The next game in my Hobo Gamer series is Albion Online, the hardcore PvP focused sandbox MMORPG currently in development by Sandbox Interactive. Albion Online hearkens back to the days of MMOs old, with its most obvious influences stemming from Ultima Online and RuneScape Classic, in addition to little bits of EVE Online appearing throughout the game’s systems. The echoes of these games can be felt everywhere in Albion‘s virtual world – from the crafting economy through which virtually every item enters the game, to the cities guilds and alliances construct in the territories they control on the game’s single-shard server.
Unlike a lot of the games I cover in Hobo Gamer, Albion Online is in a playable state with a fairly low cost of entry, so this piece will have the additional benefit on hands-on experience. That said, keep in mind that Albion is still in development with at least a couple of server wipes planned before launch, so we can expect a reasonable degree of change before the game makes it across the finish line.
With the obvious now properly disclaimed, let’s jump into the fray! Here is absolutely everything you need to know about Albion Online.
|1. General Mechanics and Progression|
|2. Player vs Player and Territory Control|
|3. World Design, PvE, and Crafting|
|4. Non-Game Systems and Concerns|
Graphical Style and Performance
I don’t usually do a segment on the graphics of an MMORPG because for the most part, you can figure that out for yourself just by looking at them, but I think Albion Online deserves an exception. The game’s isometric viewpoint and its low-poly character models were an immediate turn-off that I’m slightly embarrassed to admit prevented me from even looking into the game for quite some time. However, hands-on experience has shown me that my thoroughly unimpressive PC consistently getting solid framerates with 60+ players on screen can do a lot to warm me up to the idea.
Moreover, I’m forced to admit that the game’s somewhat retro graphical style compliments its mechanics extremely well, working in tandem to pull you back to the genre’s early days artistically in addition to the title’s old-school gameplay. The two combine to produce a powerful nostalgic effect that only works to the game’s benefit.
Combat in Albion Online is perhaps most succinctly described by simply telling someone to imagine a MOBA with tab-targeting. Admittedly this sounds underwhelming at first, but it makes more sense when you imagine the difficulty of click targeting each of your single-target skills in large-scale MMO PvP were a traditional MOBA approach to targeting taken. While making every skill aimed Diablo style would also have worked, this undoubtedly would have presented server and hardware performance challenges in larger scale encounters, so perhaps this is the best method after all. Currently, you actually select a hard target by clicking on them, rather than tabbing to cycle through nearby enemies, though there are plans to add a traditional tab-cycling system in the near future.
In my experience, the game made a poor first impression during its early levels, as the first abilities available while leveling your combat skills were all tab-targeted skills. Once players are further along in their character’s progression, these skills will be complimented by ground-targeted AoEs, skillshots, and charge-based abilities that make combat much more engaging.
That said, the mechanics themselves are not the singular determinant of how fun or thrilling a game’s combat is. In most modern MMORPGs, players fight with nothing at stake. In Albion, you quite literally have everything to lose.
Death Penalties, Full Looting, and Combat Difficulty
Dying in Albion Online sucks. All of your gear, your mount, everything in your inventory, and an amount of silver (the game’s primary currency) determined by the value of your equipped gear are dropped on the ground for anyone to pick up. If you’re lucky, “anyone” will turn out to be you or a friend, but more often than not, that isn’t going to be the case. In addition, there is a chance for your equipped items to be permanently destroyed, while everything in your inventory takes a hefty amount of durability damage.
The good news is that not every mob is lethal. Outside of the higher tier zones, some dungeons, and of course PvP (dependent on the safety level of the zone you’re in – as discussed later on), your character will only be knocked out when defeated. This results in a 40 second respawn timer, dropped silver based on the value of your equipped gear, the loss of a portion of all stacked items in your inventory, and a significant amount of durability damage to everything you’re carrying. Mounts are also affected by durability, so after 3-5 knock-outs, you’re looking at a naked walk of shame back to town – and this game doesn’t have a hearthstone.
This makes combat really interesting. Even though Albion Online doesn’t feature the aiming and movement of Wildstar or the complex rotations of World of Warcraft, the added consequence of having something to lose adds a level of depth to the experience that those games just don’t have. PvP is an adrenaline filled rush, and PvE remains exciting due to a difficulty tuned to punish players who aren’t paying attention, even when you’re just grinding mobs in the open world.
The Destiny Board and Character Progression
There are no hard classes in Albion Online; everything is determined by what skills you level and how you equip your character. Skill progression is done through the destiny board, a visually daunting but ultimately simple tool illustrating the skills characters can learn. Progression is accomplished by earning experience performing the relevant activity; you level your longbow skill by fighting with a longbow, your heavy plate helmet skill by fighting with a heavy plate helmet equipped, your mining skill by mining, etc… For the most part, this is all fairly intuitive.
Combat skills on the destiny board determine what items you can equip, while further progression of those skills provide bonuses to the character’s effectiveness with those items. Crafting and gathering skills work similarly, with higher tiers of gathering tools (required to gather higher tier materials) and better crafting recipes unlocking as you progress in their respective skills.
Currently, skill progression can be sped up once a required minimum of experience in a skill has been earned to complete the training by using learning points, a training currency of which every character has a set starting amount, but regenerates slowly over time only for characters with premium status active (more on that in the monetization section at the end of the article). Sandbox Interactive also plans to add passive skill training similar to EVE Online, but how exactly the active, passive, and learning point systems will interact at that point remains unclear. If I were a betting man, my money would be on learning points getting the axe.
So once your skills are leveled, how do you actually build a character? It all comes down to your gear.
In Albion Online you have nine active slots on your hotbar; three from your weapon abilities, one each from your chestpiece, helmet, and boot abilities, plus your mount, a food item providing a long-duration buff, and a potion for more immediate benefits.
Each of your equipped items has a fair degree of ability customization as well, with choices for the active and passive abilities. Each of the game’s 15 weapons comes with three variants.
For example, there are three types of bow: the standard bow, the warbow, and the longbow. Each of these can choose from a shared pool of three abilities for the first slot and three different abilities for the second slot, while the third skill is determined by the specific type of bow you are using.
- Deadly Shot – A high damage attack with a cast time.
- Poisoned Arrow – An instant cast attack that applies a damage-over-time effect.
- Multishot – An instant frontal cone attack.
- Speed Shot – An instant attack which grants a movement speed buff to the caster.
- Frost Shot – A frontal cone skillshot that slows affected targets and jumps the caster backwards.
- Explosive Arrows – A buff to the next five auto-attacks causing them to do an additional AoE hit.
- [Base Bow Only] Rapid Fire – A buff to auto-attack damage and speed for a set time.
- [Warbow Only] Magic Arrow – A long range skillshot AoE stun.
- [Longbow Only] Rain of Arrows – A channeled AoE attack that damages and slows targets.
- Bodkin Arrows – Increases auto-attack range.
- Attack Speed Chance – Chance to gain attack speed boost on hit.
Armor pieces boast similar customization, with each slot and armor type (heavy, medium, and light) offering unique skills and passives. In addition, the appearance and base stats of your armor can be further customized with the use of mixed armor pieces like light plate armor, which features the abilities and passives of light armor while bringing resistances and damage stats more in line with heavy armor.
All things considered, there’s a significant amount of build customization available in the game, and Sandbox Interactive has done a surprisingly good job of balancing it all out. While every game has its flavor-of-the-month builds and group metas, every weapon and armor type seems to have a place somewhere in the game, and giving players the ability to quickly and easily reforge their equipment at a repair station to swap abilities and passives helps to keep them nimble and adaptable.
Ultimately, your role in combat comes down to what weapon you choose to wield. Albion Online offers a variety of weapons filling damage, tanking, healing, support, and control roles that are all an essential part of a balanced group.
With the basics established, it’s time to move on to the meat of the game – pretend murdering each other on the internet! Continue on to Page 2.