Back in the day, MMO games seldom released on consoles, mainly due to a lack of proper online services. Sure, there were exceptions like Phantasy Star Online and Final Fantasy XI, but other than that, they were mostly for PC players to enjoy. So whenever I read about such games in magazines, I always looked at them in awe: “Wow, you can play with real people?!”. Well, some could, but I — a console peasant — could not. Nonetheless, nowadays we have established services like Xbox Live and PSN, and so technical limitations of the past no longer present a problem. And at this point, Black Desert enters the growing scene of MMO experiences on Xbox One.
In Black Desert, you begin by choosing one of the six available classes: warrior, ranger, sorceress, berserker, wizard, and witch. Each class comes with its own style and abilities, but with six character slots, you always have an opportunity to try every single one. During character creation, you can customise various aspects of your new avatar, including name, voice appearance, and even horoscope. And choosing from one of the fictional zodiac signs affects your Amity with NPCs later on.
Aside from that, I didn’t notice things of particular interest, even after exploring the multitude of options. I enjoyed customising my character’s hair, with the ability to alter the dye and length of separate parts. Giving my avatar a haircut in the shape and colour of a flame was more fun than I expected. But longer beards don’t look that good; like something died on a character’s face and then merged with it.
Afterwards, you may take a picture of your creation, share and have it rated by other players. And if you don’t feel like spending a substantial amount of time creating, you can simply choose from already created avatars. Which I wish I knew before spending two hours on customisation alone.
Once you feel satisfied with the way your character looks, the story of Black Desert begins. And let me say that it comes up short to any expectations you might harbour. Your hero wakes up in a tent with no recollection of events leading up to that. Possessed by a mysterious black spirit, he or she must work with various entities — political, private or otherwise — to learn more about the past and the spirit itself. This involves undertaking quests of various natures, and developing your character in the meantime.
This story by itself wouldn’t be such a letdown perhaps, if not for the bland narrative and absolutely generic characters. All of them, be it regular tradesmen or pivotal figures of the plot, come off as boring and forgettable.
They lack proper backstory and often introduce themselves without any intriguing context. Am I just supposed to know who they are? Or care about their motivations? And why is the princess so grumpy? Was last night really that bad? They all feel equally generic and often annoyingly repeat the same phrase while you read through the quest description. Yes, Bobby Lauren, I know that “Isobelle won’t be holding her head high for long” after hearing you say it for the 50th time.
Listening to them becomes even more frustrating due to the rather sub-par voice acting. It ain’t bad per se, just mediocre, which further takes away from interactions with them. Especially as you desperately try to learn more about what they require. Furthermore, their lips seldom sync with their dialogue, characters often glitch and stutter while you speak with them, and their hair weirdly changes colour.
By interacting with other characters or the black spirit, you gain access to different quests. And these quests don’t shine with creativity either; most of them revolve around “bring me this” or “kill an X amount of that”. After completing several dozen, I felt like I kept doing the same thing over and over again. And the absence of any engaging context further accentuated this disappointment. After getting sent to kill imps for who knows what time, I began to question the very purpose of my existence. This remains true for side-quests as well.
Completing them often rewards you with loot and cool armour which you may customise by changing the colour of the various pieces. And I must say, armour and outfits do look quite awesome in Black Desert on Xbox One. As you tick-off these quests, particularly the main ones, the black spirit evolves into a more advanced form. And this process gradually reveals additional details about its purpose, as well as your own role in all of it.
But story aside, Black Desert fares much better. Though it would be nearly impossible to describe every aspect of this game without investing at least several dozen hours. And even then I would barely scratch the surface. With so many things to do, see — and become — I couldn’t possibly do it justice. So, instead, I will tell of my experiences within its vast and colourful world, what I encountered during this visit, and whether or not you should consider joining its growing population.
Populated by thousands of live players, even with the lacklustre NPCs, the vast world of Black Desert feels bustling. In a good sense of the word. Towns resound with the rattling of horse carriages and musicians envelop your visit with cheerful tunes. Other players interact with the same quest givers and participate in the same battles as you. They converse with each other, run their own errands and sometimes — their own enterprise. Some players farm for specific materials to produce a product and then sell it off for profit. I noticed beer to be in particularly high demand. As ridiculous as it may seem, but this world draws some subtle correlations with real life.
Some players may choose to do the main quest-line, but equally as often, you will encounter the opposite. Many decide to relax and fish by the seaside or next to a river. Once again, perhaps for some profit or to simply cook a delicious meal. Others will set sail towards a nearby island with no particular goal in mind, just a simple desire to explore.
More importantly — nothing holds you back from doing the same. Sure, you might be intrigued by the black spirit (probably not) and where its story will lead you, but you don’t have to follow this predetermined path.
Like in our own often wondrous world, you might decide to try your hand at being a fisherman, but you will miss out on what it’s like to be a soldier. Likewise, you might decide to travel the world on your boat, but forego the experience of settling down at a small farm in the countryside. Of course, you can eventually try your hand at all of these things, but some of them will engage your attention more than others. Hence the appropriate tagline: “Become your True Self”. Naturally, I’m dramatising somewhat, but only to give you an idea of what to expect from this journey.
Regardless of what you decide to do, almost every action in Black Desert feels rewarding. Discovering new locales and people grants knowledge and provides you with more information on them. Defeating enemies ranks up your knowledge of them and, subsequently, makes it easier to kill them.
Fishing, swimming and even gathering valuable resources like herbs develop skills in their respective categories. But characters possess limited inventory space and eventually, those fish and herbs take up the last free slot. Not to mention weapons and armour. Carrying so much loot becomes cumbersome after a while and you may just purchase a thing or two to assist your endeavours. Within towns, you can acquire horses, carriages, and even pets to partner up with. But it doesn’t end there.
Every town in Black Desert acts as a node, which you can activate with contribution points. These points accumulate from completing quests and assisting townspeople. Grand cities, smaller towns and even tiny villages offer the ability to trade, purchase real estate or develop a flourishing business. By investing in these nodes, you can open trade routes via connecting adjacent cities, or purchase storage units for equipment. You can even hire workers to gather resources for you. At a small farm, these might be crops and wood, but they vary from location to location. Keep your workforce content and they will reward you with a steady income.
But if you begin to feel lonesome during these ventures, consider joining a clan or guild, or even creating your own. Going on quests with a party of comrades at your side might be more entertaining. And you can participate in guild wars or PvP combat as well.
The in-game chat provides a place for anyone to voice their opinion or ask veteran players for advice. Conversations include topics like how to obtain a specific item, which guild to join and, of course, your mother. And even GMs tend to frequent the chat to answer any outstanding queries directly. Should you deem the chat as intrusive, it can be turned off at any time.
Black Desert does look beautiful at times, though it won’t blow your mind visually. With vast green fields, luscious forests, peaceful mountainous areas, blue waters stretching all the way into the distance, and many more, it does offer a substantial amount of landscape variety. And the map itself presents an overwhelming amount of scale, which should be expected from a game of this genre. If not for the poor draw distance and textures often taking forever to load, it would be even better. But it could be due to my internet connection, so take that last sentence with a grain of salt.
Moving away from towns and you will inevitably encounter monsters, fighting them for valuable experience and loot. By holding the attack button (RB) your character will continuously pummel the foe with basic attacks, depending on the chosen class. Additional combat-related skills join your repertoire as you level up and earn skill points. They diversify combat by requiring you to perform different inputs to unleash skills and can be assigned to shortcuts in the ring menu. Playing as a warrior, for instance, you develop abilities of swift thrusts with the sword or defence-shattering bashes with the shield.
Unfortunately, combat seldom presents a challenge or requires you to rely on anything but the most basic of moves. I never felt endangered or in need to retreat, even during boss battles. And I seldom saw my life total drop low enough to justify using a health potion. Moreover, enemies and structures constantly respawn, robbing you of the sense of accomplishment. Defeat an enemy, turn away and ten seconds later it stands at the very same spot. Foes don’t present themselves as too smart, either. Often, you might stand right next to them and they won’t even flinch.
Whether during exploration or combat, Black Desert accompanies events with some rather pleasant music. While running through fields and forests, you’ll hear some serene orchestral compositions, with added pace when climbing a mountain, for instance. During combat, the music intensifies; often even too much. On some occasions, it changes to metal which feels out of place, pulling you from the experience, but overall, it complements the game quite well. And I dare you to discover one of the in-game compositions clearly inspired by the theme from Saw movies.
Black Desert could be an incredible MMO experience, but the lacklustre story, uninspiring quests, overly bland characters and the low difficulty of combat drag it down quite a bit. Should these drawbacks not deter you, then visiting its expansive and colourful world might be worth it. You might enjoy hours of serene fishing at a riverbank or becoming a tycoon of a specific niche. Perhaps you will enjoy gathering a party of friends, or complete strangers, to slay a boss. Who knows, you might even meet your one true love in the sorceress “GamerChick69” who later turns out to be a dude. And with constant updates and live events, it may just be the world you are looking for. So go out there, and make your parents proud.