Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Tall Ship's Tale : Black Desert

Much of the conversation over Black Desert Online has focused on systems and processes. From the arcane and convoluted crafting to the controversial cash shop, to the conflicts between the needs and desires of PvP and PvE players, to the "always online" demands of the afk progression mechanics, BDO has generated controversy and confusion in equal measure.

With all that going on it's easy to forget that this is still an explorer's game par excellence. If you come to Black Desert with an explorer's heart there's no need to know or care about any of these things. From the moment you step out into the world there is quite literally nothing to stop you putting foot to road and heading for the horizon.

Yesterday I had the finest, simplest, open-world adventure I've had for a very long time. It took me all the way back to the earliest days of EverQuest, when I stood at the harbor in Butcherblock, staring at the sea, waiting for my first ever imaginary boat trip.

It all goes back a few days to when I first arrived in the great port city of Altinova. I'd climbed the hills at the back of the town, getting my bearings and my breath after a dizzying jaunt through the red clay mayhem of the souks and alleyways below. Looking out across the rooftops to the docks I saw a square-rigged galleon at the wharf, by far the biggest ship I'd seen.

As I watched, it pulled away from the pier, turned awkwardly and headed out to sea. I scrambled down the hillside and raced through the teeming streets to the waterfront to where the great ship had been.

For half an hour or more I waited there for another seagoing vessel to arrive. I passed the time fishing. My bags filled and I sold the catch to the Trade Manager up the hill. My rod broke. No ship appeared. Eventually I gave up waiting and left.

Yesterday I was in Altinova again when history repeated itself. I was looking down from the heights when I saw the ship, only this time it was just coming in to port. I forgot my plans and sprinted for the dock. This time I made it.

I was the only one waiting to board when the ship pulled alongside the harbor wall. When it set sail again just a few minutes later I was still alone. There were no passengers but me. There was no crew. There didn't even seem to be a captain. And yet the ship sailed.

There I was, the lone passenger on a ghost ship. The sun was going down. Of course it was. It's always coming on night when I do anything in Black Desert or so it seems. I tried to take some shots of the ship but the light was poor and the vessel too large for the frame so after a few minutes I settled down to watch the waves roll by.

And they rolled. And they rolled. And they rolled. I had no idea where the ship was heading. It seemed to be making for the deep ocean. Opening the map after a few minutes it looked as though we might be bound for Iliya Island.

That would be some journey from Eastern Mediah but it would have been handy for me. I could check up on my shipyard there, see my workers were settled, have a rummage around my storage. But Iliya slipped past to starboard and we sailed on into the night.

By this time we'd been afloat for ten minutes or so. I wondered if we might be heading to Velia, which would make for a trip of at least twenty minutes. We were not.

Velia slid by to port. I looked at the map again. Where else was there? There were islands, of course. A lot of islands. Some of them even had names. For a time we appeared to be heading directly for a middling sized isle but at the last moment we rounded its southernmost tip and on we sailed.

It was light again by this time. We were cutting along within sight of land but but the mists had come down to hide the shore. Tantalizing glimpses of towers and walls drifted in and out of view.

I paced the deck from prow to stern, trying to get a clear line of sight. Gingerly I hoisted myself onto the spars and edged along the rails. I was terrified of slipping, falling into the dark ocean. I knew that if I had to swim I'd drown before ever I reached land.

Opening the map once again it was hard to believe just how far the ship had traveled. We had been, quite literally, in uncharted waters almost from the start but for a good while now we were running past unmapped land. Whatever country this was to the lee it was one I'd never seen before.

By now I'd been on the ship for well over half an hour. About the only place I could think of that might be our destination port would be Calpheon. The great city of the West is inland but it stands on a major river. I hadn't noticed a harbor when I was there but then I hadn't looked for one.

After the best part of forty-five minutes, with the sun up and full daylight clearing the fog, finally the ship turned for the shore. A great lighthouse tower on a promontory heralded a major port. A port I had no idea existed.

The ship nudged alongside the planks of the dock of a busy fishing port, with granite fisherman's cottages rising up the hillside towards impressive public buildings and churches above. Wide, sandy beaches swept away to the north. A beached whale lay on the sands, surrounded by curious Shai.

Walking the wet, early morning streets I learned the name: Epheria Port. Standing high on the cliffs that backed the weather-worn, tiled roofs I watched the sails of the ghost-ship shrink to the horizon, heading back to warmer waters once again.

For almost an hour all I'd done was board a ship and wait for the voyage to end. In the terms of the game my character did not progress by any measurable means. No skills increased, no loot dropped, no quests completed, no achievements accrued. There were no rewards, material, statistical or nominal.

It was the best adventure I'd had for a long time. Something I'll remember the way I remember those first trips across the Ocean of Tears.

It was a mighty long hike back to Altinova, where I left my horse, though. I'll tell you that for nothing!


  1. Well, I had the same experience some time ago, except it didn't go as well. I had seen those "vehicle markers" on the map moving around, so when I was exploring Epheria and saw the ship at the pier I did the same thing as you did, I made a run for it and jumped up. WITH my horse. There was another passenger, but he didn't say a word and vanished very quickly, no idea if he DCed, jumped off or anything.
    The boat sails and sails along the coast, passing in front of Olvia and I thought it would land me at Velia. Nope, it goes on and on into uncharted waters and.....
    ....then I instantly die, one-shotted by something.
    As it turns out, the new content was already ingame, but marked "inaccessible", so when the boat sailed towards Altinova everything was fine and dandy until it hit one of those "invisible walls".....
    I woke up in Velia with a serious bill to pay for the remote recovery of my horse.
    My next objective is building up the shipyard in Epheria to get a Fishing boat so that I can explore by sea with the ability to turn back before it's too late :)

    1. I did wonder at one point whether the ship was just going to sail to the edge of the map and dump me in the water, as ships occasionally used to do in EQ. That ocean is enormous. We passed a lot of islands that I can't imagine I'll ever get to visit.

      When the naval expansion from Korea arrives it better bring some faster ships with it, that's all I can say.

    2. When you mentioned "rounding the southmost point" of an island, I wasn't even PLAYING and I had a desire to jump overboard and go see what was on it.
      Islands are always worth checking out. Of course, then you're stuck on an island... but, uh... No, I have no idea what would make that worth it.
      But island!

    3. I was so tempted to jump off and swim to several of the islands but getting back would have been a nightmare so I had to resist. I am making plans on how to get there although I've heard that there isn't a lot to see on most of them. If you like islands (and I love them) then this is definitely the game, though.

  2. Dang...I have been to Epheria but now I wish I had discovered it the way you have! *goosebumps*

    I love this game, twas crafted for ussss!

    1. Actually, it has a MAJOR shortcoming: it's not possible to annotate the map with markers, which is a major feature for exploration games.... this is the kind of functionality which would be added in milliseconds if they allowed player mods.


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