All fur coat and no knickers
Despite there being closed betas for it in Korea since 2013, Pearl Abyss’ Black Desert Online only recently finally made its way to the West, with its first English-language closed beta test. With an appealing action-based combat and a hugely detailed character creation system, I took a look to see whether this will be an MMO worth sticking with by the time it fully launches.
You may have heard of Black Desert Online thanks to its character creator getting some coverage over the last couple of years. Over the course of the beta test, I made two characters a mountain of a man as a berserker, and my frankly awesome-looking sorceress. Everything from their physical proportions to the angle of their philtrum could be dragged, stretched, rotated and sculpted, resulting in by far the most detailed character creation I’ve ever seen in an MMO.
However, that detail comes at a cost. Having so many sliders to muck around with means that each individual option often barely has any effect. Sometimes making a character that looks good requires loads of minor tweaking, and Black Desert often crosses the line between detailed and needlessly convoluted.
A much bigger problem is that each class has its own locked gender. If you want to play as a male ranger, or a female berserker, then tough luck. In a game where you’re able to rotate your character’s zygomaticus minor to just how you want it, the lack of gender options feels either entirely contrived or a massive oversight when basically every other MMO ever allows for it.
My favourite part of Black Desert Online was easily the combat. Considering my favourite MMOs are Neverwinter and DC Universe Online, I felt right at home with the action-based combat. It’s fast, engaging, and each class plays massively different to the others. My berserker could literally just stop through a horde of enemies and they’d all drop down dead, whereas my sorceress required a more surgical approach, taking on enemies one at a time in the flashiest way possible.
The best bit is that which class you pick doesn’t just give you different abilities on the hotbar that you have to wait to tick over, it actively changes how you engage in the combat on an input level. Some attacks are bound to various key combinations, which requires you to learn how to play a class in a very different way than merely reading ability descriptions.
For example, my sorceress had one ability, a short-range pulse of magic, which activated when I pressed back and the F key together. On top of that, pressing either left or right with the F key would make my character perform a large, sweeping kick attack which didn’t do much damage, but let you keep multiple enemies at bay. Having to really learn the class in this way made dishing out damage all the more fun. I’d go as far as to say it’s potentially the best combat I’ve ever seen in an MMO.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really give you any interesting scenarios to use that combat in. Across the 12 or so hours I played during the beta period, almost every single quest I did was simply going to a random spot on the map (usually a field, sometimes a forest if you’re lucky), killing X amount of a certain enemy, and then repeat. The loot I got from those quests was also incredibly dull, with it usually being either potions or just XP. There wasn’t anything keeping me to the game other than knowing I had a limited amount of time with it.
Neither Neverwinter nor DC Universe Online had the best quest structures either, but they mixed things up with interesting locales, neat minibosses, and decent enough loot to keep you pushing through the next questline. As it was, the only two bosses I saw in Black Desert were bigger versions of the standard mobs I’d spend hours wading through.
On the plus side, as far as MMO closed betas go, Black Desert is a technical masterpiece. In the most crowded areas, I very rarely noticed my framerate drop below 30. The game is absolutely gorgeous and is easily one of the most visually appealing MMOs I’ve seen yet, with plenty of optional visual and post-processing effects to make it look even better.
While Black Desert holds up incredibly well technically, the translation was sometimes completely ineligible. Work on the translations has been going on since I became aware of the game over a year ago, and even then some of the totally unvoiced lines felt like they were simply fed through Google Translate and rammed in. Sometimes this results in some story not making sense, or dialogue feeling wooden, but it also has an impact on quest instructions themselves.
One particularly frustrating example was where a quest told me to find and destroy an “amulet.” Except this “amulet” wasn’t a piece of jewellery, or anything even vaguely resembling what anyone else would call an “amulet,” it was a flag or a shrine of some sort. I spent the better part of an hour killing enemies hoping they’d drop something that would never come thanks to a bad translation.
After the four-day closed beta, I feel like I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Black Desert Online. I didn’t get a chance to see everything the game currently has to offer, but even then I lost interest well before then. Repetitive quests, fiddly character creation, poor translation, and totally underwhelming loot cover up an utterly fantastic and hugely enjoyable combat system and gorgeous visuals. I really hope by the time it gets a full release they’ve managed to iron out my problems, because if they do, Neverwinter may have a contender as my favourite MMO.
While Black Desert Online is going to be free-to-play in Korea, Russia, and Japan, it will be released as a single purchase without a subscription fee elsewhere. There currently isn’t a confirmed release date.