Black Desert Review

Pearl Abyss’ MMO “Black Desert Online” launched on PC in Korea, Japan and Russia in 2015, and has since garnered a cult-following across the globe for its unique take on the MMORPG genre. Now that it’s making the jump to consoles for the first time (and renamed “Black Desert”), is it worth diving into?

Right from the jump, it’s obvious that Black Desert is a truly beautiful game. With impressive use of HDR (on Xbox One S and Xbox One X), as well as the option for a 4K resolution on Xbox One X consoles, the varied locales pop off the screen. Compared to the decidedly less impressive visuals of genre stalwart World of Warcraft, Black Desert feels like somewhat of a revelation. There are castles, forests, woodland and coastal towns all ripe for exploration – frame rate issues aside.

Compared to console ports of other MMOs, Black Desert is surprisingly easy to navigate. Quests and objectives are well signposted throughout, while the pause menu’s “Quest” tab ensures you’re never unsure of what to do next. In conjunction with a detailed and easily accessible map, it feels closer to a single-player RPG in many aspects – there are dozens of NPCs littered throughout its towns, many of which are voiced and have stories to tell, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore off the beaten path.

These UI sensibilities carry through into every facet of Black Desert to make it a streamlined MMO. Radial menus allow for accessing items on-the-fly, and being able to equip items with a single button press make shuffling around inventory items feel like a relic of the past.

These things are arguably more important in Black Desert than in its contemporaries as combat takes place entirely in real-time. Attacks are thrown at enemies with a combination of shoulder buttons and face buttons, and while it isn’t quite Dark Souls earning abilities to take into combat feels responsive throughout. That holds true whether you’re swinging a sword, bashing with a shield, or throwing fireballs.

It’s a good job combat is engaging, because you’ll be doing a lot of it. As an MMO, Black Desert features many intensive “grind” quests – particularly in the early game. The standard “go here, kill “X” number of creatures” identikit quests make up a lot of the game’s first few hours, but it soon unspools to reveal a world (and characters) worth sticking with. Unfortunately, the quest structure doesn’t evolve too much, but at least the added context helps explain why so many creatures need to be killed.

Black Desert’s central conflict between the “Republic of Calpheon” and “Kingdom of Valencia” is almost swimming in fantasy tropes, but its presentation within the game’s engine makes it feel more alluring than many MMO plot-lines. Voice acting errs on the side of hammy, but for the most part it’s a fun, fantasy ride full of silliness.

Thankfully, if the main story-line doesn’t hold your interest, Black Desert operates in a similar role-playing sandbox to something akin to Elite Dangerous. Want to go hunt big monsters for rewards? Or would you rather play as a merchant, buying and crafting items to sell? Even becoming a fisherman is a viable trade, and a strangely therapeutic one at that.

Upon reaching level 40, players can also engage in PVP battles, although this system seems surprisingly poorly thought out. By engaging PVP, players can hunt down other players, even those not set to fight. Thankfully, griefers will be targeted by high level NPCs if they push things too far, but it feels strange not to confine the entire thing to an arena of sorts.

Another key aspect of Black Desert that has captured the attentions of millions of players worldwide is its deep customization suite, and this remains intact following the jump to consoles. With six character classes to choose from (disappointingly gender-locked, at least for now), each aspect of a character’s appearance can be tweaked to an impressive degree – right down to their facial animations and voice. It still lags behind the PC version’s seventeen character classes, but with any luck the console version can be built on in time.

Feature parity is promised in updates from Pearl Abyss, but the current version lags behind the options afforded to PC players. Perhaps this is to be expected after three years’ worth of quality of life and content additions, but reviewing the game as it is (or any game of this type) feels like it needs a qualifier stating this could all change from one week to the next. For now, there are areas of the map that need to be added, new world events, and more – alongside the aforementioned classes.

Black Desert’s price of admission is also impressively low. The game is available for $9.99 for the base game, and features no monthly subscription. As you’d imagine, this does lead to micro-transactions playing a part, but throughout my many hours of gameplay I didn’t feel swayed to purchase anything (outside of a reminder when first logging in). Real money can buy premium cosmetics, pets (that help with looting areas quickly), and an increased inventory space. While these are certainly conveniences that could prove useful, none stand out as giving a competitive advantage. This could all change, however, so your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

Black Desert won’t be to everybody’s tastes, and does little to push the MMO genre forward. With that said, it does streamline the experience into a more familiar shell, its real-time combat and impeccable UI tweaks helping it fit onto a console with the minimal of fuss. Its quest structure is lacking in variation, and it doesn’t have the complex characters of The Witcher 3, but it’s a world that is great to explore with friends, with the promise of more to come.

This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.
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Good
  • Beautiful visuals.
  • Plenty of ways to experience the world.
  • Fun combat.
Bad
  • Poorly separated PVP component.
  • Lacking in quest variety.
  • Missing a lot of pieces of the PC version (although these are coming).
8.5
Great
Gameplay - 8.5
Graphics - 8.5
Audio - 8.5
Longevity - 8.5
Written by
I've been playing video games for almost 25 years, but escaping the Pillar of Autumn began my love affair with shooters. I can usually be found in Destiny, PUBG or FIFA. Follow me here - @lloydcoombes

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