Black Desert is a third-person action game by Korean developer Pearl Abyss. The title can be classified as a sandbox-oriented massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) which offers players unprecedented freedom. You should love exploration and be able to engage challenging enemies in a heartbeat if you want to succeed.

The game takes place in a fantasy setting and revolves around the conflict between the rival nations of Calpheon and Valencia. Black stones are a precious commodity and Calpheon doesn't have any way of mining them due to its geographical location. This causes the desperate nation to launch raids into other territories, particularly Valencia, which holds the vast Black Desert with a near-infinite amount of stones.

The Elder Scrolls Online has competition

Black Desert

$10

Bottom line: Black Desert is an expansive game, but Pearl Abyss needs to fix its technical problems on Xbox One.

Pros:

  • Great visuals
  • Deep combat mechanics
  • Endless quests and exploration

Cons:

  • Confusing plot
  • Lighting issues
  • Questionable voice acting

Humble beginnings

Your journey begins on the outskirts of the resource war between Calpheon and Valencia. You wake up in a camp and have to leave a mark on the world. Instead of being thrust into the heat of battle, you have to explore the world on your own, slowly uncovering its many mysteries. This mostly involves helping strangers in need and eventually going up against a variety of monsters that are attacking settlements. As you complete various objectives — there are hundreds of them — you'll begin to understand what role different factions play. Unfortunately, that feeling of being on the sidelines is ever-present.

The combat is by far the best part of Black Desert

The combat is by far the best part of Black Desert. Not only are there countless skills to master, but the animations are extraordinary. For example, even the lowly warrior has a powerful slash that sends sparks flying from her sword. There is a slight pause with every successful strike, which gives you a taste of the fearsome power of your weapon. I like to play as a warrior due to the visceral nature of the combat, but other classes like a ranger or sorcerer offer their own benefits. It all depends on what you like.

Microtransaction-supported gameplay

It'll take you many weeks before you're familiar with everything Black Desert has to offer. It's an infinitely complex game which features guilds, pets, horses, wagons, trading, enchanting, and even naval combat. It may take you months to master it all due to the sheer number of quests in each area. You'll find activities in every corner of the map, as well as different beasts you have to vanquish. There is a tremendous amount of variety — from foes like harpies to imps — in Black Desert.

Black Desert starts at $10 on Xbox One, but its roots are in the free-to-play model. As with any such game, there is the fear that you'll have to purchase weapons through microtransactions that give gameplay advantages. Luckily, that's not the case, because from what I've experienced, almost all of the items are cosmetic. The Pearl Shop sells you everything from new dyes to horse armor, as well as convenience items that increase your inventory space or weight limit. Luckily, they aren't essential, and completing quests also gives you more inventory slots. It's unclear if this will change in the future, but right now you can purchase the base version and still enjoy the game to the fullest. Your armor just won't look as stylish.

During my time with Black Desert — the early and final builds — I never felt like I was ever at a disadvantage. Even when I was fighting more ferocious of bosses, I never thought I would fail. The game opens up in an accessible manner, and makes sure that the player is never overwhelmed. You can even consider everything you do for the first few days as an extended tutorial.

Performance and visuals

The Xbox One X support is questionable because engaging 4K resolution through the Settings menu doesn't work. You have to quit the game from the Guide while you're in a mission for the changes to take effect. It's unclear why this is the case, but simply logging out isn't counted as a restart. Once you turn on 4K mode, Black Desert looks very crisp, despite the fact that the frame rate is now around 30 frames per second (FPS).

If you don't engage 4K mode, the game looks incredibly blurry, but appears to be running at 60 FPS. Unfortunately, both options suffer from a lot of screen tearing, especially when you're roaming the open world. As awful as that sounds, the lighting is the bigger concern here. Outside areas are too bright and adjusting the high dynamic range (HDR) settings doesn't help. There are also a lot of shadow-related glitches when there are too many people in a dark area. Pearl Abyss needs to work on the lighting and performance to make sure these issues are resolved.

A far from perfect MMORPG

When you're playing the game, many of the quests feel repetitive and require you to kill an extraordinary number of enemies. For example, let's say that you have to recover some items from a swamp. Instead of simply collecting a few objects, you have to kill roughly a hundred creatures. This would be easy if you were the only one playing, but at any given time there are dozens of people around you completing the same quest. This means that the chance of you registering the kill are very low.

Many quests feel repetitive and require grinding

The only solution is to keep on grinding, or try to find a secluded spot that doesn't have other players. The easiest solution appears to be to forgo the mission and embark on a new quest in another town. If you strike an enemy and continue to do damage, you should also get credit for the kill. This is by far the most unfair aspect of Black Desert at the moment.

The default placement of the light attack is also somewhat strange. Unlike Bloodborne or Dark Souls, you have to keep on mashing the right bumper to kill off nefarious foes. Luckily, the controls are customizable so you'll want to assign that to the X button which can handle the abuse. This will allow you to attack with more frequently, without risking the integrity of the controller.

While a lot of the animations in Black Desert look natural, some of them are quite strange. For example, your character runs in a bizarre manner which is almost comedic. While it might be too late to fix that, it's still a facet of the game Pearl Abyss should look into. Improving certain animations should upgrade the overall feel.

The lowdown on Black Desert

Black Desert's character creator is quite robust and rivals games like Fallout 4. You can customize everything and with ample time, make a character look exactly like yourself. This deep customization enhances immersion because you feel like you're part of the game. In an MMORPG that wants you to play it for years to come, it's a necessity.

Overall, Black Desert is a great MMORPG, but it needs more technical polish on Xbox One. Even on Xbox One X, it's far from perfect due to its lighting and performance problems. Unfortunately, it also lacks a lot of the content found on the PC version. Pearl Abyss has promised a series of updates which will bring over new regions and features, but it's unclear how long that will take.

3.5 out of 5

If you're into games like The Elder Scrolls Online, you should pick up Black Desert. There is so much to do that you'll spend months exploring its expansive world. By then, new regions may also be added to the game. For $10, it's definitely a steal, and I can't recommend it enough.

The Elder Scrolls Online has competition

Black Desert

The PC MMORPG from Pearl Abyss finally lands on Xbox One

Black Desert is the Xbox One version of Black Desert Online which launched on PC in 2015. While there may be a lot of content missing in the console port, it's still an expansive MMORPG which should give The Elder Scrolls Online some competition.

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