Last night I managed about three hours in Black Desert for the first time and I have to say my feelings are mixed. In that time the game went from being highly anticipated on my part and possibly becoming my primary MMO to causing me to wonder if I’ll play it much at all after a month or two. Of course this is really early in my experience with the game and I haven’t gotten to the meat of the sandbox elements which is what drew me to the title in the first place. I will say while my impressions of the game drastically dipped within the first hour, they did steadily rise back up as the night went on. Hopefully that trend will continue. And I am glad I decided to play during the closed beta if for no other reason than to do all my stumbling through these complex and not very intuitive systems now so that when the game finally launches I’ll have a better sense of what I’m doing.
This was the number one reason I had concerns about the game right off the bat. The graphics in this game remind me of Final Fantasy XIV in that they feel grainy, even at higher settings. That said, I was not able to run the game at the highest setting or anywhere near it. I spent most of my time on “low” or the settings beneath that just to get a marginally reasonable frame rate of 20-30 fps. I’m not sure what the issue was and I’m hoping it’s an optimization thing that will be improved by launch but I spent a lot of my time tweaking the graphics settings to see if I could find anything to improve my performance. I am playing on a laptop that is a couple of years old but it was a higher end gaming laptop when I bought it and runs The Elder Scrolls Online smoothly which I think is much more demanding (and far prettier) than Black Desert.
There were a few other things about the visuals that bothered me as well though, not just the fact that my settings were so low. Lighting was an odd animal for one thing. I would be out in a field at night and jarringly lights would come on and go off, as if my seven year old found the light switch to a camp fire. This happened in a couple of different areas on the map, including a cave the main questline took me through. In fact, I noticed with one of the earliest NPCs I met that his hair appeared to change color sporadically as he spoke to me and I think it might have been because of this same shift in lighting. There’s also an absurd amount of blur effects. Maybe I’m getting old, but the grainy graphics, camera shakes, and blur field around certain combat moves was giving me a headache. I did notice that by the end of the night I wasn’t aware of these things as much but for the first hour it was problematic.
What story? No really, what story? I have no idea what any of the NPCs or the black spirit were talking about half the time. And it’s not a matter of localizing what they’re saying, it’s that none of it seems to have any context whatsoever. Each quest seemed to assume I knew something about the story that I did not and none of them seemed to be related to one another either. My advice is the same as I would give to a sane person living in an Asylum, just roll with it. Embrace the absurd fantasy and don’t try to make sense of it. Otherwise you are going to be really disappointed with what you are being presented, at least in the first few hours.
Combat and World Exploration
At about the first hour mark, after fiddling with the graphics off and on and being sorely disappointed with the schizophrenic storyline I just wandered off and that’s when my impressions of the game started to improve. The combat in Black Desert is actually really good, and wandering around tackling mobs much higher in level than what you are presented with during the questing experience is a lot of fun. I’m not going to even try to describe the combat style other than if you’ve played Blade & Soul it is a variation on that idea. It’s very visceral and dynamic with combos using your mouse and movement keys along with a few others near the classic “WASD.” And while the graphics weren’t as good as I was expecting, at least not on my PC, it was still an attractive world to explore. Eventually I did go back to the main storyline and was in much better spirits. It wasn’t that the questline improved but rather because I had found what I think is going to be the most enjoyable part of the game—experiencing life in an open virtual world by making your own content goals.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on this aspect of gameplay but it is another example of where going off rails is the better choice. You’re introduced to a few NPCs in town during the main questline but there are so many more to meet and interact with as a part of gaining knowledge about the area. Eventually in my exploration and return to the main questline my bags become full and so I returned to town to find a vendor (I love auto-pathing so much more than I ever thought I would). I couldn’t remember where the one I was introduced to was located so I wandered around and noticed several NPCs with an icon over their heads that looked like two mouths talking. Interacting with these NPCs introduces you to people in the town, opens up new quests, and helps you figure out where things are at, like where to hire workers for example or where to buy your first donkey. I enjoyed this organic “social” exploration of the game world a lot and knowing that I have yet to try the conversation mini game and further unlock quests and so on through socializing with NPCs has me excited to figure out what I need to do to improve my influence with them.
This was one of the last things I looked into for the night and probably should have waited until another time. I was able to figure out how to buy a house and I ended up purchasing two; one for my warehouse and another to house workers. Each house in a city can only serve a few functions however and I could not find one for gathering and processing wood (I want to build ships). The other thing I couldn’t figure out was how to use my warehouse. There was no obvious connection between my warehouse and my inventory; I could see what was in my warehouse (nothing) by pulling up the map and clicking on the town I was in and I could see my inventory once I closed the map but I could not move things from one to the other. Trying to enter the house where it was located did not work either, that only pulls up a list of players using the space as an actual residence. I did a quick google search and it looks like there may be an NPC I have to interact with in each town to store my goods but it was getting late and I didn’t’ have time to run around looking for him or her.
There’s still more beta to explore
As stated above, my feelings are mixed about the game right now but they did improve as my time in the game went on. My goal with the beta is to continue exploring the different systems and have as much of the game “figured out” as I can so that when it finally launches I don’t feel so lost. I have yet to start unlocking nodes ore figuring out the trade and crafting systems which are two areas I have been most excited about with the game. Hopefully as the sandbox elements unfold and I figure out those systems my overall opinion of the game will improve. My advice to anyone else playing the beta who is a little disappointed with their experience thus far is get off the rails if you haven’t already. Go explore and find challenging mobs and interesting areas. Look around for NPCs you haven’t talked with yet and expand your knowledge of the region to further your progress in the knowledge system. Push your way into the world as an explorer, not as someone on a guided tour. Because while I was disappointed with my first impressions of the game due to my problems with the graphics and the terrible story, the rest of the game still looks promising and I look forward to exploring and understanding even more of what Black Desert offers.