Porting Black Desert Online to portable devices is far from an enviable task. Nonetheless, Pearl Abyss rolled up its sleeves and got to work, its confidence boosted by the commendable player base of the PC game and the lack of full-fledged MMORPGs on mobile. Black Desert Mobile may be on the forefront of a new wave of good mobile MMOs that could also include Blade and Soul 2 and Aion 2, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The most pressing question right now is probably if Black Desert Mobile is the same game as Black Desert Online. The answer is the rather ambiguous yes, but not quite. While both games share the classes, stylish combat, locations and a hefty part of the storyline, there are substantial differences, some of them driven by the limitations of mobile devices, but others clearly designed to deliver new challenges for Black Desert newcomers and veterans alike.
The colossal success in Korea and Japan is big indication that there is a demand for real mobile MMORPGs. The number of downloads and revenue considerably surpassed the numbers of the PC game, and the global launch is bound to increase those figures tenfold. And it should, because Black Desert Mobile is a remarkable game, and being free-to-play surely helps.
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When compared to the current 17 classes from Black Desert Online, the paltry five that Black Desert Mobile features at launch is somewhat disappointing. Your choice is limited to a few fan-favorites such as the Ranger, Warrior, and Giant (for some reason the new name for the Berserker class), joined by the Witch and Valkyrie, a couple of classes that weren’t part of the initial PC line-up. Additional classes are in the works, as well as their respective awakenings, but you have to manage with the starting group for now.
On the other hand, the character creation returns in all its glory. All the features that we know and love from the acclaimed PC customization system are present, with no compromises getting in the way of making a remarkable or horrible hero, depending on what you’re going for. You can pick from a few presets to begin with, but then you have a boundless character creation playground at your fingertips. You can change anything from hairstyle, length, and curliness, and meticulously alter the shape of the lips and eyes, right down to the color of the pupil, iris, and lens. Every limb of the body can be adjusted to your liking, resulting in a character that is as original as the effort that you place into it.
There is a noticeable ambition driving the team behind Black Desert Mobile. The game does its best not to cut corners and is most likely pushing the capabilities of mobile devices to the max. However, it would be impossible to fit the huge open world of the PC game into this hardware without making some compromises.
To navigate the open world of Black Desert Mobile, you’ll have to logically endure some loading screens. While this may sound like an annoying issue, the game is structured in such way as to avoid bothering you with constant interruptions. Your journey will take you across several regions, but unless you choose to make a detour to complete side quests and other activities, you should be making progress smoothly. In rare occasions, a mission will require an additional loading, taking you through a short dungeon quest run, usually ending up with a boss fight.
Boss dungeon tickets allow you to take another shot at bosses that you have already defeated. The increasing difficulty will yield you better rewards, making these a nice option when you’re looking for some extra loot.
Black Desert Mobile offers a more condensed take on the world where the nations of Calpheon and Valencia are at war. The map may not be as intuitive to navigate as before, due to the lack of landmarks and the somewhat cluttered interface that is a trait of the platform, but the environment is more focused and was redesigned for handheld devices. You won’t be able to tell one forest from the others, but some of the main towns return with their original layout or close – Velia, Heidel, and Serendia come to life with familiar houses and dwellers, although the streets are evidently less busy.
The alluring prospect of traveling to a new and exciting town is curbed by the need to obtain a region pass. This requirement can be fulfilled by completing five tasks among a broad selection and won’t slow you down for long. It may be fishing, logging or taking down a few creatures, but it feels more accessory than challenging.
Thankfully for a mobile game expected to deliver short playing sessions, traveling between regions isn’t something that takes considerable effort. Unlike the PC version where you had to keep your mount close, in Black Desert Mobile your trusty stead is always there in spirit, ready to show up at the sound of a whistle. Besides, there are some handy teleports scattered through the land, saving you several minutes of running between regions.
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Black Desert Mobile doesn’t include a housing system, or at least as we know it. The trade-off is a refreshing take on the city-building genre, a bite-sized one for sure, but no expenses were spared in order to make it genuinely feel like an essential part of the game.
At level 10, you unlock your camp. This is much more than a simple housing system, being a separate area that you can teleport to anytime. You have a few buildings to begin with, but there is an interesting additional selection offering different functions that tie in with your character development. For example, you can build an alchemy lab to concoct your own health potions, something that comes in handy considering the pace at which you’ll gobble these up. The town hall is the centerpiece of the camp and needs to be upgraded if you want to unlock other facilities or expand the area, but it also regularly provides you with silver to keep this micro-economy going. The refinery is another crucial building, creating black stones that you use for enhancing your gear, but more on that later.
You can look around your camp or switch to a more convenient top-down view when you need to have a general idea of the layout. You’ll easily spot all the buildings and their progress, choose the location for the new constructions, watch your little workers moving around like busy bees or acting lazy, and conveniently make your decisions just like you would in any city-building game.
To make this place work, you need workers by your side. The pub is where you go to hire them, because apparently this is where lowlife and lazy guys enjoy spending most of their days. You have a choice between three workers, each one with their unique stats and hiring fee, but you can spend a bit of stamina to refresh the offer if you don’t fancy any of them.
Lodging and food are required to keep a balanced and confident workforce, and you’ll occasionally need to cheer them up or discipline them to keep things at bay. After all, they are essential to construct and upgrade the buildings, make the potions, and gather all the different resources that you need to help your camp thrive. You can dispatch your workers into the wilderness to gather resources such as wood, rocks or food, but it’s advised not to send them all at the same time, as you may need a couple of hands on deck.
Some of the buildings are unlocked as you upgrade your Town Hall and other facilities as requested, but others such as the Dye Workshop will only be available as you progress in the campaign, unlock regions, and defeat bosses. As you have probably inferred already, this is a facility where you can choose palettes for your armor and even craft your own outfit if you own the resources.
The camp is much more than a mere distraction in Black Desert Mobile; this is a cleverly designed replacement for the housing system, a rich minigame that comes with its own appeal. This also increases your interest in life skill activities such as fishing, logging, mining, farming, trading, and foraging, as the resources that you acquire will contribute to your camp’s growth, and consequently to your own.
The enhancement system in Black Desert Mobile is different from the PC version. You enhance your weapons and gear using black stones of various grades, adding them until you reach a percentage that gives you a reasonable success rate. If you fail, you won’t lose or damage your gear, as there is no durability stat in this version; however, you can say goodbye to the black stones used in the failed enchantment. You can also socket crystals and transfer enhancements from one item to another, which means that your black stones aren’t entirely going to waste.
While Black Desert Mobile doesn’t hit the complexity of the PC game, it is in a league of its own when compared to the current mobile offering. It has so much to see and do that you’ll barely scratch the surface of it during the first days. World bosses, team events, your camp… there is a lot to keep you busy as you grow your character and suspect of the black spirit’s devious intentions.
Speaking of the black spirit, your (un)faithful guide in this journey, he is a resourceful little fellow, capable of leveling up and giving you boosts, turning unwanted items into dark energy. One of his most interesting abilities can be activated when you exit the game – the black spirit mode allows you to choose to hunt, gather or fish while offline, often returning to a nice package of resources the next time that you log in.
Combat in Black Desert Mobile is quite an achievement, pulling all the stops in order to do justice to the original game. It’s fast-paced, flashy, sometimes to the point where you can barely keep track of what is going on, and the upgradable skills provide enough variety. It’s a system where player skill comes into play, were it not for the controversial decision of adding auto-combat to the game.
I’m on the verge where it comes to auto-pathing; I understand that it is a necessary compromise for games where you want to play a few minutes at a time. However, Black Desert Mobile could entirely do without auto-combat, because the system is so well-realized and compelling that it just feels like a tacked-on feature to follow conventions and appease a casual crowd. I could see it being added to repeatable dungeons, but not as a default feature that is impossible to ignore. Considering that most players see MMORPGs nowadays as a sprint to the level cap, what is the motivation for someone not to use auto-combat? Ultimately it comes down to personal taste, but without this feature, Black Desert Mobile would be one step closer to being considered the true mobile MMORPG.
Thankfully, there are a few rare instances where auto-combat is entirely disabled. Elite boss missions are one of these occasions, so you’ll have to resort to your skills, timing, and the ever-important combat power rating to progress. PvP modes also force you to prove your might all by yourself, so there’s that.
Trying to cram a full PC MMORPG inside a phone isn’t an easy task, but at least Pearl Abyss tried to make the most of it. Contrary to other games that take the easy route, this is a complex game with tons of depth and activities. In that regard, there are very few games like it. The inclusion of the camp perfectly narrows it down – it feels superficial and unnecessary at first, but it turns out to be a clever and significant addition to the game.
While Black Desert Mobile feels like a solo-friendly MMO during most of the early game, later you’ll find yourself delving into the multiplayer side of it. The 1v1 and 3v3 PvP are good distractions, and the same can be said of the co-op dungeons and world bosses.
However, the MMO side of things truly shines when you join a guild and participate in node wars. Dozens of players running around and fighting in massive scale warfare is surely what most of you are looking forward to. It becomes hectic, but that is to be expected.
Graphics / Sound: 9/10
The proprietary engine built specifically for Black Desert Mobile delivers one of the best-looking mobile MMORPGs ever. The close-up shots of your character are ridiculously beautiful, but the overall game just looks stunning, with environments that are rich and detailed. Weather effects are part of it as well, with heavy rain and brilliant lightning effects adding to the immersion.
The downside of this is that you are in for some heavy pop-in issues, as trees and grass suddenly fall into place. It’s a disconcerting effect that you end up getting used to, but it’s impossible to ignore.
The epic orchestral score is beyond criticism, most of it lifted straight from the PC game. It’s a memorable soundtrack that fits perfectly with the high fantasy theme. There is a surprising amount of voice over in the game, with dozens of characters voicing their troubles, and most of it is good work. Nonetheless, there were at least a couple of NPCs whose voices verged on the ridicule, almost sounding like a satire in such a serious game.
Value for Money: 9/10
While you have to purchase Black Desert Online on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, Black Desert Mobile is a free-to-play game. It features high production values and is filled to the brim with options and in-game rewards, but a cash shop is always waiting around the corner. The majority of the microtransactions concerns convenience and cosmetic items, such as costumes, additional pets, and inventory space, among others.
You can comfortably enjoy Black Desert Mobile without spending any cash, but if you want to focus on PvP and remain competitive, you’d better have some deep pockets because this is where all that so-called convenience ties in.
Black Desert Mobile isn’t just a good rendition of the PC game; it stands out on as its own thing, with relentless ambition and a clear vision as its driving forces. It looks stunning, has tons of depth and freedom of choice, accommodating both solo and MMO players, and the package is nicely tied together by a solid combat system that should ask players to manually master it. If you’re looking for the best mobile MMORPG, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Amazing character customization
Impressive combat system
Clever camp feature
Huge open world
Hectic guild wars
Tons of depth
Only five classes at launch