Snail Games has been active in North America since its introduction of the wuxia MMO, Age of Wushu. The Chinese studio's second free-to-play effort, Black Gold Online, was on the floor at E3, so we checked it out to see what sets apart this MMO from the others.
At its core, Black Gold Online is loosely a World of Warcraft clone, but mixed with some concepts from Guild Wars 2 and other games. It also has an exceptionally strong PvP emphasis. Black Gold's setting could help set it apart.
The game is set on a continent with two warring factions that are fighting over a precious resource referred to as Black Gold. It's vital to steam power and the casting of magic — each the central provenance of one of the two factions. Each faction has three base classes that split into three subclasses (similar to the traditional progression in titles like Ragnarok Online), creating two distinct cultures that even have different methods for customizing their mounts (raising pets on the Magic side, crafting on the Steam side). Classes include gunslingers, shapeshifters and vampires, producing an interesting setting indeed.
Actual gameplay mixes in more modern MMO principles. Players have a single skill bar that's limited to seven skills. Unlike Guild Wars, in Black Gold Online, you can change this on the fly, but doing so forces a fairly long cool-down period. Combat flow is slightly more arcade-like, as you can escape from some effects by quickly alternating between the left and right keys or utilizing Guild Wars 2-style dodge-rolling. There's also an emphasis on relative positioning as much as actual attacks, many of which shift your position as part of the animation. Positioning matters in this title, so players are required to aim and target in a more shooter-like style.
Later portions of the game are nearly completely PvP-centric, as in Age of Wushu, focusing on world-based combat over the mountainous regions that are the primary harvesting points for the titular black gold. PvE stories are more about leveling up, and even they can have PvP elements. There are also arena matches, which add vehicles to combat. Magic characters use large animals, while Steam characters include tanks and steam robots. The two vehicles are mechanically similar, but their feel is distinct, and their controls shift to be more first-person-shooter-like to differentiate between vehicles and on-ground play.
The title's conceptual emphasis on player skill even includes a relatively low stat ceiling. While the max level is 40, the stat progression is slow enough that a skilled level 20 player can easily floor a level-40 opponent. Hopefully, this will keep things interesting in later play.
Black Gold Online's North American release is aimed for later this year, and closed betas are currently in progress. It's a competent addition to the action-MMO pool, and it should scratch a player's itch for PvP-centric end-gaming and steampunk-heavy action.
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