I’m no stranger to MMOs. Most of the big games, as well as a great many smaller or more obscure, I’ve played. I’m the stereotypical “MMO hopper” — I jump between and cycle through MMOs on a consistent basis. When I get bored of one, I move on to a new one or resubscribe to or reinstall one I’ve already sunk a good deal of time into. Most recently, I’ve been playing Star Wars: The Old Republic (because come on! Star Wars!), and before that it was TERA, and before it Star Trek Online… I think you get the picture. The point is, it’s one of my favorite genres, and I’ve had an eye on Black Desert Online for quite some time.
Initially, what drew me in were screenshots and talks of extreme character customization on a level that is unheard in video games. As I did research, I became more interested in its apparent sandbox nature and “go anywhere” philosophy that nearly every mainstream MMO shies away from at the first opportunity: it’s extremely difficult to generate meaningful, compelling content that is digestible in an open-world format when your world is as big as, say, World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. What kept me interested, though, was its focus on more action-oriented, skill-based combat. Many MMOs have done this successfully before — TERA is a good example — but few feel like anything more than the developer took a traditional hot-bar MMO and reworked the combat a bit to incorporate dodging and attacking with the left mouse button. Black Desert promised true, character-driven action combat, and in many ways, it delivers. Combat doesn’t really get old, and leaping into battle with a series of blinding kicks and acrobatics supplemented by my sorceress’ magic attacks is extremely satisfying.
Speaking of the character customization, holy wow. You can customize -every- facet of your character, from individual cheekbone structure to how saggy the buttocks are. It’s absurd. Every part of your character’s body has panels that you can just grab and freely drag around, and it’s kind of incredible the depth of customization that exists here. I spent literally three or four hours one afternoon creating the perfect character, only to do the tutorial and then spend three more hours creating another character of a different class to do it all over again. It should be said that Black Desert’s character and clothing design is on point; everything meshes together extraordinarily well and even wacky colors don’t seem super out of place. It’s also gorgeous. Like, wow. Even setting aside the great art design, Black Desert is a technical powerhouse that gives a lot of AAA games that came out this year a run for their money. Instead of using Unreal Engine 4, or CryEngine 3, developer Pearl Abyss deemed it necessary to create their own engine from scratch, and it shows. Even in beta, Black Desert is incredibly well optimized, and looks absolutely incredible.
The beginning of the game is standard MMO fare, with a Zelda twist: your character is guided through the tutorial on how to use potions, attack things, etc. by a black spirit (while you level up extremely fast — I doubt this is anything but a beta feature) who has mostly boilerplate dialogue — all of which is in text, and of which there is A LOT — but which occasionally surprised me with weird meta-commentary on the genre, such as the ethical concern of butchering wolves for fun and profit. Carrying out these quests is an incredibly accessible task, which is a nice contrast with most Asian MMOs that aren’t huge in the western market, which tend to be extremely dense and require actually reading quest text (Not that reading things is bad, but sometimes you just want to space out and do some quests while listening to a podcast). This is not so with Black Desert: helpful objective indicator arrows show up on screen around your character, and quest text is never vague or indecipherable.
I can’t wait to dig into Black Desert more when it makes its official Western release in 2016, and I’m sure I’m not alone there. The potential for a sandbox MMO that doesn’t bog the player down with hundreds of systems immediately — ArcheAge’s cardinal sin in my opinion, though there were a great many — is huge, and something I’ve been wanting ever since the wonder of exploring World of Warcraft’s gigantic world lost its magic. The content in the beta is very limited, and I would have liked to see more of it, which I’m sure is in the full retail product. For now, though, I’m just gonna spend every beta period messing with that character creator, because holy crap. Seriously.