From pillar to post in Black Desert Online

BDO has a stunning array of stuff to do on offer, and I’ve done a little bit of everything during the last couple of weeks. Well, not everything, there’s still a lot I haven’t even dipped my toes into. So let’s say I’ve done a little bit of quite some things.

Since the world is huge and there’s no quick travel in the traditional sense I’ve traveled many, many miles on foot, on horseback and by boat due to that. I don’t mind the distances at all though, as a matter of fact they make the world feel much more real to me.

So what did I do then?

As I had so much fun setting sail last time I decided to explore the game’s offshore locales some more. There’s a whole archipelago out there, and some of the islands are huge.

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While others…aren’t

One of the larger islands seems to serve as a pirate haven. I’ll be sure to pay them a visit sometime, maybe there’s loot to…err…commandeer.

I’ve also started to mass-harvest corals for the Epheria Frigate whenever my energy pool is near maximum. I’m still amazed by how gorgeous the sea looks under the surface.

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While I was hacking away with my little hoe the other day I suddenly spotted something big out of the corner of my eye…

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For a sense of scale, I’m at least 30 yards away

These whales can actually be hunted by players. Luckily there wasn’t a hunting party in sight, so I guess this one got away in peace.

Another material I need for the frigate is titanium ore. Research revealed that there are some worker nodes for it in the far north of Valencia. I’d not yet been there, so I prepared for a longer trip through and beyond the desert. Just a mile or two north of Valencia City the landscape changed dramatically though, and I suddenly found myself in an area dominated by pitch black rock. As it turned out I had reached the foot of a giant volcano. It’s not too steep to climb it, so I made my way up. Soon enough I looked down into its crater.

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Gaze into the abyss and it gazes back into you…or not

The worker node is right in the middle of the crater. How the node managing NPC got there and why he doesn’t get the hell out will remain his secret I guess.

While I was in Valencia I also advanced the main quest a bit, which asked me to investigate the caves below Valencia Castle.

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If my castle sat on top of this I’d be a bit worried

When I climbed down the hole under that little dome-structure I was in for quite a surprise.

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I half expected to find a Predator fighting some Aliens down here

When even the black spirit freaked out and urged me to get out of there I didn’t need to be asked twice. I’m still investigating the matter, but as usual got sidetracked by other stuff.

For example, I finally got around to manufacture some silver embroidered clothes. These are various outfits with bonuses to one of the game’s life skills. To upgrade them to higher levels two copies have to be combined, the good result being one gaining a level and the other vanishing, while the bad result destroys both. As you can imagine I had to craft a considerable amount to reach my goal of getting them to at least +2 each. I kept at it though, and it went even better than I had anticipated.

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Top to bottom: gathering, processing, cooking, farming, sailing, horse training

I had a really good run with the horse training outfits, hence I even got one to +3. I also made a second +2 gathering piece so the Striker could have one too, which is convenient because he’s the one doing the sailing and coral-gathering.

Lastly I kicked my horse breeding into a higher gear. I had spent a good while capturing as many tier five horses as I could find, now it was time to train them to level 30 for the best possible chance at higher tiers when mating them. The tool of choice for that job is a merchant wagon.

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This way you can train four horses at the same time, and they don’t even need any carrots because…reasons. The wagon lasts for quite a while and isn’t too expensive, so I just buy a new one from the marketplace when it’s used up.

The first few breeding attempts netted me a couple tier sixes and one tier seven. Not bad I guess. I’ll continue to train tier five horses for a while, then mate the resulting tier sixes with each other until I have a couple at seven. Those, in the end, should bear at least one tier eight I hope.

All that gathering, cooking (mainly beer for my workers), farming, training and processing also had quite an impact on my Witch’s life skill levels.

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The high processing skill in particular will come in very handy once I start to, well, process the intermediate materials needed for the frigate because a higher skill means more production output with the same amount of raw materials.

What I still haven’t done is to try and upgrade my gear any further. The game gifted me a Dandelion awakening weapon on new year’s day, so I really should pull myself together and get on it. I’ve got Thursday and Friday off, maybe I’ll get cracking then.

 

 

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What makes MMO combat enjoyable?

When asked about their preference regarding combat in MMORPGs many players reply by naming one of the generally agreed upon main categories: A) Hotbar/Tab Targeting, B) Action Combat or C) a mix of both.

I can’t really do that because I’ve played games of all categories where I liked the combat very much, and also some where I didn’t.

My current main game is Black Desert Online. I enjoy its combat a lot, but it’s hard to compare it to most others I’ve played because it’s not really designed to be challenging at all other than excecuting your skills and combos properly. It plays more like a beat ’em up, really. Also, there are no roles to speak of, basically everyone’s a damage dealer. Hence I’ll leave it out of this discussion.

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Playing the Striker is a bit like being the Hulk, always SMASHING stuff

One combat system I had a lot of fun with is The Secret World’s. Interestingly (and unfortunately) though that system was almost universally reviled by the broader MMO playerbase and the most stated reason by folks for why they couldn’t bring themselves to give the game another shot at any point. On the other side of the spectrum many players seem to be pretty happy with Final Fantasy XIV’s combat, which I don’t like at all.

This made me try to understand what exactly I need from an MMO’s combat for it to be enjoyable. If it’s not the fundamental design, and not if it’s smooth and well animated either (which FFXIV is and TSW, admittedly, is not), then what is it?

I narrowed it down by thinking about which role I like to play the most, which is tanking. During the last 10+ years I’ve tanked in every MMO I played (if it had such roles), and usually it’s been my main character. As a tank nothing is more important to me than being able to react swiftly and effectively to anything the game might throw at me and my group. I want to be in control. And I like to have at least some measure of freedom in how I go at it.

These, I realized, are the two key aspects for me: control and freedom.

I’ll stay with TSW and FFXIV to elaborate on this.

In FFXIV I mostly played the Warrior. It’s a hard hitting tank class wielding a huge axe.

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I work out a lot, yes. Why?

Looks and sounds right up my alley, but while leveling him up to 63 and doing every kind of content it never was as fun or felt as good as I’d have liked.

My biggest gripe is the awfully long global cooldown (GCD). It makes the fights feel so. slow. you. guys. Or rather, I feel slow. What’s worse, I feel neither free nor in control because I have to wait too goddamn long after I’ve used an ability before I can do anything else.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the Warrior relies heavily on ability chains, like a lot of classes in the game do. So I’ve just used a combo of three’s second attack when a group member pulls some adds? Too bad, because now I need to decide between finishing my chain (which, again, feels like an eternity due to the long GCD) and interrupting it to react to the new threat, losing a lot of extra damage and refreshing of buffs.

This kind of design is just not fun to me. I think of myself as a pretty good tank player, but the game actively prevents me from utilizing my strengths by forcing its – in my opinion – too tight design corset on me.

In contrast, The Secret World’s much maligned combat system enabled me to be exactly the tank I wanted to be, reliable and very fast reacting if things went south.

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And stylish to boot, with an elegant weapon for a more civilized age complementing the look

I took pride in the fact that I tanked most of the game’s harder dungeon bosses like Machine Tyrant or both encounters with Doctor Klein pretty well on nightmare difficulty. When tanking those a single error would cause you to die most of the time, which almost always resulted in a wipe. That this rarely happened to me made me feel good about myself, and also made those fights all the more fun for me.

So what exactly did TSW’s combat system give me that FFXIV’s didn’t (enough)?

One: freedom of movement while fighting. When tanking in TSW I often felt more like performing a choreographed dance than battling an enemy, and with all the stuff modern MMO’s bosses throw at you to dodge, evade or interrupt I really want to be able to do it like that. To me the most helpful tools in that regard were 360 degree AoE attacks so I could run sideways or even away from a boss and still hit it (not very realistic, but I don’t care), and generally being always able to move. No requirement to stand still while casting or channeling stuff, no animation locks.

Two: rotations with some leeway. As in every MMO ever TSW players of course developed perfect rotations to squeeze every possible bit of damage out of their characters. Because of how the system was designed though, revolving around resource building abilities, consumers to spend those resources and resource-independent special abilities, there was always room for improvisation without fucking up the rotation completely.

Three: a huge toolkit to choose from. A boss has lots of nasty attacks that should be interrupted? No problem, I’ll slot three stuns and rotate through them. Need to constantly dodge huge AoEs? I’ll bring a couple more movement abilities like dashes then. Our healer can’t heal at times due to boss mechanics? Let me prepare some defensive cooldowns or self-heals to stay alive.

I do realize that I’m comparing a class-based game with a pretty flexible skill-based one here, but I don’t think that the former has to be inherently inferior to the latter in this regard. I feel more flexible in how I play my characters in Everquest II than I felt in ArcheAge, for example. While at first glance you seem to have enormously more freedom in AA you actually don’t because 90% of those 120 possible sub-class combinations are crap, and you pretty much have to skill and play the viable 10% just the right way to have any chance at success.

All of the above doesn’t only apply to playing the tank role of course. Especially the ability to move while casting or channeling is a godsend for healers and DPS players. Having to stand still all the time admittedly doesn’t bother me that much when playing my Warlock in Everquest II – despite cast times of up to five seconds – since that game doesn’t harass players as much with bad stuff to move out of as more recent titles.

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Any moment now…no, NO, don’t move!!

As a healer in FFXIV though you’re forced to choose between two ills all the fricking time: either finish casting your healing spell and get hit by an AoE because of it or move out of the ground target in time and maybe let someone die. To me that isn’t fun, it’s just stressful.

To summarize, combat is a main feature of most MMOs, and I’m fine with that because it can be tremendously fun. Action combat or tab targeting, I don’t care. What the game shouldn’t do is force me into a too tight design corset dictating the exact ‘right’ way to play. Give me some freedom in how I play my chosen class or build and enable me to feel that I’m in control of the situation rather than the game controlling me. Then I’m a happy camper.

Out of the desert, into the sea

Now that I’d finally dared to traverse Black Desert Online’s Valencia region I deemed it about time to check out another yet undiscovered area: the ocean.

I actually had the deed for a fishing boat lying around unused for a long time, I don’t even remember when and where I got it. At the time I already knew that fishing boats (just like wagons) have a limited lifespan that can’t be restored or repaired, and I didn’t want to waste it just to cruise around for a bit without an actual purpose.

Nowadays ‘wasting’ it isn’t a concern anymore – measured against high-end players I’m still rather poor, but compared to a newbie I’m obscenely rich – but now I also did have an actual purpose to set sail. I recently learned from a guide about lucrative worker nodes that the islands off Port Epheria have nodes for fish and seafood. Since I need fish for making pet feed regularly and don’t like to fish myself very much this was a project I had on my to-do list since then.

So I grabbed the deed and made my way to Port Epheria, the Calpheon region’s harbor town.

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We pillage, we plunder, we rifle and loot; drink up, me ‘earties, yo ho

To kill two birds with one stone I accepted some quests there that also required me to visit those islands, then registered the fishing boat at the shipwright and spawned it.

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It ain’t much, but it’s mine!

I jumped behind the wheel and held down the W key, eager to feel the sea spraying into my face, which…didn’t happen. The boat started to move all right, but its top speed is underwhelming to say the least. Considering that I could already spot the nearest island with my bare eyes it probably wouldn’t take forever to get there, but I was a little disappointed nonetheless.

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It gave me the opportunity to lean back and enjoy the view though

Reaching the first island indeed took only a couple of minutes. I intended to stop the boat in shallow water some yards off the shore, alas for a vessel this slow it has quite the braking distance. I almost ran it onto the beach, but it finally stopped just short of it and calmly bobbed on the water, so I thought everything was fine. I talked to the NPCs, advanced the quests and invested contribution points into the first fish node. As I’d already hired two workers before setting sail I put one to the task right away. Bring me that sweet seafood, little goblin!

I embarked my boat again only to realize that I’d run onto ground after all. Despite only a tiny part of the rudder visibly touching the sand I was stuck in place. I tried every possible movement to no avail. After logging out and in again the boat had turned around for some reason (from facing south to north, not upside down), but it still wouldn’t budge. Seeing no other choice I swam back to the port and collected the boat remotely for a fee. From now on I’ll keep at least a five boat lenght’s distance from any object I might get stuck on!

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*sigh* Why didn’t I bring my wetsuit and fins…this was already halfway back too

Of course a little setback like that couldn’t stop me, so I set sail again and headed for the next island. After investing into it’s node and sending the second worker to…err…work I finished one of the quests and got a new one in return. It asked me to investigate a nearby underwater cave and bring back any interesting stuff I might find. The previous quest had rewarded me with some potions for holding my breath longer which would probably come in handy now. I sailed to the marked location and took a peek below the surface. I could clearly see the cave’s entrance, but I highly doubted I’d be able to dive down there and up again without running out of air even with a potion’s help.

To test the water, literally, I first dove straight downward without a potion. I hadn’t quite reached the cave when my breath bar hit the 50% mark, so I quickly turned around and headed for the surface. Ok then, maybe the potion would indeed do the trick. It did not. I came a bit farther, but nowhere near a point where I could spot anything of interest, let alone get to it in time and back up again.

What to do? Suddenly I remembered that the game had gifted me time-limited versions of various cash-shop costumes over time, the silly named and even more silly looking Splat Fisher’s Clothes among them.

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I…really don’t know what to say

One of it’s bonuses: a whopping 149% to swim speed. That surely would solve my problem. So I decided to head home for the day and bring the costume with me next time.

At this point one could very well argue about the ethics of having quests in the game that are – or at least seem to be – unsolvable without a cash-shop item. Since it turned out that I’d stored away not only one but three of these suits by now, each with a lifespan of one week, and I didn’t have to pay a cent for any of them, I’ll let it slip.

Anyway, back at the cave I donned the suit and dove right in.

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Absolutely the last thing I’d ever do for real

The speed buff is substantial indeed, and not only is swimming at that pace pretty darn fun, I also had no problem reaching the cave’s bottom, finding the chest I was looking for and making it back to the surface even with a bit of air left.

After some research on the topic I now know that there actually wasn’t any need to worry about suffocating. You don’t die when you run out of breath, you don’t even start to lose health or something. You just can’t move on your own anymore until you’ve slowly floated back to the surface. Maybe the quest would’ve been doable without the suit after all.

Because I was having so much fun with it I wanted to zip around some more before returning to the mainland. Since the next quest asked me to gather some oysters I took care of that as well while at it.

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Meanwhile the sunset provided for a spectacular vista

It took some looking around to actually find said oysters, but that gave me an opportunity to marvel at the sea life for a while.

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You’re all gonna end up in my workers’ nets…just kidding

Overall I quite like the game’s take on sea-content from what I’ve seen up to now. It’s not as smooth, as speedy or as gorgeous (at least above the surface) as ArcheAge’s, but it’s still pretty good. Below the surface I’d say it looks even better, and definitely feels more lively.

I’ve already started to work on a faster boat. A proper ship, rather. It’s called Epheria Frigate and is a pretty huge undertaking, but I think it’ll be worth it. Also, having a long term goal is always a good thing in my opinion, and all the more satisfactory when achieved. Looking forward to it.

More adventures in Black Desert Online

A couple of weeks ago I got the serious urge to play a sandbox MMO (other than EVE) again, so I patched up and logged into Black Desert after an eight month break. I rediscovered why I fell in love with it in the first place pretty much instantly and have been playing almost daily since then.

I tend to feel the most comfortable in a known environment though, especially in a game as huge and complex as this. Hence there’s always the danger to immediately fall into old routines and just do stuff that I’ve already done before over and over. Of course that’s a surefire way to get bored quickly, so I gave myself a push and started to look for more adventurous undertakings.

The game being what it is that didn’t take long.

Last year I had made it just to the edge of Valencia, the game’s vast desert region. I didn’t dare to explore it further at the time because the survival-like mechanics scared me off quite a bit. I already talked about that you can die of heatstroke by day and hypothermia at night. Additionally, sandstorms can suddenly appear which you only survive by setting up a tent for yourself and your mount quickly. The biggest handicap, to me, is that all kinds of navigational help are disabled. No world map, no mini-map, no GPS. A compass and your eyes have to suffice. That wouldn’t be a problem in the game’s starting regions because I know those like the back of my hand by now. Valencia, though, largely looks like this:

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“Just one more dune to go…” “You said that three dunes ago!”

As you can see I finally did make the jump. My current main quest required me to get to a certain oasis, and my only instruction was ‘head towards two o’clock until you get to X, then towards one o’clock until you’re there’. Yeah…no. That seemed much too risky for my first voyage into the unknown, so I decided to head almost straight to the east instead. According to the map (when looked at before entering the desert) Valencia City lies in that direction, and I figured I’d surely be able to spot a large town from afar, making it more unlikely to miss my destination and get completely lost.

I stocked up on water, tea and tents, stabled my horse and took out the camel I’d gotten from a quest. I also bought some acacia leaves because camels don’t seem to like carrots all that much. Then off I went.

Despite the speed buff camels get while in the desert mine isn’t all that fast, and except for the odd scorpion here and there the scenery pictured above didn’t change at all for minutes at a time. What’s worse, camels use up their stamina at an alarming rate, and I soon started to fear I might have bought too few leaves to make it back to civilization.

After a while though, just as I’d hoped, a city loomed on the horizon.

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I sure hope that’s not a Fata Morgana. Seriously, I was afraid it might be.

It was quite a relief to pass the town gate and be in a safezone again. Emboldened by having come this far I was like, what the hell, I’ll have a quick look around and then continue east until I reach the sea. I stocked up on acacia leaves at the local stable master and continued my journey.

After some more minutes in the desert’s vast emptiness I indeed reached another settlement and, just past it, the sea.

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Totally worth the long trek. I obviously took a swim right away. In full gear, as you do.

I talked a bit to the local NPCs and did some quick quests, but it was getting late and I decided to make my way back sooner rather than later.

Finding Valencia City again was easy enough. The journey’s last leg proved to be a bit more tricky though. I sure reached the edge of the desert, an impassable mountainrange, but the settlement where I’d left my horse and the canyon leading through the mountains and back to the Mediah region were nowhere to be seen. I headed south for a while, nothing. Ok, it’s gotta be to the north then. Nada. I started to get a bit worried now.

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Meanwhile the sun began to set, and I hadn’t brought a lantern. Again.

My camel slowed me down even further. I had more than enough acacia leaves, but it’s stamina depleted faster than the cooldown allowed me to feed it, meaning that I had to stop and wait for a minute or two every five minutes. It would’ve actually been faster to just run. I made a mental note to grow better leaves ahead of my next trip. During those downtimes I kept looking for my destination on foot. Behind this big rock formation? Nah. Over that dune? Nope. Damn, now where’s my camel? I’d forgotten that I couldn’t set a waypoint to it and had to run around for a while to find it.

In the end it turned out that the canyon is just a bit hard to spot and I did find my way back before sundown, exhausted but happy. I’d wanted an adventure and I got one all right.

So overall these desert mechanics, while deterring at first, weren’t all that bad once I gave it a shot. I used maybe 15 units of water total, which isn’t much, and to navigate without a map was actually more exciting than a burden. Should I get seriously lost sometime I won’t need to panic from now on either: a quest gave me the materials needed to craft an item that enables using the map for three days once activated. I just need to remember to take it with me…yeah, shouldn’t be a problem at all.

That only left those crappy acacia leaves to be dealt with, so I went to work. Last year I’d already used farms to grow special carrots, which restore five times the stamina compared to normal ones, for feeding my horses. Now I’d just do the same with my camel’s favourite treat.

I bought a couple of seeds for special acacia leaves on the marketplace and rented three small fences for contribution points. I placed the fences at my favourite farming spot just outside of Heidel and planted the seeds.

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Six acacia trees in various stages of growth

When I’ve harvested a big enough stockpile – which, knowing me, is no less than 2k – I’ll return the fences to free up those CP again. I’ve grown about 300 leaves already though, so I’m more than set for my next trip into the wasteland.