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Black Desert Online: Life after the Mediah expansion

More than a just a huge map expansion, Mediah also changes Black Desert Online in many small and welcome ways.

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"The Mediah expansion introduces seemingly small changes and additions that actually pan out to be more impactful, complicated and nuanced than they at first seemed."

Around a month ago I described Black Desert Online as a solid MMO package but also concluded that it needed some work. "There’s a lot of potential here," I wrote, "So here’s hoping the developers don’t rest on their laurels and continue to iterate." The first of those iterations is here in the form of the 'Mediah' expansion and update, a major content-drop that adds a significant amount of new stuff to the game.

One of the key advantages Black Desert Online’s Western release has over many of its rivals in the MMO field is the fact that it's actually been out for quite a while in some other territories. Unlike some MMO releases such as when Final Fantasy XI rocked up to European shores several years late with expansions included, the developers of BDO have opted not to include much of that content in the new Western release. Instead they're aiming for a fast and aggressive update schedule to bring the West up-to-date, and with BDO being a buy-to-play game without a subscription fee all of these updates are essentially free, though they will bring with them new stuff that hardcore players can buy via microtransactions. Thanks to all this we're getting our first major expansion for the game after little more than a month.

I hopped back into one of my review characters and headed East - for that's where on the map the newly-added region of Mediah is located. I'd honestly only expected a small city-state and some surrounding regions and dungeons, but Mediah is actually a significant landmass that increases the overall size of the BDO world. It's always difficult to measure this sort of thing by eye, but at a guess I'd say it adds at least a quarter more zone space to the world again than it had before - and that's impressive for an early, free update.

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Better still, Mediah simply adds on to the edge of the existing map - there's no clunky fast-travel mechanic to take you to the added zone, as it's just reached by the same methods as you’d reach any other area of the game’s sprawling map. Being able to enter the expansion zone like that leaves a solid first impression, and after experiencing much of the game's initial world it's exciting to be back in a new and unknown area.

While the Mediah Expansion is larger than one significant location, one key city does sit at the centre of the expansion's content. That city is Altinova, and it provides an interesting change of pace from the rest of vanilla BDO. There's a look to it all that’s vaguely antiquity-era Middle-Eastern but not quite, with narrow streets, stout climbable buildings and a sort of architecture to match. As with the original game this city feels decently alive and bustling with quality NPCs, especially for an MMO, and the character of this vital location is strongly defined in its art and ambient dialog. Better still, it's thankfully quite different to the cities found in the base game I played last month.

It's fun to clamber about in this space, and with the city laid out in the lore as one that's home to many merchants, that of course brings with it new nodes and a lot more opportunities for players who are using BDO's impressive trading system to the fullest. Similarly, Altinova and its culture bring a whole suite of new trees in the likes of Knowledge, allowing the player to level up that side of their character a little further via learning all-new information.

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Outside of Altinova I found myself bumping into a decent number of new enemies. Generally speaking, the Mediah region is best for players Level 50 and above and players in the community seem to be very excited in general about new spots to grind up into the mid-fifties with ease, where before anything past 50 has been an utter slog. The new mobs are an exciting lot, and as with most of the enemies in BDO each has specific tactics that'll work best on it, with the knowledge system key to dealing out the maximum damage possible with your combos.

Such a large landmass requires a lot of new content, and aside from new mobs out in the field there’s also loads of new quests – so many, in fact, that I’m yet to find an end to new icons on my map. As with the original game, these do suffer from the problem of all too often offering nothing more than ‘fetch that, kill this’ objectives, but the sheer amount of the content is nonetheless impressive, even if I do wish it were more varied.

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The problem with writing about MMO updates, of course, is that much of what changes is likely to sound very boring indeed to the uninitiated. One of the most exciting things in Mediah to me, for instance, is the addition of Alchemy Stones, which are essentially weapon enchantments. These can be crafted and applied to add bonuses to your gear in one of three core categories – attack, defence and life. This is the hugely reductive description of this system, which gets deceptively complex and can offer substantial bonuses, but in this sense they embody much of the Mediah expansion – seemingly small changes and additions that actually pan out to be more impactful, complicated and nuanced than they at first seemed.

Alchemy Stones are the sort of thing that might not sound too interesting or sexy to non-players, but if you’re into BDO already, it’s an exciting, big deal. As is the addition of new nodes, several new bosses designed for guilds, all those new quests, and new player-versus-player content. There’s of course a slew of new weapons and armour including powerful boss-drops, in the expansion too and a new set of stock in the cash shop, though I continue to find many of these cosmetic offerings garish.

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Some of the additions are a little more attention-grabbing, and none more than Kzarka, a massive new boss that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to tackle - mainly because he’s so tough that the developers boast it’ll take hundreds of players working together to take him down. Kzarka sounds like exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from a BDO expansion after playing so much of the main game; as I’ve said before, the game differentiates itself from other MMOs in interesting ways such as through its far more engaging real-time style combat and the sheer size of its seamless world – and a boss with the scale of Kzarka seems exactly the right thing to do with this title and this engine. He obviously requires quite a bit of preparation, and I might have to report back after taking part in this allegedly massive fight.

In my review last month, I made clear that Black Desert Online is a great MMO with some brilliant and bold features that is simply lacking in quest variety and a little heavy on the grinding. With the addition of the Mediah content the same remains largely true; it’s an even more compelling and valuable package with these additions, but none of them quite yet address my previous issues with the game. If you’re playing already you’re no doubt happy with these additions all the same – and if you’re not, Mediah underlines how even with these issues BDO remains well worth a shot in spite of its flaws.

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