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Some Assembly Required: Is Black Desert the new ArcheAge?

Jef Reahard

I hate to admit it, but I'm getting over ArcheAge. This sucks because XLGAMES' fantasy sandpark is undoubtedly the most feature-rich MMO since Star Wars Galaxies. But Massively first covered ArcheAge in 2010. I first played it in 2011. And we're rapidly approaching 2014 with absolutely no sign of an English-language client on the horizon!

Yeah, Trion famously signed on to distribute the game to western audiences last January, but since then we've heard a whole lot of nothing about how the translation is progressing. Hell, we don't even know if it is a translation as opposed to some ill-conceived "westernization" waste of time. And maybe the MMO gods will strike me down for jumping off the bandwagon. Maybe Trion will make me look a fool by announcing a beta date of some sort later this very afternoon.

If so, that's OK because Black Desert is looking just as good, if not better.

Black Desert - Ranger girl on the roof
Grand adventure
Black Desert's been on my radar for a little over a year now. When I saw the initial preview trailer, I literally did a double-take and immediately watched it again because I couldn't quite believe that this particular combination of high fidelity visuals and sumptuous world design was possible in an MMORPG. In all honesty, it looked like a single-player game on par with Skyrim and various other high-budget fantasy epics.

The clip set the stage for some sort of grand adventure thanks to its breathtaking flyover views of both cities and expansive countryside. Then it was on to combat, mounted combat, and a look at some crazily realistic character models. All of this was underscored by a lovely orchestral track, and while the trailer is showing its age a bit now in light of some of the other footage that we've seen over the past 12 months, I still look back on it as my Black Desert lightbulb moment.

Not long after the initial trailer announcement, developer Pearl Abyss started dropping hints about Black Desert's sandbox features. We got tidbits on player housing and the game's seamless open world fairly quickly, as opposed to the usual pre-release combat and progression talking points common to western MMOs. Like ArcheAge, Black Desert seemed to be more about building a virtual world as opposed to yet another quest-grinder, and this early impression was reinforced by subsequent reveals touching on the game's climate and weather systems as well as a nifty parkour mechanic that one beta reviewer recently compared to the Assassin's Creed series.

Black Desert - Sorceress
Features and functionality
Pearl Abyss eventually opened up about the game's combat, and while ArcheAge and Black Desert share similar goals in terms of creating a player-driven virtual world, the similarities end when it comes to the old ultraviolence. Whereas ArcheAge is all hotbar and special ability spamming, Black Desert is an action MMO where judicious use of your left and right mouse buttons in concert with your WASD keys will produce various attacks and effects. There are special abilities, of course, but Black Desert is clearly more TERA than EverQuest.

Both ArcheAge and Black Desert are class-based, with the latter featuring eight confirmed classes as of press time. And when I say confirmed, keep in mind that some of this may change given that a) it's still early beta and b) this is a Korean game with no English localization.

The classes are Fighter, Giant, Blader, Tamer, Sorcerer, Wizard, Valkyre, and Ranger. Most of these should seem pretty familiar to you if you've played a fantasy MMO before. The three that aren't as immediately obvious -- the Blader, the Giant, and the Valkyre -- all appear to be melee combatants. The Giant carries two axes and can transform into a wolf, while the Valkyre is a sword-and-shield-style fighter that one Black Desert fansite compares to the Warrior. The Blader is some sort of oriental warrior concept involving dual-wielding and a magic sword, according to Pearl Abyss.

In terms of PvE, players can expect class-based progression as mentioned above, as well as both instanced and open world dungeons. The questing system apparently needs a bit of work, but there's at least one interesting wrinkle in the form of an NPC-liking system already in place.

We don't know much about Black Desert's crafting and harvesting systems just yet. We know they're in the game, as you can catch glimpses of them in various videos. Other than reports of crafted materials being essential for siege PvP, though, it's unclear whether or not dedicated crafters will be necessary.

That brings us to PvP, and Black Desert has a fairly unforgiving free-for-all system (with item drops and experience loss!) active in the current beta. As in ArcheAge, siege PvP and castle control is an endgame activity, and prior to that there looks to be plenty of opportunities for open world PvP across the game's vast expanses. Thus far we've yet to see any nautical combat from Black Desert, and certainly nothing approximating ArcheAge's massive sailing ships, naval battles, and boarding action possibilities.

Black Desert - Cannons and soldiers
Is it the new ArcheAge?
Like ArcheAge, Black Desert is a vast, open-world Korean fantasy game styling itself as a sandbox. Developer Pearl Abyss kicked off the game's Korean closed beta phase this month, and as a result we're starting to learn more about the fledgling title thanks to various tester impressions and video footage. While we know a lot more about ArcheAge's PvE and various sub-systems at the moment, Black Desert appears to be cut from the same cloth, and it's progressing much more rapidly through its development cycle.

XLGAMES began ArcheAge's development in 2006, and here we are seven years later with no time-table for playing an English-language version. The Black Desert project, on the other hand, began in 2010 and has already entered closed beta in its native language. So, is Black Desert the new ArcheAge? Your mileage may vary. It's certainly looking that way to me, though.

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of sandboxes and player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!

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