My salty tears continue to fall.. the servers are still dark and will be for some time. Last time I talked about quests, contribution and knowledge, so today I’ll begin in that vein and discuss building friendships with the NPCs of Black Desert. I love systems that let you interact with NPCs of a world. Very strange for someone who doesn’t like quests, I know! And yet if there is any such system, I immediately spend time with it. Even if there isn’t a fleshed out system, I can get compulsive with my need to max out factions in games, and will happily sit for hours and hours slaughtering mobs just to raise faction. In fact the one game I rage quit was over factionish farming – remember the original language quests in EQ2? I turned off my XP gain and spent 2 weeks farming for gnoll and orc drops … only to have those drops patched to drop even from grey monsters within the next month.
Amity, or the Story Exchange, is a fascinating system that is tied in to the Knowledge system. As you improve your relationships with the NPCs, they may offer more quests, sell exclusive items, or provide access to otherwise inaccessible Knowledge – some even give buffs if they like you enough! This gets back to something I mentioned previously – I really like the complexity of Black Desert, and how it all ties together to make a cohesive whole.
The Story Exchange is mildly reminiscent of Vanguard’s Diplomacy system. Speaking with an NPC grants you that NPC as a card, which you can then use when interacting with other NPCs. If you look at my screenshot, you can see that I am speaking with Severo Loggia, and I have never interacted with him before so my current amity rating is the default 1. He’s got quests for me, represented by the boxes with question marks on the amity wheel, if I can get him to like and trust me a bit more. If he had other benefits to offer his friends like buffs or items, they would also appear on the wheel to let you know how much amity you need.
The wheel on the lower right represents the NPC cards that Severo is interested in speaking about. I’ve moused over Martina to display the stats on her card; Severo likes her quite a bit! Playing her has a 91% chance to grant favor. Interest level ranges from 0 – 100%, and is an important thing to pay attention to when attempting to gain amity. Each conversational round has a goal that must be met – this current round is gathering more than 90 total favor – in order to gain any overall amity with the NPC. There are a wide variety of goals to meet, from accumulating favor to failing to spark interest to sparking interest a certain number of times in a row, so the cards you pick and the order you play them make a huge difference on success. It’s a fun little tactical minigame with very useful benefits.
Unlike Vanguard’s diplomacy system, however, the Story Exchange in Black Desert is not a back and forth game; you place your card order on the constellation paths and then wait as the system plays itself out to give you your score. Some cards have combo effects that might come into play if you placed them correctly, and the order can make a difference in victory or defeat depending on the goals of the round.
One of the ways this minigame ties in to the Knowledge system is that some of the NPCs are rather snooty and won’t speak with ignorant barbarians. Many of them won’t speak with you until you have accumulated enough knowledge that they find interesting – this may be having met and interacted with certain NPCs, having been to specific locations, harvested specific raw materials or hunted enough of a specific kind of monster to have gained knowledge about them. I could and did happily spend hours wandering around conversing with the NPCs to make friends.
The one thing that I find the most frustrating with this system is that it costs energy. So making friends with all of the NPCs, or even some of them, takes quite a while and must be interspersed with other activities. Depending on the goal you are after, you are likely to not even be able to meet it with one NPC – I wasn’t able to make my goals on one particular NPC even after several days of blowing my energy on him. I probably could have done it if I’d sat there doing nothing but interacting with him, but this system is certainly designed to take time. Some of them are very friendly and don’t take more than a few minutes to unlock, but others are much less trusting. I do like that thus far I have yet to see an NPC’s amity chart not make sense – they do seem to have put thought into the character, background and profession of each NPC while laying out their reward tiers. It is a paradise for roleplayers.
I want to take a moment here to note that my annoyance with the energy system stems not from the time it takes, but the play session limitations that it imposes. I like things taking a lot of time. It makes that moment of achievement all the sweeter when you’ve had to put real effort into something; games that are designed so that everyone can achieve everything within a short amount of time bore me within a matter of days. This is not the case with Black Desert; everyone’s journey is going to look very different, which is just amazing. But – to return to my initial subject – the way energy works to enforce time means that it limits what I can do during my play session. There are things that I can do with no energy, so I am not forced to stop playing, I am simply forced to alternate between activities in a way that frustrates me. Sometimes all I want to do is sit in my house and cook, or run around interacting with the NPCs, but that energy bar means I can’t have focused sessions in the way that I could if I were mindlessly slaughtering monsters. It also means a play session can’t contain both cooking and NPC interactions. I can cook and fight, cook and fish, interact with NPCs and fight or interact with NPCs and fish, but I can’t cook and interact with NPCs unless I’m only superficially doing both. Black Desert has such an amazing set of life skills to entertain people who are looking for something more than just fighting monsters, it seems a shame that energy puts such a limitation on it.
Of course, I didn’t make it to anything resembling the end game, or even the mid game. I was having too much fun working on the life skills that I never really left the starter towns, so it is entirely possible that my frustrations on this score are entirely my own fault. Your energy pool grows when you complete sets of knowledge, which means not leaving the first areas left me with a very limited pool. I will definitely have to revisit this question after launch as I play and explore the world!
But now I have once again rambled on far enough and will have to pick this up in another part! Stay tuned for part 3!