Friday, April 8, 2016

Ready For My Close-Up : Gear, Fashion and Accessories In Black Desert

Writing about the ever-growing influx of Korean MMOs into the Western games market, particularly recent hits like Blade and Soul, Black Desert and Tree of Savior, Ironweakness of Waiting for Rez observed that "many of the systems like gear advancement are unlike anything else I’ve played". He also pointed out that, while a lot of this may seem new and innovative to players unfamiliar with the Eastern gaming scene, "in reality many of the concepts and systems these games are based on have been repeated for years in the Asian market".

It's difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions from dabbling in the handful of Korean MMOs that make it to this hemisphere. The next one coming down the pipe is Asta: The War of Tears and Winds, currently in open beta. By all accounts, that one is a straight WoW clone, as have been many other Korean MMOs I've briefly played and enjoyed over the years, like Loong, Argo or Aika.

The Korean gaming market is reportedly so extensive, with gaming so much more deeply embedded in broader popular culture than in the West, that you might imagine there would be space for almost any kind of innovation or novelty to find an audience. Whether the drive behind such change is aesthetic, creative or primarily an attempt to carve out a commercially viable niche in an extremely competitive market I wouldn't care to guess. Neither do I know how open the average Korean gamer might be to novel, idiosyncratic or unfamiliar ways of doing things in game.

Looking at both Black Desert and Blade and Soul from a western gamer's perspective, though, some of the design decisions do seem peculiar. When I collected my Cherry Blossom earrings from Hunt the Seed Merchant in Heidel yesterday and slipped them in it really got me to thinking about how strange and alien to a traditional, western MMO gamer  the whole gear and appearance systems in BDO might feel at first blush.

Black Desert has a famously hyper-complex character creation engine. It allows you control not just over the basics like hair, eye color, build and height, but over everything down to individual muscle groups. Daum was so certain this would appeal to the western gamer that they released the whole thing as a standalone to promote the game.

And it worked. There was a ton of media coverage as everyone jumped in to make the ugliest characters imaginable, clone celebrities or just squee about the possibilities. I didn't take the trouble to try it for myself but even then, like a few other skeptics, I couldn't really see what the fuss was about. Most of the screen shots that proud creators were posting looked somewhat bland and rather samey.

When I got to use it for real, though, I was quite satisfied with the look I was able to achieve for my Tamer. The real let-down didn't hit until later.

Whatever the strengths or shortcomings of the character creator itself, the thing that never occurred to me, nor, I suspect, to many people enjoying playing around with it, was that it makes precious little difference how much control you're given over the face and the muscles when you have next to no say in what clothes your character is going to be wearing.

For a while after launch there was an undercurrent of discontent rumbling across the forums and the first impressions pieces. After all those hours spent tweaking characters to get them just so it seemed that out there in the world those subtleties were had to spot. Everyone looked disturbingly alike and there was a slight sense of disbelief as people began to realize that no matter how many upgrades they got their armor would go on looking much the same.

What's more, since BDO has absolutely no concept either of "Bind on Equip" or level restrictions for gear, most players will want to latch on to the very best armor and weapons at the earliest opportunity and wear them forever. The faster you get your character geared, the fewer differences in appearance you'll see.

And it's not like there are so many differences to begin with. There are just four traditional slots. The "Armor" slot seems to cover the whole body. The other three are Shoes, Gloves and Helmet. The Helmet does not display at all. The Shoes I have right now do display, but not as shoes. They are, in fact, 1980s Fame-style leg warmers that run from thigh to ankle and leave my original, default shoes in place.

There are a lot more slots than that, though. There are seven slots for jewellery and accessories with stats plus, of course, the weapon. I don't believe any of those display except, obviously, the weapon and, less obviously, the Trinket, which, for a Tamer at least, adds a neat fluffy dangler to the hilt of your sword, a bit like the old tiger tail a boy racer would have fixed to the whip antenna of a Ford Cortina circa 1975.

Inside the outer ring of traditional gear is a an inner ring of Costume slots: Helmet, Top, Shoes, Gloves, Main and Secondary. All of these display. Oh, and there's an Underwear slot, too. That displays but only, thankfully, when you're in your own house. I don't think we want to pursue the implications of that particular aesthetic decision too rigorously.

All of those can be toggled on or off to mix and match. Finally (I think) there's a row of three more toggleable slots along the bottom for Head/Ear, Eye and Nose/Mouth/Chin.

That is where my Cherry Blossom Earrings go. And they look great. I'm really pleased with them. I feel the hours spent grubbing around in the shrubberies for seeds and sitting on a rock waiting to pull weeds were well worth it. Just like the hours spent in character creation were. Provided I want to spend my gaming sessions zoomed in on my character's face I can consider the whole enterprise a complete success.

If I want to see my character change and grow in appearance in long shot, however, it appears I'll need to pay a visit to Daum's notoriously overpriced cash shop, although there is a limited in-game crafting option available if you buy a house and convert it into a Costume Mill. There's one in Calpheon, although I doubt I'd ever have found it without the help of Google and this invaluable spreadsheet.

In time I may edge carefully down that rabbit hole. It would certainly be a goal and I'm finding myself a touch short of those in this game. For now, though, I think I'll make do with whatever generic look my gear gives me, accessorized occasionally by such freebies as might become available through holiday events or log in bonuses.

Luckily I quite like how my character looks right now. It's certainly a lot better than some of the horrific fashion and dye disasters hurting the eye and the soul from Calpheon to Altinova as players with more money than taste begin to cut loose their creative drives.

Like everything in Black Desert and Blade and Soul before it, getting dressed is a learning experience. I feel I'm still some way short of being able to tie my own shoelaces but at least I can put my jumper on the right way round. The next step is going to be playing with dyes.

I hope they come out.


  1. Congrats on the earrings! I'm still working on earning mine. :)

    I'm not too worried about the sameness of gear on my character. I haven't spent any money in the cash shop at this point. But I'm enjoying the game enough that should they put cosmetics in the shop that catch my eye, I'd toss some money in just because I've had a great experience with BDO, and I'm happy to pay a little more for it.

    So I figure my cosmetics will eventually change. They just need to release the right outfit to catch my fancy (which they haven't yet).

  2. This is a big issue for me right now at the moment. Onbe of the things that really gets me into a new mmo is how connected I am with my character and because I kind personalise her, that feeling is rather minimal.


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