After devoting many years of my life to a certain insanely popular MMO and dabbling in several others, I realized that productivity required me to leave that life behind. I’m wary of any new game that looks like it could pull me back in but I’ve always wanted to see what a really good massive multiplayer experience on a console would look like. Enter Black Desert on the Xbox One. Black Desert has existed on PC and even mobile for some time, but Pearl Abyss are now looking to conquer the console market.
You might have heard of Black Desert through the praise that its character creator receives. Before making an avatar though, you have to come up with a Family Name. This chosen surname is shared between all of the player’s characters and allows certain things to be passed to all your characters. The best example of this is knowledge. If you kill certain enemy types enough, you become more efficient at killing them, and this ability is passed on to all who share the name. Still, you might have to creative with the family names; most of my ideas were taken.
So many games boast about their character customization but Black Desert has a reason to gloat. Some real depth is present for those willing to take the time, with the ability to make avatars beautiful, monstrous, or just keep it simple and change the hair color and sizes of various body parts. There are a lot of little things to modify and parts to manipulate, but all of that work is just for the player, as most of it is hard to see during the actual gameplay. However, it’s a little odd that these classes are gender locked for a system that otherwise encourages freedom of creativity.
Visually this may be the best MMO out there, especially running on a console. The world is inviting and looks smooth with some delightful lighting, water, and weather effects. There weren’t many real spectacles, like unique set pieces or monuments, but it was rare to be visually bored. The longer I played the more I saw some odd darkness in areas that it didn’t belong as well as textures that looked like they weren’t glued on quite right in the bigger towns.
There are a lot of particle effects going off at most times, a large number of pop-ins, and some framerate issues. Granted, this was running on an original Xbox One and it’s been noted that some of these issues are lessened by playing on a One X, but there are always going to be some small hiccups with having an expansive open world.
The UI has a few issues, particularly when the chat is lively and world messages are popping up, making everything feel cluttered. Why do I need to know every time someone puts an item up on the marketplace or guilds are doing something? The UI also cut off some of the screen, which I thought was my television at first until others noted they were having a problem with it too. It’s all a bit messy visually with only a few ways to get rid of obstructions. Turning off the chat is a big help, though it seems like that option was a more recent addition.
Handling the game is a mixed bag as the controller feels good in combat but lacks in what should be easy movements. Simple walking, riding on a horse, navigating menus or the inventory and trying to turn the character or camera precisely can be a struggle. Many of these smaller actions feel like they were designed directly for PC use and not given much attention when being applied here.
A more in-depth tutorial would have been appreciated too, as much of the early combat involves testing it out in the field and discovering new things almost accidentally. This game doesn’t explain much and barely scratches the basics before encouraging the player to move on. Having some of the guides from the PC version to hand proved to be a godsend, as I would have been severely lost on many of the side activities.
The combat itself feels smooth and responsive. There are several basic attacks that feel like they offer the player a bit of versatility, with more advanced special attacks building upon that. Like a well-oiled fighting game, this system gives slightly different attacks by adding in different movements. Instead of simply hitting RB, you can pull back on the left stick and get a slower but more effective move.
This system gives more choice and operates as a combo system almost for those who learn their class well. There’s plenty of depth to this system and not using a lock-on makes it feel freer. It’s a tight experience, though the camera can be a bit of a pain. It’s prone to snapping oddly and is horrible when trying to navigate indoors or doing the rare platforming portions. There’s already a lot to keep an eye on and the camera isn’t going to help matters.
Following the quests has never been easier though. They’re mostly straight forward and when highlighted have a GPS to show where to go, and only a handful pose the problem of what to do once arrived. They are standard fare, always asking the player to deliver something, talk to someone, or usually kill a select number of mobs. This rarely changes, save for the summoned bosses, as the game has no dungeons or instance-like scenarios.
It’s difficult not to audibly sigh when asked to go kill seventy-five Naga for seemingly no reason, but it’s the easiest way to get through the early levels, so it’s hard to complain. Some missions rely on randomness when collecting or killing enemies, which can last a minute as the RNG is rarely smiling on the player. There’s a ton of backtracking, but some of the main quests can thankfully be turned in wherever the player chooses to thanks to the Black Spirit that accompanies the character.
The setup feels straight out of an anime with the small and mysterious Black Spirit giving the protagonist part of its power and acting as a portable quest giver and guide. The lore here about the evil that was encroaching and the political issues of the land is almost good. Almost. It’s a nice foundation but it is easy to stop caring and just skip over much of the reasons for why and just focus on what needs killing.
NPCs do speak a good bit with some (mostly) passable voice acting, but the quest givers do tend to repeat the same lines on a regular basis. No one will blame you if you start skipping it. At least the soundtrack is pretty good though, enough that I didn’t resort to my Spotify playlist too much. There are a couple of rocking tracks in some areas.
If quests aren’t that exciting, there is PVP and other activities, with Black Desert focusing more on the player versus player than solo content after leveling. The game has life skills, like cooking, fishing, and various crafting, that all seem extensive enough to keep someone busy for quite a while, but these might be harder on the Xbox if players can’t AFK with them, letting them game work for them when away. Like the combat, a lot of these concepts and the node system are not explained and will require a small guide to be effective with.
Players can get their own houses though as well as boats, farms and a few other things that will keep collectors interested, but unfortunately, like many games in the genre, once the leveling stops the rest can begin to feel like a chore. Hitting the level cap might just be the cutoff point for the majority of players.
A few other small things help Black Desert to standout and hinder it. One of the first noticeable things was that a player’s mount can actually be killed by mobs—which happened more than I want to admit. However, it did change the way I approached combat slightly. Somehow though I dumped it into a river and the thing didn’t drown, but just looked vexed at me from underwater. There are also pets that do boost stats and gather loot, but most of these have to be bought.
As most would expect there’s a lot to spend real money on here in the Pearl Shop. Everything from clothes, the aforementioned pets and time-saving items are sold as well as various other materials, making parts of this game feel pay to win. Obviously, these things are available in a few other ways, but all of those seem to require massive amounts of grinding in one form or another.
Making silver felt easy but one look at the marketplace shows just how expensive things truly are. I had little issue with gathering loot and managing the inventory—when items would actually drop— even though spaces need to be unlocked, but hated the way worn gear is slotted and shown. There are so many better ways to display that.
I did have some issues while playing. One of the first real quests the player receives asks the hero to go kill imps, but I wasn’t receiving credit for it. I didn’t realize this at first since it was so early on and eventually had to drop the quest and do it all over again. I also saw several enemies stuck in rocks and a few helpful NPCs in other objects or glitching back and forth across a room. The lag wasn’t too big of an issue but it did get me killed once.
Most of these issues will likely get fixed though, as the team at Pearl Abyss seems to be staying on top of things even though they are stretched across platforms. It is 2019, so of course, we have a roadmap of the game’s coming features, and it looks flush for sure. This version may only start with six classes but four more will be added soon as well as a new area, so they’re already moving quickly to port over content from the PC version.
I enjoyed Black Desert for the first few hours but quickly had a falling out with its lack of substance. It feels disjointed at times, like there is no connecting tissue between quests or finding the other activities. I’m not sure Black Desert has the character to keep casual players long-term and caters more to those who are into running the numbers and making the grind, and this might be one of the most grind intensive MMOs I’ve seen.
For those players who may not have a great computer and would like to try something in the genre on their Xbox, Black Desert will be cool (for a bit at least), but otherwise, the PC version fixes some of the small problems. Still, that doesn’t take away from what is otherwise a successful port of a large MMO to consoles.