Black Desert Online Review
Release Date: July 14, 2015 (Korea), March 3, 2016 (USA, EU)
Publisher: Kakao Games
Developer: Pearl Abyss
PEGI Rating: 16 (ESRB: N/A)
MSRP: $9.99 (Standard Edition)
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing games fill a popular slot for both players and publishers. The best ones offer a universe worth getting lost in that is constantly evolving, and also offers a long term source of income for the companies that run them. Black Desert Online has released in North America after several years overseas, bringing with it the hype and an installed user base that is excited to have a localized version of the game they had already put so much effort into. With such an installed base, it would be easy for a company to coast along and roll in the profits, but developer Pearl Abyss would like nothing more than to see their product in as many hands as possible.
We sat down with the game and gave it a whirl. Is it a great game with some legs? Or will it fade into obscurity like so many others into the internet ether? We played it, and here’s what we thought.
One of the weakest points in the experience is the story, or what little is there. MMORPGs can have a good story (see Star Wars: The Old Republic), but the trite and cliché fantasy story in Black Desert Online simply stands as a barebones framework for the action of the gameplay. The overarching story involves the war between two nations, the materialistic Calpheon, and the spiritual Valencia. The war has released a virus called the Black Plague that has killed many people and driven many more insane. The war takes a turn toward fighting over Valencia’s Black Desert where precious Black Stones are being mined.
The player steps into the shoes of an amnesiac who has a strange connection to a black spirit who grows more powerful as your character progresses. I understand that amnesia is a convenient plot device for a genre of games that place importance on the human player stepping into the shoes of a digital avatar; it’s just so hard to not roll your eyes as your amnesia is used as a pretext to enter your name, appearance, and class. It would be nice if more RPGs used the Fallout 3 character creator which starts with the main character’s birth.
The main thrust of the story is told in cut scenes that are shown as various story beats are completed. Usually these are more interested in introducing a new gameplay mechanic than expanding on the story.
I’m not saying that the story is bad, in fact it is merely serviceable. There are other portions of the game that rise above the trappings of normal MMORPGs, but the story struggles to even come together as anything more than motivation for the gameplay. It is nothing that hasn’t been seen before many times, but it’s competent even with some rough text localization.
One of the benefits of playing on PC is the ability to customize options to suit your individual machine. Black Desert Online is no different. I don’t have a very beefy PC, and even I could get the game to run at a fairly stable frame rate. One of the options hidden in the menus is the ability to automatically turn of various effects or not load textures when frame rate goes lower than a player defined level. This allows more PCs to run this game with more stability. It is a joy to run to an NPC that hasn’t loaded quite yet and because you know that the game had made that texture load slower instead of slowing the frame rate to a frustrating crawl.
The graphics and art of the world work hand in hand to make the player feel as if they are in a different world of fantasy and adventure. It is a colorful world made all the better with some very interesting monster design as well as building architecture. Each of the 4 main areas are vastly different in feeling and art style while still keeping a worldwide coherency that never makes an area feel out of place. With full graphical options allows for some amazing looking particle effects.
The atmosphere of the game is light and colorful, a welcome breath of air from a world of games that all feel like several shades of dirt brown. It’s almost like a cartoon or an anime than a big budget action movie. The atmosphere evokes feelings of freedom and lightness, almost like anything is possible in this world. These feelings of possibility are backed up by…
“Epic” is a good word to describe the soundtrack that plays in the background of the players time in Kamasylvia. The main hub areas are scored with music that is suited to the town’s personality, such as the harbor city by the sea, Valencia, having music that evokes coastal areas and a nautical theme. The music for the overworld area is suitably epic and adventurous, evoking a feeling of being an adventurer on an epic quest. The one gripe I have with the score is that the longer the music plays, the less attention it is given by the player. It seems to fade into the background until the music changes.
Unfortunately, a lot more effort has been given to the soundtrack than the sound effects. The combat sound effects are very bland. There seems to be no weight to any of the actions that the character performs, leading to very floaty feeling combat. Swinging a sword produces a whoosh and if you’re lucky maybe the sound of a hit, but none of that seems to follow in time with the actions happening on screen. There is no feedback when the player attacks or when the player takes damage, almost leading to players who aren’t paying attention to spam attacks until one of the combatants are dead.
Combat in most MMORPGs consists of a series of attack hotkeys and random dice rolls to determine if the attack lands and for what amount of damage. Black Desert Online changes all that with a much more active combat system. Attacks are used with a combo of button presses not unlike the special moves in a fighting game. Each move has a time and a place for the maximum impact and effectiveness, again almost like a fighting game. My comparisons to fighting games doesn’t mean that an EVO champion would find themselves at home in the world of BDO, it just seems that inspiration was taken from fighting games. There is a wide assortment of moves to learn as the character grows stronger. My character class also had some ranged attacks that require precise aim to hit like a third person shooter.
Character selection consists of a selection from eight classes, also determining the sex of your character. For example, a fighter will be male, while a ranger will be female. Each class has a collection of skills that are exclusive to that class, allowing for a wide range of gameplay styles.
The player is prompted first thing when the game boots for the first time to pick a family name that all of the characters the player creates will share along with many of the items and supplies that are tied to a whole family instead of just one character. This allows for several characters who can be doing things at the same time. There is no such thing as fast travel that I could find, so while one is traveling (in real time) to a place to sell a bundle of supplies, another can be crafting, while a third can be running through quests to level toward the end game PvP. It allows for more things to do even when the questing is done.
There is a really thriving economy under the hood if the player wants to learn it. There are trading goods that can be sent to a market where other players will buy them for the in game silver for their own purposes. Trade items go up and down in value allowing for buy low sell high gameplay. The systems that tie into this economy is really complicated and not well explained even when looking at outside websites and FAQs. In fact, a lot of the systems are not well explained and it is really difficult to feel any sense of momentum in the game when it feels necessary to go to outside sources to even begin to understand the complicated yet optional systems Black Desert Online has running under the hood.
PvP is restricted to high level players and much of it is only for members of a guild. The guild system is on an invite system. You receive an invite from which you can join a guild. Guilds can battle among themselves for control of nodes which therefore increases the guild’s income which is then shared between the members.
Guilds aren’t the only online interaction that can be done. There are always other players around, especially in the towns, with which to interact with. You can then trade with other characters, team up for questing, and strike up a conversation. There is a friend request system that allows players to bookmark other players that are especially useful. This allows for easier connections when both of the players are on line.
Also, there is a duel system, wherein two players can enter a combat arena and fight. The winner gets some of the loser’s gold and items, but there is no “ranking” system, so there is little incentive to do so.
This deserves its own section, since the character creation system is the most in depth I think I have ever seen in a game. There are games that have a slider that can adjust various subtle features of the character. Black Desert Online turns the character customization up to eleven. Each area of the body has several points of articulation allowing for customization only limited by imagination and time investment.
After you have put together your perfect character, you can then pose your digital doll with almost just as many points of articulation as the customizer. You can then enter picture mode where you can take pictures which can then be posted to the servers. It is possible to download another player’s customizations to take further pictures. This system is almost its own game. One that may never have an end. There are even people dedicated enough to have created celebrities (in fact there is a filter option called “celebrities” in the mode’s search function); showing that there are people who have a crazy devotion to Black Desert Online.
Black Desert Online is a flawed game. The systems are too obtuse and ill defined. The combat is kind of weak and floaty. The story is only decent. But for every flaw that may be found in the land of Kamasylvia, there are two more things that out weigh the bad. The character customization is intense. The soundtrack is awesome in its scale, drawing you into this world of adventure. The combat, despite its lack of weight, has some really fun ideas with a more real time strategy focus. The art style is colorful and fantastic.
Is it a good game? Most definitely. I would recommend it in a heartbeat to any fan of games like Gulid Wars or World of Warcraft. Players new to the genre may find Black Desert Online a good entry into a type of game that has enthralled so many over the years. BDO takes the skeleton of the MMORPG and plays with it, creating an experience that is both familiar and refreshing. It has ideas that can be iterated on and made better and gameplay decisions that allows players to get lost in a world that may be unfamiliar to them. Yes, there is a lot of jankyness if you dig below the surface, but it is not bad enough to derail an otherwise very good experience.
- THE GOOD
- Interesting Combat
- Gorgeous Art Style
- Epic Score
- Super In-depth Character Cusomization
- THE BAD
- Economy is Too In-depth
- Weak Sound Effects
- Poorly Explained Game Play Mechanics
Black Desert Online takes the tropes of the MMORPG and plays with them, creating a fresh and exciting title that will delight both newcomers, and genre veterans.