450 hours in 24 days, a solo player’s time in Black Desert Online

Ahh, MMOs. The bane of all video games for some, and the holy grail for others. I’d like to think I fall somewhere in between that spectrum of opinion, landing somewhere along the lines of “they’re alright.” There really has only been one MMO that I have put a decent amount of time into, and that’s Guild Wars 2. A game I put over 400 hours into over the course of three years, and enjoyed that time quite a bit.

A serene spring
A serene spring

So, what is Black Desert Online?

BDO is a sandbox MMO created by Korean developer Pearl Abyss. It has become well known for it’s incredible character creator, fun and satisfying combat, life-skill system, and it’s seamless open world containing no loading zones. It is also regarded as a prime example of Korean MMO design due to the gratuitous amount of grinding required to level up. Due to this design many people look down on BDO as just another Korean time-sink, and they’re not completely wrong to think so.

I can hear you asking the obvious question: “Why and how did you put in almost 500 hours into what quite a few people consider a not great game in such a short amount of time?!” Well, I aim to answer that question to the best of my ability in this blog post.

So how did this semi-addiction start? Well, it began when Black Desert Online showed up on Steam at the low, low price of $9.99, reminding me that the game had even existed. Of course I had seen the famous Monster Factory and the Giant Bomb quick look, but the game had never piqued my interest until it came out on Steam. After a few days, I decided to check out the game’s 7 day free trial...

First Impressions

So many adjustable parts!
So many adjustable parts!

The first thing you do is create your character, and we all know the glories that can come out this ridiculous thing so I won’t delve into it, other than to say that there are 11 unique classes to choose from now (compared to the 7 classes at launch). Also, the classes are gender locked with the exception of 3 classes that have male/female counterparts. After creating your character and sitting through (or skipping) a horribly rendered cutscene explaining the world, you are dumped into the game’s tutorial area. This is where most people will turn the game off and walk away.

You may have seen some screenshots of this game and thought, “Wow this game looks great!” And you’re right! The game looks fantastic...as a still image. In motion, however, the game begins to vomit convulsively all over the place. The render distance for objects, characters, and most noticeably grass and trees is abysmal. I would estimate pop in distances of about 30 meters, that’s right ladies and gentleman. 30 meters. You will constantly see trees, players, npcs, and enemies materialize right in front of you, and no amount of power in your PC build will make this any better. I run the game at the highest possible settings and still have ridiculous pop in. Not only is the render distance completely off the rails, the game is incredibly poorly optimized. The game will drop frames when entering cities, no matter what video card you are using and no matter how strong your CPU is. That being said, the game is very pretty when you are standing stock still and taking a stunning screenshot.

If, by force of pure will, get past the rendering issues you will be treated to what many say is the main draw of the game:

The Combat

I wanted to show a gif of combat, but couldn't get it to work with me
I wanted to show a gif of combat, but couldn't get it to work with me

This is where I fell in love with BDO. The combat is incredibly fluid and fun, and can require a lot of skill later on. This isn’t a traditional MMO wherein you target a creature, and hit number keys to cast abilities after their cooldowns. In BDO you have to aim, much like in a third person shooter, and you actively dodge and block enemy attacks. Later on when fighting high level enemies/bosses learning the enemy’s movements is key to dodging their attacks and surviving tough encounters. There is no such thing as single target abilities in this game, which allows you to plow directly into groups of enemies and easily land combos that hit every one of them. The combo system is a ton of fun, and each class has a different feel to them. Some classes are extremely mobile and can dodge and dash their way around enemies with ease. These are the classes that I am having the most fun with (granted I really have only played two classes.) Overall, the combat is fun and engaging, and feels like a real action game, not an MMO.

One other thing I should mention is that BDO is open PVP after level 50. Players can attack you even if you haven’t opted into PVP when you are in combat zones. I say this, but I have yet to see a single instance of players attacking each other in the wild, though I haven’t engaged in guild wars and stuff. There is a karma system that penalizes PKers, though I don’t know too much about it.

Of course, when one thinks combat in an MMO the next few thoughts are…

Gear, Loot, and Leveling

Allow me to start with the leveling system. First of all, there is no level cap. That’s right, no level cap, you can infinite gain experience and gain levels. Currently what is known as a soft cap is level 56, which can be achieved fairly easily. After 56, gaining levels is an extreme grind and very difficult, the amount of experience one would need to gain to go from level 60 to 61 is absurd and can take literal months. As of writing the current highest level is 62 or 63 I believe. That being said, the leveling process from 1-56 is incredible fun and I highly recommend just enjoying the combat.

Once you hit 56 you will begin to realize that you need really good gear to stand a chance against at-level and higher enemies. If I were to divide up how important certain aspects of your character are in terms of end game combat viability it would be like this: 70% gear, 20% skill, 10% abilities. And that’s a huge bummer. The reason it’s a bummer is because if you can’t get your hands on what are considered must have pieces of gear and upgrade them enough to raise your stats, then you won’t be able to handle end game enemies. There isn’t a lot of loot variety, and this leads to certain pieces of gear being the must-haves that you need to get in order to stand a chance at the end game. If you want these items then you need to prepare to do a lot of grinding in the hopes of getting a drop, or making enough money to buy them off of the player marketplace at exorbitant prices. Once you get the gear, you then need to upgrade the gear. I won’t go into this process, but suffice it to say that it is incredibly difficult and just means more grind. That’s not to say it isn’t rewarding however, I sure have enjoyed getting my gear up to snuff.

But what else is there to do outside of combat? Plenty.

The Node System and Life Skills

Only a portion of the map in BDO
Only a portion of the map in BDO

Along your adventures in BDO you will come across towns and cities. These towns and cities have what are called nodes on the map, which you can invest a resource called contribution points into to gain certain benefits. You can connect nodes on the map to connect trade routes between cities and send workers to gather materials for you. The node system is complex and I won’t go deep into it here, but I will say that it is a unique system and fun to manage, it is like a mini management sim. You can see in the map to here golden lines extending from node to node. Those are the nodes that I have connected together and can trade between.

You’ve seen me reference life skills, a silly term the game uses to define the gathering and fishing type activities you can do when playing. There are 10 life skills to level up in, each of which can produce many different materials to use in crafting, and can also make you a good amount of money. I’ll give a list here with a quick explanation of each skill:

A popular fishing spot
A popular fishing spot
  • Gathering: cut down trees, gather herbs etc. for crafting/alchemy
  • Processing: combing materials together for crafting/alchemy
  • Cooking: cooking food that give buffs for a variety of things
  • Alchemy: create potions/items that give more buffs
  • Training: riding a horse will raise this and allow you to train your horses more effectively
  • Fishing: catch fish to either trade/process/cook
  • Hunting: can hunt certain creatures for materials
  • Trading: uses trade routes to trade items between cities to gain a profit
  • Farming: I haven’t messed with this one, but it seems self explanatory
  • Sailing: ~50% of the map is open ocean, and can be sailed across to reach islands and fish for more lucrative fish

Each skill can be leveled up a lot, and is an extreme grind at high levels. I have put a lot of time into fishing, and am nowhere near the highest level. Another interesting feature here is the concept of auto-fishing. A player can begin fishing and walk away from the computer and the game will automatically do the fishing mini-game for you while you are AFK. If you have enough durability on your fishing rod(s) you can feasibly fish for hours at a time. I personally have let the game run overnight many many times to fish for me, and when I come back I will have a bunch of fish to sell to a town far away for a distance bonus. I would almost liken the life skill system here to the skills in Runescape, which is a strange thing to say, but I think pretty accurate.

A Fun Grind Fest

After 450 hours of Black Desert Online, I feel confident in saying that I will keep playing for a while to come, and I would recommend those that are curious to check out the free trial, if only just for the combat. I’ve had a great time with this game, and I hope more people from the GB community jump in. If you do decide to get into it, be sure to check out some guides or ask me some questions, because the game is very bad about explaining it’s mechanics.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to turn off the RP chat channel.

P.S. shoot me a message if you are playing, I would love to set up a clan for duders, and would even set up a discord for us if there is a desire.

Family Name: Evil_Meats

Character Name: BadJimmy