Black Desert preview: A fantasy MMO built for everyone

MMOs tend to be few and far between on Xbox One, with studios putting most of their efforts into PC development. Black Desert, which first released as Black Desert Online for PC, is aiming to firmly plant its stake in the ground on consoles. Developer Pearl Abyss sent us an Xbox One X dev kit to test out a build of the game pre-loaded with two accounts—one at the beginning and one with a few level 50 characters to give us a taste of its endgame content. This build, while closer to the launch version than the upcoming Final Open Beta, gave us a good idea of what Black Desert has to offer to its players.

It's a lot.

The character creator everyone's talking about

"Become your true self." That's the tagline that greeted me upon booting up Black Desert for Xbox One. Becoming your true self sure is an interesting task with Black Desert's character creator. There's no shortage of options for you to tweak to perfect your fantasy persona.

The first time I had heard about Black Desert was several years ago when it was going by Black Desert Online during its initial closed beta on PC. The reason I heard people talking about it? It's character creator, which I found could border on uncanny valley at times. There are countless variables that you can adjust for hours on end, right down to the length and shape of specific facial features. It'll certainly get some people's creative juices flowing, but for others who mainly care about their character's actions and personality rather than looks, it may not be worth their time.

Choose from several iconic fantasy classes

Being a fantasy RPG, it wouldn't be complete without your typical classes. Black Desert features six starting playable classes: Warrior, Ranger, Sorceress, Berserker, Wizard, and Witch. If you want to attack from afar, pick the Ranger. Like close quarters combat? Choose the Warrior. Each bring their own attacks and abilities to the battlefield, suiting a variety of playstyles.

The world encompasses several large kingdoms, so there's no shortage of enemies for you to face. Be prepared to fight a ton of wolves and imps when you start out on your adventure, though. So many imps. Since you can create multiple characters, it's a good idea to test out every class and go out for a bit to get a feel for their abilities before diving into the deep end. And the controls aren't too shabby when it comes to translating them over to consoles from PC.

Aside from the multiple level 50 characters I was provided with, I stuck with my own Ranger that I created from scratch. Her ability to take out enemies from afar with a bow and arrow appealed to me. Sticking with one main character looks to be a good idea so that you can upgrade their stats as much as possible. Because the effort needed to max out every class would be tremendous, find what you like and focus on it.

But there's much more to Black Desert than its combat.

An open world full of wonder… once people join the servers

My time spent in Black Desert only showed me the tip of the iceberg, but unfortunately I couldn't really see what was below the surface because by design it's a social experience — during this preview period only a few people even had access the servers. The world, while filled to the brim with activities and quests, felt empty as a result.

My time spent in Black Desert only showed me the tip of the iceberg.

For those not looking to game with their peers, Black Desert actually makes for a decent medieval life simulator. Go ahead and tame horses, build boats and houses, go out fishing, tend to your own farm. Hell, even become the best chef or alchemist out there. Black Desert supports those who want to live a quiet life in the forest. Where its combat falters, its other game mechanics pick up the slack. And there are a LOT of other things to do besides fight.

A lot of potential with the proper support

The benefit (or drawback, depending on how you look at it) of being able to preview this game on my own time and not at some tailored industry event is that I could experience Black Desert as it is meant to be experienced by the public. A PR person wasn't looking over my shoulder guiding my adventure. I wasn't constrained to a two-hour window to play the same handful of missions—polished to perfection, of course—over and over. I got the raw, unfiltered version. With just a PDF sent over my email to guide me, it was easy to get lost.

The world of Black Desert is full of intriguing lore.

I couldn't even begin to tell you what the story was about if you asked. Much of my quests followed the same path: "Talk to this person, run twenty feet over there, kill a few beasts, talk to that person, complete." Why was I killing them? How did this progress the story? What purpose did it serve? Who knows. What I can say is that this skeletal framework for a story has a lot of potential. The world of Black Desert is full of intriguing lore, it's just not presented well.

It seems that Pearl Abyss expects players to create their own stories together. I couldn't experience that since I was playing before the public could hop in. The story isn't so bare-bones like Sea of Thieves, where it's practically non-existent, but then again it's not as fleshed-out as a game like The Elder Scrolls Online. Black Desert is content to travel the middle of the road for now. But with the right support, it could become even greater.

Jennifer Locke

Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and is very happy Xbox is growing a stronger first-party portfolio. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.