Black Desert Online has been making some waves since the first trailer aired way back in 2012. This beautiful MMORPG came out of nowhere but we quickly learned that the developer, Pearl Abyss, was founded by the maker of Continent of the Ninth Seal (C9) Daeil Kim in September 2010, along with art director Seo Yongsu. The South Korean studio clearly knew what it was doing and the feature list impressed nearly as much as the amazing visuals and character design.
Naturally, Black Desert Online captured the attention of many players all over the world as well as that of the publishers, granting distribution in countries such as South Korea, Japan and Russia at the time of writing. As for the Western territories, Pearl Abyss has stated that this version should be released much later in North America and Europe, but while the wait is long, it’s difficult to see this game not reaching our shores. It’s a very good sign that a Black Desert English client is already in development, one more hint that Black Desert is really set to release in English speaking territories. Keep your fingers crossed.
With the second Korean closed beta finally over, we managed to explore it quite a bit and the result was an amazing amount of gameplay footage and systems explained, even if Korean isn’t exactly your native language. Please note that this article only reflects our opinion on the second Korean closed beta and that the game will surely receive many changes before release.
One of the disappointments, so to speak, of the first beta was the absence of any sort of character creation system. While the trailers highlighted the amazing characters, we were left wondering about the options to customize them and make them truly unique avatars. Surely Pearl Abyss would just provide enough tools to offer us the bare minimum of diversity? We couldn’t be more wrong. What we got is easily on par with the best of the class, such as Blade and Soul or Phantasy Star Online 2, but we’re tempted to say it’s even better. How so?
Well, you don’t get only the regular options such as facial features, hair type and color, a few body sliders and that’s it. Here you have an amazing tool to customize the hair, from length to curls and even to the extent of getting different colors on the hair strands. Then you have several facial areas that you can resize at your will, not just the standard mouth, nose and eyes – you can give your character a big chin if you want to. We’ll skip the facial tattoos and the high detail you can give the eyes (including adding shapes to the pupil) and then we have the body customization, which gives you every option you need, from adding muscles to changing height and weight. Finally, you can end by creating a pose to rock your awesome character to your friends.
This second beta only included 4 characters: Sorceress, Female Ranger, Giant and Warrior. There’s some ongoing debate about gender lock, but on the surface it seems that some classes will be gender locked while the majority will have male/female counterparts. For example, the Valkyrie is the female equivalent of the Warrior and the Wizard will be the male counterpart of the Sorceress. However, we’re fairly confident that each counterpart will have different skills – with the Wizard being an old man, it’s difficult to see him moving around in the same acrobatic way as the Sorceress. So our bet is that all classes could end up gender locked in some aspect even with the respective counterparts since the skills will probably be different, but we’ll see…
Before we delve into the mechanics, let’s take a moment to look at the visuals. Black Desert uses a proprietary engine and the results are astounding. The character detail and animation is top of the class and the game world is just beautiful and diverse. From the beautiful forests (that sometimes hold surprises like a treetop outpost) to the intricate and living towns, it’s all a pleasure to behold. Sure, there are some issues, mostly the severe pop-in (trees, buildings…) and it gets a bit slow in crowded cities but we’re confident that it will improve before the next beta. The game ran mostly smoothly in our test configuration (i5 3570k, 8 GB RAM, GTX660ti GPU) despite an obvious lack of optimization, but that can be all fixed in the future. Going into extra detail, everything was very positive while playing normally, but when recording there was a heavy frame drop. While 60fps were common while playing alone, when there were more than 4 or 5 players, the game performance dropped drastically. This could also be about net code so it could be improved further along the way.
The current graphics control panel has just a few basic adjustments, but this is highly likely to be improved in the future. Most of our videos were captured in medium settings from three possible options (low, medium, high).
Overall, Black Desert needs a better computer to run properly than the current required specifications, so the conclusion is that the game still needs some optimization – and that is what betas are for anyway.
The best part of this game is the world look and feel. While Black Desert doesn’t have better textures or more polygons than other MMORPGs such as TERA Rising or ArcheAge, this is a game world that offers a scale that feels real, a living, breathing place where things go on without your interference. Scale is very important to break us in a game; most online games are far from accurate regarding the scale of objects. Most towns make you feel like a dwarf. This is because they scales the maps to make them bigger, so you usually see doors or trees larger than expected, houses bigger than your character scale. Black Desert has an accurate scale ratio, all fits perfectly with your character scale, from trees to vegetation, buildings and so on. This is a small detail that makes the difference but is frequently ignored by the developers. The game world also has an accurate color palette and life-like architecture that make some of the scenarios photo-realistic.
The day and night cycle didn’t seem too short or too long, it takes about one hour per day (or half day, not sure exactly). There is also a weather system that you can see in detail the world map – you can see where it’s raining and where it’s not, there is even a temperature/humidity map! Rain and storm are pretty nice effects, and makes all the world look wet – the objects and even your character gear gets this wet look. After the rain stops there are still effects like puddles of water and the roads seem all muddy. That’s a unique feature that is still very rare to see, even if we talk about retail offline AAA games.
The overall world seems pretty big, but not with as large extensions as in other online games, and maybe this makes the different zones a bit small for such a massive game. ArcheAge feels like a more open game, for example, but perhaps this is because there are still parts of the world not yet revealed. There is supposedly a large desert out there in the game, as seen in some trailers. There was no real opportunity to get lost in a map zone, all of the time you can situate yourself easily due to the several key structures visible from afar, like the harpy zone, or the bigger towns, like Calpheon. It’s really nice to be able to see big structures from a very long distance, this gives the game world that essential feeling of being a true, well-defined place and not just a bunch of zones with barely a landmark in sight.