Is Black Desert Online Good, Free, or Pay-to-Win: Why It's Worth Playing in 2021/2022

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Final Fantasy 14 servers full? Are you a World of Warcraft refugee, knocking on the embassy doors of all the other MMOs a friend of a friend mentioned to you once? Run out of stuff to do in New World? Whatever the case may be, Black Desert Online might be a smaller name than the biggest MMOs in the world, but Black Desert Online has a healthy population, endless content, and is out now for PC and consoles with no end in sight to the game's support.

If you haven't thought about playing Black Desert Online, you should. In this article, we'll explain why this MMORPG shouldn't fly under your radar anymore.

World of Warcraft Refugees and Final Fantasy XIV Players Have Their New Game

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If you play MMOs, you either play World of Warcraft or are very serious about not playing it. Considering the game's population is only a fraction of what it once was, seems like more and more people are getting serious about not playing it.

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Final Fantasy 14 is great. So great, in fact, the game had to be temporarily taken off the market because Square Enix's servers couldn't keep up. And while a great game by all accounts, it did launch in 2010 and it is a Final Fantasy game. This is to say that a somewhat dated feeling and looking game set in a world you may not be familiar with might not be everyone's cup of tea.

Amazon's first foray into the MMO market, New World, dropped in 2021 to a lot of hype and a ton of players looking to try it out. Since then, many issues have plagued the game from bugs and glitches to performance problems to a lack of endgame content to a broken economy and more. Accordingly, the game's active player count has plummeted.

Suffice it to say, there's a gap in the MMO market. Enter Black Desert Online: It has a much more interactive action combat system (widely considered to be one of the best combat systems in an MMORPG, ever) than the likes of World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV, and it's much more modern than either of those, too, closer in graphical presentation to New World with Black Desert Online's 'Remastered' graphics mode.

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Theme park MMOs, like World of Warcraft, tend to set players on a linear path towards the endgame. Once you're max level, then the 'real game' starts with player-versus-player combat, raids, and other high-level features. New content tends to increase the level cap, give players new gear and skills to level up, and ultimately set up new endgame raid and PvP content.

Sandbox MMOs contrast theme park MMOs: A great classic example of a sandbox MMO is Runescape. You can do just about anything in Runescape, but you decide what to do. Do you want a profession? How about PvP? Would you prefer to just go quest? Focus on making money? Buy and decorate a house? The list goes on and on.

Black Desert Online is very much a sandbox MMO in the sense it encourages players to do whatever they want, introduces a ton of systems and mechanics, and has what is realistically infinite progression. But on top of that, Black Desert Online has a rich endgame with tons of PvP content surrounding huge PvP battles called Node Wars and PvE endgame content (which isn't at the level of a theme park MMO right now but is expected to get even better) among other things with even more content coming.

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Unlike World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy, while Black Desert Online does have tons of characters, lots of lore, and a meaty story, there are not decades of worldbuilding behind the game to feel overwhelmed by. Unfortunately, while the campaign of Black Desert Online doesn't have the narrative heft of Final Fantasy 14's, it stays out of the way and more importantly gives Black Desert Online a lot of freedom when it comes to its aesthetic.

While it does have a bright, colorful fantasy world, 2015's Black Desert Online isn't dated and cartoonish like 2004's World of Warcraft. While full of fantastic creatures and sights, Black Desert Online is a bit more grounded than the world of Final Fantasy XIV and much more richly detailed. It's a modern game with a saturated, classic western fantasy art direction that spans imposing castles, deep oceans, sprawling cities, thick forests, arid plains, rocky mountains, and much more.

Is Black Desert Online A Grindy, Pay-to-Win MMO?

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To answer the first question, yes. Black Desert Online is very much a grind. But it's a grind like Animal Crossing or Minecraft: There's a huge world out there with so much to do and collect it boggles the mind when you first start out with nothing, but as you play and real-time passes, you'll quickly feel empowered by the game's freedom and do things you never thought were possible.

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If grinding to you means suffering through a lackluster combat system, a boring world, or stingy loot drops until you eventually get to some good content, Black Desert Online isn't a grind. If grinding means to you spending a lot of time working the game's systems to get to a high-level, make tons of money, and best other players, then Black Desert is a grind.

Black Desert Online's grind, though, is itself the biggest reason why the game isn't pay-to-win. Yes, there are microtransactions, and while you can get versions of almost everything in-game and off the player-driven market, at the high-end, you will want to spend some real-world dollars on top of the game's upfront $20 asking price to be as efficient as possible in-game and be the most competitive when it comes to PvP.

So, while you can buy stuff that gives you an advantage over other players, depending on how much they've played the game, if you want to make tons of money or be on top of the leaderboards in PvP or simply be competitive as a high-level endgame player, you will need to play the game a lot. You will have to grind, and there's no amount of money you can spend to just start the game with a cracked setup that just lets you dominate.

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To combat both the grind and any sense that the game is pay-to-win, though, over the years Black Desert Online has changed a lot. Now, many, many things once locked behind a paywall are given out to players for free. And more important, Black Desert Online is staggeringly generous when it comes to free stuff. You'll be unlocking rewards almost constantly that give you high-level endgame items, character boosts, and all kinds of exciting stuff.

There's a lot to learn when it comes to the world of Black Desert Online, but if you're looking for a meaty game to sink your teeth into and you feel left behind by some of the other major MMOs on the market, Black Desert Online is well worth your time.