For the uninitiated, Black Desert is an MMO that supplants the standard combat that you'd expect to see in a game like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV with an action-based battle system more akin to a really low-budget God of War. It takes place in one fairly sizeable open world map rather than lots of smaller ones joined together by loading screens. It's been available on PC since 2015, and it came to Xbox One back in March of this year. And it's well known for having an incredible character creation suite. Honestly, it really is one of the best we've ever seen.
We spent - seriously - about four hours making numerous characters before settling on who we'd be playing as. We decided on a Witch that we named Winnifred, an amnesiac (naturally) who also just happens to have a hidden power that could save the world. Or something like that. The story is hogwash, if we're honest. The various classes are gender-locked, so if you want to be a butch lady warrior or a fabulous boy archer, you're out of luck. And the character creation options don't seem to be equally fleshed out depending on which class you pick - male characters don't have as many cool hairstyles to choose from, and female characters can't have sweet moustaches, for example.
Once you get into the nitty gritty of creating your avatar you'll see that there's a ridiculous number of ways to tweak, adjust, and alter your appearance until you're happy. To give you an idea of the depth of the whole thing, once you've picked a hairstyle you can change the length of it at the front, sides, and back individually, and even twist and turn the various areas to give your hair the shape you want - you can straighten it into a Rachel-from-Friends or you can get the hairspray out and go full on Motley Crüe. You can even create your own poses for your character, right down to the individual fingers - yes, all three knuckles.
When you start playing Black Desert things get decidedly less exciting. You go up to NPCs and get quests, you get experience points for doing the quests, and then you level up and get more quests. You know the drill. But the quests are an uninspired bunch, mostly, with many simply involving travelling to a set location and killing a certain number of a certain enemy. The combat is rough, and it neither challenges nor thrills, but it's easy enough that it doesn't frustrate. It's a pop your headphones in and listen to Sonic Youth while you mow down dozens of baddies type of game.
For an MMO, this is a surprisingly solitary experience. While you can trade with other players, and you can see them on your screen, you don't need to do anything with them until you hit level 50. You can party up if you so desire, but you don't have to, which could be a positive or a negative for you depending on how you feel about social interaction. Later, there's PVP and the like, if you're so inclined.
There's a catalogue of technical issues that we need to go through, sadly. Textures pop in seemingly whenever they fancy it, and sometimes you can have whole conversations with placeholder character models that look like weird mannequins only for their faces to disconcertingly appear out of nowhere. Nightmare fuel. The game freezes for a second or two practically every time you do anything more involved than going for a leisurely stroll. Just finished a conversation? The game freezes. Level up? The game freezes. Use an ice spell? Actually, the game usually doesn't freeze when you do that, ironically.
And the frame rate. Oh baby Jesus, the frame rate. The frame rate isn't particularly stable in general, but it frequently drops to that of a PowerPoint presentation when battles include too many people. Or sometimes just for no apparent reason. All these issues - as well as a host of random glitches like flying cows and whatever - persist throughout the entire game, and it often feels like Black Desert is at its absolute limit, just about to crash. For what it's worth, it never actually blue screened us across the dozens of hours we put into it, and aside from three or four instances, we were never disconnected for server issues either.
In recent years, video games have come under fire in some circles for holding the player's hand a little too much, and if you're one of those people that hates a tutorial, then Black Desert has got you covered. Considering this is an MMO, with system upon system upon system built into it - the game has a damned trading and taxation system, for God's sake - there's precious little explained to you. Honestly, we played the game for sixty hours and we still don't even know how to whistle for our horse. The poor nag has been stood on the outskirts of a bandit camp for a month wondering what it ever did wrong to us.
But for all of the issues that Black Desert has, it does have a lot of charm in other areas. There's an awful lot to do here outside of killing things for experience points. As mentioned previously, you can put resources into a trading network that is helped or hindered by public opinion, taxation, and your knowledge of the local history and people. It's a bewildering system that isn't explained to you in the slightest, but it's there. You can give up the warrior's life entirely and buy a farm, selling crops for profit. Of course, you can start fishing if you want. You can buy a house and furnish it. There's a pretty robust marketplace where you can sell your wares to other players.
It should be noted that there is also a heavily advertised shop available to players in which you can spend real world money for stuff for your character, in game. None of the items are required, and all can be purchased from the in-game marketplace without spending a dime, but it warrants a mention.
Black Desert is rougher than a badger's behind, and the simple combat won't blow anyone's skirt up, but the game does have upsides. The world is fleshed out and fun to explore, the side activities are more amusing than the campaign, and the character creation is superb. This is the sort of game that will undoubtedly appeal to a small subset of people who are more than happy to accept the uglier technical issues as the admission price to a well realised world full of things to do.