Five years ago, if you’d asked me about any mobile game, I wouldn’t have even considered it a real game. I’d have considered it less of a game – I’d have seen it as an app. Oh how times have changed. Heck, last year, I invested in an iPhone XR just so I’d be ready for Black Desert Mobile.
One year later and the wait’s almost over. The saying “a watched pot never boils” has never been so relevant. And when Pearl Abyss came a-knockin’, asking for someone willing to test out Black Desert Mobile, I jumped on the chance faster than a hedgehog would a golden ring.
What’s soft-launching tomorrow is specifically the Android version of the game. Full disclosure: Pearl Abyss kindly loaned me a Samsung Galaxy S10+ (and I gotta send it back) for the purpose of this first look since I’m an iOS guy, but that has no bearing on my first impression of the game. I’m confident that my Apple phone has more than enough muscle to play it, and I’ve been waiting to get my hands on this game since first trying it at Twitchcon 2018.
This game is worth the wait, especially for Black Desert fans. This is a mobile game, but it plays like it belongs on a console. This is groundbreaking mobile game design, and I seriously hope ArenaNet is taking notes if it’s planning on putting Guild Wars 2 on mobile. And while it’s not perfect, this is a right direction in the evolution of mobile gaming.
All the important aspects of Black Desert are here. The entire character creator, butt sliders and all, is there. The combat still gives that nice shot of dopamine with every strike, and the game is still dang beautiful. Pearl Abyss really knows how to work with its in-house engine, and it’s impressive what can fit into this mini version of the game.
Major props to the way this game’s aesthetic design pops too. The game stands out because of its simplicity. I tried to satiate the wait with many other mobile MMOs, and my biggest problem has always been how over-designed the weapons and armors are, even at lower levels. Black Desert doesn’t do that; it’s as if the game actually wants you to play it based on its merit and not how shiny you already look at level one.
The game will include five classes available: Warrior, Ranger, Valkyrie, Witch, and Giant. I went ahead and ran a Warrior. The game starts with you waking up on Velia beach with two of your best friends: the Black Spirit and amnesia. And this game totally nailed the execution of a pocket BDO. This game’s Velia is smaller, and the vendor NPCs are much closer together, but the paths between the storage, blacksmith, and central market board are exactly the same. Notable hang-outs like the training dummies spot are also there. It’s comforting to see this town be so close to the original.
Quests are easily completed with the auto-pathing. Let’s talk about this. In my first impression of Caravan Stories, I panned it for having an auto-quest feature. My problem with it was that it was a PS4 MMO title and the devs didn’t bother removing those features. Auto-questing and auto-battling does not belong in a console MMO. Black Desert Mobile gets a pass because it’s a mobile game and the original PC game already has an auto-path feature. Also, a mobile MMO without auto-questing is just carpel tunnel waiting to happen.
Questing is linear here, and players will need to complete quests to move on to the next region. Unlike BDO, the mobile version requires players to complete certain quests before their other characters can visit. So new players will have to play through the quest chain with one character at least once to visit their favorite towns like Heidel with their alts.
The game also tracks your combat prowess with a “CP score.” It’s the sum total of your character’s overall power level. Grindspots clearly communicate the required amount of CP to survive these areas. I also appreciate how the CP numbers aren’t inflated. In other games, a level 5 player would have 20,000 CP after getting two or three pieces of new gear. This game gives smaller increments with each upgrade, which is refreshing, plus the 500 CP is easier to read than 26582. Players increase this in two ways: through their gear and surprisingly, the black spirit.
Having the black spirit increase CP makes this game so much more alt-friendly. As you feed the spirit random knickknacks and old gear, you increase its level. As it gets stronger, it will provide a passive CP buff for the entire account. In theory, this would allow new characters to bypass lower-level grindspots. I love this addition. Black Desert has always been so dependent on alts to maximize earnings, so this is a huge boon for the mobile version.
Strengthening gear and armor is handled differently as well. Upgrading gear requires black stones, but now there are different types of black stone. Each type provides a larger enchant type the stronger they get. If an enchant fails, the level does not go down, but the chances of succeeding goes down. This can be fixed with memory fragments and artisan memories.
Something the main game doesn’t have is the ability to transfer item levels to other gear. Players can now transfer the enchant levels of a weapon to another. Of course, there’s still a risk of failure (it’s still BDO, after all), so options will need to be weighed out.
The combat feels exactly like its big brother and has the same setup as other mobile RPGs. The attacks feel heavy and powerful and really showcase the strength of your character. The bottom left corner is a spot for movement and the bottom right has the attack skills. Not counting the large attack button, there are four skill slots total. Flicking the attack skills up or down will “roll” to four more attack skill slots for a total of eight. There’s also a dedicated evade button.
The game isn’t perfect, though. I’m sad to report that there’s auto-combat. I really hoped Pearl Abyss wouldn’t include this feature. That said, at least there’s a happy medium here: Your character goes back to the original spot where you began, so it’s a lot more tame when compared to other games with auto-combat, and at least it’s not a full on auto-complete button as in Lineage Mobile.
The UI placement is awkward for me, and that’s a pretty big deal when it comes to phone games. The buttons are too small and super crowded. I couldn’t find any options to make the buttons bigger, either, so it was always so difficult to tap those buttons. Phone games just need that much more real estate to accommodate all the buttons. There was more than one occasion when I would accidentally use the wrong attack because I’d fat-finger it. I also couldn’t play for too long because after a certain point my hands started hurting and I had to turn on the auto combat just to stretch my hands out. How do the kids do it?
You know what could fix this problem? A Switch version. This game screams to be on the Switch. Make it happen, PA!
I really recommend giving it a shot when it officially releases on Android and iOS in North America and Europe in December, but there’s going to be a soft launch of the android version on the 24th for some select countries. If you live in one of those countries, give it a download, post pics below and make me jealous!