|1. General Mechanics and Progression|
|2. Player vs Player and Territory Control|
|3. World Design, PvE, and Crafting|
|4. Non-Game Systems and Concerns|
Multiplatform – It’s on Everything
Albion Online is currently available on Windows, OSX, Linux, and Android, and is coming to iOS soon. Now I know what you’re thinking. WTF Isarii, I read this massive article and now you’re telling me this is some garbage mobile game? Mobile, yes. Garbage, no.
I was in the same boat. Nothing made me more skeptical about Albion than learning it had ports to mobile platforms. After playing for some time though, I have to say it’s barely noticeable. With that said, here’s my exhaustive list of complaints that I’m choosing to blame on the game’s multiplatform functionality.
- The inventory uses these giant icons that make inventory and bank management awful.
- A few too many menus require you to hold down a button to select the options instead of just clicking and selecting an option in the style of a drop-down menu.
- Some interface items have pop-up windows when I feel they should have hovertext (thankfully, this does not apply to ability tooltips).
- A noticeable lack of right click functionality throughout the game (the inability to target something without your autoattack starting, the world map popping up a separate window for zone maps instead of the standard left click to show zone detail, right click to zoom out).
- The guild interface is uninformative, lacks functionality, and is extremely space-inefficient.
Now while these are all admittedly annoying, none of them are even close to game-breaking issues. The development roadmap contains good news on this front as well, as a “PC optimized HUD” and “guild management improvements” are both listed as coming changes. I’d say I’m reserving judgment here, but the truth is that the game is more than playable in its current state, and that the upcoming PC optimizations will just be welcome improvements.
Now it’s hard to make promises about a game’s monetization pre-launch these days, because you never know when they’re going to slap a completely bonkers cash shop on a week before the game goes live. Fortunately in this case, I don’t see much indication that this is in the works. Before speculating on how it could all go horribly wrong, let’s address the facts of what we actually know so far.
- Albion Online will be a buy-to-play title. You can currently purchase access for USD $30.
- The game features a premium currency, gold, which can be purchased with real money or from other players with silver on an exchange.
- The game includes an optional premium membership subscription purchased with gold. Premium membership provides +20 learning points a day and 50% bonuses to experience, silver/loot drops from mobs, and gathering yield. Oddly, this membership appears to be character specific instead of account-wide. These bonuses are very strong, and frankly make the membership mandatory for serious play. In the beta, it is extremely easy to afford with silver, but that may not hold true to live.
- Gold can also be used to purchase a few open world decorations displaying a guild’s logo from a cosmetics vendor located in the game’s city (I honestly prefer these being gold-gated so players don’t just put them everywhere).
As it’s currently implemented, I have absolutely no problems with the game’s monetization. I’m more than happy to pay a subscription, and I don’t mind the subscription bonuses substantially affecting progression and productivity so long as the subscription remains at the standard $15 a month market rate, as this system isn’t based around coercing players to spend more and more to gain in power, and still requires actually playing the game to progress. While it’s bizarre that membership status is by character instead of by account, I also don’t see any reason to actually have an alt outside of private island abuse and espionage/awox scenarios.
So where could it go wrong? I would argue that rolling experience, silver, and crafting yield bonuses into the subscription precludes the later addition of experience potion type items meant to nickle and dime players, though I still wouldn’t put it past a particularly dastardly developer. In its current form, crafting and progression does feature RNG selection of item quality, but the tier system and risk of item loss renders quality levels almost superfluous. There could theoretically be an in here for the crafting boosters usually meant to coerce players into paying to take away the pain of crafting RNG, but truth be told, there just isn’t any pain right now – particularly as crafting doesn’t feature a failure state. Without a substantial rework to crafting and itemization, I can’t see this type of monetization being attempted. The game features no transmogrification or cosmetic systems and has no collectibles like mini-pets, not to mention the trickiness of implementing such in a full-loot MMO.
In short, although the game does feature a premium currency, I see no other indications of a cash shop being planned and believe there are significant obstacles towards doing so in the current design. Fine by me.
Critique and Concerns
Overall I’m liking what I see, but I do have some additional concerns beyond those already raised. None of these are major complaints, but they do warrant some critique nonetheless.
Implementation of Fast Travel
Fast travel was actually implemented during testing based on feedback, and while it’s a feature I’m somewhat opposed to on a fundamental level, I also don’t think it’s completely out of place in Albion. The world is huge and even with fast travel, it still takes a long time go anywhere more than a couple tiles away. It has a place, just… not like this.
Currently fast travel is available between all cities by speaking to an NPC and paying the fare, the cost of which scales rapidly upwards depending on the value of the items you’re carrying to mitigate interference with the local economies. Still, the current system is too easy and misses an opportunity to include another player-driven feature.
My suggestion? Replace fast travel with a portal spell or a group summon (or both!) tied to skill progression, and make it an expensive skill to progress. I’d like it even more if the spell required a player on both ends of the portal to cast. This keeps fast travel intact, but only through guild and community connections (much like mage portals in WoW / EQ or jump bridges in EVE Online). Ideally, this would come with additional restrictions like the consumption of a scarce reagent or a limited range.
Armor and Weapon Tiers are Needlessly Complex and .1/.2/.3 Shouldn’t be Vertically Progressive
I’m not going to bother explaining this one because detailing how the power level of different tiers work across weapon variants of the same base type or armor type equivalents is too complex to delve into in this article, and when a guy writing a 6,000+ word article decides that a subject presents an issue of scope, you know there’s something fundamentally wrong.
For those of you who already have experience in Albion, there is simply no reason that (for example) tiers 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3 should be progressive. The current system is only confusing to new players while creating unnecessary balance problems between weapon and armor types at maximum tier. Make them parallel and have these variants be unlocked at the same time on the destiny board. This will also necessitate a rework of the way gems and runes are used within the crafting system, but will ultimately be worth it.
Keeping the PvE Content Fresh
As a sandbox MMORPG with a heavy emphasis on grinding, it goes without saying that at some point, the content is going to go stale. While the danger introduced by the game’s PvP focus helps to keep things spiced up, it’s still true that Albion Online would be better off with a larger, more diverse selection of PvE content available. Recent additions (especially Gateways and Hellgates) have helped with this tremendously, but further work on adding greater mob variety (particularly in terms of mob abilities with counterplay) to the overworld and existing dungeons would go a long way towards helping. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is already planned as an accompaniment to the update making the game world itself more diverse.
As with any game boasting a hardcore feature-set, there’s always the risk of a pivot away from that original vision at some point down the line. The genre has trended towards being more solo and casual friendly, and it would be a shame for Albion Online to follow suit. I love that mitigated risk and increased efficiency drive me towards grouping with other players every time I log in, and a development shift towards catering to solo players in the middle to late game would almost definitely kill the game for me.
Some in the game’s community already fear this is the case based on recent patches, but personally, I think the changes in question merely make the early game easier to get into. Still, there’s always the risk that Sandbox Interactive will decide to shift their vision for the game, which would require a major reassessment of the title.
In my first three days with Albion Online I managed to sink well over 30 hours into the game, and I’ve only barely slowed down in the time since then. It didn’t hook me immediately, but it didn’t take long before I started to feel the magic I had thought the genre lost over a decade ago. I won’t say that Albion Online is the second coming of the MMORPG virtual world, but it has a damn good shot at being exactly that.
It goes without saying that Albion Online won’t be for everyone. Solo players are going to have a hard time. Players who demand instant gratification will not be pleased by the inconveniences of local economies, travel times, and having to form your own groups without an automated queue. Players that are for some reason looking for a narrative experience in their MMO won’t find it here. Players who hate PvP will not like it in Albion, and even among PvPers, full loot rule sets are not for the faint of heart. But for those of us who want a fantasy MMO where player action drives a shared history, where your closest allies and bitterest rivals matter, and where combat with actual consequences pumps your body full of adrenaline, we may just have our new MMO home.