There aren’t many MMORPGs on PS4 and Xbox One, and most of those that are on consoles don’t really feel like current generation games. They feel like they are the fruit of an older generation of titles, and don’t really manage to stand on a similar level with single player console games.
This is mostly due to the fact that those games are indeed offspring of an old generation. Not only their visuals are mostly obsolete (with the exclusion of Final Fantasy XIV), but they were developed in a time in which the attempt to cash in on World of Warcraft‘s success pushed developers to engineer very constricting and structured theme park experiences that don’t really feel like “worlds” as much as a series of rides that can be enjoyable, but lack that sense of adventure and discovery that should be at the foundation of a modern massive experience.
The few MMORPGs we have on consoles at the moment suffer of the same problems that have burned many players out of the genre on PC in the past few years, so it’s not surprising that they don’t really shine on consoles either.
This is not to say that they aren’t fun. They certainly can be, but they lack the oomph to truly push through in the hyper-competitive console market, in which the MMORPG genre never really had a breakthrough.
If there’s a MMORPG that could bring a breath of fresh air on PS4 and Xbox One, it’s Black Desert Online. I won’t go over its many features in detail here, but you can read on why its one of the best games released in the genre in the past few years in my extensive review.
There are quite a few reasons why it would be a good fit in the current generation console market.
First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous. It doesn’t suffer from that “last gen” feel that affects most MMORPGs, and especially the free to play ones that are the bulk of the genre of consoles. Characters and environments are beautiful enough to stand on a similar level with many of the single player games that are published nowadays on PS4 and XBox One, and this avoids the visual pitfall that hinders MMORPGs, as players won’t feel like they have stepped back into the PS3/Xbox 360 generation again.
For a game looking this good, Black Desert Online has a surprisingly agile engine. At its maximum level of detail, its performance isn’t much worse on PC than that of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which means that a port on current generation consoles without losing much in visual glitz is possible.
Black Desert Online also features a completely seamless and enormous open world. It encourages exploration and discovery, and it truly makes you feel small. It beings back the experience provided by the MMORPGs of old that charmed many, before the genre entered a phase in which extreme instancing dropped the axe on that awe-inspiring sense of size and scope that made players feel like they were really traveling a “world.”
Open world games are very popular nowadays among console gamers, and this one fits the bill perfectly.
Another relevant element is the control scheme, that is already set up for controller play, and is potentially very compelling for the console audience. You can forget juggling hotbars with Black Desert Online. Hotbars are something born of keyboard and mouse, and often they make fighting effectively in other games a bit unwieldy.
On the other hand, Black Desert controls pretty much like an action game, and almost like a fighting game, based on the very effective and intuitive combination of a few inputs to chain spectacular combos. Those who like that kind of game will feel right at home.
The buy to play business model is also perfect for the console market. Console gamers aren’t familiar with subscriptions, and they still prefer just buying their games to the free to play model. Black Desert Online pretty much works like your digital AAA game, with the difference it offers an enormous amount of content in comparison. The few microtransactions that focus on on cosmetic and convenience items are also something that console gamers are used to nowadays.
Honestly, I can’t think of a better experiment to test out Microsoft’s open offer for cross-network gameplay, that could potentially have PC, PS4 and Xbox One players adventuring together in the same brave new world.
Black Desert Online’s servers are in fact already split in “channels,” among which players can move freely (with a 15 minutes cooldown). This would accommodate Microsoft’s clause that requires the possibility for Xbox One players to opt out of playing with those from other platforms. Daum Games could implement a channel per server open exclusively to Xbox One users, one for PC users only, and one restricted for PS4 gamers. This would grant each user base would have its “safe haven” away from the rest, with all the other channels open to mingling among players from different platforms (not that I think this “safe haven” is really needed, but it fulfills Microsoft’s needs).
This would also bring a clear boon for the game itself, even beyond simple revenue. In the long run, MMORPGs live and die on the size of their communities, and three platforms instead of one would definitely push the numbers higher.
Back in 2013, when Black Desert still was an unknown entity for most, I interviewed Pearl Abyss (the game’s Korean developer) COO Jaemin Youn and CFO Brian Oh, and they told me that they were interested in bringing the game to consoles. They even had a meeting with Sony on the topic.
At that time, they clarified that it was too early, and that the possibility was in a “very initial study phase.” They haven’t mentioned it since, but now that the game is out on PC, and has launched successfully in the west, maybe it’s time to pull those plans out of the closet and to give it a try.
Ultimately, Black Desert Online offers an enormous world to conquer, a myriad of different play styles that make you really feel like you can choose your path in that world, and gorgeous visuals that definitely wouldn’t compare badly with most console games.
If there’s a MMORPG that can bring console gamers to love the genre, this is probably the one.