Black Desert Online is the latest addition to the console MMO roster. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 version of the game, called Black Desert, released earlier this year.
The MMO genre has generally been dominated by PC titles. Those that have been ported over to home consoles often suffer from performance issues. Or they have problems with menus and controls too complicated to navigate with a traditional gamepad.
But MMOs are increasingly making their way to consoles in a working state. The high fantasy sandbox Black Desert is the latest example, putting players into a world they can explore at their whim.
The game starts without much fanfare or explanation of what is going on in the world that you find yourself in. It is possible, however, to piece together a few details about the backstory.
There has been a resource war between the competing nations of Calpheon and Valencia over the preceding years. Each are trying to get their hands on as many black stones as possible thanks to their powerful magic. Don’t get too invested, though, because Black Desert does little in terms of its narrative.
MMOs are intrinsically linked with their story. The very best examples all have an interesting plot to keep players hooked. After all, grinding for gear and taking on the same dungeon bosses would become tedious without some motivation for doing so outside of getting more loot. That is why so many MMO games ensure they have a satisfying endgame narrative. In this case, the plot is at best confusing and at its worst completely absent.
That isn’t to say that Black Desert is a failure. Its developers have clearly just decided to focus on other areas. They aimed to revolutionize the genre and create something more fitting for modern times.
The combat is an excellent example of that. Out of every MMO I have played, Black Desert feels the most accomplished in its combat. The title already received plaudits for combat on PC. It translates incredibly well to a traditional controller on the Xbox One. It is entirely action-based rather than point-and-click, making fights all that more immersive. Moves are mapped to the shoulder and face buttons, allowing you to quickly utilize combos by pressing several of them at once.
What is impressive is just how intuitive this system is. Getting PC titles to work properly on consoles without a keyboard and mouse has been a problem for years. But Black Desert’s gameplay makes a controller a perfectly fine alternative that works just as well. Even without any real tutorial, it is easy to get to grips with the combat simply through trial and error. The combination mechanic also keeps combat refreshing, with the sheer number of combos permitting plenty of attacking variety.
In PvP guild battles, the combat stands out even more. The quick and responsive nature means that these large encounters are an absolute joy to play through. They are essentially large battles where several guilds fight over control of an area. It is a nice way of adding some strategy to the mix. You have to work effectively with your fellow guild members to be successful.
Black Desert champions exploration above all else. You are left to do your own thing without any real guidance of where you need to go or what you should do. That might seem like it would lead to you aimlessly wandering around. But there is so much to do in Black Desert that this never becomes a problem. Everything from fishing to trading is a possibility. Things like mounts have to be tamed in the wild rather than purchased. The endless stream of quests will also keep you busy. You will not find yourself without anything to do.
Don’t expect much in terms of classes and races. For all of its positives in combat, Black Desert falls back into fantasy tropes far more than you might expect. Characters come in the form of humans, elves, and dwarfs along with a sprinkling of others. Meanwhile, the classes are the same you would expect to find in any run-of-the-mill MMO.
Fortunately, there is a wide array of customization options. You can modify every little detail until you get the exact look that you want for your hero. This is something that more games should do. It helps you to really invest in the experience as the protagonist feels like your own creation.
Console vs. PC
Unfortunately, the console port is missing a lot of the content that has come to Black Desert since its 2016 PC launch. Fewer classes, areas, and add-ons are available on the console version of the game. These will likely make their way to the Xbox One port eventually. But for now, players are missing out on a bunch of great content that really expands the base game to a very different experience.
Black Desert also runs significantly worse on console compared to PC. The frame rate struggles during many encounters. And the game has a somewhat blurry look when not played on an Xbox One X at 4K.
Yet, Black Desert still looks impressive, with beautiful animation and environments. It is easily one of the best looking MMOs you will find on the Xbox One.
Even though there are some issues with Black Desert, that shouldn’t take away from what is arguably the best MMO on home console. With its flowing combat and endless exploration, it often feels more like an action RPG than an MMO. Once the developers add in the extra content and iron out some of the problems, Black Desert will be a game that everyone will want to try.