Monday, December 16, 2019

Black Desert Mobile: First Impressions

I'm a bit surprised no-one in this part of the woods seems to have noticed the release of Black Desert Mobile. Of course, it is a mobile game. That would explain it. Seven years after I first blogged about Celtic Heroes and Elemental Knights to a resounding silence there seems to be no more interest or curiosity around here for MMORPGs on the small screen than ever there was.

And I can't say I've done much to shift the paradigm. I like a number of Mobile MMOs but I don't like playing them on mobile screens. Not because the controls don't work or the graphics aren't as spiffy - they do and they are. It's that if I have a free moment away from my PC I can think of a lot of things I'd rather do with the time than play games.

But why should that stop me? As I was saying a while ago, with NOX I can play mobile games on my PC. So this morning I fired up NOX, logged into Google Play and downloaded Black Desert Mobile.

That was super-easy to do, although the footprint is enormous for a mobile game - almost three gigs. It took about five minutes to download and install. Registration was a single click, choosing from a list of social media identities Pearl Abyss assumes you must already have. I chose Google and I was in.

A mini-game to offset downloading fatigue. That's a first.
When Black Desert launched in the West, back in 2016, the depth and detail of its character creation tools were so celebrated, PA released them as a pre-launch standalone. At the time I reported that it took me over an hour to get a character looking the way I wanted.

It took me more like ten minutes in BDM. The controls weren't entirely intuitive but I muddled through. There were plenty of presets if I'd wanted to jump straight in. I started with one of those and then fiddled about with the details. At one point I got a pop-up asking me if I wanted to "deform" my character (I think that's what it said...) which freaked me out a little. I backed away quickly and settled for what I had.

There were five Class choices: Warrior, Witch, Ranger, Valkyrie and Giant. I picked Witch, the magic-user (Go on! Is it really? Who'd have guessed?). The regular version of Black Desert has an established pattern of feeding out new classes as a form of content. I imagine BDM will do likewise.

The game asks you to pick a "Family Name" which will be visible to everyone. This is supposed to be the surname of all your characters on that account. Then you choose a "Character Name".

That look really doesn't scream "Witch" to me. Thespian, maybe...
Even though I've played quite a lot of Black Desert I still erroneously assumed I would enter the world with "Character Name/Family Name" over my head, making up what we on planet Earth usually call a "name". Not so. All I got was the Family Name. You can just about see it in the screenshots if you have x-ray vision. How does that work if I make another character? Am I just always That Name, whoever I play? 

Don't look at me. I don't know! I guess if I was doing due diligence I'd make another character and log in to find out but this is a First Impressions piece, not a marketing report. My first impression is that BDM's name convention needs work. It reminds me of The Secret World, where back around launch you'd regularly hear people complaining that the name they were stuck with in-game wasn't the one they'd expected.

Other than that minor wrinkle, the rest of my experience was impressive. I chose a Region from a choice of three - America, Europe, Asia. I picked America and the game let me in so it must not be region-locked. Then I picked a server from a choice of three, all of which were rated "Busy" and in I went.

The world, at least the little I saw of it, looks almost exactly like the familiar PC version but the set-up for a new character is much improved. Instead of that confusing bit in the village with the Black Spirit giving you a checklist of things to kill and making you feel your character's having the Saturday Morning Cartoon version of a psychotic episode, you wake up at the dock of the main town in the region, where a nice woman called Eileen sets the scene in a reassuring tone of voice.

Didn't mean to scare you, Eileen. Now, where am I again?
BDM is what I'd call semi-voiced. Sometimes a character says out loud exactly what you see in text on screen. Sometimes they just say the first line of a paragraph. Once in a while they'll say something that doesn't quite match, as if they're reading from a different draft of the same script. I've come across this in other imported games and I can never figure out why it doesn't get tidied up before launch. Cost, probably. The voice acting itself is fine.

Back to the plot, such as it is. Naturally you've passed out then woken up in a place you don't recognize with no idea how or why you came there. This is an MMORPG after all. The Black Spirit is still there, wiffling and maundering as usual, but I found it less sinister, more petulant - like a disgruntled toddler, fractious from lack of attention. One thing that did take me by surprise was when one of the NPCs commented on it. I'd always assumed only your character could see the Spirit but apparently not. It started preening from being noticed, too, which was a nice touch.

Eileen sends you off to meet various townsfolk, who soon have you doing a familiar series of tasks - mostly killing local pests -bees, foxes, boars... Along the way you get tutorials on how to walk, fight, open your bags, the usual. Fighting was about as challenging as you'd expect from having played the original, by which I mean not challenging at all. It is sort of tutorial, albeit one embedded seamlessly in the game itself, so it ought to be easy but I've died often enough in tutorials to know that's not always the case.

Hang on, I think you forgot a little space, just to the left of center. Can't you get another button in there, somehow?

The controls, via NOX, are excellent. There's an unobtrusive screen overlay to remind you of hotykeys, visible in the screenshots, that can be toggled with F11 for detailed information. Almost everything else can be clicked with the mouse. I found it instantly understandable. I also realize this tells you nothing about how the game might play on a phone or tablet but it's probably fine. I imagine. I mean, it's a touch screen. How bad could it be?

Like most mobile games, Black Desert doesn't believe in wasting screen space. The graphics are supposed to be top notch for mobile but it's hard to know when you can barely see the world for buttons and windows. Why developers respond to a smaller display size by cramming more and more onto the screen beats me.

Aesthetically, I could have done with less clutter but for practical purposes I found it all pretty easy to navigate. It didn't take me long to notice I had presents. Oh, boy, did I have presents! My Mailbox was stuffed with "Pre-Registration Awards" - loads of them. I don't recall pre-registering but I might have done. It's the sort of thing I do without really thinking about it.

My support and love is easily bought, it seems.
I took a present and got a warning that if I took it I wouldn't be able to take it again on a different server. Do people normally play on multiple servers here? Is there some reason to do that? I ignored the warning and opened the box.

There were seven things inside and several of those opened into more things. It occured to me that if I took all my presents out of the mailbox and opened them I might have inventory issues before I'd even got going so I just opened that one. I have six weeks to open the rest before they vanish. That's a thing that could happen.

I carried on questing, as you do. BDM has auto-questing and auto-combat, the former of which I used happily to get from questgiver to target and back, the latter which I only discovered when I received a "Mission" and was told I couldn't use auto-combat in the mission zone.

At one point I received a quest from a very twee child who asked me (several times) if I liked cats and dogs. I didn't get the chance to tell her because in BDM your character doesn't speak. Or, indeed, make any response. You either take the quest or you don't.

I'm pretty sure any self-respecting dog would keep well away from you anyway, Spirit.
I took it. I went to feed some animals and came away with a puppy. This is something that used to happen in real life when I was growing up. People were always trying to find homes for kittens and puppies and any passing child was fair game. Don't suppose it happens much any more, for any number of very good reasons.

As the Black Spirit explained, as it was disparaging my dog, my new pet did have one use - it would pick up loot for me. That's a mechanic I always appreciate. Pets are also upgradeable and there are three slots for them so you can have both dogs and cats. No need to choose!

At this point I'd been playing for about half an hour and I was enjoying myself. I kind of preferred the opening experience to the regular game in an odd sort of way, other than the extreme screen clutter. It felt more like a regular MMORPG and less like whatever it is Black Desert normally feels like, namely something slightly off-kilter.

I'd received my first Mission - protecting a farm against an invasion of boars - and I was just about to zone into what I presume would have been an instance, when part of my computer desk fell off. It was the bit holding the keyboard and mouse so I could hardly ignore it. The metal strut had sheared clean through so it was no quick fix.

Cat mathematics.

I had to log out to make repairs and by the time I'd done that I'd lost the flow. I'd made Level Four and taken a bunch of screenshots. I thought I'd done enough for a First Impressions piece, so here we are. I'd have liked to have been able to say how the mission went but it'll have to wait for another day.

Overall, I liked BDM. At 3GB it would be a major imposition on my Kindle Fire, which is already groaning with downloaded nonsense. I'd need to make some space first. Given that I'd probably never play it once I'd installed it I'm probably going to skip that.

On a 24" monitor the graphics, which I imagine look amazing on an 8" HD screen, are a little fuzzy. There's probably no reason to play it via an Android emulator when you could be playing Black Desert itself. The regular game certainly doesn't have the insane screen clutter of the mobile version, either.

On the other hand, as I said, in these very early stages I did find the gameplay strangely more MMORPG-like than the PC version I'm used to playing. I am quite curious to see if that carries on or if it's only something that happens in the early stages.

I may be back. I may not. If I'm not, it's no criticism of what looks like a very impressive port from PC to mobile. More a comment on my lack of free time right now. Why don't these things come along when there's nothing else to do?


  1. although the footprint is enormous for a mobile game - almost three gigs.

    Given the size of the original BDO, I'm not exactly shocked by this.

    1. Looking back at my First Impressions of the original game, I said "it has a huge footprint but in not much over two hours the 30+ GBs were tucked away on my hard drive". Either my internet or their patcher has gotten faster.

  2. Confirmed: PA added anti-emulator code. When triggered it destroys your computer desk.

  3. They've overhauled BDO's tutorial at least twice during the past two years, and pretty heavily at that. What you're describing sounds quite similar to my experience when I made a Shai about nine (or so) months ago.

    Maybe the two tutarials aren't actually that different. :-)

    Personally I'd rather have an app to interact with BDO (feeding workers, buying and selling stuff etc.) than a mobile version of the game. Like you I'm at my computer when I want to (and have time to) play a game, I don't need mobile games at all.

    1. I made a Shai and did the first few levels (and posted about it) and as I remember I started in the little camp and went down that archeological dig place (so confusing). The mobile start is in the town down the road from there, where you don't usually get to until you've finished the basic tutorial... or at least I think that's where it was. Hard to tell when you can barely see past the buttons and windows.


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