Monday, 11 April 2016

First Monthly Report : Black Desert

This weekend I got my loyalty reward for spending thirty days in Black Desert. You'd think that would be long enough to have made up my mind whether I'm enjoying myself. If this was a subscription MMO it would have to be, because right now the first monthly payment would be due.

Of course, a month's play often isn't enough to decide the future of an MMORPG. When Mrs Bhagpuss and I played Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn at launch, by complete chance the first subscription payment fell due just as we went away for a week's holiday. As we left we were undecided whether to sub but that enforced hiatus brought clarity.

By the time we returned neither of us was interested in picking up where we left off in FFXIV. We both preferred to return to GW2, which we did and where we remain, by and large, almost three years on.
Beats riding an oversized chicken, that's for sure.

FFXIV wasn't the game for either of us and I can give chapter and verse on why, but I won't, because this isn't a post about FFXIV's shortcomings. Summing up how I feel about Black Desert after a month is going to be a lot harder.

For one thing haven't had the benefit of a full week away from both Black Desert and gaming in general to let my thoughts and feelings settle. For another, I'm not sure I can truly claim I've been "playing" Black Desert for a month anyway.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm playing Black Desert at all. I wonder if you can play Black Desert. Is it even a game? The month I spent playing FFXIV was a full month of hands-on gaming. I probably logged 25-35 hours a week and all of that was active play.

In Black Desert I have an achievement for 100 hours played but it should say 100 hours logged in. I have, without doubt, spent more hours "playing" Black Desert from the system tray while I actually played GW2 or wrote this blog than I've spent in direct, personal control of my character.
With the addition of looping now you need spend even less time playing!

Even when I am actively playing BDO I'm mostly not doing very much. My involvement as a player is required only intermittently. I spend a lot of time just watching. I may be at the keyboard but I'm not using it.

A good deal of the "gameplay" consists of taking a quest, hitting "T" and auto-pathing there. If it's a normal quest that could take anything from a few seconds to a few minutes. If it's a  trade quest, where my character trudges along carrying a heavy pack, it might take the best part of half an hour.

The auto-pathing in Black Desert is exemplary. The best I've seen. There's an annoying exception, where the game assumes you want to go to the source of whatever the quest requires, an area with imps or ash trees for example, instead of to the NPC you need for the hand-in, but other than that, as far as questing goes, you can pretty much just hit "T" and go make yourself a coffee.

If you set your own markers, which you can do freely, occasionally you might come back to find your character stuck on a wall. That might make me feel needed for a brief moment, when I tab back in and notice, unstick my character, make sure she's pointed in the right direction, then tab back out again.
Simple crafting, somewhat ironically, requires more attention than "proper" crafting.

An awful lot of my gameplay in Black Desert happens better without me. The AI fishes more slowly than I do but it never misses a cast, never fails to land a fish and sorts the old boots from the valuable catches far more efficiently than I would. My workers don't need direct supervision. So long as I pop in once in a while and buy them a few beers they get along just fine.

There are a few things that do need my personal attention, combat being the most obvious example. Ah, combat... What is there to say about low-mid level PvE combat in Black Desert? It's very fast, very easy and very loud and that about covers it.

There's a whole, hugely complex, system of combos and key-presses that you're meant to learn, none of which you need. Frequently you don't need to select or pull mobs because after the mid-teens, whenever you arrive in an area filled with hostiles everything in a fifty meter radius will rush at you like steel ball bearings to an electro-magnet.

The depth and complexity of PvE combat is exemplified by the many daily quests that start "Kill 50" or "Kill 100". It's a matter of taking the quest, hitting "T", auto-pathing to the middle of the swamp or the field or the camp, waiting a second or two until the imps or fogans or rebels notice, then AEing and chugging health potions until the required number have immolated themselves on your pyre.

I have a Gathering outfit that stops mobs like him bothering me but I don't have enough inventory slots to carry it with me. So I just kill them.

In fact, the only problem in combat is picking up the loot, which is frequent and potentially valuable or useful enough to make it uncomfortable to ignore. That's why they sell pets that loot for you. I don't have one and I will not be paying real money for one so I do my own looting, which does at least mean I take a few hits while my back is turned; that adds a semblance of danger once in a while.

Speaking of loot, inventory space in Black Desert is a major issue. In fact, if there was one reason I might stop playing it's that. Bearing in mind that I love inventory management, that I will literally spend whole days organizing my inventory in EQ, EQ2 or GW2, for me to say that inventory management is a tedious, fun-sucking bore should be a dire warning to anyone who already finds the whole concept of sorting icons into bags tedious.

It isn't particularly a question of shortage of space although the basic allotment is measly and the potential for expanding it without spending $1.50 per slot in the cash shop is limited (here's a list). If you add up all the free storage options inluding the inventory on each character you make, all the warehouses in different towns, the warehouse expansions from owning buildings and the inventory slots on boats and mounts and wagons, then in total it probably doesn't fall far short of most MMOs.

It gets very dark at night but only for a short while.
The sun rises at about 2 am. No wonder no-one goes to sleep.

It's just staggeringly, mind-bogglingly inconvenient, awkward, fiddly and annoying. It's an approach that exemplifies my major problem with Black Desert as a game: resource management. When it comes down to it, that's what BDO is - a resource management game. And I was done with those by about 1983.

These days I do not want to spend hours and hours juggling resources as a way to entertain myself. It's not entertaining. I enjoy sorting things, putting them in order, filing them away; that's inventory management. This is something else. This is never, ever having enough space and never, ever having what you need available when you need it. This is frickin' infuriating!

It's not even as though there's any level of realism to all of this. Like the tableaux of the previous post, having separate bank space in different towns is a snapshot of a reality, not reality itself. The Marketplace isn't bound by time or space like the Warehouse and its overland transport system. Put something on there and everyone can see it. Buy something from there it appears in your pack instantly.

This is the only example of an NPC with a life of his own that I've seen but i hear tell there are a few more.

This sense of dual values, "realism" and convenience, is prevalent throughout the game and the world. Take the handful of NPCs who put out a sign to say they're not at work right now. Any sense of "realism" that seeks to create is destroyed instantly when you turn around to see the hundreds of other NPCs who stand in the same spot 24/7 to offer whatever service or local color they've been placed there to provide.

Anyone could nit-pick any MMORPG to death like this, though. The genre has always suffered under a terrible compromise between the creative, artistic vision behind the games and the unavoidable requirement to compete for custom in a crowded entertainment market. No-one has hit a perfect balance yet so why expect Pearl Abyss to be the first?

A better question might be, if there's all this and a lot more wrong with the game, why am I certainly going to go on playing it? Well, apart from the very significant factor of BDO not requiring a subscription, meaning I don't have to make any hard choices over whether or not to keep dabbling, it has two huge factors in its favor:

  1. Black Desert, as a world, is delightful to explore. 
  2. Black Desert, as a game, is relaxing to play. 

If I had the Energy and the Inventory I'd literally gather all day. It's like visual valium.
That's it, pretty much. Other than the space issue, which does verge on being a deal-breaker, most of the other "negatives" I can think of, including all of those listed above, can equally spin positive.

  • I like the auto-pathing. 
  • I like being able to tab out and read blogs while I travel. 
  • I like being able to play other MMOs while I "play" Black Desert in the background. 
  • I like the mindless, simplistic combat - or I woud if I had enough space for all the loot.
  • I like the attempt to add some realism here and there, even if it doesn't always convince.
  • I like the housing, even if it can often seem limited, small and dark.
  • I like the gathering, mining, tanning, even though they are incredibly slow and fiddly.
  • I like the Amity mini-game, even if it isn't a patch on Vanguard's Diplomacy.

And of course, beyond anything I like the look and feel of the world and the sense that there's always something new and unexpected to find.

Sing Ho! for the open road!

So, with no more money required to go on playing, I'll be carrying on with Black Desert for a while yet. It's not going to be my main MMO. I may lose interest, wander off and forget about it for a while. With the buy-to-play door always open, though, if I do I know I can always drift back.

Let's see where I am in another month.

3 comments:

  1. Ay we are all different. As I loved ArchAge, played it from beta in august 2014 - december 2015 with sub I think BDO might be THE game 4 me. BDO is a sandbox, similar but so much better I cant even comoare them. B2P with free DLCs is frightening tho as im afraid they dont get enough money to evolve...

    My house is lot dark! Buy lamps, light floor and wallpaper 😇

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    1. ArchAge was an odd one for me. I played it and enjoyed it, well into the 30s. I had no plan to stop playing but one day I didn't log in and I've never logged in again. I still couldn't say why. BDO is a lot more interesting than ArchAge though - I think I'll hang around here longer.

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  2. Ack mobile thumb! House is NOT dark ☺and "compare" lol

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