By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Black Gold Online is the latest game from Snail Games, creators of Age of Wushu. It uses a modified version of the Age of Wushu engine, and features a Steampunk versus Nature theme. The steam-based Isenhorst face off against the nature-loving Erlandir, mechs and dragons will clash in epic battles for the all-important “black gold” that the game gets its name from. Myself, I'm a huge fan of Age of Wushu, so I will be comparing the two games at various points in the review. It seems that Snail has everything they need for a great game, so let’s hope they've managed to pull it off once again.
Similar to Age of Wushu, Black Gold has a large amount of customization at character creation. There's plenty of sliders to make use of and other options to make your character look unique right from the get-go. At creation, you will also choose your character’s faction (and race), picking from one of four of the current races, and a class. Being a massive fan of both the steampunk and mech genres of fiction, I went with Isenhorst. As for classes, it seems that each race has nine classes to choose from, and although some of the names are different between the two factions, they mostly seem to be mirrors of the each other. These classes are your typical archetypes – rogues, support, tank, DPS, etc...
Besides character creation, there honestly is not much in terms of customization. Coming from Age of Wushu, this felt like a huge let down. When you pick your class, you're on a linear path from start to end. Abilities will unlock at certain levels, and upgrading abilities can only be done when you reach certain levels. As upgrading abilities seems rather cheap, you might as well upgrade everything.
In terms of equipment, there are more customization options. Obviously, you'll want to grab the best gear possible and Snail (at least so far) hasn't created a wide variety to choose from. You can, however, use various upgrades to improve the stats of your gear in certain ways. For example, you could choose to stack critical hit damage on all of your gear, or defense if you find that you're a bit weak. As far as I'm concerned this is a massive improvement over the (in my opinion) poor luck-based system that Age of Wushu used for equipment upgrading, where the stats on your gear were left up to RNGesus.
I much prefer the “You get what you see” philosophy over the randomness in Age of Wushu.
When I saw early videos of the game, I have to be honest and say I didn't think much of the graphics. However, after having actually got into the game to play, my opinion has changed a lot. Simply put, I feel the game looks great. The steampunk and nature designs are incredible. Mechs look intimidating and the Isenhorst cities look exactly like you would think a city in a steam-powered era would look – with cranes, gears, and smokestacks everywhere. The Erlandir cities and areas look superb as well, with most of the architecture seamlessly blending into the nature around it.
I loved going through the cities, just exploring them.
I also want to praise the skill effects and UI. Most of the skill effects look great, and I find that I actually enjoy watching fights because of how good they look. The UI has a nice sleek design, so it's not intrusive to the game and is also pleasing to the eye. It was very responsive and smooth as well. The last thing I want to mention (in terms of graphics) is how awesome the armor looks, even early on. It's completely bad-ass to see a skull with flaming eyes on your level 20 character. About the only place I felt fell short of the overall quality of the graphics were the basic motorcycles – they just looked like crap, and their clear reskinning of standard mounts with no realistic cycle physics made it all the worse.
The light also has a nice trailing effect when you move.
The Isenhorst and Erlandir lands can be eerily similar sometimes. For example, while adventuring around an Isenhorst stronghold, you may come across cyborg wolves. And while you're in Erlandir lands, you may find yourself facing just regular wolves. I find stuff like this quite nice, as it shows you two ways of life and two different worlds that have collided. With Isenhorst you have zepplins or airplanes and helicopters, while Erlandir has boats pulled in the sky by dragons. Sometimes, it's incredible to see how these two different life-styles have accomplished (basically) the same thing in completely different ways. For that, I have to commend the lore-writers and world builders.
As of right now, the controls are generally an improvement over Age of Wushu. But there are some quirks. Some of which can be very annoying. There is a lot of customization when it comes to hotkeys and other “control options.” If you're the type of person that likes to completely customize your controls, you won’t be disappointed with Black Gold.
Something else that is important to mention is that Battle Carriers (or at least the Mech Battle Carriers) have both third-person and first-person mode. Personally, I prefer first-person mode as the view from the cockpit is great and the combat is very fun. To be clear, while you're in a Battle Carrier, there is no point-and-click – you will need to use your aim and (in some cases) timing to hit your targets. This is why I enjoy this part of the game so much.
This is how I feel the game was meant to be played.
So far, the community has been fairly nice. However, this may be due to the beta nature of the game. For the most part, the only people in the game currently are those who really want to be in. Because of that, a large number of the player-base is extremely helpful to new players. I had no issue finding a helpful guild who was willing to answer all my newbie questions. So far I haven't noticed any major negative aspects about the community.
Overall, there are a number of aspects I'm disappointed in when it comes to Black Gold’s gameplay, with the questing being the most prominent. Although some of the stories behind quest can be interesting, the questing itself is boring “kill x of y” or “collect x of y” or “auto-path to X and talk to him.” Basically the same crap that has been found in themepark MMORPGs for a decade. To me, this is a massive let down when compared to the freedom that Age of Wushu offered. As far as I understand it, the choice of going with a more quest-oriented approach with Black Gold was made so that it would appeal to Western audiences more than Age of Wushu did.
Black Gold has a pretty interesting exploration system. It seems there are numerous caves, dungeons, and other places for adventurers to get killed in, spread all throughout the land. Most of these are up to you to discover, often by accident. If you happen to be the first person to discover one of these locations, you will get a world announcement about it, letting others know that you have unlocked the cave/dungeon/whatever for everyone else. To me, this is a great system that encourages people to actually stray from the (rather linear) quest-lines to find something interesting.
Combat is a very nice hybrid of action and point-and-click, in my opinion. I found myself enjoying the combat a great deal, and fighting mobs was both challenging and fun in most cases. However, because of the mechs (which I will get into more later on), Snail kinda shadowed its own combat system a bit. How, you might ask? Simply because you can pull out your mech, or dragon, or whatever other battle carriers you might have, and ROFLSTOMP any mob. Whenever I come across a quest that has me killing a lot of non-sense mobs, I simply hop in my Reveler I Model Raging Flame and burn everything to a crisp using the flamethrower. It doesn't make for much of a challenge and because of that you will usually only end up using the actual combat system while in some of the PVP options, or in the various dungeons and instances. At the same time, I feel I would be more upset if Snail limited my use of the mechs. It's a catch-22 of sorts.
It's so easy, even an Erlandir could manage it.
Mechs (and other Battle Carriers)
Before I get into PVP, I want to talk a bit about the mechs, and Battle Carriers in general. In Black Gold, a Battle Carrier is any number of combat mount/vehicle. For Isenhorst, they take the form of mechs, tanks, and flying machines. Erlandir has dinosaurs, dragons, and other such organic-type beasts. As a mech fan, I chose Isenhorst as my faction and spent a lot of my time in mechs.
I love the amount of freedom you get while flying in the aerial Battle Carriers.
Now, there are a lot of different types of Battle Carriers, and most seem to fill a specific role and are best for countering certain other types of Battle Carriers. Some are great when fighting those on the ground, while others are better at hitting the more heavy Battle Carriers, who can deal the most damage and usually have the most HP. This variety when it comes to Battle Carriers is one of my favorite things about the game, and the reason I've had so much fun with it. It actually feels like MechWarrior sometimes.
On the subject of Battle Carriers, I feel I should make it clear that they are not mounts. Although, you could use them as mounts if you wanted (but I would advise against it as they require fuel and are usually slower than the mounts). The 'real' mounts are generally a lot faster than Battle Carriers and require no fuel to use and that makes them great for getting around. You will get your first mount in the first few levels, if you're Isenhorst this will be the Dwarven motorcycle. Later on you can get better (both in terms of speed and looks) mounts, such as a mechanical wolf. As far as I can tell, the mount system in Black Gold is not limited in the ways that they were in Age of Wushu – that is, you won’t find your mount disappearing after thirty days, requiring that you buy a new one.
When it comes to PVP, there are a number of options. From the “territory control”-styled Energy Wells, to the Balanced Arena that puts you on completely equal terms with whoever you are facing. My personal favorite PVP option was the Bloodfang Citadel, which felt a lot like a Battle Carrier MOBA. It's a capture-the-flag style match where the use of Battle Carriers is strongly suggested, and because of that there are tons of them available for you to use (on top of the ones you already have in your garage). It's honestly a great way to test out the various Battle Carriers before putting in the effort to get them yourself, too.
I love how epic the fights can get in Bloodfang.
The Balanced Arena is a 1 versus 1 match where both participants are “balanced” so the fight can be as fair as possible. Even if one of the participants is level 30 while the other is 20, the fight is as fair as it can be. When you enter, your stats are altered to better match your opponent’s. Of course, fighting someone that is level 40 (the current max level) can be quite difficult as they already have all their abilities available to them, while at a lower level you won’t have all of yours. It is fun, though.
Crafting is very similar to how it was in Age of Wushu. You're only allowed to take one of the professions (which are Alchemist, Jeweler, Armorsmith, Tailor, and Blacksmith). You can gain recipes by purchasing them from the profession NPCs (and possibly by looting them, although I haven't confirmed it). There is also a stamina system, just like in Age of Wushu, designed to limit how much you can make in a single day. However, also like in Wushu, there are potions you can take to refill some of your stamina.
Fairly simple, fairly boring.
With crafting, the next question is usually “How does the economy work?” Well, similar to Age of Wushu, Black Gold uses a dual currency system. You have your typical gold/silver/copper coins used to trade with NPCs and whatnot. But you also have Black Gold, which is the currency that is used when purchasing the really important stuff or when trading with players. Probably the easiest source of Black Gold is the Sands of Time, but you can also gain them from participating in the Patch of the Warrior challenge or just by adventuring.
In terms of “fluff” that is available in the game, there are pets and costumes. Unlike in Age of Wushu, pets are relatively easy to come across in Black Gold and you will get your first very early on. Getting new ones didn't seem very hard, just requiring a time investment and in-game money. Costumes, at least for now, seem kind of limited. However, it could be that I wasn't looking in the right places. There are also combat pets that can be collected. Either way, there is sure to be a lot of fluff in the game for those that like that kind of stuff.
Looks more like a flea or bug, in my opinion.
The Cash System
I would like to close up by talking about how Black Gold plans to make a profit. So far, the only way they seem to plan to make money is through their “Sands of Time” system. Perhaps later on they will add a cash shop, but so far it seems like this will be their payment plan. Now, the Sands of Time system in general can be confusing and a lot of people were initially up-in-arms about it - who wants to pay for loot, right? However, it doesn't work quite like that.
As you adventure, your progress for that play session will be saved in a “Sands of Time.” You can then purchase that Sands of Time to get some nice loot, or upgrades for your gear, or other nice things. To be clear, the stuff you loot during your adventuring isn't automatically put into your Sands of Time (as far as I can tell). And, when you get a Sands of Time, you can either refine it (for gear upgrades) or “gain” from it, receiving a nice item. You get two free Sands of Time each day, and after that you can use vouchers (which are purchased with real cash) to gain access to more Sands of Time.
In the end, Black Gold is quite different than Age of Wushu. Although it's a traditional themepark MMORPG, it does have a few features that are very fun – namely the Battle Carriers and various PVP options. The Sands of Time cash system isn't as bad as I had initially feared, in fact it seems like a small part of the game (although it may become more important in the future). The game is not exactly what I had hoped it would be, especially after having experience with Age of Wushu and how unique that game is. However, it is the best Steampunk game I've yet to play. It portrays the setting perfectly, and the nature side of the game is just as diverse and interesting. I would say Black Gold is definitely worth playing, and I plan to continue playing myself!
Features: 4/5 – Not as great as Wushu, in my opinion, but surely a lot of interesting features.
Customization: 3/5 – Character creation was great, but it was downhill from there.
Graphics: 4/5 – May not look exactly “next gen” but is definitely pleasing to the eye.
Controls: 3/5 – Mostly smooth and responsive, but some annoying quirks that need ironed out.
Community: 4/5 –Typical MMORPG community that leans a bit to the helpful side.
Overall: 4/5 – Worth a play, and can definitely fill your Mech (or dragon-riding) fix.
Also be sure to catch our video First Look from JamesBl0nde on our sister site, MMOHuts!