Allods Online – Review
Developed by Astrum Nival and released in February 2010, Allods Online is a free mmorpg game that combines fantasy elements with the space opera genre. Two factions, The Empire and The League, battle to control the Allods, floating islands scattered through space after the destruction of planet Sarnout.
With the ridiculous amount of Free MMO Games currently on the market that are nothing more than unfortunate copies of World of Warcraft, I guess the first question that needs answering is: does it feel like WoW? Well, to be completely honest, it’s pretty hard to release an MMORPG that includes traditional role-play elements and not have any resemblance whatsoever with Blizzard’s flag-ship game. There are so many good design ideas borrowed from other games and then successfully blended together in what is at the moment the record holder of MMO subscribers, that it’s almost impossible to come up with a multiplayer RPG and not have some gameplay element that is highly similar to a WoW one. So yes, Allods does feel a bit like WoW, but if you are expecting some sort of mirror-game, you are in for a big surprise.
The character creation system is interesting, but at the same time disappointingly limited. You get to pick your class and your faction by selecting a character from some sort of painting depicting an epic battle. Many will find this confusing especially since the tooltips and character descriptions aren’t helping much towards making the right decision, but it does add up to the general feeling of fairytale that the whole game cultivates. So before creating your very first character I do suggest looking over some class descriptions on the official site or on some popular fan-site to see which one matches your preferred play style. The true disappointment of character creation comes when you get to customize you character. There isn’t a sufficient range of elements for you to combine and also hope that the end-result will not have an identical twin already roaming in the Allods universe. Add the fact that the differences between characters’ visual building blocks are extremely small and you will probably play the game while having the feeling that you’re just part of huge army of clones.
The tutorial is enough to introduce the new comer to the basic elements of the game, but fails in giving you a purpose, a goal to follow, an identity. The story that should hold the game together and also integrate your newly created character in the whole Allods universe lacks depth. Once you are done with the tutorial and begin questing, the focus suddenly shifts from immediate, important tasks that give you a sentiment of accomplishment to trivial ones like “go there and bring me that because I’m too lazy to do it myself”. The core of most of the quests that will follow will not be any different: gather and return, kill and return or relay message are their general descriptions. So after the tutorial the game fails to recover and goes down the slippery slope of repetitive and boring quest design.
The classes do not stray too far from the consecrated archetypes that we all know, love and also probably played a few times before. You get the tanks, healers and damage dealers that you would normally encounter in any other fantasy MMO. There are however some twists here and there, to make things more interesting, mostly related to skills and their generated result upon use. One of the skill related design elements that Allods introduces is the preparation of abilities that have cast time prior to battle. In other words, your character can cast and then store a spell while being out of combat, and then release it instantly in the heat of battle. Sounds fun and I can guarantee it actually is, as you can time high damaging abilities to hit a target in the same time or very close together and the effect is quite rewarding. However, this little damage or healing boost tactic might unbalance PVP encounters and will probably lead to situations where the player that lands the first hit is the winner.
The Allods Online class development is based on the idea of gaining skill points as you level up and spending them to unlock new abilities or to enhance already existing ones. Although it’s still an ability-tree system, as many other things in the game it has a certain twist to it. Skills are organized on tiers and in order to unlock a higher tier you need to spend enough points in the lower ones. However, how you spend these points is entirely up to you. One player might be inclined to unlock all the class’ abilities while another will simply boost some skills and completely ignore all the others. I found this highly appealing as you can really build your character around your play style while not being forced to spend points in skills you are not interested in. It’s your choice, but make sure you carefully consider all your options before actually spending those skill points, because unlearning them might cost you a dime or two, and I am talking about real money. You’ve been warned!
PVP and the PVP rewards system is elusive to say the least. It’s like a mythological beast: I’ve heard of it, I can describe it, I can tell you all sorts of interesting stories about it, but the thing is I’ve never actually laid eyes on it. In the first 24h of gameplay Allods makes absolutely no effort towards inviting players to take part in PVP and there are no hints that there actually is some sort of organized PVP as part of the game. And that’s a shame because apparently there are some really interesting features becoming available to the players as they advance in level and the game unfolds itself. One of which is the ability to build ships and explore The Astral, the magical space, inaccessible otherwise, where players can discover new zones and even engage in ship-to-ship PVP combat. Hear-say really, as I saw no such ship and I didn’t find any NPC or any kind of in-game tutorial explaining to me what I must do in order to obtain such a vessel.
I think it’s safe to say that building ships is a task that players will not be able to undertake alone, thus forcing them to organize themselves in guilds and focus on a common goal. This is the only feature, apart from the conventional ones such as high difficulty quests and dungeons for which grouping is necessary, that gives players the incentive to come and work together. For a fantasy MMORPG bringing people together is crucial for an enjoyable gameplay experience and for making characters shine through class synergies. And while Allods puts some effort into it, bringing it from this point of view at the same level as let’s say World of Warcraft, it is miles behind Warhammer Online where everywhere you turned there were countless opportunities to join other players in overcoming challenges otherwise insurmountable to the single individual. So be prepared to type LFM or LFG at least once during a play session.
Allods features a rich in-game economy, revolving the Auction House (AH) and strongly connected to the crafting system and its many, many limitations. There are two types of professions: gathering and crafting, the first ones supporting the second. In the first few levels you will only be able to pick one profession and I strongly suggest that you make it a gathering one. This is because, although you will be able to pick up a second one later in the game, it will be the result of a huge time and game currency investment. Needless to say that if you choose to become a crafter in the early stages of the game you will not be able to provide for yourself the necessary ingredients and you will be forced to spend ridiculous amounts of gold in order to buy them off the AH. Thus the time needed to access a secondary profession will also increase.
Crafting also comes with its own mini-game system that makes things a bit more appealing. Every recipe will generate an item from a pool of tree, depending on the success of the crafting action. This is highly dependent on a mix of elements such a profession level, player experience and tiny bit of luck. After deciding on the recipe the player will be presented with a mini-game interface in which he will have to balance elements such as success rate, item complexity and item quality by locking buttons when they are showing the highest possible value. This may not always be possible as after each lock the values randomize and even though players have the ability to roll a dice to have another shot with different values, the number of times you can roll that dice is limited and directly connected to the profession level. Sounds hardcore, but it’s actually quite simple and really cool. Also it’s a nice little idea meant to replace the progression bar and give some meaning and interactivity to the old crafting system.
From a graphic perspective, Allods is a beauty. It makes use of the same low-poly approach specific to World of Warcraft, thus allowing old machines to run the game smoothly, but following an inspired art direction wraps everything into a bright color palette and toys around with the character models. In the end gives you the feeling that you are part of some sort of fairytale. “Childish!” some may say, but I personally found the approach invigorating. The game is polished and almost entirely bug free, but since the developing company is of Russian origins, you will notice that all the NPCs are named Ivan, Olga or other such names and there some signs in towns written in Cyrillic. So yes, the game does needs couple of localization updates, but there is nothing of the sort that will somehow spoil your in-game experience.
Since it’s a free mmorpg game and since there is absolutely nothing in the world that is entirely free, be prepared to face a vicious micro-transaction system that will frustrate you every step of the way. It’s probably one of the worse I’ve seen from a player perspective and one of the best from a developer point of view. This is because it’s not flashy, it’s not in your face, it does not promote rather useless things like pet companions, but on the contrary, it just lays there in waiting, in the dark, striking you when you least expect it and where it hurts the most. You want to unlearn your talents? Oh! Well.., that’s a shame, because, you see, you need to buy an item from our boutique in order to do that. You’re tired of running around with your bag full with useless junk and you could use a larger one with a few extra slots? Ok, sure thing, we have what you need… in the boutique. And this is how it slowly grinds at your nerves until you are ready to snap and murder your computer. Now, I’m pretty sure there are open world or dungeon drops that offer an alternative for some of the boutique items, but these are just there to tease you because they’re not worth the amount of time needed in order to get them. As a result a lot of players will simply give into temptation, buy the item and get it over with. Cha-chink!
Since it’s free, the best thing you can do if you are into fantasy MMORPGs is to test the game for yourself. Take it for a spin for a few hours and see if you like it. I personally did in a very non-addictive kind of way. I didn’t felt compelled to start a guild, invite/force all my friends to play, organize raids and plan to take over the world, but I did have fun for a few hours. And since games are all about having fun, Allods is good game in my book.
by Seth Lex