Tuesday, March 8, 2016

First Impressions : Black Desert Online

Where to begin? At the very beginning, I guess. Buying, downloading and installing Black Desert Online was exceptionally easy. Like all modern MMOs it has a huge footprint but in not much over two hours the 30+ GBs were tucked away on my hard drive and I was staring down the barrel of the Character Creation screen.

I'd heard about this one. I knew Daum had released the thing as a standalone long ago. I'd seen videos of people playing with it and read whole blogs about how great or not-so-great it was. Well, I'm not all that much of a one for over-complex character creation systems. I prefer to be in and out in under ten minutes.

The final version in Character Creation. Of course she arrived wearing something entirely different.

Tough luck. Not happening. It took me about an hour and that was trying to hurry it along. There are a lot of options and, very annoyingly, no randomized choices that I could find. I got particularly hung up on the eyes. Must have spent twenty minutes on those alone.

In the end I got something - someone - I was happy to look at long-term. While the game downloaded I flipped through the mostly useless, exceptionally vague class descriptions on the website and read a few basic class "guides", which weren't much better. They couldn't even seem to agree on what the classes were called, far less how they played.

When in doubt go for a pet class or a warrior. I went Tamer. At level ten, as I was when I logged out last night, she still doesn't have a pet but it doesn't seem to be slowing her down any. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Is there a good optician in this town? My peripheral vision's gone all blurry.

Visually everything looked slick and smart in the creation screen but that soon fell apart when I appeared in the world. Following Aywren's lead I went for the Orwen server, Calpheon II channel. Even though it was flagged as Crowded it let me join and I popped out into the starting village, the name of which escapes me.

One of the key reasons I ended up buying BDO when I'd really not planned to was something Syl said about the city of Heidel : "It is an incredibly well-designed site as far as an authentic medieval-feeling city goes and I have been to a fair few in real life." So have I and I love them. That promise and the gorgeous screenshots were what tipped the balance.

OMG! It's getting worse! Someone check my pupils - I think I might have a concussion!

Unfortunately, the thing I forgot to do was check the minimum specs. My PC is elderly. I forget how long ago I bought it but it must be at least six years now. I last upgraded it significantly about four years back. I've been meaning to buy a new one for two years but the plain fact is that it runs everything I play really well so I haven't gotten round to it yet.

MMOs generally aren't very demanding, even the newer ones. Blade and Soul, for example, runs perfectly and looks fantastic. Black Desert...doesn't. The prime reason for that is the textures. The game would prefer I leave them set on "Low", which looks abominable. It tolerates "Medium", which doesn't look much better, but if I try to move to "High" it throws up dire warnings about my video card having insufficient memory.

On the other hand, at night it doesn't really matter how bad the graphics are - you can't see them anyway.

I struggled along with the recommended default settings for a while, wandered around, started the tutorial quests, killed some weasels, took some screenshots. Not good. By the time I'd graduated from slaughtering wildlife to murdering Imp Soldiers for their hats night had fallen and I literally couldn't see what I was doing.

I stopped, took a look at the screenshots, which were generally dreadful, when you could make out what they were at all, and went back to GW2. Several hours later, when Mrs Bhagpuss had retired to bed, I went back to try again.

Okay! This is looking better. That's a fox, isn't it?

This time I spent the best part of an hour going through the Options. I switched off all the incredibly annoying blurs, fuzzes, fades and camera tricks that are supposed to improve your screenshots but which actually make them look like you have no idea how to hold a camera, much less focus one. Then I overrode the nannying voice with its over-protective concerns for my video card and risked the dizzy heights of "High" textures.

Eventually I arrived at a compromise that, even if it's not the gorgeous visuals I was expecting, is at least not actively painful to look at. The screenshots look better than the same views in game but the game looks...okay. If I want anything more I'll have to buy a new computer and I don't think I'm going to like Black Desert that much.

And I think that's a cat. It's so badly-drawn it's hard to tell. Especially with that giant chick throwing off the scale.

But I do like it. It's surprising, because one heck of a lot of things about the game are annoying me already and I've only played for about three or four hours. Still, it definitely has that hard-to-define quality that means I want to persist and overcome the annoyances rather than just write it off as a bad decision and move on.

The world is very worldly, just like everyone says. It's also set in that low-magic, quasi-realistic, pseudo-high-medieval milieu that hits my personal sweet spot. For an explorer archetype with my particular aesthetic it's close to a bullseye.

We have this darling little place in Tuscany...

Of course, being a game, it's also crazily, ridiculously unconvincing as a working environment. All those people walking the road with their gigantic backpacks, far from adding authenticity, look about as realistic as the forty or fifty foxes milling about next to the forty or fifty wolves just after the forty or fifty weasels, all romping aimlessly together in the shrubland a hundred paces from the center of town. Anyone who thinks this is a proper virtual world needs to re-calibrate their suspension of disbelief, pronto. It's running wild.

As an MMORPG, though, I can see it has promise. I know it's getting all the big praise for its sandbox gameplay, all that trading and taming and farming and such, but I have to say that none of that interests me in the slightest and yet I can still imagine enjoying Black Desert for a while.
Why, Grandma! What big teeth you have!

It has a plot that's not entirely uninteresting, for a start. That disembodied presence with the teeth is a wrong 'un if ever I saw one. What's up with that? It's like I'm playing a character that comes complete with her own psychotic episodes. I don't know where this is going but I'm curious to find out.

Then there are all the races. I was miffed that the only playable choices seem to be big human, normal human or elf (aka human with big ears) but I was mollified to find even the first village a hotbed of multiculturalism. Goblins, dwarves, creepy Midford Cuckoo children, even creepier guys with antlers... If this is rural life I can't wait to see the big city.

Tell me about it...

So far in this sandbox game my experience has been largely indistinguishable from what I'd be doing in a supposed themepark but I think that has more to do with how I approach MMOs than anything else. They really are all quite similar from my perspective. So, as yet, BDO doesn't feel a lot different yet to Blade and Soul or ArcheAge or GW2 or FFXIV.

It is, however, a lot less comfortable to play, from a technical point of view. The UI isn't terrible but it's not great. The screen looks quite cluttered even after I've switched off virtually everything that can be switched off. I really don't like the way the whole thing plays in a letterbox frame. It constantly draws my attention to the fact that I'm looking at a screen, not a world.

I don't even...

I was very apprehensive about the combat in BDO but after doing really quite a lot of it, it seems okay for now. As several people said it would be, it's just button-mashing, at least at this stage. There's a whole lot of guff about combos the game tries to teach you but just hitting left and right mouse button and a few random keys once in a while for variety seems to do the job just as well. At level 10 I haven't died yet and that includes many yolo runs into swarms of imps running into double figures. J3w3l suggests it gets harder in the 30s, as I guess it should, but I'll worry about that when and if I get there.

No, the thing that I'm finding most difficult to deal with isn't combat. It's movement. For a start I purely hate having my mouse pointer withheld from me. It's like trying to do up a bow tie wearing boxing gloves. What is the point? Can developers really not program a UI that allows simultaneous use of center-screen targeting and the mouse pointer? Really?

A minute ago there were about a dozen imps here, performing some kind of ritual. They got in the way of the shot. So I killed them

I'm constantly wanting to swap between the two things, especially when moving around town. It drives me crazy. Added to that there appears to be some kind of inertia factored into character movement. I am constantly overrunning my destination because my character keeps on going after I lift my finger from the W key. It's like I'm driving a vehicle not directing a person.

Even worse, there seems to be a short delay at the end of every combat that disables all movement in any direction. I have to count a beat of two before I can move. It's infuriating. At one point I was so irritated by all of this I went so far as to enable "Move by Mouse". That works very nicely but unfortunately whoever programmed it thought it would only be used by idiots and tiny children so they plonked a six foot high glowing flag at the destination click, making it visually unbearable.

I move faster the less I carry.

And yet, with all these structural drawbacks, I'm still itching to finish this post and get a few more hours in. The world is inviting, the storyline is intriguing and the learning curve is satisfying. I especially want to understand the Conversation system, which is the first thing I have seen in any MMO that reminds me, even a little, of Vanguard's much-missed Diplomacy gameplay.

And I guess at some point, as a Tamer, I probably ought to tame something. So much to learn. At this early stage it's impossible to judge the stickiness but I think I'll get the box price out of this one, at least.


  1. "It's like I'm playing a character that comes complete with her own psychotic episodes."

    You might be on to something, since later on people actually comment about certain individuals having hallucinations. Maybe it's all a huge curve ball and the spirit never exists in the first place, you're just bonkers!

    1. Oh and you get a pet at level 20, so don't sweat it. Surprisingly it's a huge dog made of the same stuff the Black Spirit is made of, so uh... it's a little creepy.

    2. Ah, thanks for the info. Seems a bit late for a pet class, but then again it's a game with no level cap so who knows? And anyway I seem to have stopped fighting things now so my level has stopped going up anyway...

  2. I was hoping you'd give the game a go. :) It sucks that your PC is struggling, I really do wish for you to visit places like Heidel and Calpheon (make this a must) which really got me misty eyed first time I walked in.
    The game does have some fiddly things but somehow...am getting used to that. The great stuff just makes up for it a lot and it's so many things I've craved for a long time. I am tired of dungeons and achievements and flying mounts and teleports and all that.
    I assume you didnt get the explorer pack(?) which has incredibly good value for BDO and gives you a t3 horse right away. If you have any chance for a horse, grab it - it's very enjoyable riding horses (not donkeys so much) and gives you a feel for how insanely huge it is. I am still nowhere near map completion.

    I agree that some stuff needs optimizing still but if they're in it for the long haul (and there's already expansions lining up) then indeed, BDO has incredible potential. I really hope they won't ruin it further down the line.

    1. Forgot to add, for screenshots there's a lot u can do: http://www.mmogames.com/gamearticles/black-desert-online-screenshot-guide/

      And I really recommend to everyone not using a default filter for the game. It just looks much better without any.

    2. I'm in Heidel right now! Naturally I have been ranging way further than I should be. I went quite a bit further than Heidel but everything started to con purple and I got chased by Parasitic Bees that took me to about 5% health before I shook them off so I thought I'd better come back a ways.

      After I wrote my comment to your post I logged in and fiddled with settings some more. It turns out that for some bizarre reason the game had given me a default setting of +50 for contrast, which I hadn't spotted. That really wasn't helping at all! I played around with that and the gamma for a while, plus a couple of other things I hadn't tried and I now have it looking considerably better than it was. It's still not brilliant but it's good enough to be enjoyable rather than merely tolerable.

      I bought the regular pack so no horse. Not looked into how to get one yet. The best thing I've found so far is the climbing, even though the sensitivity for that can be frustrating. Getting lost cats and kites off rooftops is the kind of adventuring I want more of instead of all this random slaughter of wildlife. Fishing is oddly addictive too.

  3. I feel like I should be more interested in Black Desert than I am, but I've never been the biggest fan of sandboxes, and what I've heard of it just doesn't sound terribly appealing to my tastes.

    Except the character creator. I could easily get lost in something like that, methinks. In fact I was thinking of downloading the standalone creator, but according to Google, it's been shut down, and now I'm sad.

    Also, I must say it amuses me to see "yolo" randomly sprinkled into your otherwise mature and sophisticated prose. It's a bit like hearing a pastor randomly drop an F-bomb in the middle of a sermon. :P

    1. Heh! I'm quite deliberate in my choice of language and I edit these posts fairly rigorously. I thought twice and then once more about "yolo" but it is just the right word for the job. I mainly know it from WvW, where it's used with frequency and often with subtlety as criticism, praise and plain factual description. As slang, outside of gaming, it's probably already badly dated but it's a neologism that fills a need and I think it will last, like "afk" and "lfg" and all the other acronyms we take for granted these days.

      As for Black Desert it's an odd duck. I'm not big on sandboxes either, at least not in the obsessional crafting and trading for the sake of it sense, but BD is more of a hodge-podge. It has all that but it also has a strong central storyline (so far) and an insane number of quests. If you want directed, written, content it seems to have as much of that as a themepark. What I don't think it has is any kind of themepark end-game but I rarely get involved in those anyway so that's no loss for me.


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