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E3 2013: Hands-on with steampunkish Black Gold

Andrew Ross

The folks over at Snail Games had several computers set up at E3 this year to allow the press to play their next MMO, Black Gold. The concept is simple but relatively uncommon: steampunk vs. fantasy. I guess you can say RIFT tried its hand at the trope with its Defiants and Guardians showdown, but it wasn't taken to such an extreme. Black Gold is more like Aztec elves with magic powers vs. an apocalyptic survivalist society that's living off of steam power even though they have telephone poles.

While the game has some really cool art and concepts, the pre-beta demo I got to try was sadly lacking in options. I spent about 20 minutes in the morning trying an Isenhorst human with a rifle, then spent the last hour of E3 day one with still more BG.

Gallery: Black Gold | 23 Photos

See, because the game is in an early stage of localization, I can understand why Snail Games offered demo-goers level 40 characters, a flight to a boss fight for testing purposes, and a PvP room specifically for E3 (seemed more for testing duels, but more on that later). The people around me had left the PvP room in the morning. I didn't find out what it was till later, but the room had a vehicle to test (elephants for the Erlanders, who are the fantasy faction, and I think it was a mech suit for the Isenhorst), vendors for PvP armor, and... that was it. I never saw another person in those rooms, and the floor crew always directed me to another station instead of jumping in and showing me the vehicles in action.

This was understandable since Black Gold is pretty new. I saw several people try the character creators, which had some sliders for facial features, but not, say, hair color. Class options were also limited. Both sides seemed similar; you were either a magic-using melee person or a ranged "magic" person (some just used guns for magic I suppose). My first 20 minutes were devoted to a human character with dual pistols. I don't think head shots did much (yes, aiming was in-game!), but it was still fun to aim for the head. I liked having to aim my moves rather than suffer auto-targeting, but getting into combat and exiting to loot felt awkward. I had to push one button to enter combat mode, then another to leave it, at which point I then had to then click to open the body and then click again to loot. One of the PR reps suggested maybe it felt awkward because of the lag, which could be true. However, I was mainly just doing kill quests, which was kind of the theme of the day. While I did enjoy my barrage fire, close range explosive shot, and laying traps, I can only kill so much before I remember I'm doing the same thing over and over again.

When I came back at the end of the day, I figured I'd try the other faction, so I created an Erlander Warrior. The newbie experience was exactly what you'd expect: quest text many people ignore, follow the dots on the map, kill till it says quest finished, follow the map to turn in the quest, and repeat, probably with a different mob. I really don't enjoy seeing nearly the same quest with different art at several different booths, so I did what I had done at other booths: call over a floor rep and ask what features I should be trying out in the demo. The sad thing is that some of them simply said, "Just play; that's all we have for you to do."

But luckily, I found someone who got me in touch with a more experienced BG team member. Cross-server PvP that allows the winning guild special bonuses sounded cool. The various vehicles did too. The lore and the races (the steampunk side gets something like vampires, fantasy gets shapeshifters, but all I could play were purple Aztec elves and... humans) seemed cool, but I just couldn't play with them.

E3 2013 Handson with steampunkish Black Gold
So I did the starter quests a few times (depending on when a rep would lead me to a machine with a level 40 character). Again, I felt that the characters were pretty similar. Ranged had short and long range attacks, melee had a charge and a bubble move, and so on. There wasn't much to get my "hands on," especially without people to PvP. There was a boss, but it took a few minutes to fly over to, and few people tested it. Often other press reps would die, or worse (in my opinion) we'd get knocked back into a portal that sent us back to where we entered the world. I never did get to see that dragon thing die! I got a lot of practice with the melee characters and sometimes the "D" key. I'm not sure if it's a bug or a feature, but about a third of the time, if I was rooted and stunned, the game let me hit the "D" button to break out. It was a nice feature, but with such an early build, I'm not sure if it was working as intended or not, especially since I didn't see it until the floor representatives left me.

The other odd thing was the fact that even level 40 characters had 7 moves. I asked if there would be more moves later, and if it would work more like World of Warcraft and its million hotbars or Guild Wars 2 where you take what you need and leave the rest off the bar, but I was told this wasn't something that could be discussed yet. It was odd, since the game's website says you can play however you want, but I have no idea what that exactly means despite having had access to 4 level 40 characters of 4 classes.

Ultimately, the demo was pretty restrictive, too restrictive to formulate a complete opinion on the game. Maybe later when the game and the website are filled out a bit more, a hands-on will see something more than "it has the standard MMO features with decent action and cool art," but for now, it's yet another MMO with cool concepts that still need to be developed.

Massively freelancer Jeff Wright chatted with the developers and got his own look at the game, so stay tuned for a second opinion!

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-13, bringing you all the best news from E3 2013. We're covering everything from WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online and ArcheAge to FFXIV's inbound revamp and TERA's latest update, so stay tuned!

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