I find myself in the strange position of sharing my initial feelings and first impressions of a game I’m starting for the third time.
I’m not as much of an old hand at this game like some in the ‘West’ are already, the first time I dipped my toe into Black Desert Online was the Japanese open beta. I won’t go into details but there were some hurdles to overcome, most notably a Captcha using a Japanese alphabet. Yes, I still wake up screaming.
I had as much idea of what was going on as anyone who’s been around the MMO block and back again. let’s be honest, who reads quest text anyway? (I do, but you know what I mean..) Despite my veteran status there were some areas that I just couldn’t brute force my way through. A quick google led me to a community sourced translation and the game was playable, for a given value of ‘playable’ at least.
It’s been a long time since 56k modems and unreliable servers, and frankly I’ve grown spoiled. Too much rubber banding and input lag and I’m just not having any fun, the pampered princeling that I am.
So, not wanting to spoil the game for myself I set it aside, waiting for such a time that I could get the most out of it.
Looking back, it feels like no time at all between that experience and my next expedition into the Black Desert. Which I still haven’t seen a trace of, by the way. In fact, is it even a place at all? Or is it an idea? Maybe the Black Desert was inside us all along!
I found myself press ganged onto the Russian server, this time wholly without translation, and embarrassingly exposed on a livestream as I bumbled around like a ridiculous Englishman. Luckily, a friend of the Russian persuasion took pity on me and was willing to guide me through this difficult time.
Again, my experience was less than optimal, and while it’s a good laugh being led through a game by a friend like you’re wearing a blindfold, I fell back on my earlier decision. I felt like this game deserved a proper first impression.
And now here we are, once more into the breach for a but-for-reals-this-time first impression. Except that I feel like I have so much history with this game already. We’ve had some real times together, we’ve seen some things, man. Japanese Captcha, man oh man.
These experiences will naturally color my perception of the game, and at this point I wouldn’t have it any other way. While it’s been great to wax nostalgic about a game that’s not even out, we should probably talk about what it’s actually like to play. For a bit, at least.
Black Desert looks great, but you know that already. It’s the first thing everyone notices about the game, to the point where it almost overshadows anything else the game might have to offer. There’s a texture to the world that really draws you in. Usually I’m critical of MMOs that aim too close to realism, but BDO finds the sweet spot just outside the uncanny valley, and hopefully it’ll age gracefully.
There’s a certain mystique to the East Asian take on the Tolkien-esque environments. From my limited British perspective of what these places ‘should’ look like, there’s something just a little other about them. That is a wonderful thing in my eyes, for what else should a fantasy environment feel like, but ‘other’?
It’s comfortable, but refreshing. A world in which you feel safe to explore but delighted by what you find.
We can’t talk about how the game looks without talking about the character creation tool. This is a new precedent for any game, let alone an MMO, and I feel I can say that without risking hyperbole. It’s just phenomenal, and for some will be worth the price of admission on its own.
Once you’ve finished ogling (if indeed you do), control is familiar and responds well. There’s an autorun feature, and I know that gets some people all riled up so enjoy your pointless arguments about that.
Combat feels fast and fluid,. if there’s ever been an MMO that makes you feel like you’re a mythical warrior this is it. The controls feel very intuitive for a keyboard-based system (if you’re experienced with a keyboard, that is), you cha cha slide, step, kick, step, twirl and decapitate with an elegance in animation and effects that is a joy to behold.
And you can play as a class that’s basically Gandalf. Gan-Freakin-Dalf.
One big question is whether Black Desert has an endgame that will be satisfying to the modern MMO player. To be honest, it’s far too soon for me to answer that with any confidence. There are certainly many possible activities, but the usual hardco’-fo’-lyfe types are grumbling about the lack of ‘challenging endgame’ (read: raids).
Since the most successful MMOs in recent years have been those that stayed away from carefully tuned large group content in favour of a more accessible approach, maybe Pearl Abyss are onto something.
For the people who talk about these things, Black Desert represents the last great hope for the AAA MMO. If Black Desert tanks, they say, everything else could go down with it. The dream will be over, we’ll all be reduced to playing mobile gacha games and explaining corpse runs to bored teenagers who’ve grown up coddled by games that hand you everything. Like Minecraft, League of Legends, or DayZ.
Is Black Desert Online the great white hope for AAA MMOs? No, don’t be silly. If you didn’t like all the other great games that have come out in the last five years, you won’t like this one either.
What will ultimately separate Black Desert from the pack is the memories you take from it, and while you never get a second chance at a first impression, I wouldn’t trade my rocky road for anything.