I loved this game. Then I was annoyed by it. Then I was offended by it. Finally I was appalled at it. Then I quit and wrote this series.
Let’s start with the small problems…
The English translation of this game is atrocious. This means the English voiced dialog is atrocious. Typical forum-goers often accuse the developer of just using random people off the street to voice these characters, but I recognize some of these voice performers from anime and other videogames and they’re clearly talented professionals. This is one of those unfortunate situations where the actor takes the blame for the failings of the director or the writer. It’s pretty hard for a performer to make a line sound good when the phrasing is stilted and overly verbose.
Even the best actor in the world can’t do their job if the dialog isn’t clear about what their character is like, what the context of the scene is, and how the lines are intended to be read. This is the sort of mess you get when the actor is just handed lines to read and shoved in the direction of the microphone. Undoubtedly these people all had to perform in isolation without hearing the other characters in the scene, so it’s not surprising that everyone feels like they’re part of a different game.
Some actors ham it up. Others play it straight. Others do funny cartoon voices. Some people act like they’re doing an old-timey radio play with exaggerated emotions and other people refuse to put any emotion into the line, probably because they couldn’t figure out what the INTENDED emotion was. There are different accents all over the place, and none of them make any sense. We’ve got California English, Irish, Scottish, cockney, and Australian, but they don’t correspond to regions, races, or social caste. A few of the rich people speak the Queen’s English, but the rest all talk like middle Americans. At one point in the game I talked to three different Dwarves in a row, and all of them had completely different accents. The first was a lower-class British thing, the second was a classic Old-Hollywood transatlantic “Theatuh” accent, and the third sounded like an American.
The English audio is so terrible that there’s a mod to allow users to play with Korean / Japanese audio. It’s a pain in the ass to useYou have to uninstall before every patch and re-install afterward. and risky to mess withIt’s a violation of the Terms of Service, and the publisher has a reputation for being capricious and heavy-handed when it comes to enforcing those kinds of things. They could ban you for using it and you couldn’t do anything about it. and yet lots of people are using it so they can escape the inanity of the spoken dialog. I haven’t messed with the mod myself, but I really wish the publisher would just make it an option on the PC to choose alternate audioApparently some of the other platforms do have this option? Two people claimed as much on Reddit, but I can’t find any official documentation on it..
It doesn’t help that lots of characters have lines they repeat constantly if you’re standing too close, which really draws attention to how bad they are.
Making things worse, the spoken dialog draws attention to the…
The translation is bad in the story dialog, but it’s also bad in the in-game UI and in the store interface. This actually bit me while writing this series. I saw I could buy a pack of game items that included “character slot coupons“. I thought it was a pretty good price for multiple character slots. It wasn’t until I got the goods that I discovered that pluralized word was incorrect. It just comes with oneIt should have tipped me off that it didn’t say HOW MANY I was getting. And I really should have been more on-guard, given how disjointed all the other text was. I guess I saw what I wanted to see. It happens..
The translation is good enough that you can get the basic gist of what’s being said, but the dialog is clunky and often the phrasing has ambiguities that make things hard to follow.
I’m not going to try to explain the backstory of the gameworld because it’s largely cliches and incomprehensible cruft, but the personal story of your character is that you wake up in a small town with amnesia. The Black Spirit, visible only to youAnd I suppose, in a meta-sense, visible to every other player in the sense that everyone has a Black Spirit., alludes to some sort of bargain. Apparently you made a Faustian deal with this guy and now he owns your soul(?). He’s not subtle about the fact that he’s probably a bad guy and he’s always making what I think are supposed to be snarky comments about the people you meet. His quests lead you through the world, moving from one location to the next as you murder your way to level 50And presumably beyond that. But 50 is as far as I got..
To give a feel for what the translation is like: When you summon himWhich you can do any time you’re not in combat. he says, “Humans always ask others to do bothersome chores.” Now, from context I’m pretty sure that the proper translation of this would be something like, “People are always looking for someone to do their dirty work.” Perhaps this is even a reference to the deal you struck with this demon. But the translation is off, so the line feels strange. “Chores” implies mundane daily tasks, which isn’t appropriate in this context.
In another place you run into a military commander fighting some rebels and he says, “There’s no need to be lenient on the ones who betrayed their own country. Wouldn’t you agree?” That’s… not how English-speakers talk, and this verbose style is way off for this hothead commander. The intended meaning is probably closer to, “We don’t go easy on traitors around here. You get me?”
There are cutscenes. I’m not crazy about the idea of cutscenes in an online game, but I’m willing to give them a chance if they add something to the leveling and looting. But here in BDO we have story-driven cutscenes with lots of dialog, and even if the dialog was properly translated the whole thing is just a Markov chain of worn-out fantasy tropes.
The dialog is either a quality machine translation or a shameful human translation. This is really screwy because of how much of it is voice acted. Apparently they were willing to pay for tons of voice acting and a huge variety of characters as performed by industry professionals, but they handed the translation job off to an amateur? That’s a very odd corner to cut. Personally I’d rather they paid for a good translation of the text, but left the dialog audio in Korean. That would have been much cheaper and would have produced a higher quality product.
I imagine this goofy-ass dialog must have made for a very interesting day in the sound booth for a lot of these actors.
Even once you untangle the dialog you’ll discover the game isn’t telling a story so much as creating a static scenario. Something like: “The town depends on the mines but imps have invaded.” Or, “This area is plagued by cultists”. Or “This area is being invaded by Orcs.” So it’s a lot like World of Warcraft where you pass through an area, learn the story, do some quests to “help out” without really making a tangible difference, and then move on to the next area.
As I’ve demonstrated in the past, I’m all about reading the quest text, even when most other people are happy to ignore it. But in the case of BDO I found myself lazily clicking past the nonsense after a few hours. The translation is just bad enough to be annoying, but it never gets so bad that it crosses over into hilarity. This is one of those cases where it might have been a lot better if they’d made it just a little worse. The translation never descends into the surrealist hilarity of Volcano Bakemeat. Instead it’s just sort of dull, muddled, cliche, and performed incoherently by actors who weren’t given enough direction. Sad face.
I wonder how many English-language games get to the non-English parts of the world and end up in this same condition?
Last week I said the combat feels fantastic. I should add a qualifier that it’s only fantastic if you’re fighting foes at your level, or a little above that. In those situations, enemies can hurt you and you need to keep moving to avoid getting tagged. The problem is that the game is balanced so that you’ll rapidly out-level the content.
There are a lot of sidequests in this game. There are lots of XP-earning side activities. But if you engage with any of them, the extra XP will rocket you past your foes and trivialize the entire combat system.
Even if you only do the main quests and skip every single sidequest, you’ll still out-level the story content within a few hours. This will happen even sooner if you enjoy the combat. With more than one character I got distracted and spent an extra twenty minutes running around after my quest goals were completed, mindlessly blasting mooks because I was having fun. But then I looked and realized I’d just gained two and a half extra levels. Somewhere by the late 20s the game loses all sense of purpose because I’m ten levels over the story content and foes are no longer a threat. My health bar never goes down, everything dies in one hit, and I don’t ever need to dodge. Yawn.
My highest level character is a Witch, and I’m pretty sure she has no idea what health potions taste like.
There are three main factors that contribute to this:
- For whatever reason, the servers designed specifically for newbies always dish out double XP.
- They’ve added some microtransaction stuff where someone (usually representing a guild) can pay $18 and give everyone on the server double XP for an hour. It’s sort of like buying everyone a round of drinks, except you can’t say no if you don’t want any. These are fairly regular during peak hours.
- The game constantly showers you with XP bonus items. They’re given away as daily attendance rewards. Black Spirit also gives you scrolls that give bonus XP. Those scrolls can’t be sold, so you either use them or throw them away.
You can get around this by abandoning the story missions and just wandering around the open world, killing stuffThe world map is even helpfully labeled according to level range and enemy type.. That’s what I’ve been mostly doing. That keeps me fighting interesting foes and limits my exposure to the cringe-inducing voice work, but this is clearly not the intended way to play. It also cuts you off from the important inventory upgrades that Black Spirit provides. Inventory is excruciatingly tight in this game, because they will rent(!!) you inventory expansions at the cash shop. Black Spirit’s quests are strictly linear, so you can’t just skip a few of his tasks to get back to level-appropriate content. Once you’re ahead of the leveling curve, there’s absolutely no way to get back on track. It’s impossible to engage with the story content of this game at the proper level, because it gives way too much XP.
To be fair, I’m willing to bet that you could avoid over-leveling if you know what you’re doing.
- Don’t go on the newbie servers, even though the game seems to think you should.
- Don’t claim those daily rewards that give double XP. (Or, if you want to grab them because you’re interested in the attached loot, then hang around town for an hour until the bonus wears off.)
- Throw away the XP bonus scrolls that Black Spirit gives you. (Or consume them in town where you won’t be earning combat XP.)
- Go easy on the sidequests / gathering / crafting content, since that will also level you up.
- Don’t linger once you’ve met your quest goals. Yes, I know these cultists are all standing in a tight formation and it’s super tempting to leap into the middle of the pack and unload your big showstopper ability. But that sort of behavior catches up with you in a hurry and will trivialize the later parts of the game.
You’ll still have the problem where guilds will occasionally double your XP, but that shouldn’t be too damaging if you follow the rest of my advice: Ignore what the developer says to do, turn down the loot, and avoid engaging with the most fun parts of the game. As long as you do all that, you’ll have a decent shot of keeping the leveling balanced.
It’s NOT Broken. It just FEELS Like it is.
There are also a lot of quests in the game that feel broken, but once you alt-Tab out of the game and read a few forum threads you discover they’re just janky and confusing. Example: There’s a guy who gives you a quest, but then he begins walking up and down a huge stretch of road. So you come back to get paid after doing the quest and he’s mysteriously missing. The quest location marker leads the player to an empty spot of road, with no indication about what to do next. That alone is enough to prompt some people to ask for help on the forums, with the assumption that they’ve found a bug. But even if you manage to find him, he refuses to talk to you. Again, it feels like the quest is broken. But what you’re supposed to do is follow him for several minutes until he reaches one of the ends of his patrol routeSomeone else said he’ll stop if you get close to him, but that didn’t happen for me.. He stands still for a bit before resuming his patrol, and that’s when you can talk to him and get your reward.
Now, one broken quest isn’t enough to ruin the game, but it’s still strange to see these sorts of issues lingering in a game so many years after release. How hard would it be to have this guy stand still? It’s not like his patrol adds anything to the game. This quest regularly generates frustration and confusion for no good reason, and nobody has ever bothered to fix it. I’ve run into several seemingly-broken quests in the game that later just turned out to be horribly designed, and I find the developer’s apathy towards these sorts of shortcomings to be off-putting.
All of that stuff is annoying, but it’s not why I quit the game. Next week we’ll get to the more serious gripes.
 You have to uninstall before every patch and re-install afterward.
 It’s a violation of the Terms of Service, and the publisher has a reputation for being capricious and heavy-handed when it comes to enforcing those kinds of things. They could ban you for using it and you couldn’t do anything about it.
 Apparently some of the other platforms do have this option? Two people claimed as much on Reddit, but I can’t find any official documentation on it.
 It should have tipped me off that it didn’t say HOW MANY I was getting. And I really should have been more on-guard, given how disjointed all the other text was. I guess I saw what I wanted to see. It happens.
 And I suppose, in a meta-sense, visible to every other player in the sense that everyone has a Black Spirit.
 And presumably beyond that. But 50 is as far as I got.
 Which you can do any time you’re not in combat.
 The world map is even helpfully labeled according to level range and enemy type.
 Someone else said he’ll stop if you get close to him, but that didn’t happen for me.
Why The Christmas Shopping Season is Worse Every Year
Everyone hates Black Friday sales. Even retailers! So why does it exist?
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
Final Fantasy X
A game about the ghost of an underwater football player who travels through time to save the world from a tick that controls kaiju satan. Really.
The Best of 2012
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.
The Best of 2011
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2011.