Hardware limitations are nothing new to video games. Most games will have minor to significant concessions from the developers’ vision just to get their game to run correctly. Black Desert is a perfect example of a game with so many ideas and so much potential, but that potential comes at a significant cost.
This MMORPG was first released in 2015 on PC and got a console release in 2019, but developer Pearl Abyss released the Black Desert: Prestige Edition on Nov. 6. The Prestige Edition is the first time the game has had a physical release on console and it comes packed with extra goodies and gear for your adventure.
At first glance, Black Desert isn’t doing anything that other games of the genre haven’t already been doing. It’s a fantasy world with a similar motif to The Lord of the Rings or World of Warcraft. Goblins, imps, dwarves, medieval soldiers, etc.
The game has a slogan “Become your true self,” which is fitting because of how ridiculously detailed the character customization is. Pick a class (there are a whopping 20 to choose from), customize your character, and off you go. You can get lost in the minutiae of the customization options, which some people will love.
Once you’re unleashed into the massive world there’s a lot to take in. Maybe more experienced MMORPG players will settle in more quickly, but there are so many things on the screen when you start. The actual control scheme was simple once I got the hang of the basics. However, learning the layers of systems the game has under the hood is intimidating and there’s not much in the way of a tutorial. It took several hours for me to feel like I understood what each menu option was for and even then, confidence was lacking.
There’s so much gear with multiple ways to upgrade everything, dozens of things in the skill tree, inventory management, a basic economy for buying, selling and trading and plenty more. This is how players can live in a game world for hundreds of hours. Just know that you’re probably going to have to put in serious time to understand it.
While the size of the world and the amount of things you can do in it (there’s even a fishing mini game) is impressive, everything else suffers. That is the trade-off of this game. The presentation is just mediocre overall. The graphics are fine, not great, not ugly. The story is so generic that I found myself skipping quickly through dialogue, which is mostly delivered through text. There is usually some audio to accompany the text. There are occasional cut scenes as well. One of the lamer elements is when you talk to a character for a quest, which is something you will do ad nauseam, you get a repeating animation of a mouth moving and a hand motion well after the character is done talking.
The biggest issue I had was the game’s performance issues. I played on an Xbox One S and it’s clear the console cannot run this game. It’s obvious from the first look at the user interface that it’s a game primarily designed for a PC with a keyboard and mouse when you’re sitting in front of a monitor. But this is a release of a console-only version of the game so if it can’t run on the consoles it was released for, that’s a problem.
For starters, it takes just over five minutes to load the game. By the time the game boots up, you hit a couple buttons to connect, load the server list, join a server, select your character and load the game world it was consistently clocking in at over five minutes.
Even worse, any time I went into a busy area like a village, the game turned into a slideshow. If you ran through that area, the characters wouldn’t load in time. They would appear as dark silhouettes until the character model loaded in. This is with an ethernet connection. This wasn’t my internet. This was the game not being able to run on an Xbox One S.
There are some positive things about the gameplay though. Mainly, the attacks are very cool and become increasingly badass as you unlock more of the skill tree. The combat features relatively simple third-person swordplay (there are also multiple classes with bows). It mostly asks you to spam attacks at a large number of enemies. Several quests will ask you to defeat a certain number of an enemy type to complete the task. There are fields of enemies that mope around like mostly clueless idiots just waiting for you to slaughter them. There are boss fights at the end of a quest line and those require some effort and strategy. Even then, this is no Dark Souls.
Look, it’s simple, generic and mostly unchallenging, but damn the special attacks feel good. Spawn a cyclone over your enemies is cool. It’s awesome to jump up in the air and ground pound with a wind effect. It’s satisfying to throw a dagger that repeatedly attacks multiple enemies for a few seconds.
Black Desert is a huge world with so much depth in so many different aspects, but also significant drawbacks. There’s a ton to do, but most of it isn’t worth doing. Unless you really like the genre, I wouldn’t recommend getting the game on console. Perhaps the new console generation will smooth out a lot of the performance issues via backwards compatibility, but if you’re that into this type of game you probably have a PC that can run it. Even then, a version of this game that runs perfectly would probably be just OK.
Black Desert: Prestige Edition is available now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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