Welcome back to Versus; a column where we pit MMOs, communities, and the mechanics we love and loath in a battle royale to the death. We face off their various features, content pieces, and mechanics in a death defying fight to see who can come away with the MMO crown.
This week we see the two great sandbox claiming creations of this generation face off in the versus ring. The young pretty thing with the flashy entrance, which dazzles the spectators. Weighing in at a mere 7 months old and yet packing on the content since its debut, the bewitchingly beautiful Black Desert Online. And in the other corner, the PvP player nearly everyone loves to hate. Bringing back purposeful PvP to the masses with trade and hilarity on the high seas. The Alluring, awe-inspiring and always arousing Archeage.
Let’s get ready to rumble, and may the best troll win
Visuals - Black Desert Online
It’s undeniable now who easily takes this spot for me. Archeage was a beauty in its day with its wide open expanses beckoning players to explore, farm and murder on its beautiful plains. There was a decent amount of variety between the spaces available, and a good use of various elements that changed the terrain and how you traveled around, which added well to how you were able to traverse up and around mountains, between zones, hiding and finding various farms nestled within. The cities were large and expansive, and many villages dotted around but they were rather sparse and often felt like a last minute admission to add some variety rather than a completely planned, and designed space that lacks that feeling of synergy with the world and terrain around it. The ocean was and still is marvel but now has lost its wonderful shine just a little.
However, compared with Black Desert Online it lacks detail, warmth, and that feeling of energy that expands the world. I look around Black Desert Online and it has always felt far more real; from the many workers trudging along the roads to the open cities that hum with the busy bustle of city life. It is an absolutely visual marvel at times with a detailed and vibrant environment design that packs in various set pieces across the world. It’s a space that is an absolute joy to explore and constantly creates those visual moments that stay with you afterwards.
Traveling around are various other places that create this illusion of an expansive and busy world. An alive world that is a facade we can glimpse through occasionally based on how static everything is, but it still is a world design that far exceeded nearly everything else I’ve encountered so far. It is breathtakingly beautiful and while it has graphical issues like pop in and draw distance it still wins out on the claim to fame for its awe inspiring aesthetic.
Combat - Black Desert Online
The fight has only just started and already it seems Black Desert has delivered two huge blows to its competitor. It certainly has issues with its combat systems, which doesn’t perform as well with a higher ping and there is a large issue right now with skill lag due to the way client server reporting happens. What happens on your screen often isn’t indicative of the actual result, especially in PvP combat where you may get weird misses, dodges and attack hits on screen only to be stunned or smacked by it and other weird rubber-band style issues.
It always felt rather intuitive and fluid. Chaining skills together felt natural with both how they are mapped to the keyboard and the use of modifiers, and the way you discover how certain skills can cancel animations to end them quicker. You slowly learn to optimize the system around your character to become a far more deadly and efficient killer. It overwhelmingly feels like some kind of fluid dance and yet is still able to maintain that feeling of impact quite effectively.
I do like the more structured trinity style system of Archeage, though, as it lends itself to more challenging PvE encounters, as well as strategic PvP ones. The skill and class acquisition process was rather interesting to how you constructed your character by picking three options from a class list. How you developed and customized these also created a rather unique class for you and one with its own tricks and abilities that others may not have. It was this aspect that worked quite well in a team environment as you worked as a guild and group to maximize your team's abilities, and then work together in combat through skill and combo timing. But because of the slow feeling skill cooldown and sub-par animations it just can’t compete against Black Desert Online in terms of pure enjoyment.
PvE - Archeage
A contentious part of the debate as both are seemingly attacking player vs environment content from very different angles. Archeage always took the very traditional approach to its content while attempting to weave in more sandbox elements. It had a structured questing model to cap of following the various quest givers, popping in at each quest hub complete with the usual glutton of badly worded, designed quests. It was a rather boring affair that you merely tried to push through with gritted teeth so as to get to the better content, all the while dodging death in the contested areas.
Black Desert Online seemed to take a rather new and novel approach to its PvE foundations, by reinventing systems long gone. This is primarily a grinding style MMO that involves countless hours of killing enemies in the same areas, for small exp gains. Later on its hours upon hours of grind for a level and while some quests do give XP it is rather negligible later on. The part where it does differ is how questing is designed around the various other elements like gaining contribution points to allow more various buffs and crafting bonuses. Personally this alteration of the usual questing paradigm is a rather welcome one for me
In terms of other features, these games are reasonably similar as well. Intricate housing systems: Archeage having a limited open world system and Black Desert a rather pretty instanced affair placed in the cities. Each has a range of cosmetics and furniture pieces to customize your little space. Archeage does give more use to its housing but Black Desert Online just has more character. Fishing is available in both with both having a large ocean to explore and ships to build and use. A farming system is also available, although I feel Archeage’s is more expansive and well developed. Each have an expansive crafting system to get involved with as well, although Black Desert has a system designed around NPC workers, which was a nice touch and alleviates more of the crafting grind at points.
Unfortunately, I do have to begrudgingly give this point to Archeage. Its content is simply more challenging and better designed. Well - that is to say more than non-existent. Challenging PvE content is pretty much absent from Black Desert Online right now with just various levels of PvE grind available. There are bosses, but they are laggy frustrating messes that more serve as gem destroyers than actual content. Archeage, on the other hand, has a range of interesting open world bosses, open world events, and dungeon experiences that while still quite buggy and underdeveloped are at least something.
PvP - Archeage
Both seem to invite a certain amount of ganking with their design but for random moments of PvP, contesting nodes and grind spots in Black Desert Online was incredibly enjoyable. There was a constant tug-of-war battle of the various points on the map with certain guilds trying to control certain areas and channels and small group battles constantly occurring during prime time play. Sometimes you would watch as these escalated into a large war with huge guilds battling around the area, back-and-forth with particle effects playing off into the horizon. It wasn’t territory battling in a structured sense, but it definitely felt like it at times.
Archeage has much the same with its open world PvP and while from the outset it appears to be just aimless ganking between, and within, your factions once you progress further you realize how developed its open world PvP system is. The trading components, both over land and sea were a fantastic addition to the game. You could keep yourself in relative safety and make money or take the risk and the greater reward by venturing out with friends across the ocean. Ganking and taking packs on the ocean was an absolute laugh. It’s also funny at times how faction systems bring about so much animosity, so faction hunting across the ocean in their housing spaces was always amusing.
Castle sieging is implemented in both and rather comparable with many aspects. You declare siege intention, and there are set times for action. Each group has to defend a space while attacking but the primary objective is breaking down and entering the castle and capturing its heart. In terms of design, I think Archeage has the more interesting and developed mechanics though. Black Desert Online feels more like an extension of its open world combat, which is nice but it means the mechanics for capture and control aren’t as developed. In Archeage you are constructing walls, buildings, and large siege engines, and it feels like more is at stake in terms of defense and attack.
Regardless of design, though, nothing in my mind will beat that pure thrill of roaming around the large expansive ocean with a guild harpooning lone clippers for spare trade packs, ransacking fishing boats for their daily catch, and even taking over the larger ships of our enemies. It was a delightful PvP experience with intervals of pure tensions and of exhilarating highs.
Crafting - Black Desert Online
Both Black Desert Online and Archeage have a strong focus on crafting and economy that has many interdependent mechanics involved. Black Desert has a confusing, but rather intriguing over-world map system where you are able to invest in nodes and manage workers to complete various tasks like gathering and crafting. There is also a personal styled crafting system with being able to gather, and farm ingredients yourself as well as craft certain things too. It’s an overarching and incredibly complex system that serves well to influence and guide the player throughout play.
Archeage has the more traditional roll of mostly slaving over a particular crafting bench for hours on end. Crafting multiples of specific items in order to level your craft - over and over, and over again. It was tedious and boring. It was also basically crippled by incredibly intrusive RNG at specific points in the crafting process that can put your entire past purchase, ingredients and time to waste. But there were some good points. The entire land owning aspect, with the creation and tending of farms to produce goods created a really unique experience and compelled my own long term interest. It was relaxing and enjoyable, and those large housing areas created their own little communities as well.
Both have an energy style system to control their crafting. Black Desert had two functions where you had energy for your own actions but this could be increased through discovery, and contribution for workers that was gained through helping people. It was a neat system and well implemented to encourage and reward various styles of gameplay. Archeage has a straight Energy system and while I agree that limiters can be a good thing to promote economical dependence, here it felt far too limiting because of its cash shop design.
Overall, I feel like Black Desert Online has the better system. It’s more enjoyable to play with, and feels a lot more rewarding as well. There are times of having to deal with RNG but not enough that it perpetuate a cycle of disappointment. I really loved the farming in Archeage, but the management style system of gathering nodes, crafting shops, and workers is rather innovative and frees the player to do more with their time.
The Winner - Archeage
Well it looks like Black Desert Online takes it away with 3 points to 2, however, I think that isn’t really fair to Archeage, which has the far greater depth of PvE and PvP content available. Graphics and Combat are nice, and definitely create a more enjoyable game and one that invites play, but content and mechanics are what we keep you playing over the long term. So the winner is a reluctant Archeage, but then we all know the reasons why we aren’t playing it now... don’t we.