I had no lantern to light my way, and I’m pretty sure my Ranger peed her pants (or was that me?).  I then had to go eat dinner, so I went to my study and began reading a book while I went AFK in order to work on my knowledge level. I managed to get some time later in the evening and decided to chase down some Black Spirit quests to progress the story a bit. When real-life night came, I didn’t log out. I parked my ranger with empty bags near an uncrowded fishing spot and let her make me money while I slept.

It’s this broad range of things you can do in the game, or while not in the game, that keeps me coming back. It’s almost enough to make you go crazy, really. I’ve even had a friend tell me she just can’t mentally partake in BDO because the sheer volume of options and what you can or should be doing makes her head spin. Indeed, Black Desert Online is almost too complex for its own good. You have to keep track of so much more than most MMOs throw at you. Your workers, your individual towns’ warehouse inventory, crafting queues, marketplace highs and lows, questing, farming, fishing, and on and on.

But that’s also a weakness for the game. BDO isn’t easy to get into. Like EVE Online before it, there’s a huge learning curve to just about everything in Black Desert. You’re going to wind up researching things on fansites look up how things work. Heck, we have some pretty great guides here, and Dulfy.net has even better ones.  What’s important to remember about BDO is that just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re not a fan of fishing, crafting, whatever, don’t feel like you need to. You don’t even have to worry about workers and nodes, though you’d be missing out on easy money if you avoided it completely.

He was not, as I'd hoped, dancing on the ceiling.

You see, the trick to “getting” Black Desert Online is taking your preconceived notions of what an MMORPG is and tossing them out the window.  This isn’t about dungeons and gear tokens. This isn’t PVP ladder climbing. This isn’t leveling to a cap, and repeating content or starting an alt out of boredom. BDO is about finding a place within the world before you. Some of you, indeed some of my colleagues here at the site, will drive themselves mad worrying about competing at the level 50+ game. And that’s a valid concern. There is definitely a problem to be solved in the game’s gear disparity between the normal and hardcore players of Black Desert Online.

No, what’s important to know going into Black Desert is that the whole game is "end-game". To me, even if I don't really do well or participate in sieges and PVP - the simple act of exploring, working the markets, and building my empire and family is worth the entry. But then, I've never been an "end-game" minding player. I'm about the journey, and that is something BDO has in spades.  I hold no illusions that I’ll ever compete at the higher tiers of Black Desert’s PVP-centered endgame.  But I’ll do my best to help my guild, participate in sieges when they come, and I’ll keep making money and leveling my family… that is, if I ever get to the level cap.

The graphical pop-in is often distracting

But a big problem, as shown to me by our own Mike B and his friend’s experience, is that in order to remain competitive in PVP you’re going to need to spend inordinate amounts of time working on your gear to get it and keep it where it needs to be. So, if your goal is to be the best in the game? You might want to know what you’re getting yourself into. Like world firsts in other MMOs, the PVP and gear-based status of level 50+ in BDO is nuts. You’ve been forewarned.

If, on the other hand, you’re like me and you play these games not so much to compete but to enjoy the journey? Well, you’re likely in for a real treat. Black Desert Online has many faults, but the sheer scope of the game’s systems and variety in your day to day MMO life can more than make up for its shortcomings. So far, Daum and Pearl Abyss have proven very receptive to Western gamers’ wants and needs, and I’m hoping that in time Black Desert Online will be an even better experience for all. But for now, it’s still easily one of the best MMORPGs on the market, and the best non-traditional experience any fan of the genre could hope for.  

Listen, I’ve rambled on for about 1500 words here, and several thousand more in preceding weeks. You don’t need me to tell you any more about this game than what you can learn by simply picking it up. I will say this though: so many of us here clamor for something new and unique to hit the market.  It’s here now. Black Desert Online is one of the freshest takes on the MMO in years, and it deserves to be played.

GAMEPLAY: 9 | The sheer wealth of different kinds of activities on hand in Black Desert is staggering. There are no formal “instances” to speak of, instead BDO’s design is intended to have players live in a world – not just quest and follow the question marks. Points off only because some of the tasks required to truly experience all the game has to offer border on tedious rather than fun.

VISUALS AND SOUND: 9 | Black Desert is quite simply one of the most beautiful MMORPGs in existence. Its score is haunting and beautiful, and its general ambience is second to none. The world, through sound and sight, simply comes to life. But, nasty pop in textures and some rough voice acting keep it from perfection.

POLISH: 7 | The UI of BDO is both extremely powerful and robust, but also limited in functionality. Quality of life features are missing, and there’s so much new and out of the ordinary here that BDO requires more tutorials than it can possibly muster. Additionally, some translations are typed, stilted, or just badly written. The game itself and its myriad systems are remarkably well conceived and executed.

LONGEVITY: 10 | I’ve played or have been logged into Black Desert Online on my Ranger for nearly 10 days (240 hours). I’m still only halfway to the level cap, and have only seen a small fraction of the game’s world and systems. To say that BDO is the gift that keeps on giving would be an understatement. If BDO clicks with you, it’ll last you an inordinate amount of time.

VALUE: 8 | The base price of $30 is an absolute bargain for Black Desert. And while the cash shop has seen its ups and downs, it’s all fairly benign, even the “Ghillie Suit”. That said, I’ve spent my own cash on things like bag slots, carry weight, and a costume and I’m not sure the price of said investments feels fair – especially the $29 cost of full costumes. But, it’s worth noting that all of these things are optional additions and serve to make the game’s management systems more bearable if you don’t feel like spending too much time managing inventories. For $30, you could never spend another dime and get more than your money’s worth.

  • A vast, open & truly vibrant world to explore
  • Absolutely gorgeous visual & sound design
  • Something for everyone
  • Superlative combat
  • Can become a grind in many ways
  • Dungeon runners will be disappointed
  • End-game gear disparity
  • Lack of in-game tutorials


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.