First Impressions - Seems We've Been Here Before
Steampunk has been an obsession of gamers for a long time, but it’s criminally underrepresented in most MMORPGs. Snail Games aimed to partially alleviate that concern by smashing both steampunk and fantasy flavors together into one massive and varied free-to-play MMORPG called Black Gold Online. BGO has a lot in common with one of its developers other titles, Age of Wushu, both in terms of visuals, mechanics, and underlying systems. As is customary nowadays, BGO eschews the tradition tab targeting auto attack combat system in favor of something that requires a bit more finger activity. While it’s far from being a full-on action MMO, it still manages to be much faster paced than most games on the market.
I have been putting the Open Beta period of the game through its paces over the past several days, partially so that you don’t have to, and I have come away, so far, with decidedly mixed feelings. On one hand, BGO is an entirely capable and sometimes entertaining MMO with lots of pretty environments, responsive controls, and tons of things to do. But then on the other hand, it oozes a “been there, done that” atmosphere that is unshakable, sports an atrocious payment model, and requires true persistence and patience just to get through the most basic content.
For this impressions piece though, let’s talk about some of the parts that were enjoyable first off. Similar to Snails’ other game, Age of Wushu, the character models in and of themselves are actually quite nice. Faces have a high level of detail and personality and the different races have unique flairs all their own. I enjoyed the character creation system in this game so much so that I actually made a handful of characters just to explore my options. Make no mistake though – this is very much a free-to-play Asian MMO, as is obvious in all aspects of the game, but it’s still nice to look at most of the time.
Once you’re in the game, you’re also treated to lots of interesting environments. Whether you start in a lush fantasy jungle, or a steampunk city, it doesn’t really resemble much else out there. Combat is fairly satisfying, as your character reacts with speed and accuracy when striking enemies. The fast-paced combat can take some getting used to if you’re a traditional MMO player, but it’s nothing too radical. I noticed the majority of classes are geared more towards ranged combat, but there a handful of dedicated melee classes as well.
Since the game utilizes a dual faction system – which I will refer to as Steampunk and Fantasy, even though they have actual lore-friendly names – each faction has different character options. There are a huge number of class choices, but few feel truly inspired despite the volume of options. There is essentially a repeated variation of the same basic mage-esque archetype, with slight differences here and there.
BGO does offer a good number of things to do for PvE inclined players, but its clearly made to be a PvP game first and foremost. An assortment of modes such as the Adventure System, Arena, Battlefield, Chamber of Greed, dungeons, and other instances provide a large variety of content to keep players busy.
From the moment I logged in, the first thing that became immediately apparent to me was how it felt like I had already played this game before. Everything from the music, to the atmosphere and even the UI font looked identical to MMOs already on the market. In fact, one MMORPG user has pointed out an uncanny similarity in art assets to other games. This isn’t to say that BGO is a “copy-paste” game or anything of the sort, as a ton of work went into its development no doubt, but some things are difficult to overlook when rendering judgment.
After the déjà vu wore off, I sifted through the interface a bit. Naturally, everything is mapped where you’d expect – especially if you’ve played Age of Wushu – which is both a boon and a curse. On the one hand, the game is very easy to pick up and play, but it also feels like the same game you’ve played a dozen times. Similarly is BGO’s obsession with rewarding you for doing the most mundane actions. Throughout the time I spent with the game, the upper right portion of my screen was bombarded with flashing and blinking present box icons. Did I level up? Here’s a gift! Did I kill a bunch of monsters? Here’s a gift! Did I just log in to the game? Here’s a gift! I’m all for rewarding players and making them feel like their actions are making a difference, but all good things should be enjoyed in moderation.
The introductory instance that provides you with extremely basic explanations on how to play the game also feels almost entirely useless. Other than explaining how to move and attack, it does little else in the way of providing relevant information. BGO struggles to decide if it wants to be seen as “just another MMO” or if it truly wants to be different. If Snail Games were serious about selling it as a unique experience, one would assume that basic elements of the game would be explained a bit more clearly. I’ll also save my complete thoughts on BGO’s payment model for the full review, but it appears to be little more than paying for loot you already earned, which is an awful practice.
This is just a first impressions piece of course, which represents only the first few hours of my experience. I have yet to see any of the late game content, develop a character fully, or even partake in PvP. If my initial thoughts on the game are any indication, Black Gold Online is probably just as shallow as it appears, an issue that’s becoming all too common with modern MMOs. From the user interface to the art assets that make up the world around me, BGO feels a lot like a vacation to the same hotel for the 1000th time – it’s not bad necessarily, but you’ve already been there before.
David Jagneaux / David is a freelance writer and full-time nerd. He loves to play, write about, talk about and think about all things gaming. It's dangerous to go alone, so follow him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux