So let’s get it out of the way before I start the nitpicking: Black Desert Online is every bit as gorgeous an MMO as the previews have made us believe. The characters I made in preparation for the second closed beta, all work beautifully and look as good and better ingame. The world is huge, detailed, vibrant and few high pop hubs aside because beta, I didn’t experience any lag on high graphical settings. The fact that this monster of a fantasy stage is completely persistent without a single loading screen ever to interrupt your travels, is impressive to say the least. The light, the weather effects, the sounds make this explorer’s heart beat a little faster.
Gameplay was not without its issues this second beta. I played my huntress past level 12, learning the ropes of a somewhat overwhelming UI that feels like a bottomless pit at first. Quest handling is familiar yet different, player resources such as karma or energy must be learned and understood. All the basics are accompanied by an ingame live action tutorial window (including audio instructor) in your bottom left corner which is a pretty neat idea (there’s also your personal Navi sprite for which I didn’t care as much). It kept me company while I was struggling to tag five quest mobs of this and that together with 100 other players and no chance of shared kills, something that made me lose the will to live quickly. There is no way this is still a thing? There were also glitches and texture loading issues I hope won’t make it past the set launch date of March 3rd.
Fussing around a few things stood out to me, namely travel, quest NPC interaction and of course the combat system. Travel commands and map handling are one of this MMOs greatest forte: other than manually going anywhere, there’s a smart point&click system at work that can be used both actively while running or from world map view. There’s also the option to just right-click your buddy on the world map (friendlists and party invites working perfectly) and make your character auto-run to that location. Furthermore there’s a command to make all of your player characters run to different locations on the map while you are offline, accessed from the disconnect menu. That is some interesting stuff.
Conversing with NPCs wasn’t quite so great. There’s an odd mix of voice-overs and written dialogue going on with quest NPCs especially, whereby they say one thing while you read another. At first I didn’t grasp both were coming from the same source. Also voice-overs are mostly terrible to the point where I wish they scratched the feature entirely. Clicking through quest dialogue was fairly boring too, usually offering just a single option to click. What’s the point?
The combat appears to be the most novel and intriguing system in BDO. I can see opinions split on button-combo-based action combat; it did feel a little like playing Streetfighter or Xenogears, for those who know it. There is an assist window to learn combos but once I figured button mashing was more or less as effective, I didn’t bother learning all the moves. I will have to retry this with a PC gamepad next time because it didn’t feel very comfortable to me at all, but then I haven’t nearly given this the time it deserves so don’t quote me on it. For now, it’s different!
Naturally I spent time in the item shop and was underwhelmed by the choices on offer and the very steep pricing. To be fair, Pearl Abyss are mostly keeping shop items in the realm of cosmetics and QoL improvements, however paying 50 Euros for one set of armor plus cosmetics and one pet is very steep for a buy-to-play title. One can also argue over things like extra bag space and weight limit increases requiring further expenditure. I would like to see adjustments here and definitely more armor and less underwear, of which there seems to be an abundance for female characters at least.
What did stand out to me as a big positive were countless interface options in the settings that let you tailor your personal experience. Things such as character highlight options for any conceivable target are a long-standing demand of mine. There are pet settings for turning off other companions other than your own and system notification tweaks to your heart’s content – just to name few things. The commands for taking screenshots (including cinematic modes and slow motion), adjusting the overall colors&feel of the game or camera view, are outstanding. All I really missed was a way to make my character not auto-stare at the camera, which is freaking weird.
I will need more time with Black Desert Online before I can draw any type of conclusion. I am still adjusting to the combat and how the overall gameplay feels. The cash shop aside, my biggest concern at this point is probably the PvP factor: after hitting level 50, hunting season officially starts for you and all your other characters from there. With a vast world to explore as well as some potentially interesting sandbox elements (housing, farming, crafting, taming etc.) I have yet to try, I feel weary thinking of groups of lolkids ganking me at every corner. But even if Pear Abyss did add PvE servers for BDO, the game might struggle with lack of endgame PvE content just the way GW2 has done. At least this time around, we seem to be looking at a much sandboxier title. Time will tell…but gosh, it’s a beautiful world!