Black Desert Online: CBT2 Final Thoughts

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.

Visuals

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.)

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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.

Story

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.

Mounts

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.

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Classes

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.

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Final Thoughts

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.

Black Desert Online: Closed Beta 2 First Impressions

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.

Visuals

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.

Story

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.

Knowledge System

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.

Housing

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.

 

The Rule of Two

Last Friday Liore published a post on her return to World of Warcraft that caught my attention. It wasn’t that she was playing WoW again, lots of people do that, but rather the way she described its place in her gaming habits that got me thinking. Liore begins by stating that she always has two games she’s playing at any given time; one that demands a greater deal of attention, usually with an engrossing story and involved gameplay elements, and another that can be played with one eye on the computer monitor and the other on a TV show.

I can definitely relate to this desire to have an engaging gameplay experience as well as a relaxing one, and I think that’s why I’ve settled on playing Blade and Soul alongside The Secret World as of late. One of the reasons I’ve slowed down in playing TSW has been due to the intensity of the game. It’s a remarkable MMO with excellent story and combat but it is also an exhausting game to play. There are nights when I sit down at my computer and simply do not have the energy to complete an investigation mission or battle an army of werewolves (be careful, don’t pull that other one over…crap.) Those are the nights I’ve started playing Blade and Soul with its colorful atmosphere and easy leveling process.

Now that I’ve seen someone else write down this balance in a way that really resonates with me, I think I am going to be more intentional about maintaining that balance. For now, The Secret World will be the game I am engaging more intently while Blade and Soul will be a far more casual affair. And when Black Desert launches I think I will approach it in much the same way, as it sounds like a game where you can just go out and mindlessly grind mobs or spend time fishing on your boat.

I think it’s important to note that “intense” doesn’t mean time consuming, as I can have quick one or two mission sessions in The Secret World. And “relaxing” doesn’t mean I’m not invested, with sandboxes like Black Desert requiring quite a lot of hours played in order to get your characters established. Either way can take up either more or less of my weekly allotted MMO time, depending on which approach I prefer at that moment. Looking back on my gaming habits this past year, I can see how my preference for one or the other type of MMO gameplay has shifted back and forth and back again over time. So I’m going to be more intentional with this “rule of two,” and try to make sure I have a game to play when I want to be focused, and a game to play when I want to put things on auto-path without worrying about which approach I’m favoring more.