E3 2013 Preview: Black Gold mixes steampunk and fantasy in an exciting new MMO

Have you ever wanted to fly your steam operated glider up through the clouds and dock it on top of a giant walking city? What about riding around on a green-skinned lizard/deer shooting acid and spikes at anything that moves? WELL GUESS WHAT? Today we had the chance to sit down with Snail Games, the company behind free-to-play kung-fu MMO Age of Wushu, to see their brand new online “steampunk vs. fantasy” offering, Black Gold, and it looks pretty darn great.

As is often the case, players must choose between two warring factions. In this case, the Isenhorst, an empire of steam-powered machinists, and the Erlandirs, magical races with ties to nature. However, in a pleasing departure from the norm, the races aligned with each aren’t just reskinned analogs of each other. The Dwarves, Humans, and Vampires of the Isenhorst develop completely different skills than the Koshites, Yutonians, and Shapeshifters of the Erlandirs. On top of that, there are 18 classes to choose from, making for some extremely varied strategies for playing this game.

Snail Games doesn’t just revel in unnecessary complexity either. The skill trees are deep, but balanced, allowing for hotswappable loadouts that enable things like mage classes that can mix and match between wind and fire magics to create flying fireballs. On top of that, a very deep and scalable crafting system ensures that no two players will be using the same exact gear, and player to player marketplaces, including a black market where steampunks can sell their mechanical wares to the fantasyfolk, etc.

Guilds are based around factories and temples, and also enable the use of PvP warmechs, which reside in garages and stables attached to the guildhouses. It was awesome to watch the player climb into a mech as the game seamlessly shifted from your basic 3rd person MMO into a first-person mech shooter. These are seriously heavy hitters, and depending on size, can require a crew of anywhere from one to several players. Also exciting was the news that these powerful vehicles and their animalesque Erlandirs counterparts can easily be stolen back and forth, and even broken down and sold for parts by enemy guilds.

Like Age of Wushu before it, Black Gold servers are based around action-driven open PvP combat, which lets cool things like this happen, but that definitely doesn’t mean there’s not tons to do on top of that. Out in the world, players will encounter random dynamic events, such as killing a certain number of swarming baddies within a certain amount of time, which just like in Age of Wushu will earn the player special achievements and vanity items.

There’s also a bunch of different mechanical and organic vanity pets, which can start out as cute sidekicks, and eventually evolve into cool-looking mounts like deer and motorcycles. OH YEAH, and let’s not forget that flying mounts are the only way to get your characters up into the Giant Trees and Walking Steam Cities that dot the map and serve as capital hubs. They truly are impressive, and seeing them become tangible after appearing far off in the distance is legitimately epic.

For Arena junkies, Black Gold boasts all the typical stuff, but also a very intriguing MOBA-style mode, where players work to upgrade their characters with bonuses specific to each instance. We didn’t get to see it in action, but it sounds awesome, and it really does a lot to show how Snail Games isn’t taking stuff lightly.

In fact, Black Gold is pretty darn solid on all fronts. Combat, both on the ground and atop war mounts, is easy, but satisfyingly tactical. Progression and growth are easily trackable along several different lines, and their rewards are both useful and varied. Also the game looks beautiful, opting for a much more mature art style than many other MMO’s out there, and the hard contrast between steampunk and the high fantasy aesthetics are implemented to great effect.

Beta keys should be showing up sometime this Fall, and when Black Gold drops in Q1 next year, you’re probably doing yourself a favor if you try it out.