Crimson Desert is what action-RPGs could look like post-Elden Ring and Tears of the Kingdom

Crimson Desert
(Image credit: Pearl Abyss)

I'll tell you something: if Crimson Desert is half as exciting in-hand as its latest gameplay trailer was during Opening Night Live at Gamescom 2023, then we're in for an absolute treat. Having just watched the trailer back, I count three minutes and 10 seconds between the first clang of a sword and the title ident at the video's end, and, wow, what a journey it takes us on. 

Blockbuster action-RPGs such as Elden Ring and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom have really raised the bar for the genre in recent times, but if Crimson Desert delivers on what it's promising at this early stage, then I'm pretty certain we're in safe hands moving forward.

Raise the bar

Crimson Desert at Gamescom Opening Night Live 2023

(Image credit: Pearl Abyss)
Gamescom 2023


(Image credit: Gamescom)

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I can't speak for everyone, but Opening Night Live's two-hour runtime was a little on the long side for me. Sure, it was great to see the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Little Nightmares 3, and Alan Wake 2 in motion, but there were points throughout the show that, to my mind, felt like filler. When Crimson Desert first took center stage, this thought crossed my mind. I was aware of Pearl Abyss' latest endeavor, but hadn't paid it too much attention – having wrongly assumed it was another MMORPG in the same vein as the devs' other popular venture, Black Desert Online. 

At first, Crimson Desert's medieval sword-fighting reminded me of Mount & Blade and Kingdom Come: Deliverance. That thought quickly gave way to visions of The Witcher, Assassin's Creed, and even Dynasty Warriors. While set in an entirely different region and time period, the protagonist's pensive pauses on horseback, looking out onto rolling vistas at sunset, gave off Ghost of Tsushima vibes; before chatting up locals in bustling town squares mirrored something from Bethesda's back catalog. Stage coach robbery gave flavors of Red Dead Redemption, fighting giant crabs reflected Dark Souls, and aerial traversal reminded me of everything from GTA Online to Just Cause and Far Cry. 

And then, as if that wasn't enough to get tongues wagging, things got a bit weird. The protagonist was seen stepping into another dimension in a Matrix-tearing flutter of numbers and symbols. Magic suddenly took focus, with the hero pulling open hefty doors a la Breath of the Wild's Magnesis ability. The protagonist was shown pole vaulting over a stronghold's wall, and then throwing themselves over a cliff, transforming into some ungodly flying mess that I think might have been crows feathers but I can't be sure, that allowed them to glide to safety below. Then there was a towering Pan's Labyrinth-style tree boss, sandstorms, firestorms, skydiving, black holes, armored dragons, floating cities and… deep breath… let's just say it was a lot.

Crimson Desert at Gamescom Opening Night Live 2023

(Image credit: Pearl Abyss)

"Or, to put that another way: Can this game really be, like, ALL of the RPGs at once?"

In the best possible way, of course. In fact, to quote our own Dustin Bailey's reporting of the trailer during Opening Night Live itself: "What if one game was just, like, ALL of the RPGs at once?" And while my colleague is being sort of flippant there, there's a truth in the question that sets the stage for Crimson Desert. At this juncture, Crimson Desert looks amazing. Its latest gameplay trailer was over and above the best thing to come out of Opening Night Live, and seeing it all in motion – albeit clearly staged for the promotional purposes of the show – almost looked too good to be true. The longer the trailer went on, the higher my eyebrows climbed up my forehead, leaving me with one lingering question: Is this game trying to do too much at once? Or, to put that another way: Can it really be, like, ALL of the RPGs at once? 

Time will answer that question. As it stands, Crimson Desert is without even a vague release window. There's plenty of literature to be gleaned from the game's official website about its world and place in time, but there's as yet nothing tangible about when we might get to take this whirlwind of ideas for a spin. Still, that gameplay trailer is a thing of beauty, merging the best of Elden Ring, Tears of the Kingdom and so many more. The optimist in me wants to believe Pearl Abyss knows all of this, and knows exactly what sort of expectations it's setting. And if the games Crimson Desert has been so obviously inspired by raised the bar to new heights once upon a time, then this action-RPG could stand to redefine those standards entirely. 

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Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.