Black Desert Online: First Impressions

Posted April 1, 2016 by John Clark in Video Games

Black Desert Online is a difficult game to describe, let alone judge. To many, it could be considered one of the last bastions of the modern MMO. In light of the cancellation of Everquest Next and the unnamed World of Darkness game as well as flagging subscription numbers and disappointing debuts from many newcomers, I know that for many fans of the genre, Pearl Abyss and Daum’s efforts to bring the sandbox fantasy world to western shoes represented a hope that a change of pace could succeed where an endless onslaught of theme parks failed. Does Black Desert succeed in this? After fifty hours in the game, I’m feeling optimistic – and still a little overwhelmed.

It feels almost fitting to just start describing whatever comes to mind about the game, because that’s pretty much the approach it takes to introducing new players to its complex world. For those who hate long, drawn-out mandatory tutorials, you’re in luck: Black Desert pretty much drops you right in with a basic movement tutorial and a charmingly mischievous spirit that guides you along the main quest, but beyond that, you’re on your own. Those seeking a more structured explanation of the game’s myriad systems are out of luck; while the basics of many activities can be learned through a guide easily accessible on the UI and some mini-quests from the spirit possessing your character, much will need to be gleaned from other players and online guides. This might be considered a failing of the game for some, but it also feels almost exciting, a sensation I haven’t experienced in MMOs for some time.

The fact that the game is incredibly gorgeous helps a lot. This is by far the prettiest MMO I’ve ever played, and possibly the only one I’d argue definitely counts as a current-gen title in terms of tech. Some obnoxiously short pop-in can’t stop the quality textures, lighting, and post-processing effects from spicing things up, and custom options such as color filters, contrast, and gamma allow you to tweak the settings to your preferences. More impressive, though, is how the game reacts to everything that happens. The world map is animated, and displays temperature, trade routes, caravans, and even the weather. Storms soak your character, affect movement speed, and create puddles that reflect in real-time on the ground. These seemingly small touches are incredibly useful for adding an element of immersion to the game that many of its contemporaries, multiplayer and singleplayer, both lack.

The warrior might be the least flashy class in the game, but even they have no lack of crazy effects.

The warrior might be the least flashy class in the game, but even they have no lack of crazy effects.


Unlike the more common ‘theme park’ MMOs that tend to proliferate the western gaming landscape, Black Desert Online is very much about doing pretty much anything you like, and there are no lack of options. Some are present in many of the game’s contemporaries, but others feel pretty unique to this one, or at least taken out of pages long-forgotten from the playbooks of Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies. I decided it’d be best to give my thoughts on each individual element of the game I’ve experienced so far as I play. For now, I’m focusing on the combat aspects of the game, as they’re the most simple to get into.

A big part of MMOs is combat, and while it’s not quite as prevalent as Black Desert Online, it’s still a major component. Those familiar with TERA’s action-based combos will know what to expect here, but there’s more focus on timing and dealing with large groups of foes simultaneously here. In lieu of hotkeys – though they can still be used – most attacks are executed through combinations of directions and keys or mouse clicks, such as “W + Left Click” or “Move Right While Hitting E”. This makes stringing together attacks surprisingly intuitive, and I found myself having an easy time remembering my entire moveset even without it being visible on-screen in the form of a 1-10 bar. Even though I’m leveling multiple characters, I decided to focus on the Warrior class for the purposes of this review. Despite being the most durable class, and having the ability to block attacks with a shield, I found that unless I was quick to avoid enemy blows, I’d go down very quickly – but this was also true of them. While the lower levels are extremely easy, around the time you start battling orcs [26-28 or so] the difficulty makes a hard jump, and ever since, I’ve had to really pay attention while grinding.

BlackDesert64 2016-03-31 22-07-47-69

This dude’s kind of a jerk, but he’s also your only real tether to the world.

Yes, grinding. There’s no lack of quests in Black Desert Online, but while they give many interesting rewards in the form of Contribution Points (which can be used to buy property, workers, and more) and equipment, they rarely actually offer experience. Instead, the quickest way to level up is to simply gather up tons of mobs, burn them down, and repeat. The game’s combat system makes it more fun than it could be, but even if you don’t find the prospect of grinding entertaining, level isn’t actually that important, and there are other ways to gain experience. As I keep playing, I’m going to invest more heavily in the fishing, trading, and crafting aspects of the game, which feel almost overwhelming in their options and complexity.

About the Author

John Clark