Cyliena checked out Black Gold Online's alpha recently... here's her thoughts!
Black Gold Online is a steampunk/fantasy hybrid themed MMO from Snail Games. It's currently in the Alpha phase, and we've been assured that Snail is continuously evaluating player feedback to make improvements as development continues. I had some time over the weekend to check out the Alpha build and wanted to share my initial thoughts on the upcoming title.
Making my character took a while, as you're presented with many options. This is good, in my opinion... I'd rather my avatar be unique. One of my favorite parts was checking out the different stylized pupil options; you can really make your character stand out with, for example, cat-eyes. There's many sliders available for various body part sizing, hair styles and colors, facial options and more.
Since I rarely play males in games I made a female avatar, and the first thing I checked was the bust size, which is about as disproportionate as it can get. While I'm always amused by choosing the largest bust size possible, I do hope they add in further downsizing of the chest for others who don't like their female characters to be known for her jubblies.
The weight options were unsurpising as well: they range from 'wafer thin' to 'thin but ate a hamburger today'. I guess you can only have so much realism with your cat-eyes!
Black Gold Online makes some, but not heavy, use of cut scenes. These really could use some voiceovers, and hopefully that will be added as the game continues development. Overall the cut scenes were short but enjoyable.
Graphics and UI
One of the first things that struck me was that the graphic quality currently seems to be on-par with what you see playing RIFT. While there's nothing wrong with RIFT, other MMOs that have released since have upped the scales in graphic quality, so to see a step backward is an eyebrow raiser. Basically, the graphical experience was nice, but there's nothing groundbreaking here.
I did enjoy the UI being minimal; it didn't feel overwhelming at all. The elements do not seem like they'll be very customizable, though. I didn't take much time with it, but it looks like some elements, such as the hotbar and minimap, you'll be able to unlock to move around, but that may be about the extent of customization.
Gameplay hints pop up as you encounter new features of the game, which apparently is BGO's current version of a tutorial. Oddly these seem to have a 30-second timeout function once you start reading them, so I hope you're a quick reader. Another useful pop-up early on are prompts to change out more powerful gear as you acquire it.
Questing can make or break a game experience for me. My favorite game elements include lore and exploration, so a game with a good backbone will suck me in for hundreds of hours.
Unfortunately, even though you're thrust into the world right away, BGO's questing didn't interest me in the least. I couldn't get into the story at all. NPCs just kept sending me to talk to another NPC, who then sent me to yet another NPC, who then had me kill 10 rats and followed up by sending me to... you guessed it, another NPC. You're taught the game as you're quickly shoved through the early areas, but the experience became mind-dulling in a short time. Also, like the cut scenes, quests would benefit from voiceovers.
A world needs an immersive story, but these NPCs didn't seem to get the memo.
Like most MMOs, there's a quest helper UI element that lists the objectives of your current quest. I discovered their "Pathfinding" feature at the beginning of the game when I noticed that quest objectives were underlined. You click on an underlined objective, and the game auto-runs you to your target. The only quest objective I received that did not have this feature was a quest that wanted me to use something in my inventory. I'm really not a fan of this type of feature at all. It requires zero thinking while discouraging exploration and discovery, yet another way that immersion with the BGO world is lost.
Combat, Skills, & Levels
One thing I noted early on was how fast the early levels were speeding by. I stopped playing at level 10, which I obtained in 30 minutes or less of playtime. The velocity at which I was being pushed from one area to the next probably contributed to the necessity of this stance, but I certainly hope there's a good endgame in store if the entire leveling structure whisks by at this rate.
The combat experience is standard MMO fare: use your hotbar of abilities to burn down the mob. I played a Steampunk faction Occultist, but never felt like my class was bringing something unique to the table, though it's possible that this changes at higher levels. Skills are very powerful in the early levels, which left little challenge to the combat experience. I never once felt like I was in danger. Hopefully the power of skills even out as you climb up in levels.
One of the quests I did sent me into an area with a boss fight. This was probably the most challenging experience I took part in, though I still never felt in danger. The fight took longer than normal, allowing me to make use of the several abilities I had gained by that point. The boss had a few special attacks with a telegraph system that allowed you time to run out of the way.
I had a few other notes that I jotted down that didn't seem to fit anywhere else.
- Movement has a couple of options; WASD style is one of them
- Backpack/inventory has reasonable starting space with future expansion options
- Inventory has nice filtering choices
- You get your first mount by level 5-6 through questing
- There are daily login bonuses, with better rewards for more consecutive logins
Black Gold Online's theme offers this game unique potential, but the hook for players seems to be missing. I hope that as the game continues development more intriguing features are added, because I'd really love to see a steampunk/fantasy-themed MMO succeed. However, the empty feeling that two of the most important facets of an MMO—questing and combat systems—left me with has me concerned about the game's overall viability.
Are you looking forward to Black Gold Online? Leave us a note and remember to sign up for testing on the official site!
Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor