E3 2018: Hands-on with the superb (and hopefully Switch-bound) Black Desert Mobile
While I’ve had kind words to say about the potential for mobile in the past – particularly MMOARGs – I just haven’t been able to get into mobile MMORPGs. The point of view, the auto-follow, the lack of chat, and a generally cheap feeling leave me feeling a bit ill. However, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on Black Desert Online’s mobile port this year at E3, which might just change my mind.
Now, let me preface this by saying I am not an active player of the PC version of the game, and my brief time with the console version of the game only confirmed to me that Pearl Abyss has competently adapted controls and UI for console, but oddly enough, the work on the mobile client stood out to me as particularly superb. And as Pearl Abyss CEO Kyungin “Robin” Jung told me during our interview, the company is indeed considering porting the title to the Switch. While it sounded interesting (and a bit odd considering Nintendo’s general status as an online-outsider), it wasn’t until I personally played BDM that I seriously started to consider the possibility.
While the mobile version of Black Desert does take place in the same gameworld, it’s not simply a mobile port. Most of the areas I’m told are mostly the same, but the game has been tweaked specifically for mobile. That means the 2.5 perspective I’m used to in MOBAs that drive me way from mobile is present, but I was able to zoom in a bit for a more traditional MMO perspective. Sadly, I had to get a bit too close for practicality’s sake, but it was a nice option.
That being said, the game controls were enough that the 2.5 perspective worked. You control yourself with a virtual joystick on the left side of the screen in landscape mode, and you have several attacks plus dodge on the right. I heard something about block, but maybe that only applies to some classes.
Admittedly, part of the reason I may have liked the game was because the demo included arenas, and I was able to stomp on fellow attendees with minimal effort. The abilities I had, such as dashing in a certain direction, unleashing a wave of long-range damage on a melee character, and of course a wide (healing?) swipe lent themselves well to the lack of fine motor control we often see in the mobile space.
This worked not only well with one on one fights, but against mass pulls in PvE. I won’t lie: Killing a bunch of soft targets in PvE and taking a bunch of loot was fairly satisfying. I wasn’t able to try a quest, so I don’t know if auto-run quest completion is a thing, but I did enjoy what I had my hands on.
Multiplayer was very real too. Not just, “There are characters on the screen,” or even, “There are multiple characters actually doing action combat on the screen,” but “This game is connected to a real test server in Korea and you are playing via that and not a local connection.”
It’s a rare sight to see at E3, and considering the fact that the console version was nearby, I was surprised that the mobile version of the game had a line at least rivaling the Xbox version. And truthfully, I genuinely was having fun with the game and the players. Teaching people how to kick my butt in PvP is probably the only reason I was able to pull myself away to PvE and eventually the game. I would have liked to see larger fights, as 5v5 and even guild 20v20 are possible, but again, online and multiplayer connections to outside servers are rare, so it’s understandable that Pearl Abyss didn’t allow more.
Switching things up
Now, the question is, how would the game translate to the Nintendo Switch? Unlike a mobile device, the Switch doesn’t have built-in internet. It’d need to get the connection from elsewhere, kind of like a tablet. I’ve used my phone for online play in the past for the Wii U, but it was dicey. That was in Japan. For the Switch, I’d played ARMS at a convention with some success, but it was nothing I’d repeat if I could help it. There could be a lot of factors in play. Nintendo will be charging for online play soon, and Jung seemed to have faith in their network, but other developers I talked to were still on the fence.
UI wise, however, the game would do well. Everything the game does for mobile would be able to transfer to the Switch, except the Switch has actual controllers, potentially giving the Switch players more screen to enjoy. What would be very interesting, however, is if Pearl Abyss integrated the Nintendo friend system.
While practically every Nintendo game and console/platform gives you a friend code to use to exchange friends, it also keeps track of previous friends on various platforms via our Nintendo Network ID. That means the “friends” I make in Fire Emblem Heroes can easily be added to my Switch so I can play Splatoon 2 with them. It’s a nice way to get a bit closer to strangers you met on the internet, but especially without keyboard chat, things tend to end there. Splat2 may have voice chat via its mobile app, but it’s convoluted. Using Discord tends to make things much easier.
With the Fortnite port, we’ve seen that integrated voice chat is possible. Potentially, Pearl Abyss and Nintendo could give players access to their Nintendo friends in a mostly hassle free manner, then allow them to play in voice chat, which isn’t something I’ve heard is doable with the current mobile version of Black Desert.
This could give the game more of an MMO feel by ensuring that players can communicate well. Keyboards don’t usually do the best in console games, and virtual keyboards for mobile games take up a lot of screen space. Voice chat would naturally help everyone: Pearl Abyss in giving mobile gamers a stronger MMO feel, players by being able to form more solid relationships with people on their friend list, and Nintendo with its image as an up-and-coming online gaming platform.
Again, Pearl Abyss CEO Kyungin Jun said the Switch was being considered as a possible port not because it’s a mobile system but because of its UI and network. These feel like they may translate well. However, there’s one more thing to consider: playing the game on your TV. On the plus side, it means the game could also be played with a controller. Unfortunately, as Nintendo left audio-jacks out of its controllers, it does make voice chat a bit harder. However, adding a (simpler) mobile companion as with Splatoon 2 could fix that, and having a virtual keyboard might work because players on a TV have a bit more space than mobile gamers.
Graphics could be a problem. While Pearl Abyss has worked very hard to make sure the BDO look translates incredibly well to mobile, I have absolutely no idea what happens if you try to put that on a television screen. I’m daring to dream a bit here, but tweaking the game a bit for TV play might be a good long-term goal. Microsoft said at its E3 conference that they’re working on mobile streaming for Xbox games.
Nintendo and Microsoft already play nicely cross-platform with Minecraft and now Fortnite, and clearly Pearl Abyss is fine with Microsoft as the first console port of BDO went to its system. Releasing the game on the Switch and tweaking it a bit for home console play could potentially help further expand the Black Desert IP and spread the mobile game around to new audiences – and reinforce loyalty with an established one.
Naturally, this is all guesswork. Only Pearl Abyss knows what it’s truly considering, but after all we’ve seen and heard about the topics surrounding it, Black Desert Mobile does seem like it could make quite a splash on the Nintendo Switch.