The massively multiplayer role-playing (MMORPG) genre has grown stagnant the past few years, with companies still chasing the watered down cookie cutter experience of World of Warcraft. With Black Desert Online, Pearl Abyss has evolved the genre with action-focused combat, creating a sandbox experience that takes the genre back to the glory days.
Visually, Black Desert Online is a technological marvel, especially for the genre, with vibrant colors and the world that is bursting at the seam with life. Not only will you come across countless beasts and goblins to slaughter, but the world feels alive. Small critters run by your character out in the wild; traders travel between towns with wooden carts, and non-playable characters (NPCs) and children complete the atmospheric feeling in cities and towns.
The realistic weather system is robust and impacts the game more than adding only a layer of visual flair to an already gorgeous game. From torrential downpours with deadly lightning to actual hurricanes (a breathtaking sight) the weather plays an important component in the game. Rain can influence various weapons damage output, in both negative and positive ways, and you can forget about heating components for crafting in the rain.
Beware hunting beasts at night, as with the darkened sky enhances the power of all creatures, making them even deadlier in the process. That is also not taking in account that night in the game, is dark, really dark. If you aren’t using lanterns, you’ll only see blackness and shadowy, vague shapes moving in front of your eyes. If it wasn’t for the optional indicator arrows pointing you in the right direction for a quest, you might forever be lost in the wilderness, well, at least until daybreak.
I’ve always had an affinity for role-playing games that altered character appearances based on the gear you have equipped. Black Desert Online does not succeed in this department, as characters around the same level tend to look similar unless you are ready to shell out real money. For a game that has the most robust character creator in any game, the class limitations are a real bummer. Each class is locked to a very particular species and sex, so Wizards will always be a weathered Human while a Ranger or a Valkyrie is going to be a young female Human. As mentioned, the real-currency shop does allow you to purchase items and armor sets that have unique visual styles. Considering you’ll still have to purchase the game (at least in North America), as it is not free-to-play, it does raise a red flag for how much content will be restricted to micro-transactions.
Even after playing countless hours, the narrative in Black Desert Online is tough to grasp. The only saving grace, plots are generally the least important aspect of massively multiplayer online games. From the onset, you are awakened by a black whisp with a thirst for power. Only you can see it, and it helps guide you throughout your journey. In typical MMO fashion, you’ll be receiving quests from NPCs. As you progress, you’ll gain knowledge naturally by defeating foes, exploring the world, and interacting with NPCs. Knowlege is essential and unique to Black Desert Online. For example, knowledge from defeating monsters is graded from C up to S rank. The more you kill the same type of creature, like wolves, for example, the better loot drops become, and the more damage can be dealt. It does require a ton of grinding to reach the top rank, but if you already are committed to playing Black Desert Online, you might as well go all in. In fact, you won’t even see health bars until you kill enough to reach the lowest rank.
Another system that must be managed is called Amity, and it can unlock unique quests and knowledge from certain NPCs. For some reason, developer Pearl Abyss has decided to build a system that may not always show you what the requirements for all Amity unlock. On numerous occasions, I had to use external websites to figure out what I was missing or needed. With multiple systems in play with each other, it would have been nice if they were explained in an easy to understand fashion in-game.
The node management system is complex, yet so awarding once you learn the inner workings of properly connecting multiple nodes. Strewn across the map are nodes that can be connected using contribution points. Once connected, you can assign workers to gather resources from the resource nodes and deliver them for you. Location nodes, such as the starting cities and towns that you’ve discovered are a good starting point for creating trade routes.
Unlike other massively multiple games, Black Desert Online has a thoroughly satisfying combat mechanic, more akin to an action game than an RPG. It requires precision and those that take the time to learn the best positioning and timing for various skills will have a better experience with the game. Combos require players to use a very specific sequence of skills, similar to the prerequisites for higher level skills in Final Fantasy XIV. Outside of combat, there is plenty of other time-consuming activities, such as farming and fishing. Fishing, my favorite noncombat activity, can be accomplished actively through a minigame, as well as idling if you want to multitask.
Black Desert Online succeeds as a sandbox massively multiplayer online game with deep character customization, and a combat system that rivals most action oriented games. The world feels alive, and is a visual marvel as well, just don’t expect anything revolution regarding story telling.
Note: The Black Desert Online review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided for review purposes.