Black Desert review, impressions and critique of the beta version

Black Desert is a combat focused MMORPG that features a large open world, skill based fighting system, in-depth crafting, large scale PvP and some beautiful visuals to go along with all of that.

It is currently in a closed beta state so take everything I say with a grain of salt as big issues are most likely going to be resolved by the time Black Desert launches on March 3rd. As of right now though, Black Desert has some of the most impressive environments I've seen in an MMO alongside a very well done action orientated fighting system but suffers from incredibly easy enemies, generic quests and atrocious voice acting.

I came in to Black Desert mostly blind and the first thing that struck me was how good the character creation system was and how cool you could make all of the classes look. In an era where most MMOs seem to be giving you either ridiculous clothes or no clothes at all I was quite shocked when I realized that the armor sets in Black Desert are not only somewhat realistic but also incredibly badass. 

The one I ended up rolling with came out of the cash shop (more on that later) and looked very similar to the Elite Knight Set from Dark Souls which is my favorite armor set so as far as style goes I'm quite happy with what Black Desert has to offer. My only worry is that the cash shop might contain all of the good sets given that everything I've encountered in game was a bunch of generic rags with bits of plate stuck to them but I'd imagine the gear gets more visually interesting once you reach the late game.

As I mentioned before, the character creation system goes above and beyond what you usually see in MMOs by allowing you to edit almost every single feature of your character, down to individual parts of their body. I prefer to cover myself in armor so I didn't spend too long fiddling with the character creator but I did manage to make my knight look like Prince Charming, the douchiest man in all the lands with a constant shit-eating grin on his face. I don't know why I decided to do that but given how many times he almost brought me to tears from laughter I'd say it was more than worth it.

Black Desert allows you to create some funny characters

The brave and noble Sir Douchebag

After going through character creation and realizing how amazing Prince Douchebag turned out I opted to use the free €60 worth of cash store currency and get myself some fancy armor. This is where my happiness quickly drained away as I realized a single armor set costs over €30, €30!!! You can buy another copy of Black Desert and have enough money left over that you can grab yourself a drink and hopefully forget how much you've just spent on a single costume! When I finally burnt through my €60 worth of cash shop currency I ended up with one armor set, one pet I need to feed, and a set of horse armor. How anyone could consider this good value for their money is beyond me and I truly do hope these prices are simply placeholders for the beta because otherwise I see a very dark future for Black Desert.

On the bright side I didn't see any pay to win items in the cash store. The worst offenders are probably the exp boosters and small benefits you gain for purchasing some armor sets but in general its not a big deal and I can confidently say that you fully ignore the cash shop and still have a good time. If you do decide to spend some money I would recommend you go for non-combat pets which help you out by automatically looting enemy items thus allowing you to be as lazy as possible. There's also the extra benefit of you looking really fancy with a giant falcon perched on your shoulder or a small kitten napping between your legs.

Black Desert has some very cool pets

I could not look cooler if I tried

While on the topic of loot its probably a good time to discuss the process of making it appear, i.e. the slicing and dicing of enemies. Black Desert is a very combat focused game so I'm glad I am able to tell you that the fighting system feels great. All of my sword swings felt impactful and sent enemies recoiling back due to the sheer force of the blow though I did have to reduce the graphical effects a bit as my sword was for some reason far too flashy and bright. My abilities were diverse and well balanced between offensive and defensive options so I spent the majority of my time in battle dancing around enemies, constantly blocking, striking, backstabbing and grabbing imps by their throat in order to throw them at other imps.

If you haven't guessed already I had an great deal of fun with the combat in Black Desert but a few things kept me from truly becoming immersed in all of the fighting, most notably the overpopulated zones, stupidly easy enemies and a completely uninspired questing system. The first issue will most likely resolve itself once Black Desert officially launches and more servers become available but in the current beta there are about 20 people per each enemy and since for some reason you don't share credit you're going to end up hating your fellow man more than the imps you're hunting.

Black Desert allows you to throw imps around

Some might consider teaching Imps to fly madness, I consider it science!

The second problem is that the enemies are ridiculously easy, to the point that I had to go fight creatures 5+ levels higher than me in order to find even a bit of challenge and a reason to use the 20 or so potential combo strikes I can pull off. The only appropriately leveled enemies I enjoyed fighting were the minibosses the game uses to teach you how to party up with other players. If you simply ignore that and go solo you'll find that Black Desert's skill based combat system works really well which then begs the question of why the developers are so afraid to make the players use it?

The final issue as far as combat is concerned is the fact that the questing system is even worse than the one found in Vanilla WoW, a game that is over a decade old at this point. Every single quest I've done has been a variation of "kill x", "press R on object" or "talk to guy" with seemingly no hope of anything more complex coming up in the later levels. Black Desert seems like the perfect type of game to add dynamic quests and a truly living world but unfortunately there is nothing of the sort and you're just running between enemies that patrol 2 meter long routes.

And if the generic quests weren't enough the voice acting is terrible and the writing uninspired as well as confusing. I'm one of those crazy people that actually read the dialogue and quest text in MMOs but doing so in Black Desert was just pointless because the quests were either completely banal or filled with so many names and confusing terms you would somehow leave the conversation knowing less than you did before. It also doesn't help that for some reason asking NPCs about the lore expends your precious energy points which you use for crafting so not only does the game do a poor job of explaining the lore to you, it punishes you for even trying.

Add to that voice-acting that ranges from completely emotionless to "I'm putting on a fake accent because I'm the hilarious character" to "I'm a gravely voiced man so I'm the totally serious and angry commander" and you've got a game where I fully recommend you mash the skip button through every single bit of dialogue in order to get back to the parts Black Desert does well, the combat and the crafting.

Black Desert has a very silly story

Hmm, disappear you say? I wonder what could have happened...

In a complete contrast to the questing system the crafting in Black Desert is seemingly infinitely complex with thousands of recipes, items and methods of preparation. For example, the fish you can catch by using, you guessed it, fishing has a certain amount of time during which its considered as fresh. So what you can do is either eat it raw like some sort of animal, cook it over a fire or even lay it out in the Sun to dry for a while in order to package it and thus extend its duration. This is just a small example, there are even more methods of preparing, pickling and otherwise messing around with fish that I haven't had the chance to test out yet. Needless to say there are many more professions besides fishing and the same applies to them.

But if you're like me and you're too lazy to bother with crafting you could always buy a house and then hire some slaves workers to do the crafting for you. Or simply use the house yourself and decorate it to your liking with a frankly silly amount of furniture you can either buy, craft or find. I'm not the type of person that's interested in this so I didn't spend too much time hunting down chairs but I'm very glad the option is there for both parties, the role-players and the ruthlessly efficient types.

As a final note I wanted to talk about the PvP in Black Desert but unfortunately I haven't managed to get in to a single scrap. I've encountered no open world battles, the one guild vs guild battle I joined was over before it began and the arena system wouldn't let me in so I'm afraid I don't have much to offer you on this front. What I can say is that if the balance is even remotely good the battles must be quite the spectacle with both parties dashing, slashing and dodging all over the place.

Verdict

Black Desert is going to be a very divisive game given that the focus is almost entirely on the combat, crafting and PvP to the detriment of everything else. But to its credit the combat really does feel great and I could easily see myself spending a good amount of time with it provided the enemies become less of a pushover later in the game. Similarly I can see great potential in the crafting system as it is very rewarding to go through an elaborate recipe in order to obtain a cool piece of gear, provided the market doesn't make crafting professions a net loss.

Whether to recommend Black Desert or not is a bit of a tricky question given the cash shop situation. What I would advise you right now is to wait and see if the absurd shop prices change in the near future because a game that costs €30 shouldn't behave like a very bad example of a free to play game. If the prices do change and you're someone that enjoys both PvP and relentless combat then Black Desert might be the game for you.

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