Hilary Andreff
E3 2019: Black Desert Online Preview
In this case, the pearl keeps refining the (desert) sand.
06.27.19 - 11:27 AM

Every now and then, you learn about a successful game that had previously slipped your awareness (usually because the player base is outside your region or sphere of experience), and it changes your perspective on similar familiar games. Such is the case with the vast sandbox MMORPG Black Desert Online, created by Korean developer Pearl Abyss. It follows a formula that is very familiar to Western audiences but emphasizes some less familiar areas, especially in design choices. The tale of the competing Republic of Calpheon and Kingdom of Valencia, the plague spreading across the four main nations, and the mysterious and powerful black stones sounds immediately familiar, if not a tad busy. It's the idea of Black Desert Online as a sandbox MMO, and the little design touches that reinforce this concept, that really helps it carve a place in the massive online multiplayer market.

Black Desert Online Screenshot

Examples of these design touches range across the entire play experience. Right from the beginning, Black Desert Online has a reputation for its gorgeous and intricate character creation process. The level of control over your character's image allows you to be extremely specific about how your character looks, and it's easy to quickly make something visually appealing so you can start playing. The world is dynamic as well: the weather system causes drastic changes, and the day and night cycle affects both access to NPCs and loot. The formation of combat areas and nodes, as well as the more action RPG-like battle system, lets players engage their foes in a thoughtful and responsive way, rather than just encountering enemies on the world map and seeing if they rush you.

Pearl Abyss has reached its share of milestones recently. First, Black Desert Online has quite a following, with over 20 million players worldwide, but the Western Xbox One release is only approaching its 100-day anniversary. The developer also made an extremely robust mobile version of the MMO that had audiences in Korea routinely asking if the game they were seeing was really for handheld devices. North American audiences will have the opportunity to be astounded as well when the mobile release comes to the West in Q4 of this year. Last but not least, after translating their originally PC-oriented work to one console, Pearl Abyss has decided to work on a PS4 release — which is also coming later this year and can be preordered starting July 2nd.

Black Desert Online Screenshot

Pearl Abyss's presentation and demo also revealed several in-game reasons to celebrate! There is a special anniversary event for existing players, and they revealed an entirely new class and update. One trailer debuted the Shai, a small, inquisitive people that fight with large boomerangs and study the cultivation and use of herbs. Consequently, they're classified as a support class. The anniversary event ties into their arrival; in an interesting staggered rollout, players can create a Shai character on June 19th and play as one two weeks later. The update centers around The Great Sea and boasts several enhancements to seafaring as well as exploration among the islands. Currently, the update is planned in two parts: the seafaring and map changes first, followed by the story content. The trailer also includes vintage diving suits and helmets — an important selling point.

I also had a brief opportunity to sit down with the game on mobile and PS4, and aside from connectivity issues that may be expected on the former, both versions appear on track and look like they will deliver an experience similar to what existing users would expect. Personally, I had a lot of fun with the character creator on mobile, and gameplay ran fairly smoothly on both the mobile and PS4 versions. After all of this, the team is also working on making Black Desert Online's Shadow Area into a standalone game in the near future, so players can face off in a new way. Adventure awaits for North American audiences!