|1. General Mechanics and Progression|
|2. Player vs Player and Territory Control|
|3. World Design, PvE, and Crafting|
|4. Non-Game Systems and Concerns|
Albion Online‘s world design is distinct among fantasy MMORPGs in that it’s functionally more similar to the expansive universe of EVE Online than it is to Everquest or World of Warcraft‘s worlds. The game world is made up of many tiles that fit together in a manner almost reminiscent of the tabletop game Settlers of Catan. While each tile is fairly largely in size (they don’t look it, but I believe most to be about the size of a standard MMO zone), these tiles are premade and sometimes reused, with players travelling between them via zone portals set up along the roads. Most of the content found in them is not unique, with dungeons and forts making multiple appearances across the game’s sprawling world.
This is a result of the game being intended to be played in a way that is fundamentally different than other fantasy MMORPGs. There is no main city where everyone will gather; each individual guild will likely call a different tile home, and given that travel in Albion is both time consuming and dangerous, content needs to be spread out across the world as a result.
This method of world design and the resulting player diaspora are an essential part of the game’s single-server environment and territorial control systems; you can’t have 200,000 players call the same city home and pull it off on a single-server, and you need a massive world if you’re going to keep everyone spread out. The tile system itself is a rather ingenious way of ensuring that new zones can be quickly and easily dropped into or removed from the game world if changes in population necessitate it.
Originally I had planned some critique at this point. Most of the zones in the current beta feel homogeneous while the cities themselves lack any type of differentiating thematic identity. That said, the current development roadmap lists “making cities and zones more unique”, “dfferent biomes (mountain, grasslands, forest,…)”, and “different climates (hot, temperate, cold)” as being priorities for a future build, so I’ll reserve judgment while those updates are being developed.
Although Albion Online is a PvP focused title, you’ll still be doing a lot of PvE to level your skills and accumulate silver. Although the game does feature the odd faction mission to kill X mobs or gather Y materials, Albion doesn’t have questing in the traditional sense. As mentioned earlier, most of your progression will come simply by doing, whether that’s fighting mobs, gathering materials, or crafting goods. This return to the old paradigm of grind-based skill leveling probably won’t be for everyone, but I find it far more enjoyable than working through countless uninspired and uninteresting standard MMO quests. Of course, that doesn’t mean sitting in one place killing the same four mobs over and over again should be well rewarded, and thankfully, it isn’t.
There are two main types of mobs in Albion‘s world: those that you can skin for leather (animal mobs), and those that you kill for silver (humanoids and monsters). At higher tiers, the silver mobs also drop gems and runes used in crafting equipment. For both types of mobs, the amount of resources dropped on death is determined by how long the mob has remained alive before being killed; as a result, killing the same mob over and over again is economically inefficient.
Perhaps more importantly, the most rewarding mobs – typically found in elite zones or dungeons – are either extremely difficult or flat out impossible to solo, and often subject to lengthy respawn timers. Again in the style of older MMORPGs, Albion Online is fundamentally not designed around solo players. Players who group up to take on dungeons while their spawns are active will be able to progress much, much faster than those attempting to grind it out on soloable mobs. This is exactly how it should be.
Combat difficulty plays its part in keeping this all engaging. The game is harshly punishing of players who ignore mechanics, while rewarding to those able to interrupt key skills, correctly prioritize targets, and don’t stand in AoE indicators. With Albion Online‘s harsh penalties for failure, the game does a good job of keeping everyone on their toes.
Dungeon Crawling, Gateways, and Hellgates
There are actually three types of dungeons in Albion Online. The open world dungeons are the ones I’ve been referring to so far, and are non-instanced PvP enabled zones (unless they’re in a green zone on the map) with between one and four entrances from the overworld (often functioning as shortcuts between different overworld zones). These dungeons include their own bosses and can be scaled for either solo/duo players or tuned for larger groups.
Gateway dungeons are instanced two or five man dungeons found inside select open world dungeons. Portals to these gateway dungeons are spawned after a group kills a boss; once the maximum number of allowed players enter, the portal closes and no one else can enter until the group exits the dungeon and the boss respawns. These dungeons become progressively more difficult as players fight their way through packs of mobs and mini-bosses to reach the final boss and claim his treasure. Because of the restriction on group size, gateway dungeons can be rigorously tuned to the standards found in traditional themepark MMOs, and are a great way to introduce challenging PvE content to the game. In my experience, gateway dungeons are among the most rewarding content types in the game.
Importantly, because of the way they’re implemented, these instanced dungeons don’t detract from the game’s PvP experience. They are only located inside of the most sprawling open world dungeons in PvP enabled zones, and because only one group can enter at a time, whenever you see that the portal is down on the map, you know that a group is inside and will soon be leaving, bags heavy with loot. PvP in dungeons containing gateway portals is extremely common and exciting, given the stakes.
Hellgates are another type of instanced dungeon which 5 man groups can enter after killing a gatekeeper in the overworld. The catch is that each hellgate can be accessed from two different gatekeepers, and you never know if your group is the only one inside. The design objective here is to provide balanced PvP encounters in PvE dungeons – a fascinating idea that I’ve seen suggested in other game communities but never experienced actually implemented.
Crafting and the Economy
Virtually everything players use in Albion Online is crafted by a player, whether it’s equipment, consumables, tools, buildings, or even mounts. The only things that ever drop from NPCs are quite literally silver and crafting materials, and the only NPC vendors I’ve encountered have been selling seeds for farming and guild cosmetics. That’s it.
Crafting itself is fairly simple. You gather materials to fill the recipe, select the spells if it’s a piece of equipment, and then press the craft button. While I’m obligated as a Star Wars Galaxies fan to throw shade at the lack of complexity in Albion‘s crafting, the truth is that it still manages to work very well. It’s no SWG, but other than that, it’s basically as good as every other game, and that can be good enough.
At least at launch, organized guilds will want to assign specific individuals to leveling up specific items, as each different item requires leveling its own crafting skill to access higher tiers. As a result, there is at least some degree of specialization which differentiates crafters from each other.
The plots for crafting stations in the game’s cities are all owned by other players, who purchase them when they go up for auction periodically. After purchasing the rights to one of these plots, players can construct the crafting station, upgrade it to be able to process higher tiers of materials, and charge a fee for access to it. I’m not convinced that this actually adds much to the game, but it’s an interesting feature and there’s something about learning which stalls in your city have the lowest fees that helps to root you in the game world (fees are easily comparable by selecting the stalls on the map) .
Keeping it Local
A key feature in any good sandbox game is economies being localized. In Albion Online the auction houses are not linked, bank space is unique to whatever chest your stuff happens to be in, and while there is chartered fast travel between cities, the cost scales massively in correlation with the weight and value of the items your character is carrying.
Transporting goods – particularly when it comes to bulk crafting materials – can be an ordeal on its own. Carrying over your weight limit progressively slows you down in true Elder Scrolls fashion, which puts you in an ugly position should you be attacked on the way. Your weight limit can be increased with food buffs and by using a mount. A horse increases your weight capacity a little, while the ox mount increases it by a lot, but at the cost of speed and making you an obvious target.
Private Islands and Farming
Private islands ensure that everyone can have their own little slice of land in Albion Online. These islands, which are tied to whichever city you purchase them in (with regards to fast travel costs), provide each player with ample space to construct their own crafting stations and grow crops (food), herbs (potions), and livestock (food and mounts) through the game’s farming system. There’s also a guild variant of the island with even more space available.
Farming is accomplished primarily on these private islands, but can be supplemented by claiming farmstead resource territories in the overworld through guild territorial control. All crops seem to take 22 hours to mature, so farming becomes a quick and easy daily task for those who choose to participate.
While ease of access to farming on these islands may raise economic concerns for some, those concerns are completely unfounded. Albion Online features massive economic sinks for food, as it is required to maintain buildings and territories in addition to its use in crafting consumables. In my opinion, every player should plan to fully upgrade their private island to use for farming, though thanks to the game’s robust permissions system, you shouldn’t have much difficulty letting a guildmate handle yours if you don’t fancy yourself much of a farmer.
With all of that covered, read on for a look at non-game systems and concerns before the final takeaway! Continue on to Page 4.