Black Gold Online Preview: Open Beta Impressions

Squeaky wheel.

I’m pretty familiar with MMOs. Ultima Online, EverQuest, Final Fantasy XI, Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, City of Heroes, World of WarCraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Final Fantasy XIV, you name it, and I’ve probably put a few hours into it. It’s a pretty diverse genre, even today, despite the fact that so many publishers and developers have attempted to duplicate World of WarCraft’s unprecedented level of success.

Black Gold Online is yet another link the long chain of games that have attempted to copy Blizzard’s design philosophies. The game starts off like pretty much any MMO of the last ten years. You’ll pick a faction, choosing between the steampunk-inspired Isenhorst and the nature-loving Erlandir, who are fighting over the all-important, titular black gold. After that, you’ll be tasked with choosing between one of the three races (two kinds of humans, vampires, dwarves, shapeshifters, and big, blue elves) on each side, and one of twelve different classes, each of which adheres to the traditional MMO archetypes of warrior, mage, rogue, hunter, etc.

From there, you’ll be dropped into a starting zone and tasked with doing normal, MMO-y things so you level up, and get better gear. Repeat ad naseum, and you have the basis for every MMO in existence. This isn’t a problem when the game you’re playing makes these tasks entertaining or gives you an interesting story to follow, but Black Gold Online doesn’t do either of these things. Hell, the game barely even teaches you how to play or explains what the heck you’re doing, dropping you right into the midst of a heated battle.

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The opening cinematic attempts to establish a story and some stakes, but it’s poorly put together and lacks voice acting, so you’re forced to read lines of text full of nonsense words that the game doesn’t even try to explain, and attempt to connect them to what is going on in the story.

You’ll kill a few normal dudes, hop onto a mounted warbeast, kill a few slightly bigger dudes, and then face off against a huge boss. I can only assume I was supposed to lose this fight because I did, and didn’t have to attempt it again. After my brutal murder and incredibly convenient resurrection, the game magically transported me into a more traditional starting zone where I proceeded to kill wolves and small-time bandits.

All of this would be fine if it weren’t so boring or underdeveloped, but Black Gold Online never gives you a reason to care about much of anything in its universe. The opening cinematic attempts to establish a story and some stakes, but it’s poorly put together and lacks voice acting, so you’re forced to read lines of text full of nonsense words that the game doesn’t even try to explain, and attempt to connect them to what is going on in the story.

The actual questing isn’t much better. You’re never really told why you’re doing the things you’re doing beyond “Bad Things Will Happen If You Don’t,” so it’s hard to care about anything. In one early quest, I was talking to an NPC, only to have another NPC in front of me randomly transform into a vampire and run off. I was informed that this NPC, whom I had never interacted with before, was actually an Important Member of the Community, and that I should go help him.

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You meet up with a character, do something for them, and then move on, gaining nothing but some experience and maybe some loot for your trouble. This might be okay if the individual quests were fun, but there’s no real reason that you’re doing them other than to gain experience, and the writing behind each one is usually painfully bad.

I chased him to a nearby grove, where he told me that he hungered for blood and that he needed a special plant to sate his bloodlust. I accepted the quest, walked ten feet, picked the flower my new vampire friend specified, and then brought it back to him. He thanked me, gave me some experience, and told me to get lost. I never saw him again.

It’s how most of Black Gold Online’s quests go, really. You meet up with a character, do something for them, and then move on, gaining nothing but some experience and maybe some loot for your trouble. This might be okay if the individual quests were fun, but there’s no real reason that you’re doing them other than to gain experience, and the writing behind each one is usually painfully bad.

The quest design would be easy to overlook if the act of questing itself, or the core gameplay, were fun, but, regrettably, this isn’t the case. Black Gold Online sticks to the hotkey-oriented action of most other MMOs pretty rigidly, but it never really manages to make the combat feel good. Sure, things happen when you press a button, but there’s never any sense of weight or power to your spells. You just press buttons until the other guy goes down. Worse still, there’s no auto-attacking, which means you constantly have to mash your shoot or attack button as a melee or ranged class that relies on weapons.

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Battle carriers, the warbeasts or mechs that I mentioned earlier (which you can mount at any time), are a lot of fun, and allow you to take the fight to big groups or large enemies. Likewise, the game’s PVP has a lot of interesting and varied modes, and the game’s decision to give you a mount early on encourages you to explore.

That doesn’t mean that Black Gold Online doesn’t have some good gameplay ideas. Battle carriers, the warbeasts or mechs that I mentioned earlier (which you can mount at any time), are a lot of fun, and allow you to take the fight to big groups or large enemies. Likewise, the game’s PVP has a lot of interesting and varied modes, and the game’s decision to give you a mount early on encourages you to explore (because the quest design sure doesn’t).

Beyond that, however, you would be forgiven for thinking that the game is a low-budget knockoff. Sure, the ideas behind the lore are cool, and the art style is actually pretty interesting, but the graphics never capitalize on the material provided by the setting, and everything, from the core gameplay to the quest design, just feels rushed and slapped together. Now, all of this could change. The game is still in (open) beta. But there’s already been a huge drop-off in the number of players, and a majority of the chat has been taken over by gold farmers hocking their wares.

That certainly doesn’t bode well for a game this early in its life cycle, especially an MMO. Black Gold Online has a lot of potential, and a few key fixes could really improve the game. Right now, however, it’s just not all that engaging, and worse still, not that good. Some people will no doubt love the unique aspects of the game, but in a genre with so many excellent, varied options, Black Gold Online just isn’t good enough.

This game was previewed on the PC.


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