Thursday, June 27, 2019

Running Shai : Black Desert Online

There's an awful lot going on in MMORPGland this summer. I can scarcely keep up. I came back from holiday expecting to pick up where I left off with Star Wars: The Old Republic but I've barely logged in to that game at all.

This week alone saw the biggest MMORPG of them all, World of Warcraft, drop its summer update Rise of Azshara. The highly-touted Western conversion of Eastern import Astellia hit closed beta at last and the Harry Potter MMOARG "Wizards Unite" went live, to a surprisingly muted response.

I have no plans to play HPWU, I'm holding off WoW until Classic and I didn't manage to snag one of the fifteen thousand free keys for Astellia, so none of those impacted directly on my personal playtime. Just as well. I have more than enough on  my plate with the games I am playing.

A major "new" holiday event, Dragon Bash, for Guild Wars 2 looks set to eat up plenty of hours over the next three weeks and and I'm very keen to see this year's Scorched Sky event in EverQuest II, which started a couple of days ago.

Pass me the strimmer!
I haven't found time to log in to EQ2 to check it out yet because as soon as I logged out of GW2 last night I remembered that yesterday was also go live for Black Desert Online's latest class, The Shai. As I reported a week ago, I somehow fell into making a Shai during the preview event. I was keen to see how she looked and played in the game itself.

Black Desert is a strange game. It boasts a number of systems and mechanics rarely if ever seen in the genre and it looks substantially better than just about any other MMORPG I've played and yet, while it oozes professionalism, care and imagination, the translations are iffy at best.

I think it's fair to say that few BDO players care about the writing or the story. As far as I can tell, the main driver is personal status and power, unless and until you participate in the competitive territorial PvP end game.

It's also an explorer's dream, has some of the more impressive housing the genre has to offer and it features far and away the most viscerally thrilling mindless slaughter I've ever enjoyed. If you ever feel like logging in to an MMO purely for the fun of killing mobs by the thousand, this is the game you're looking for.

With all that going for it, it's perhaps not too surprising that Black Desert is far and away the big success story of recent years when it comes to East-West conversions. It's hard to be sure with no companies releasing meaningful data on populations but there are commentators who believe BDO might now be one of the top five most successful  MMORPGs in the West.

Benefiting from a Korean original running well ahead in development, BDO has been receiving updates with some frequency throughout its three year run in Europe and North America. The first year saw a flurry of updates including two "expansions", Mediah Pts 1 and 2 and Valencia 1, plus four new classes in 2016, two in 2017, one in 2018 and now the Shai in 2019.

I haven't really been paying attention. I liked BDO a lot when I played but it seemed to me to be a game you could either take very seriously indeed or play extremely casually. There didn't seem to be a lot of room in between. I opted for casual, meaning I pop in now and again, when I remember, ride around on my horse for a few minutes, realize doing anything more would require thought and effort and log out again.

In games of this nature it's always easier to start a new character and play through the early stuff. Coming back to an established character, the weight of their history drags you down, not to mention the inventory management required before you can do anything at all.

You've heard the expression "As the crow flies"...
Stepping into the world of Black Desert once again last night, I was struck anew by the extreme beauty of the visuals. The game looked spectacular enough back in 2016 but it's since been "Remastered" and it looks more spectacular still. 

It's an entirely different beauty from the usual glitter and shine of Eastern imports like the one I'm currently playing, Riders of Icarus. Black Desert has a gritty, dusty patina, a world that's used and lived-in. There's a happy absence of fairy wings and shoulder pads. NPCs look as though they've stepped out of a Holbein painting.

Of all the quasi-medieval fantasy worlds I've wandered over the last couple of decades, Black Desert's is possibly the most "authentic", for a given value of authenticity. One that includes magic and smoke demons living inside your head.

I'd forgotten just how creepy the start of the game feels. A Black Spirit, looking like a small thundercloud with glowing red eyes and an evil grin, haunts your every move, taunting you with secret knowledge about your past. In an early, disturbing sequence, the Spirit gloats gleefully "The Power is mine!" as some ancient artefact stops time around you.

It's a set-up to which I never heard the punchline back when I played before. By the late 30s or early 40s, when I stopped playing regularly, the Black Spirit had receded into some kind of amanuensis function.

There's precious little chance I'll find out this time round. I thoroughly enjoyed running around as a hyper-kinetic child (the lore apparently has the playable version of The Shai aged around thirty years old, since the race is exceptionally long-lived and slow to mature physically, but who follows the lore in BDO?), throwing an unfeasibly large boomerang and performing acrobatics.

I love BDO's combat. At the levels I've played it requires no skill whatsoever. Indeed, at the low level I was playing yesterday, the mobs didn't even seem able to react before I boomeranged them to oblivion, just standing there looking bemused, as well they might.

The animations are fluid and charming and the weapon and spell effects explosive and dynamic. They're also extremely hard to screenshot. I tried a number of times to get a good shot of the boomerang in flight but I failed. I probably should have recorded a fight on video and pulled a shot out of that but it was getting late.

Rebel! I should have called him Rebel.
Instead I headed to the nearest stable to claim my free donkey. The Shai are too small to ride horses so they get a choice of three donkeys, all of which as an MMO Blogger I am contractually required to describe as "adorable". Mine has tiger stripes and a blonde mane that reminds me of Billy Idol in his pomp. You get to name your mounts and I almost called mine "Billy" but fortunately I thought better of it.

In the short time I played I made it to Level nine. I also received my first piece of armor, which changed my appearance significantly. I had been curious to see what the character I made last week would look like in game, since the character creation screen warned me that the outfit I chose there might not be what I'd see when I logged in.

That turned out to be an uneccessary note of caution. I looked exactly the same, dressed in a demure and practical outfit consisting of tunic and leggings made from something that looked like hessian dyed grey-blue. With a lantern dangling at my belt and a massive boomerang strapped across my back I looked every inch the eccentric adventurer.

Australian weapon, Dutch clogs, Japanese belt, Swiss smock. Leggings courtesy the 1980s.

The new armor, while still, thankfully, entirely respectable, makes my Shai look considerably more girly. It seems to consist of a mustard-yellow smock over some kind of rose-pink pleated tabard, bound by a Japanese-style high, wide leather belt. The leggings persist. I'll take it. It could have been very much worse.

It's unlikely I'll carry on playing BDO for long this time although I might stick around for the events celebrating the arrival of The Shai. There are three : for one you need to hit Level 25 and for another Level 30. The third is a daily that runs for two weeks.

There's also a separate reward for getting to Level 58 by the 24th of July and a permanent one for getting to 60. Maybe that makes sense to someone. Leveling in BDO can be very fast. I might well make 25 or even 30 but I can't see 58 anywhere in my Shai's future.

I'm glad to have had the spur to log in and play again, though. Black Desert is a gorgeous and underrated MMORPG. I should visit more often.


  1. Good to see you playing BDO (and blogging about it) again, even if only for a bit.

    I only played the Shai for a couple of minutes yet, but I too like the animations and the overall feel very much.
    The patch notes don't exaggerate (much) with their warning that she isn't very combat capable though. You're right of course that mobs don't pose a real threat to her and die reasonably fast, but it's nevertheless a pretty huge difference to starting the game with one of the other classes. When I started a new Lahn a couple months back I mowed through mobs by the hundreds in no time from the getgo, for example. It definitely feels a lot slower with the Shai.

    I'll still level her up some more, at least to 56 for her awakening, but I'm in no hurry. I'm not even sure if her awakening weapon is actually in the game yet.

    1. I missed that warning about the Shai not being much good in a fight. I spotted that they get boosts to gathering, so I guess that's what they're aimed at. It is described as a "support clas", whatever that means in BDO.

      I don't expect to play her up, anyway. I like BDO a lot for the visuals and the explosive combat but to play it properly takes too much of a time commitment. I might go on long enough to get her a house, though. HOusing in Black Desert is very nice.

    2. Combatwise she's a healer and supporter, first and foremost. Not in the sense of 'real' healers like those in EQII, it reminds me more of low-level AoE healing spells I've seen in GW2. She can play solo just fine of course, she just isn't as strong as most other classes.

      She also starts at rank Professional 1 in gathering and alchemy, yes. It's nice, but not a really big thing. Once you engage with those professions for more than just a bit you reach that rank pretty quickly.

      Should you be interested in gathering at all the most important advice I can give is: the level of your gathering profession (the one displayed on the 'Life Info' tab of your character info screen) doesn't mean all that much at first, but the other gathering level (displayed on the 'Battle Stats' tab) is VERY important because it shortens your gathering time.

      You can get that level up temporarily by eating specific food, but also permanently by wearing stuff like Silver Embroidered Gathering Clothes, which can be crafted and also bought from other players. There are also gathering tools available which also provide a shorter gathering time.

      To put into perspective how much of a gamechanger this is, when starting out it takes, I believe, 20 seconds to gather anything. With gathering level 5 and a good tool it takes about 2 seconds. :-)

  2. Shai awakening is a guitar (or lute, most likely): so a female hobbit Minstrel :). Awakening is not released yet, but has been announced.

    I find my Shai very strong in combat: at lvl 50 I had her fighting at lvl 56+ zones, and she clears faster than my lvl 58 Lahn does. She gets additional damage against larger mobs, she has self-heals, and doesn't seem to lack for accuracy - there's no other class I'd take into a 56+ zone as a fresh level 50.

    What she *does* have is a 95% damage reduction in pvp - but hey, if you really want to pvp with her, stack DP (Damage Reduction gear in particular) and spam heals. She's an old-school cleric healer, as far as that goes. But hunting ppl to kill them? No, she's not good for that.

    What I like most about the Shai are her animations: BDO has high-quality animations (combat and otherwise) normally, but the Shai animations are even better - real care has been given to showing her character through her animations. Some people feel that makes her combat slow, as each animation is a bit longer than normal - but as her damage per skill is quite high already, I haven't noticed any slowness.


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