Last week I gave my first impressions on Black Desert Online after having played for three hours the first day the beta was available. That first impression wasn’t a very good one, although it did get better as the evening progressed. Since then I’ve been able to log in another 6-7 hours during which some of my opinions changed while others remained the same. Now that the beta is officially over and we have about a week to wait until the head start begins I’d like to give my final thoughts on what I’ve experienced thus far.
My first impression of the visuals in Black Desert was not good. After being spoiled by the character creator I was disappointed to discover that my PC was not able to run the game on even medium settings at a reasonable fps and I spent my first evening tinkering with the settings and ultimately playing on low. While I did make a few more adjustments to the graphic settings and improved them to where I could finally play on medium it is still less than I was expecting. Maybe this game is more demanding than I realize, but I do not understand why my PC can run The Elder Scrolls Online just fine with much higher graphical fidelity yet struggles with BDO. I’m hoping when the official launch client is released my PC’s performance will be better. If not, that’s a major mark against this title for me. (Below is a screen shot of my current settings; if anyone has advice on how to improve performance further without completely killing the visuals I’m all ears.)
The other issue I had was with some funky lighting that was happening at night. I actually figured out what that was and there is a setting you can change to fix it so that is no longer an issue. Characters in the game have lanterns they can use at night and if other players are using there’s and you are not, every time one of them runs by you’ll get a jarring flash of light. However there is a toggle for this that allows you to hide the lanterns of other players. On the downside you aren’t able to benefit from their light but personally I’d rather run around in the dark than put up with that constant light source flicking off and on every time someone gets in range.
Black Desert is never going to win any awards for storytelling unless said award is being sponsored by Salvador Dali. However I will say that as time went on I at least started to grow interested in the story developing between my character and the creepy black spirit thing. The rest of the narrative surrounding the NPCs and their towns and cities continued to be confusing with references and assertions for which I had no context to understand them. While my final opinion on the story is slightly better than my initial one, a game that will ultimately rely heavily on my conversations and relationships with NPCs and my growing knowledge of the world should be much better written than what Black Desert is.
It’s not a cultural disconnect either; my wife and I have watched and appreciated plenty of K-Dramas often with poorly translated subtitles so I know I am capable of enjoying Korean storytelling. This was just poorly done and it’s a shame because the world and gameplay mechanics deserve better. In fact, the more I have thought about it the more I am convinced this game’s’ developer should have invested more into quality storytelling and NPC character development because of the mechanics behind the knowledge system. If The Secret World had a knowledge system where I could progressively learn more about the world and the characters who inhabit it through conversations and quests I would eagerly jump into that gameplay as often as I could. With Black Desert it will be something to skip through as nothing more than a game mechanic for earning and spending resources and that’s a shame.
One of the real treasures in Black Desert is the way the mounts work. Absolutely everything about them was really well done and encourages immersion. Visually they look great; they turn the way a horse or donkey would turn, walk down a hill the way horses would, and even jump over stone walls the way you expect them too. When you first obtain your donkey it will feel slow and difficult to control. That’s intentional, because riding your mount is a skill. The more you use a particular animal the smoother the ride becomes as you level up that horse or donkey. There are several speeds for the mounts so that you can walk, trot, and gallop just as you would in the real world. I didn’t even attempt catching a horse in the wild but I’m sure capturing, training, and breeding horses will be a lot of fun in and of itself.
And then of course your mounts don’t disappear into the nether every time you get off. They persist in the world and are even in danger of being attacked if you aren’t careful about where you leave them. Early on I forgot that my donkey was still somewhere in the world and completely forgot where I left him. Thankfully Black Desert has a way of locating your mount and allowing you to auto-run back to his location. Unfortunately the gerbil I had as a kid did not come with this feature and he is still lost.
I didn’t spend a lot of time trying different classes because I wanted to level my main character, a Tamer, enough to learn the skill for summoning her pet and because with so many confusing systems to learn in the game I wanted to experience as many of them as I could and that wouldn’t have happened had I continually played through the first 10 levels. I did make a Sorceress and a Valkyrie and of the two I preferred the Valkyrie the most however I am quite happy with my choice for my main class and will be continuing to play as a Tamer at launch.
Combat in this game is a lot of fun—one of the saving graces in my experience with BDO— and the Tamer is like a Ninja with her combat abilities, leaping around with evasive attacks or spinning her opponent around with a kick followed by brutal, back-stabbing attacks. The Tamer can also be quite vulnerable with health dropping fast when enemies land a solid blow but for the most part I was able to manage the evasive style gameplay. I only had 30 minutes or so with the pet so unfortunately I don’t have much to say. He looks great and I’m sure he improved my dps quite a bit. I’m looking forward to further progressing the class and getting to use the pet more.
Crafting and Trade
I never did get to a point where the game explained to me these features in Black Desert which is a real shame. This was what I was most looking forward to and instead I was lead through hours of crappy story with only the tiniest bit of trade explained. The building blocks were there; I was introduced to nodes and creating trade routes which I was able to do. However it wasn’t until right at the end that the market was explained, which was a brief glimpse at how trade between towns will work. A quest introduced me to specific NPCs in towns that I think are the vendors you want to sell goods to whether they are drops from mobs or crafted items because you will get a better price depending on what that particular NPC is looking to buy. That said, had I gone into the game blind without any prior research I still don’t think I would have understood that trade was integral to the game.
I’m still looking forward to the official launch of Black Desert Online though with less enthusiasm than I had before the beta. It offers a type of gameplay I have never experienced but would like to try and for that reason alone I will put a few months into the game in order to try out those systems. Between now and launch I am going to research crafting and trade a little more so that I can dive in sooner because the game itself is taking too long to introduce those concepts.
That’s the greatest problem I think this game is going to have in the first few weeks after launch—retaining players. If I were to judge the game based on those first 10 hours I would give it a C; B- at best because the only thing good you experience during that time is the combat. The story is terrible and the meat of the game is kept largely hidden. I don’t know about you, but I’ve usually arrived at an opinion of a game within 10 hours and if I’ve not seen something I like by then, I move on. The only reason I want to push further into Black Desert is because I’ve looked into outside resources; the game itself is its own worst promotional material.
All in all I’m disappointed but not cashing out just yet. We’ll see what the launch brings and what the game has to offer beyond those initial stages. I’m hoping for the best but I’m no longer expecting Black Desert to become this staple in my MMO diet. Thankfully I’m still quite happy with The Secret World and will continue to focus most of my time there even after BDO’s launch.