Crimson Desert looks like all your favourite RPGs rolled into one

Crimson Desert looks like all your favourite RPGs rolled into one

The Witcher 3 meets Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom via Assassin’s Creed and Ghost of Tsushima? What?

Crimson Desert, the single-player action RPG spin-off of Korean MMO Black Desert Online that was first revealed in 2020 but resurfaced at GamesCom 2023’s Opening Night Live, looks like it might be the most crowd-pleasing Big Game ever conceived. Or, it could be a project with a huge identity crisis that ultimately satisfies nobody. At this stage, it’s impossible to tell. Based on the recent gameplay trailer (below), it could go either way.

Crimson Desert’s latest trailer shows off some pretty obvious influences.Watch on YouTube

The most clear influence is The Witcher 3: Crimson Desert takes place in a European-style fantasy world full of mud-slick villages, murky woods, and ominous dark towers on every horizon. There’s even a shot in the trailer where the player character picks a hunting contract up from a job board in the middle of town. It’s not that The Witcher invented the concept of bulletin boards, but the style – it’s so similar in presentation here that it’s impossible not to see this as a homage to Geralt’s day job.


Geralt? Is that you? | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

Next, there are some pretty clear nods to the Assassin’s Creed series. Most specifically, the latter games in the franchise that were themselves inspired by The Witcher 3 (Geralt’s impact on the gaming landscape can’t really be overstated, it seems). Crimson Desert has its own version of Odyssey’s spartan kick, which you’ll be using to invade settlements and Saxon-style hillforts a la Valhalla.


The Spartan Kick making a welcome return to gaming in, er, 2024 we assume? | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

The character design itself has something of Eivor’s proportions about it, actually: the big shoulder furs, the back-slung shield. If you told people that these screenshots were from Valhalla, some would absolutely believe you, particularly the shot where Crimson Desert Guy is scaling a building.


Oh yeah, and I bet Leonardo Da Vinci fancies him as well. | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

There’s more than a whiff of Dragon’s Dogma about these proceedings too. One underrated feature of Capcom’s beloved RPG was how it treated night time: by plunging you into pitch darkness. Without oil for your lamp, you literally couldn’t see a thing, as your screen would simply be black with night. Even with a light source, you could barely see more than ten feet in front of you. It made night time travel truly precarious, and something to be actively avoided, which encouraged players to plan ahead as much as possible with their questing in ways that other more forgiving games didn’t require of you. It seems that Crimson Desert, while not quite as pitch black as Dragon’s Dogma, also has a proper Night is Night mechanic going on if these screenshots are anything to go by.


“Night” rarely means “night” in video games, but Dragon’s Dogma bucked that trend, and Crimson Desert looks like it might be doing something similar. | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

The Dragon’s Dogma influence doesn’t stop there: we get one shot (in darkness, naturally) of Crimson Desert Guy climbing a big tree creature, presumably (but not necessarily) in order to stab it repeatedly until it is dead. This gameplay feature of climbing big guys and stabbing them has been a firm favourite since Shadow of the Colossus, and was pilfered by Dragon’s Dogma to great effect.


There’s loads of activities in this game, even tree surgery. | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

We see some acrobatic swordplay amongst tall grass that’s very reminiscent of Ghost of Tsushima, and (of course) it’s hard not to be reminded of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim when dragons, crabs, and Dwemer-looking automations show up for a clobbering – and it’s clear that this game has that same sense of “if you see it you can go there” exploration.


Fighting in the reeds a la Ghost of Tsushima

Dragons and steampunk golems

Mud, crab
Image credit: Pearl Abyss

Perhaps most striking, though, are the nods to recent Zelda titles, Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom. Now, Crimson Desert has been in development for a long time, so it’s not like they played TotK and decided to add in a load of floating islands, but the similarity is undeniable. Crimson Desert has an overworld made up of skybound islands, just like Link’s latest adventure.

There are also, similarly, hints of a technologically advanced ancient civilisation: shrine puzzles galore, and weird scifi portals that seem significant to the game’s story. And we scarcely need to mention the minigames: arm wrestling, fishing, and sheep rustling all present.


Tears of the Legally Distinct Sky Islands | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

So, Crimson Desert has a lot going on. Like, a lot. I’m very excited for it, because it looks like a big ol’ hodgepodge of all the very things I love. And it’s nice to watch a gameplay reveal with an epic fantasy setting that looks so very enticing without succumbing to the inevitable disappointment of it turning out to be an MMO. Sure, it has MMO roots, but it seems like an earnest attempt to make a grand, all-encompassing single player adventure for those of us who just don’t like other people hanging around when we’re trying to get absorbed in a daft story about dragons and whatever.

Call me cautiously optimistic, then. If this is a single player game with the sheer breadth and ambition of an MMO, but none of the nonsense, it could be one of the best RPGs ever made. But it could end up an unfocused mess. Given that the trailer is a disparate collection of gameplay clips, it’s impossible to call. Either way, I can’t wait to find out.


Cor, can’t wait to steal from every single house here. | Image credit: Pearl Abyss

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