Completely overwhelmed, but armed with some years of MMO knowledge in my belt, I set off to adventure through the vast lands that Pearl Abyss’ Black Desert now offers on the Xbox One. Never having played an MMO on a console, I only had a tiny idea of what to expect knowing that my trusty mouse and keyboard wouldn’t be there to rely on.
When Black Desert Online was released for the PC in 2016, one of the main talking points revolved around the extensive character creation. I must admit, I downloaded the entire game just to see what all the buzz was about. Seemingly every detail that one could possibly want to mold their own perfect specimen was there before me, begging to get lost for hours in (without even starting the main game!). This is where my journey begins with the Xbox One port: humbly picking stunning gorgeous stock options for a dainty ranger. I did have the choice between a few other classes: warrior with its typical melee approach, berserker to follow, wizard, witch and sorceress, which rely on ranged attacks, or a mixture of both melee and ranged. I will later find out that there’s more classes offered on the PC’s Black Desert Online, and tell you reader, how very upset that made me. (Author’s note: there since has been a patch releasing four more classes, but sadly, still no kunoichi.)
Ranger/hunter types always draw me in for the first run of any MMO–a good way to find your feet, keep good distance between you and the enemy and in Black Desert’s case–look cute while doing it. After making sure my ranger lady was good to go (classes are genderlocked: all warriors are male, rangers are female, etc.), I dropped myself into the tutorial, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Spending the next half and hour or so running from point A to B, proving that I can move the camera and attack things with my bow, Black Desert released me into the wild…for better or for worse.
Watch the Black Desert gameplay launch trailer below:
Now, I fancy myself pretty resourceful when it comes to navigating menus and HUDs. The first thing that refused to be ignored was just how much of the screen is taken up by chat windows, quest windows, leaving a narrow space for your character. Sure, all to be expected, but my first move was to find a way to turn off general chat–which was a two day affair. This led me to one of my first conclusions about the Xbox One port–reaching a certain option for the game that feels like it should be straightforward, is usually not. Different button combinations (In the chat’s case, it was LT + left on the D-pad) aren’t obvious and there are so many different menus and wheels that as you’re trying to figure out how to turn said chat off, the screen can quickly become a scene from a 90’s computer pop-up nightmare. My biggest suggestion here if you’re new to Black Desert is to read the online Game Guide, particularly the parts about controls. It will make your life a whole lot easier.
Everything was going great now that I 86’d the chat window. The surroundings are beautiful–night and day come, smatterings of weather, rain trickling down to muddy puddles that seem to reflect the world. Black Desert’s beauty is breathtaking; from every character model to every blade of grass, it’s all a real treat to see. Getting around in Black Desert is fairly easy with a sprint that goes on top of an already quickly-paced run…so seeing everything and moving through it all happens to be a delight.
After a bit of exploring and completing the tail end of the tutorial quests, I found myself at a bit of a dead end. Summoning my Black Spirit (a suspicious little black ball that speaks to only you) gave me a few things to do…but then the quests stopped coming. Unsure of what to do with myself, I spent my time speaking to townsfolk and travelers that had a ‘?’ above their heads. Not to be confused with World of Warcraft’s famous quest hand-in ‘?’, this question mark is an indicator to speak with the person holding it to gain a rapport with them. The more you speak to people, the better they get to know you and the more they’ll tell you. Unfortunately, even running around like a madwoman speaking to well over 40+ people led me nowhere. I’m sure it’ll come in handy down the road, but the sinking feeling that I was on a fool’s errand was hard to ignore. I needed help.
Enter my dear friend Molly, an accomplished Black Desert Online player. To give a bit of background, Molly has always been the achievement hunter in multiple popular MMOs and knows their way around, absorbing into the flavour of the month. As I groveled for help, Molly agreed to guide me along, teach me the finer, more subtle points of Black Desert–aimed to give this noob a little bit of an upper hand. As it stood here, I was still running around getting myself into more trouble than my level 20 could handle, and doing it all in my starting clothes and bow.
Molly was keen to let me in on a few things: first off was the karma system that Black Desert works on. PVP becomes mandatory around level 50 (after a certain quest requires it), but what happens if you’re rolling around flagged before that? PVP and PVE players co-exist on the same servers, and if a player is feeling extra naughty, they can flag themselves for PVP and the game allows them to attack non-flagged players. If a PVP player kills said PVE player, they lose karma. In losing karma to the zero line, they glow bright red, can’t visit cities anymore (guards will pummel them) and important gems break in their armour when they die. The PVE player suffers an insignificant durability loss in their own armour and running back to wherever they were before they perished becomes the sole inconvenience.
I didn’t run into anyone pulling this stunt; Molly was quick to reassure my scoffing self that the karma system is pretty self regulating. The general feeling is that the penalties really outweigh the fun of simply trolling other players–mainly the inability to visit cities, as they’re extremely important hubs of activity. Make of that what you will–it exists as a way of life for Black Desert players, but in my many hours of play I never personally ran into it myself.
The skill system was next. Leveling allowed you skill points which are meant to be spent on the skills of your choosing. Pretty standard MMO stuff! The skills themselves are different physical moves with variations on those moves for more damage and fancy execution. I really appreciated the skill screen as it was well organised and gave you a demo of the skill itself visually. Very tidy and the moves themselves are actually pretty fun to do with an Xbox controller. If Black Desert is going to deviate from being an MMO, it’s right here in the combat: when you’re fighting enemies with all these different skills, there’s no 1, 2, 3’s to press over and over on your keyboard. You have to strategise as you constantly move and use everything at your disposal, leaving auto attacking out of the question. It’s engaging, fun and if environments are the crown achievement of Black Desert, combat sits on the throne beside it.
Upon purchasing Black Desert, there’s no subscription fee, but what’s the catch? As Molly informed me, “This is the first question you see in any BDO forum: is it pay to play?”. The Pearl Shop is readily available with exciting costumes, pets and other really appetising items–but do you HAVE to spend money there? “Pets are going to be first and foremost of importance if you’re looking to play Black Desert seriously in any capacity,” Molly sighed. With no option for auto loot, pets do the heavy lifting, becoming fluffy little auto looters of their own. They remove the tediousness of rummaging through every corpse that leaves a little glow behind. On the heels of the pets, comes the appearance editor. To revisit the screen to edit your character or dye their clothes, you have to get a special item that allows you access. While there’s no subscription fee involved, Molly wagged a finger, “Realistically, you’ll be spending around $15 on Pearls a month to squeeze all the goodies out from Black Desert.”
So after a brief walkthrough of menus, skills, and all around basics, the biggest question of all was ‘Why play on Xbox One and not PC?’ Was it for the novelty of an MMO being available on console? This is where another big explanation was delivered to me: “Playing on the Xbox servers is like breaking new ground. It takes months and months for people to become established players on PC.” This covers ground from being high in level, to being a known name on the general servers. The main message being the world is yours–ripe for the taking. Nobody has been there yet, be the first prints in the dirt. Perhaps this is why I didn’t see the uglier side of the karma system? New tends to mean exciting, fresh…but new also means inexperienced, and can suggest incompletion. Referencing the brief mention of sadness about the classes up there, the Xbox One port is missing a few notable classes, including the kunoichi class. When I realised that I was missing out on a full ninja class, my sadness almost couldn’t be contained. Sure, there’s a good chance that the Xbox One version will eventually include these missing bodies, but after pouring many, many hours into a ranger that I was still only half confident about, the notion of starting a new character created a hole in the bottom of my stomach as a little violin began to play in the background.
There’s a lot to take in here, so here’s a summary: Black Desert for Xbox One is very fun to play with the controller, very involved. There’s loads of confusion that will ensue trying to figure everything out, so have a friend that’s played Black Desert or an online guide handy to help. There’s still things missing in the Xbox One version, such as classes, but with fresh servers–if you’re looking for fame and fortune, now is your time to strike. Black Desert isn’t pay to play, but if you’re wanting to have a fairly smooth ride through, and enjoy the finer things, you’ll end up buying a few Pearls each month.
There it is, folks. I bow out with a recommendation if you’ve been interested in this title for some time. I can happily say that with the confidence that I’ll be logging in later today to get my daily reward and take out some monsters, because I believe the good does outweigh the bad in this case. Plus, everything is so ridiculously gorgeous to look at…
Publisher: Pearl Abyss Developer: Pearl Abyss Release Date: 4th March 2019 Reviewed On: Xbox One