Recently I’ve been looking for a game I can play with my husband. We started with Darksiders Genesis on Google Stadia, a top-down hack-n-slash that was fun but, for me, a little mindless. After watching Baldur’s Gate 3 footage, we were inspired to try another game by Larian Studios, Divinity: Original Sin. I’d tried the Divinity games before but never got very far with them; trying out the turn-based combat with my husband was fun. Unfortunately for him, the game is very story-driven, with a lot of running around talking to NPCs. As you can probably guess, I love this kind of thing, but it didn’t make for the best co-op experience for how we like to play together.
So we were back to the drawing board. As we were browsing co-op games, we stumbled upon Black Desert. It’s an MMO from Pearl Abyss, which I had seen before and thought was pretty — but I hadn’t given it much more thought. I’m not super into MMOs, especially if I have to play them by myself. I tried playing Star Wars: The Old Republic solo several years ago and enjoyed it, but I still got stuck being by myself after awhile.) But my husband was intrigued by the fantasy world and how gorgeous the game looks, so we decided to give it a try. We’re playing on PlayStation 4.
We’ve only played for about six hours so far, if I had to guess. For me, two of those hours were devoted to character creation, which took up most of our first night playing together. Since then, we’ve jumped in two or three times to explore the start of the story and level up to about level 20.
We still have a ton to learn about the game, but if you’re interested in trying it, here are my very early impressions. I’m making this a simple pro-con list, so you can get a sense of what it’s like for newbies like me. I’d also love to hear from others who play this game, to learn what it’s like later down the line. =)
What I Love So Far
Black Desert has a lot of things going for it. Here are a few of the things I love most so far.
As someone obsessed with character creation in RPGs, I can confidently say that Black Desert has one of the all-time best character creators I’ve come across. You start off with one of just a few faces, which seems like it will limit your options but has the draw of increasing your odds of creating a truly attractive character.
From there, the choices increase, giving you a surprising number of customization options. For example, I chose my female character’s hairstyle and color, thinking that was it. Then I realized that I could actually tab over to three different layers of her hair to color each one separately, giving her unique blonde highlights and red lowlights! Not only that, but I could then go to another page of choices to make her hair curly or straight, longer or shorter, and more. These layers of customization help players create character who truly feel unique.
My husband also had fun creating a male character. He was able to choose from several different hairstyles and facial hair options, along with skin tone and body shapes that make his character an original too. In fact, looking around the world after jumping into the game, I feel like there’s more same-ness among the female avatars so far; the male characters look more differentiated to me! It must be those funny beards and fancy mustaches…
One thing to keep in mind with character creation is that classes are tied to genders. I find this really strange, to be honest. Some of the classes have a male and female version, so even though the classes have different names, you can check online to see which two classes are technically the same. However, my husband was a little disappointed at his choice for male characters. (He would have created a female character, but we thought it would be more fun to play a male and female similar to ourselves this time.)
The graphics in Black Desert are beautiful. Since the game’s original release in 2015, the game has been remastered to improve its look. This is a little surprising to me, if only because the game already looked gorgeous according to fans. But you can see some information about the remaster and look at screenshots on the Black Desert Online website.
The one caveat to the game’s beauty is that textures can take a minute to load. For example, when entering a conversation with an NPC, they often appear as a big gray shadow for the first several seconds of the dialogue, as the graphics struggle to pop in. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it’s worth mentioning here so you get the full picture of what I mean by good graphics: It’s how pretty the world is, not how the game runs!
World & Story
So far I’m really enjoying exploring the world of Black Desert. As a fantasy RPG, it has a fair mix of forests, quaint old villages full of quirky characters, and sprawling stone castles. I love meeting NPCs like the family of alchemists you encounter early in the story, each of whom has a unique personality. You can even earn amity with each character, which I believe opens new conversations with them.
That said, the world is huge, so it takes some time to run from place to place. Since my character can sprint or shadow-dash, I don’t mind — and there are plenty of goblins and other enemies to slice along the way, if I feel like leveling up a bit through combat. And once I passed a bunch of avatars just hanging out by a lake, fishing. I can’t wait to see what other activities await as I continue with the game.
Things That Aren’t So Good
As much as I’m enjoying the game overall, I have to admit that Black Desert has a lot of issues. Here are a few big downsides so far.
When you first start playing Black Desert (at least here in North America), you can choose between two servers that give you more XP as you get started. You can also jump into other servers, but it seems that most new players want that extra XP! The reason I know this is because the two beginner servers, which are only available for the first 30 days you play (or the first 30 days after a long absence), are way overcrowded.
This leads to lag when you get into the game. My character sometimes stutters around, and it takes a while for some things to load into view. It’s not a huge problem, but it breaks the immersion a bit.
Plus, having so many other players around means that when you’re out fighting, it’s can sometimes be hard to find an area where you can really rack up your own kills without other players swooping in. A part of my likes the camaraderie of it all, but in general it’s a big downside to the game, especially when you’re new to it.
Bug with Amor
The game also has at least one bug that dampens our enjoyment of the game a bit: My husband’s armor doesn’t show up correctly. He’s playing as a Striker and chose one of the starting armors in the character creation menu, but for some reason it’s showing him in a different set of armor that’s not as attractive. He’s gone in and clicked to the armor he wants, but it’s still not working. Once in a while, from my screen, I can see the correct armor showing up on his character — but it’s only for a few moments at a time, and he never sees it on his screen.
Lack of Armor Choices
This leads me to what I believe is the most disappointing thing I’ve discovered in Black Desert so far: There are hardly any armor options. In most RPG-style games I’ve played where you level up, you come across armor or get to craft some for a unique look that rewards you for progress. I love cosmetic upgrades, but in Black Desert your armor mostly stays the same. You might get a new helmet or body armor, but these seem to be stat boosts rather than new pieces. That said, at one point when I tried on a new piece of armor, it did change my character’s look — but it was just a different set of starting armor I had seen in the character creation area. That’s not too exciting.
From what I can tell from researching online, there are different skins in the game, and some of them look pretty badass. But also from what I can tell, you often have to purchase them with real money. I need to investigate this more, but so far I can say that as a beginning player, the lack of armor options makes the game feel a lot less rewarding. Given that this is a fantasy MMO RPG, where you want to feel rewarded for progress and like a unique character, it just feels like new armor sets should be some of the incentives for leveling up.
My last complaint about Black Desert is that its user interface is very unintuitive. You have to tab between options for quests and conversations, and to get to that menu you have to press a button to call your little Black Spirit companion. In other words, you have to do a lot of clicking around to get things done. It took my husband and me a good half hour to figure out how to actually complete a quest and pick up a new one, because you have to keep going back into your menus and tabbing to quests for each new story you want to engage with. This bad UI isn’t a deal-breaker, but it makes the game a little harder to get into as a new player.
With all of this said, I’m still very new to Black Desert and am looking forward to continuing to play it. Despite the lack of polish with regards to UI and streaming, the look and feel of the game is gorgeous. I can’t wait to explore more of this world and learn more of its very complex and detailed systems. If you’re looking for a fun fantasy MMO, I highly recommend it — just keep in mind the game is imperfect and quirky. =)
Have any of you played Black Desert? What did you think of it? I’d love to hear some thoughts from others and learn more about the game!