Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cherry Blossom Time : Black Desert

If ever I came across an MMORPG that came out of the gate at a dead run the way Black Desert has then I can't remember what it might have been. It was barely a month ago the game launched in the West and in just that first four weeks we've had two holiday events and an expansion. That's nuts.

Of course, it's a lot easier to turn on the content hose when you have it connected to a reservoir two years deep, but even so this is exceptional. You might expect that Daum would use the first few months to build expectations, let the customers feel a little hunger, but no, apparently that's not how they roll.

According to Dulfy (who must have a Duplicator more reliable than Calvin's now she's covering GW2, SWtoR, ESO and BDO) Daum is working to a schedule that will bring additions to the game every month until the summer. We're set to get two new classes in April and two more in May, culminating in another expansion-scale update, the full region of Valencia, in June.

 Syl has a great post up about the satisfaction to be found in learning new systems in MMOs. I very much agree that "what makes the early MMO experience such an enjoyable one is knowing nothing and learning everything" although I would never claim this is a universal constant. Not all players enjoy learning to walk all over again.

I'm very firmly in the camp that enjoys discovering, uncovering and understanding new systems in MMOs for the sheer satisfaction of doing so. Mrs Bhagpuss, despite being entirely capable of doing the same, is a lot less likely to make that effort just for the sake of it.

The key is that, as Syl codifies, the game itself must also be "a ton of fun". There is a demographic for which learning for learning's sake is sufficient in itself but for most players that learning has to lead somewhere. I take it as a significant endorsement of BDO's fun factor that when Mrs Bhagpuss got around to using the 7-day pass I gave her she played for several hours, got to level 11 and finished by asking me how much the game cost and whether there was a subscription involved.

The good thing about Black Desert's supposedly steep learning curve is that it isn't much of a curve at all. It's more of an archipelago. Each system you discover tends both to stand alone and also put you in sight of several more. You can drift from one to another at your own pace, changing direction as something new catches your eye, stopping to rest whenever you feel tired.

I first tried farming a while back. A number of farmers had tried to rent me fences, to the point where I became sufficiently curious to invest a few Contribution Points to see what I was supposed to be fencing.

My initial attempt to place the thing was not a success. It was easy enough to see what to do but every time I tried to place the fence on the grid I got a system message telling me I couldn't place it in a safe zone. Google couldn't tell me what that meant and since I'm not a big fan of farming gameplay to begin with I returned the fence, got my Contribution Points back and forgot all about it.

Then the Cherry Blossom event began. I saw the flowering trees that you can get to put in your house and suddenly I had a solid reason to learn how to farm.

Both farming and the event turned out to be a lot easier, faster and more enjoyable than I was expecting. The first thing to do was get some cherry blossom seeds. I happened to be in Altinova, the mesmerizing river port in eastern Mediah, so I passed on Dulfy's recommended locations and went up to the hills around the city instead, to see what I could grub up from the wild herbs and thickets there.

Exploring Mediah with a character in the low twenties is a true joy and an example to all MMORPGs on how to add high level content without alienating or excluding lower level players. The entire area is designed primarily for max level characters, which means, as J3w3l points out, it's filled with "new mobs to fight that are waaaayyyy stronger than anything ... previously". Nevertheless, there's plenty to see and do for those of us who wouldn't last two hits.

The roads are safe to travel, as roads in a settled, civilized area should be. There are no level restrictions on gathering, fishing, mining or logging so all the new resources are available to anyone willing to take the risk of searching for them. Much of the wildlife near roads isn't particularly hostile, even when, like the buffalo or the armadillos, it looks pretty scary.

I picked my way along the ridge above Altinova, keeping a respectful distance between my tamer and the snorting buffaloes, and in about twenty minutes I had three cherry blossom seeds. I didn't know of a farmer willing to rent me a fence any closer than Heidel so I set a map marker, hit "T" and auto-ran back while I read up on how to farm.

Black Desert has a take on phasing that's true genius. There's no shortage of farm plots because you can literally place your fence on top of someone else's existing plot and it will overwrite it just for you. Their patch of sunflowers will vanish and as long as you maintain that plot all you will see is whatever you planted. The original owner will continue to see and farm her crops, totally unaware that you have piggybacked her plot.

With that in mind I quite deliberately chose to place my fence on top of an existing sunflower farm just beside the bridge going into Heidel. I figured that if someone else had managed to grab that spot then at least I wouldn't get the mysterious "safe zone" message this time and I didn't.

My knee-high fence appeared along with the farming interface. Like most BDO systems it looks more complicated than it strictly needs to be. No doubt there are are subtleties I'm missing but unless you're in a tearing hurry you can pretty much just plonk your seeds down and forget about them because the various disasters that can arise - weeds, blight, bird attacks - do nothing worse than make the crops take longer to reach maturity.

In common with all BDO activities nothing happens offline. My cherry trees had a base growth duration of around eight hours so once I had them all set up I went off and did a few other things and when I'd had enough of that I minimized BDO to the system tray and played GW2 instead.

Throughout the day I popped BDO back up periodically to see how things were coming along. I pruned some weeds once or twice but other than that there wasn't much to do. The trees grew from saplings to healthy young specimens to mature, blossom-heavy trees too tall to fit in the frame for a screenshot.

They looked so amazing it was a shame to harvest them but harvest them I did. Each tree gave me around a dozen petals and since Hunt, the seed vendor in Heidel, only wanted ten petals for one of his Cherry Blossom Pots I was able to get two for my house and save the rest towards a set of Cherry Blossom earrings.

The potted trees are larger than I was expecting. They might be too large for my small country cottage. An option to adjust the size of housing items, such as exists in other MMOs, would be nice. Even nicer would be if I could place them just outside. They'd look perfect either side of the front door.

That's carping over details, though. They look fantastic! Based on the first two we've seen, this and the Easter Eggs, I'd have to say that Pearl Abyss have hit the perfect sweet spot for holiday events in an MMO. The rewards are desirable, there's choice and variety, the requirements to get them are solid but not onerous; all in all these events are fun, satisfying and don't outstay their welcome.

Late last night I got my horse out of the stable and rode back to Altinova. I logged out with another Cherry Blossom seed in my pack and this morning I'm going to look for a couple more. I'll get them in the ground and they can spend the day growing while I do something else. By this evening I should have new earrings.

I like this game.


  1. I'm also enjoying the initial "discovery" part of Black Desert, but I'm not sure I'm as sold as you :)
    I've two characters in the 20s, and honestly absolutely no will to level further. Combat is lackluster and uninteresting. Sure, nuking stuff with the wizard is fun the first three times, then it becomes boring.
    I really like traveling around for no reason except to discover nodes (I still miss too many!). I've done some trading, but compared to Archeage the vehicles here feel like horse with a graphical appendage behind it and trade runs are a 'T' + afk affair.
    I'm now swamped in way too many crafting quests. Without knowing I had turned off some quest types in the filter, so I discovered late that there's an entire quest chain to teach you how to set up workshops, farm and craft.
    My main complaint (apart from the combat) is that the game feels like a single-player game, and that some parts feel glued together with no real interconnection. Crafting being half character/half workers is weird. The amity minigame looks unifinished an/or not thought out (the "combos" are completely insignificant....).
    It's good that they will be adding land continuously, I'll be able to keep exploring :)

    1. There's no arguing with most of that. PvE combat is perfunctory at low levels and my feeling is that it's been balanced entirely around high-end PvP. For an MMO at least in part based around trading and crafting it does indeed seem to require far less interaction with other players than you'd expect and require considerably less attention. A lot of the systems do seem confused and overlap in odd ways.

      That said, I think the exploring is second only to Vanguard's and the world itself is better-looking (you'd hope so, a decade on...) and as a sandboxy kind of game it would be expected that you have to find your own motivation to a large degree. My main interest outside of picking apart the systems out of intellectual curiosity and exploring for the sheer fun of it is probably going to come from getting my house looking how I want it.

    2. Usually if the combat isn't enjoyable at first, you probably aren't playing a class that suits your playstyle. I haven't found a downside to BDO combat yet. It plays like FP Street Fighter, with lots of impactful sound and visual effects - lots of feedback. Also there is a combo system built in if you dig a little deeper into the ability descriptions. Definitely has more going for it then your average tab target mmo combat. MMO combat is a very subjective subject though, so to each their own.

    3. I'm trying Valkyrie (I often play tank) and mage. Sure there's a lot of feedback and explosions and mass AoE mowing down mobs like there's no tomorrow.
      But after HM raiding in WoW and tools like warcraftlogs I simply cannot take seriously the combo-button-mashing of action MMOs and the absolute lack of a combat log. Not to mention the endless stealth changes and lack of information which is typical of korean games.

  2. Every time I start to become more interested in the game, I encounter a "minimized BDO to the system tray and played GW2 instead" statement. Who thought that sort of "gameplay" was a good idea? I'm not a fan of timers in anything, but at least most games that have them let you feel efficient by setting them up before bed or whatever. Having to keep the game running and minimized is the worst of all worlds, IMO.

    1. I take your point about efficiency, but in a way I like it better as they have it set up than I would if they'd used an offline timer, although I wouldn't object if they added offline progress as well. I'm quite happy to have my progress paused when I switch the PC off, while I like feeling I'm still playing when I'm at the keyboard but doing something else. If I leave the sound on I can hear my catches as I fish and if it's convenient I can tab out of the other game I'm playing, bring BDO back up and see what I caught.

      It's not at all unusual for me to have two MMOs up and running at once and to be tabbing between them, anyway, (although as my PC ages that gets less practical than it once was) so this seems like a more convenient version of that.

  3. Oh man those cotton fields! They really ruined my cloth trade with Mediah, there's so much cotton now everywhere. ;)
    Your game looks great now by the way, did you upgrade grafx card after all or just optimize settings?

    1. Same hardware, just spent a long time time fiddling with the settings. The game runs very smoothly and looks pretty good so I'm happy enough with it for now. I am looking at upgrading though - Landmark is hard work and I'm pretty sure The Division wouldn't even run. I was saying I was going to upgrade two years ago though and yet the old box is still doing the job!

  4. You are REALLY making this game sound astounding. I don't suppose you have one of those guest pass things? It's deeply stupid of me, but I sort of want to dabble in this.

    1. I gave mine to Mrs Bhagpuss but if she decides to buy her own copy and doesn't have a plan for the guest pass she'll get then it's yours!

    2. Thank you, potentially! If not, that is also all right. It's increasingly looking like once I finish my latest single-player outing, I might pick up my own copy of this.


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