Thursday, November 17, 2011

Allods Revisited

An epic battle of Democrats vs. Republicans!  Err . . .

I played Allods Online for a brief time during closed beta and early in its extended open beta, before they implemented the cash shop.  The game boasted some striking visuals despite WoW level graphics, some interesting new features, and Astral ships, something that sounded a lot like Spelljammer while managing to not seem lame.  Along with many others I was impressed with the quality of the game, and felt it was a AAA implementation of the free-to-play model.  I was a mild fan, and recommended the game to a few friends as something similar enough to WoW as to appeal to that crowd, but different enough from WoW as to not trigger immediate burnout.  Along with many others, I was horrified by the cash shop when it released and rapidly lost all interest in the game.  I never played it again – until now.

It’s been almost two years since I played the game, and looking for something to fill my time between the end of November (when my current sub games run out) and the middle of December (when Star Wars: The Old Republic releases) I decided to check it out.  It was also a candidate for my Tuesday night gaming group as we have still yet to find a game that really grabs us.  What we really need is Diablo 3, but there’s no help for that.  Surely, I thought, after two years the Allods team and gPotato would have learned their cash shop lesson and stopped beating their players with sticks.  Right?

I downloaded, installed, and patched the client, a process that took about 45 minutes over my cable internet connection.  Everything went smoothly, and my old account info still worked so I didn’t even have to create an account.  I booted up the game, and started creating a character.  For those not in the know, Allods Online is a two faction game created by Russian developer Astrum Nival.  I believe Astrum Nival was formed from Nival Interactive, the company that brought us games like Etherlords 2.  The factions in the game are not so much good vs. evil as environmentalists vs. industrialists, the League vs. the Empire.  The League has all the trappings of the good guys, and the Empire has all the trappings of the bad guys, but from the Empire’s perspective the League are a bunch of tree-hugging terrorists who take hostages and blow up factories, while from the League’s perspective the Empire is going to mine and pollute the world into oblivion if they’re not stopped.

Stare at us too long and we'll bite your face off.
I chose Empire, simply because the fantasy-industrial setting is more original, and I dislike the League race choices.  For the League, you can play a human, an elf, or a gibberling.  The humans are, well, humans.  Typical, boring, but generally necessary.  The elves are terrible, tall with funky fluttery wings on their backs, and I believe they float rather than walk.  I’ve never played one, so I’m not sure.  The gibberlings are very unique, as each “character” consists of three gibberlings who work in concert to perform the actions of a single larger character.  Very cool, but still not what I’d want to play.  The Empire, on the other hand, has humans (but grimmer), orcs, and arisen.  The orcs are like WoW orcs, only meaner.  They’re big, burly, and look ready to wrestle bears with both hands tied behind their back and still win.  The arisen are the unique race on the Empire side, as they are either mechanical constructs, or dead people reanimated using magical machinery (not sure which).  They have sort of a magical cyborg vibe going, and are way more appealing than WoW’s forsaken.

I chose to make an arisen, because they look cool.  Next it was time to choose a class, which is an area in which Allods is somewhat unique.  There are 8 base classes in the game--Warden, Warrior, Paladin, Scout, Mage, Summoner, Healer, Psionicist.    Not all classes are available to all races (orcs don’t have mages, for instance) and each class is slightly different for each race.  An elven Summoner is a Demonologist and has different pets and a different ability or two than an arisen Summoner, the Savant. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s a nice touch, especially that different races have different pets.  That includes the Warden class, which gets a bear for human males, a lynx for human females, and a goblin for orcs.  I made a Summoner and entered the tutorial.

The gameplay is still pretty good, and I actually liked my Summoner.  I think Allods does caster classes a lot better than melee classes.  Not only is the combat smoother, but casters (at low level at least) aren’t really that squishy and can do cool things like pre-cast a spell and release it instantly when they need it.  Things seemed hopeful, and I mentioned the game to my friends as a possibility for Tuesday nights.

Then I started doing some research, and I’m still not sure if that was a mistake or a godsend.  The game is apparently pretty decent as a free-to-play, up until level 20.  At that point, the penalties for playing free start snowballing, starting with the harsh death penalty that requires Incense to overcome.  Incense is no longer limited to cash shop only, but the prices on the AH are apparently tuned towards max level characters, which means low level characters are unlikely to be able to afford it, despite needing it to keep playing.  You also can’t stockpile the damn stuff, since it decays, so you could dump all your money buying it on the AH, only to not use it and have it vanish after 30 days.  As you level you also apparently need to start keeping up a “patron” buff just to maintain your relative power level vs. the mobs.  It takes reagents that, of course, expire if you don’t use them in time, and doesn’t get you ahead of the game, it just stops mobs from outstripping you in power.  You can’t even use a mount properly without purchasing a consumable (which, you guessed it, decays).  I won’t even bring up items getting cursed when you die and that you need yet another consumable to remove them.

I’ve also read (on their official wiki no less!) that after a certain point there’s not enough content at any given level to get you a whole level unless you use xp scrolls or just grind mobs.  Since mobs give relatively little xp compared to quests, grinding mobs is a pretty painful option.  The xp scrolls aren’t exactly stellar either.  Rather than giving you double xp for a certain period of time, they give you double xp until you’ve accrued a set amount of xp.  They’re sort of a purchasable rest bonus, but each scroll doesn’t really give you very much.  Plus, of course, the scrolls decay after 30 days if you don’t use them.

Sadly that seems to be the theme of the game—create consumables that are required for players to progress in the game without gouging their own eyes out, and then make those consumables vanish after a while so that players either feel compelled to keep playing all the time rather than waste those resources (and thus consume them at a higher rate and buy more) or have to buy more without using what they purchased before.

It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I can’t see myself playing the game, even though I’d like to.  I’m apparently not alone in that estimation, as the game only has two servers accessible in the U.S., and both of them are rated at “low” population.  Allods Online has a lot of potential, even a couple of years later, but I don’t see that potential ever being realized.  I think Allods could still be fun, but it would be best played with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a full-functioned gaming mouse in the other.  

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