Nearly 4 years ago, a Korean MMO by the name of Black Desert Online launched in the west by developer Pearl Abyss. Despite the PC version receiving high marks here, there was an exorbitant amount of skepticism that the mobile version would bring the same kind of depth to the mobile space. With the mobile MMO space growing at an increasing rate, how does Pearl Abyss’ premiere title fare on the small screen?
Many of us have complained, we’ve argued and we fought it, but there is no stopping the influx of MMO’s on the mobile space. Many are often panned as being dull, lifeless versions of their PC (and even console) counterparts. Unfortunately for me, a guy who plays a lot of mobile games, that would usually be the case for any generic mobile MMO port, but that isn’t the case for Black Desert Mobile. To describe my experience of BDM in a single word, the only one that comes to mind is, impressive. While it isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, BDM brings about some of the best mobile MMO gameplay and customization I’ve seen in recent memory.
Before we get started, it’s important to note that my time with Black Desert Online was limited. My impression of the mobile version is also my best impression of Black Desert as a whole. Like many Korean games, gender locked classes are prevalent, and in much more restrictive ways than in the PC version. For the preview, I was unable to create a ranged male class at all, which is unfortunate due to the fact that I enthusiastically play male caster classes in most games. There are other minor differences, such as the Berserker class being renamed to the Giant, but overall the character creation process is extremely robust in comparison to what you find on the majority of mobile MMOs. Not only can you choose a plethora of options for each character, but you can drill down to the size and shape of the facial and body features.
Hey There Good Lookin’
Graphically, the game is a marvel of mobile maturity. Depending on the phone, there are several performance options that you can choose that will drastically change the way the game looks and performs. For the purpose of this preview, I wanted to test BDM on the highest quality settings possible, and not only did it look great, but it still ran exceptionally well even when there was a high character count on the screen. It amazes me how far mobile games have come, with details nearing PC level quality at times. It also appears that the game handles performance based on what your phone is capable of processing at the time. There was one point where I had several applications open on my phone, sapping the memory, and during that time, BDM scaled down the graphics until I closed everything.
Each zone I’ve encountered thus far, while pretty, has been fairly small. No doubt this is necessary to keep the load times short as you travel in between lands, but this also makes questing areas crowded. As I was the only person in my preview area, I never encountered another player, but I could only imagine how cramped it might become with multiple adventurers attempting the same quests in such a small space. Even without any players, enemy density was very high and luckily, the enemies respawn fast, which makes kill quests simple, and quick to complete. Another helpful happenstance is that most enemies don’t even register you’re in the area unless you start to attack them.
Because it is Mobile
There are a lot of little quality of life features that you need in a mobile game. I know that there is plenty of consternation over mobile games and their combat simplicity, and overall basic functionality. Black Desert Mobile does a good job of putting players through a “teaching moment” where players will learn first-hand that being active and in the moment for every single detail of a game, may not be for the best. For the first several levels, you have no choice but to physically take control of your character to complete quests. BDM does have a fairly robust hack and slash feel to it, so this is rather enjoyable, but once you obtain and attempt your Black Spirit Quests, or your main guild quests, that tune changes quickly. Some Black Spirit Quests require that you defeat 300 opponents in an area, while a Guild Quest could request you kill 2000! Manually doing so is madness, seeing how these quests appear often and in many cases are repeatable.
Whacking away at 2000 enemies is daunting, unless of course you have leveled up enough to utilize the auto attack feature in BDM. Like many mobile games, this feature will auto path you to your targets, attack them, and repeat as necessary until you’ve chosen an alternative for your character to perform. That doesn’t mean that taking control of your character won’t be necessary again, as there are instances, bosses, and challenges that either prevent you from activating the automatic play feature, or deter you by ensuring certain death if you let the AI face-roll the virtual keyboard.
There are also a bunch of handy tooltips to guide you along your merry way. Notifications, both pushed to your notification bar, and in game, will ensure that you’re on target to complete your tasks on time, and that you don’t forget about each aspect of this immense mobile offering. There really is a lot to do, and so much to take in, that I fear for many mobile oriented players, this could be a little too daunting. You have to level your Black Spirit, you have to upgrade your weapons and armor, you have to focus on skills, manage your camp, scold your workers, go fishing, feed your puppy, the whole game provides so much to do that the average player could easily feel overwhelmed if they aren’t careful.
Black Desert Mobile will undoubtedly be a pleasant surprise for PC MMO gamers that feel that mobile titles will never live up to their PC counterparts. No, this isn’t a direct port of Black Desert Online. This is a title designed thoughtfully for mobile. Black Desert Mobile is not perfect, and there are still plenty of questions and issues Pearl Abyss will no-doubt need to address. During my time I did run into several bugs, some confusing, some hilarious, and I also was met with several requests that I spend some White Pearls (cash currency) on convenience items. The cash shop itself wasn’t available during the preview, so there is still a big question as to how it will factor into the game as a whole.
Pearl Abyss managed to put their best foot forward with a mobile title of an intellectual property that is still growing in popularity in the West. Those who aren’t currently a fan of Black Desert Online may not find a home here, but with the added convenience features, and the low cost of entry (it is free after all), I can see this appealing to players that tried Black Desert Online, like myself, but couldn’t see themselves getting too invested in it. Black Desert Mobile could certainly change a few minds of the skeptics that are overly critical about the future of MMOs on mobile.