Black Gold Online Preview: Gritty Steampunk meets vibrant fantasy

Snail Games is largely known for its work on Age of Wushu, but the company actually has several projects under its belt. Another major current endeavor from Snail which will enter beta later this week is Black Gold Online. The MMO, which features a stylish mix of steampunk and fantasy themes, will focus on giving players a massive map to explore, raid, conquer, and battle on as one of two warring factions, each of which has its own abilities, mounts, and motives.

The Kingdom of Isenhorst is a steam-powered community. This faction, which is obviously heavily based on the steampunk style while throwing in some spaghetti Western influence, is known for its advanced technology and use of giant mechs. Then there's the Erlandir Union, a group dedicated to the use of magic and massive beasts. The two groups are in a bitter rivalry to control the titular precious element Black Gold.

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The interesting thing about Black Gold Online is how its two styles simultaneously clash and mesh. The steampunk side of things is grittier and darker while the fantasy side is colorful and vibrant. It's easy to see how two vastly different thematic elements could suffer from a sort of disconnect, but Black Gold Online purposely delivers two wholly unique design elements and then uses them to create a world with a deeply rooted background story. Each side has its own history, but said histories come together to create the entire game world's lore, which you discover more of as you play.

One thing I found particularly interesting while checking out the game at the Snail offices was the melee combat. Instead of forcing overly simplistic hack-and-slash action, there's a slightly deeper design to the battles. First off, you can do more than just swing your sword in the same basic manner. Black Gold Online has different types of sword swipes and even spin attacks that can take out larger groups of enemies. In a genre that still hasn't evolved its combat across the board, this is definitely a nice touch.

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Carriers are another huge part of the experience. These mounts include mechs and creatures that span five different class types. You've got raid, assault, anti-air, aerial, and siege, and each of these classes offers its own perks and limitations. You can explore the map further using carriers, or you can battle bosses, take on hordes of baddies, and even duke it out with other carriers. There's a rock-paper-scissors system in place for carriers, with some mounts having an advantage over others but being more susceptible to others. Thankfully, you've got quick access to carriers on your command menu and can switch out at will.

Quests in Black Gold Online are fairly sizable, which makes sense considering how big the map itself is. I flew around a pretty large radius and barely scratched the surface. The world is big by design, however, and there's plenty to see and do. Snail explained that Black Gold Online puts an emphasis on exploration. If you take the time to dive into the expansive lands, you'll discover various secrets, treasures, and special items.

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Outbreaks are a major part of Black Gold Online, as are Energy Wells. When an Outbreak occurs, you're tasked with completing random objectives such as chasing treasure hunters, taking on bosses, or defeating armies of enemies. Energy Wells are more about territorial expansion, with nine of these appearing on the map at launch. Basically, 100-player battles will occur every week, and one faction will take control of an Energy Well regardless of which side controls that area of the map. This is all in line with the greed factor, which Snail stated is a major motivator for both factions.

Black Gold Online enters closed beta on May 15. The game will be free-to-play, but transactions will be available. An in-game auction house will allow you to sell goods for currency that can be used to purchase other items. Interestingly, there will be plenty of weapons and items available throughout the world that will allow you to be quite the formidable threat without having to rely on a pay-to-win model. Naturally, Black Gold Online is entering a highly saturated genre, but there could be enough that stands out to garner an audience of its own. We'll find out for sure when the game launches this week.

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