When I first checked out Black Desert Online for PC a few years back, I was instantly taken aback by how strikingly beautiful it looked. Black Desert Online is a demanding and one of the visually impressive games in the genre, which is also why at that moment I never thought it could work on a console.
Fast forward a few years later and Black Desert is now in open beta on the Xbox One - admittedly the console back then I didn’t think it ever had a chance of sniffing. Now in open beta, Black Desert is a version of Pearl Abyss’ massively popular franchise built from the ground up for Microsoft’s console. And with an Xbox One X 4K gameplay mode, the studio wants to ensure players can get the most out of their investments. We had a chance to go hands on this week with Black Desert on Xbox One X and it was an experience that leaves me surprised and yearning for more whenever I put it down.
Playing In The Sandbox
Black Desert starts you out with a few quests surrounding a Black Spirit which possesses you, but early on you notice that there is so much more to do than simply questing. Every major system in Black Desert plays into the others, such as gathering food in order to cook it, or how planting a farm is affected by both groundwater and the humidity of the area itself. Black desert is unabashedly a massive open-world sandbox, and its one that we really haven’t seen on a console to date. Sure there have been massive games released, such as the most recent game from Rockstar, Red Dead Redemption 2, but there is something about the satisfaction of spending hours to tame that wild horse you’ve been stalking that makes that time worth it.
And really, that’s a key aspect: Black Desert will take you some time to get going. And unfortunately, other than combat these systems aren’t really that well explained in the game. However, since it’s been out on PC for years now, there is a myriad of resources to learn. It’s just a shame they aren’t in the game proper.
To me, Black Desert has always been exploring and making my mark on the world - whether it’s as a merchant selling wares across the world, or a horse breeder, or simple a wanderer fighting monsters and completing the various quests Black Desert has to offer. The world around you is richly detailed, from the Tuscan-inspired houses in the cities to the large towering castles such as the one in Heidel, Black Desert online’s world does not disappoint.
A Surprising Release
Remember when I mentioned I wasn’t sure Black Desert would ever work on console? I was even more surprised when I booted it up for the first time and was greeted with a 60 frames-per-second refresh. Now, this isn’t a fully stable 60fps, oftentimes it dips into the mid forties during some combat, but during the vast majority of gameplay I noticed it maintains that framerate rather well. While it’s in an open beta, it’ll be interesting to see if this improves over time.
Black Desert allows you to toggle a native 4K resolution (though it does require a restart to activate), but at the trade off of a 30fps refresh. However, this mode was unplayable for me, with it consistently dipping into the low 20s/high teens. 4K looks incredible, but until it’s optimized better it’s not the mode I would choose to play Black Desert on Xbox One X.
Visually, Black Desert looks amazing - and I don’t say that lightly. There is, however, a lot of pop in, especially near the player and in the incredibly detailed cities that dot the world. While the PC versions new Remaster looks better, Black Desert is still one of the best looking games on Xbox to date. The character creator is also presented in its full glory, allowing you to completely customize your avatar, from the height of his cheekbones to the length of his fingers. Admittedly, getting used to the controls in the character creator is a bit hard in the beginning, and it’s not clearly labeled where you go to actually start altering the individual parts of the character (you need to tab over to the camera icon when you are in the creator) but once you get the hang of it the results can be quite unique. Black Desert has one of - if not the - most complete character creators in any game, and while it’s a shame that the classes are gender locked, there is still plenty to customize on display.
But How Does It Handle?
Speaking of classes, Black Desert launches on Xbox One with only six classes: Warrior, Ranger, Sorceress, Berserker, Witch and Wizard - though more will be added down the road. The PC version sports more than 10 different classes, and while some of them are clear attempts at providing different genders for the same roles, the lack of variety on Xbox does feel a little limiting off the bat.
On PC I play mainly as a sorceress, so I tried that class out first to see how well the combat translates to a gamepad. The combat on PC has always been a highlight of Black Desert Online - the fluid way it’s laid out on mouse and keyboard is a triumph no other action RPG has replicated. And for the most part that feeling is preserved on Xbox One.
Using a combination of face, trigger and bumper buttons, Black Desert’s combat can flow pretty easily off of the fingertips. Playing as a Sorceress, the sudden slashes mixed with fast paced kicks and energy blasts felt incredibly satisfying. My knight’s charged shield bash into a group of enemies, catching them off guard while I would string together heavy strike after strike of my sword.
However, the Ranger is the class I spent most of my time with. There was something completely enthralling about rounding up 15 enemies, jumping backwards and while still in the air peppering the ground with a hail of arrows, landing and immediately dropping to a knee and rapid firing more arrows. The combat in Black Desert is slick, fluid and exciting - and it fits perfectly on a game pad.
That’s not to say the control scheme doesn’t have its issues. A slight press of the right stick will swing your camera in the direction of your way point, which can be incredibly annoying in the heat of a fight. Early on the Black Spirit tells you to hold “A” to move faster, but it’s actually LT to sprint. Many of Black Deserts menus are hidden in Ring Menus tied to your D-Pad, giving you quick access to potions, crafting menus, your skills, the map and more. This is the only way to access some menus at all, such as the aforementioned crafting menu as there isn’t a spot in the start menu for it. You can also tie emotes to those ring menus, meaning you can actually wave to that guy over there.
As I leveled my ranger throughout the last few days, exploring the map on my newly acquired horse, I came across the major city of Heidel near the center of the map. I realized upon stabling my horse that I hadn’t done any quests in about two hours - I simply was exploring and setting up resource nodes with workers to gather materials for me. As incredibly as the combat is, Black Desert is so much more than that. And as it enters Open Beta on the Xbox One, it’ll be interesting to see how the economy and community evolves with the world around it. All I know is I’ll be there, farming and horse breeding my way to the top.
Access to the Open Beta was provided by PR and the Developer for preview purposes.