If I picture the persona of a hardcore gamer, two images instantly spring to mind. 1. The streamer who specialises in eSports titles and first-person shooters. They spend their days screaming down a microphone, thanking their followers for donations and subscribing. 2. The gamer who grinds out results for hours at a time, the real world no longer exists to them, and all that matters is the online realm, and the clan they now call their family. Think South Park and the episode: Make Love, Not Warcraft. That image is the metaphorical nail on the head.
I’ve flitted between both states, but now I’m comfortable playing shorter games, hiding behind the defence that my typed reviews give me. The genre MMORPG rarely crosses my path, not because I don’t enjoy them, no, it’s because of the lack of time that I can invest.
Ultima Online was my last major MMORPG.
It shows how out of date I am with the genre, that my last major title was Ultima Online in the early 2000s. So when playing code roulette with the page owner, he kindly provided me with a copy of Black Desert to play. Developed by South Korean developers, Pearl Abyss and published by Kakao Games, this MMORPG is the time sink that I love and worry about all in one glorious package.
Set in a fantasy sandbox-orientated kingdom, you must create your hero to live amongst the people of this realm, completing quests and generally just existing. The world that you explore is a thing of detailed beauty. The developers have spared no efforts in making this game look absolutely amazing. I heard the hype surrounding the graphics, and character customisation options, and disregarded it as fanboy nonsense. That was foolish, as this has the most in depth custom options of any MMORPG on the market today. If this is what floats your boat in online games, then you will think it’s your Christmas and birthday come early.
MMORPGs are big business, is there room for another?
With so many of these games absorbing every part of its fan bases waking hours, how does a new venture squeeze its way to the top and start taking its competitors’ players? By giving them something that feels familiar, but applying a new gentle twist to the narrative, that’s how! Black Desert’s ace card is its focus on “realism”. Farming, fishing, taming, breeding, trading and so forth. Gamers love to feel they have influenced and bettered the world that they exist in. Items can be purchased from NPCs, yet anything that is created or grown is exponentially greater. Food that is grown will improve your health and recovery at a faster pace than anything purchased in a store. Taming allows you to obtain your much needed mount, and breeding lets you create specific super breeds. It’s easy to get lost in the small details, and this is one of the major obsessions when playing Black Desert.
It all sounds great, yet it doesn’t feel right!
All this freedom and quality game mechanics are great in theory, but in reality they all feel a bit janky. I never felt comfortable with any of them, I’d always scowl when attempting most tasks as the action always seemed off. It appeared as though it was trying too hard, yet you never truly get the result that you wanted. Like that child at school who desperately wants to answer the question to prove his worth, but everyone knows that he doesn’t know the answer. It was bizarre as it should have been brilliant, instead it just seemed odd.
As with others in the genre, this shares several familiar traits; PVE and PVP combat, large event battles, level caps, guilds and grinding (wow! The grind is real in this game).
Combat – PVE or PVP?
The fighting mechanic is super smooth and enjoyable to experience, but it has its drawbacks when you combine it with the skill tree. It enforces that combos are used to get the best result, so you must tap away at buttons to make sure you make the most of each situation. You must take your time to get used to the finer points of the game, but luckily in Black Desert, time is on your side. The PVE setup is great for early game players wishing to push level gains, it can be done simply enough, though it goes against the ethos of the game. Black Desert wants you to take your time to master skills and your approach to improve your character. The developers want you to enjoy your time online with the community and not rush to the end game. We’ll discuss the end game, or lack of it shortly. The PVP is good, yet tough. The phrase “arse and handed to” springs to mind. One of my bugbears of this genre is PVP and the grind and frustration that comes with it. These days I steer clear wherever possible, which does limit my exposure to parts of the game that other players love.
No End game, what’s the point?
From my time with this, I never discovered an end game, though fellow players claimed it to involve the PVP aspect of the title, so unsurprisingly I did not care. If you disregard this endpoint, you’ll discover that there is a plethora of experiences to fill your time; fighting, riding through beautiful areas and larking about being enough to sustain me. Gamers who invest a lot of time may feel differently. As a casual MMORPG player (that’s an Oxymoron if ever there was one!) I didn’t have enough hours in the day for everything as it was.
For all its niggles, what the developers have got correct are the aesthetic features. Graphically its spectacular, it pushes high end PCs to their limits, and looks awesome on the Series X. The variety of biomes brings the world to life, the structures look unique, and the large castles are overbearing and awe inspiring. If you combine this with atmospheric music and cracking sound effects, you have a recipe for a game that easily transports you to its fantasy setting. It’s therefore unfortunate that the immersive feeling is so easily removed with the jarring nature of the clunky gaming mechanics.
Is it really a time sink?
Replay value is not an issue for a much loved MMORPG. Once it gets its claws into you, you are doomed. The phrase time sink is an understatement, you won’t lose hours to this, you’ll lose days. Time simply fades away once you start playing. You will forget all your worries as you grind away to gain resources, while pushing that XP to achieve the maximum level cap.
Were losing hours of sleep and years of my life worth it? Probably not, but I had a fun time, mostly. Every class you select is enjoyable with a new and distinct way of approaching situations. The PVE/PVP argument is as predictable as ever, and you will sit comfortably on one side or the other. The sandbox and realism touches were an interesting concept, if a bit flawed. I liked how your effort met with in game reward, and this meant that every role that is taken has a meaning and a use. The fighting is good, even if you consider the annoyance of the combo system and the confusion with the skill tree. I recommend this, but it will consume your life. If you want to take on a unique MMORPG with beautiful audio and stunning graphics, then look no further than Black Desert.