Ice fishing, alpaca mounts, and Drakania...what it's like to play Eternal Winter as a new BDO player.
Black Desert Online: Eternal Winter Review – New Player Experience 2022
With over 40 million players across PC, console, and mobile; six expansions; an almost 7 year run; and a whopping 24 classes to choose from, it's safe to say that Black Desert Online puts the "massive" in MMORPG. For MMOs, a long, full history can be a blessing and a curse. The more content, narrative, features, and systems you add, the more confusing it becomes for new players. And yet new players are the lifeblood of a longstanding MMO.
We suspect it's for this reason that South Korean developers Pearl Abyss chose to put "New Player Experience" at the forefront of their latest expansion Black Desert Online: Eternal Winter. If you're left wondering "Is Black Desert worth starting in 2022?" this is your chance to find out.
A solid mountaintop expansion designed to make the BDO new player experience as seamless as their open world.
Black Desert Online: Eternal Winter First Impressions
The seamless lands of Black Desert Online (BDO) are well-known for their beauty. Just last year, we ranked the title as our most beautiful MMORPG. Still, you can't help but have your breath taken away by the world Pearl Abyss has created. Glistening armours, vertigo inducing precipices, and distant mountain ranges welcome you to the region.
The expansion includes an update to their in-game photography system (Control+U) allowing players to add filters and change the weather. These systems never normally interest me, but as the winter sun caught Drakania's armour, I'll admit it, I was tempted to capture the moment.
The fact that Black Desert has created a work of such beauty with no loading scenes and few instances (Black Desert Online reserves instances for bosses for the classic MMO feel) is a remarkable feat in itself. And I wasn't even playing on the ultimate "Remastered" graphical settings.
You are introduced to the high peaks in a series of fantastically voice-acted cutscenes between various colourful characters. New players have an extended period here to get to grips with the controls (which I found to be intuitive and straight forward). Pearl Abyss deserve praise for going above and beyond when working with these voice actors, who truly add character and charisma to the expansion.
This excellent voice acting tempts you not to skip cutscenes, though I was pleased to see that the game provides a helpful recap of the key details when you do skip one. A great touch that I haven't seen elsewhere.
For new players like myself, these opening scenes act as a tutorial. And there is where my first major criticism of the game comes in. There's too much talking. Eternal Winter is a narrative heavy expansion, but for players who aren't into the narrative side of the game, there are a lot of walk-and-talk missions. I felt I'd completed dozens of short quests before I even met a killable foe – some sort of non-hostile alpine squirrel-poodle hybrid that completely ignored me.
Playing Black Desert Online: Eternal Winter as a New Player
When booting up the game, players can choose to play Black Desert Online's long story in its intended order or skip straight to the Mountain of Eternal Winter (the first new starting zone in BDO's history) where the character conveniently has forgotten their memories. The amnesia angle is an intelligent way to welcome new players as it not only gives an excuse to provide the characters with a recap but also to reteach them the basics.
The brief recaps of the continent's vast history are, naturally, pretty confusing. I'm not sure how helpful I found it, but it was nice that it was added.
Of course, just because you don't remember anyone else, that doesn't mean they don't remember you. Plenty of classic BDO characters will pop up as you traverse the icy mountains. It's also worth noting that it's possible to go back to previous expansions and play them after completing Eternal Winter.
In terms of gameplay, Pearl Abyss have done a lot to help new players get to grips with their multitude of systems. The Progression Pass acts as a guide, granting you rewards for figuring out each of BDO's systems. Of those systems, most, like the Enhancement system are straight forward. Though it is the sheer number of them that can make the MMORPG feel overwhelming to new players.
That's not to say there aren't still confusing elements, as someone who writes about MMORPGs for a living it took me far too long to work out why I couldn't apply skill points properly in the skill tree.
Other useful additions for new players include warnings that strong creatures are nearby, and further warnings if you engage one in combat: "Run you fool, you cannot handle such a difficult enemy." Hey, what can I say? I was fed up of squirrel poodles. There are also catch-up mechanics to help new players not feel like tiny fish in massively multiplayer ponds.
Overall, it can be said that BDO: Eternal Winter does a solid job at welcoming new players. Though these tutorials should be balanced with a bit more action lest players get bored before they've truly begun.
Black Desert Online: Mountain of Eternal Winter Review
Now that we've explored BDO as a new player, let's talk about the meat of the expansion. The bone-numbingly cold summits that make up the new region, the Mountain of Eternal Winter, are cool but not exactly original.
Years after Game of Thrones finished, and the Hobbit trilogy landed with a resounding "meh!", fire-breathing dragons and frosty mountaintops is perhaps a little passé as a setting, as accidentally highlighted by an early on-the-nose LOTRO reference "One does not simply walk to the Mountain of Eternal Winter."
Thankfully, Pearl Abyss gave these mountains some individual flare by a heavy South American cultural influence in architecture, clothing, and colours. The cultures of South America are vastly underused by game designers and they create a unique and colourful setting for eccentric characters in their thick wools who have made the freezing regions their own. It's not all alpacas and sloth men though, some decidedly Tibetan looking influences can be found as well as Arabic with the arrival of the khan's son.
Undeniably the best of these charismatic characters is Lando. He is a wonderful, kooky little snow fox who acts as comic relief and top-drawer sidekick material. He dresses in the colourful garb of a traditional sherpa or mountain guide, though he has an accent and speaking style of a NYC hotdog vender.
Drakania, the new playable character, is undoubtedly ferocious. And I very much enjoyed using her in combat even if I found her a bit too slow. Nonetheless her attacks feel weighty and powerful with epic sword effects that make combat a stylised explosion of colour. Her ultimate move creates a huge avenue of lightning with the shadow of a dragon flying down its centre. What's not to love?
Like her rival, Guardian, Drakania hits powerfully. But whereas Guardian slows opponents with debuffs, Drakania removes them from allies granting them mobility of movement that's vital in the action-combat of BDO.
Also worth particular praise is Erethea's Limbo, a solo escape room-dungeon hybrid filled with puzzles, interesting mechanics, monsters, and of course lots of treasure. Even getting to Etherea's Limbo is no easy feat; it requires the finding of a key – and that means lots of slaying.
Closing Thoughts on Black Desert Online: Eternal Winter
While not perfect and probably the not the MMORPG that this particular author will lose his summer to, BDO remains a stunning game. It's characteristic art style is ideal for fantastical creatures, giants, imps, and beastmen. It's a game that is good at treading the line between playful and epic, while still maintaining originality and memorability.
Working your way higher up the mountain through ever more dangerous conditions is both fun and satisfying.
Even with all of the effort to welcome in new players through Eternal Winter, Black Desert is still a daunting game to catch up on. Though what is undeniable is that if you've been thinking about playing BDO, there hasn't been a better time in recent memory to do it.
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