For all epic and legendary founders of the sandbox MMORPG, Albion Online, the end of July marks the end of closed alpha. With the inevitable end of our play session fast approaching, what does that mean to us backers? When is the closed beta, when is the open beta, and when should we expect the final release?
Well, that all depends on how much of a success Sandbox Interactive deems this phase of development. Initially, servers were overwhelmed with thousands of players at the very start of alpha. As with any new MMO, this means hardware/software upgrades to smooth out latency for the incoming population. After the initial week, peak hours of activity had noticeably less lag than before, with only the occasional hiccup. It’s always a plus when you can set aside technical issues so as to enjoy all the aspects the game.
Create a character is fairly standard, no real variety here. Although, eventually there will be more races to play as other than human; no mention of racial traits or buffs playing a role here. When the game starts, you are left wandering aimlessly until you begin interacting with the environment. There’s a progression tracker always visible, so whenever you perform an action, any fame gained will be added to that certain goal. Most of what you see in the world of Albion can be interacted with. Every zone has resources to harvest, usually some NPC quest givers, and a path to the adjacent zone for which you to travel. Each zone’s format is similar in design, but the type, quantity, and tier of nodes will determine who seeks those resources out.
All tier 1 resources require no tools to gather, but eventually you will need skinning knives, woodcutting axes, etc. to gather higher tiers of resources. Every tier builds upon the previous one, which makes lower tier resources more valuable in certain situations and zones. This can also create some headaches as the progression to the next tier is achieved. This is an immersion breaking gameplay loop that is meant slow down the power refiner and craftsman, but only serves to frustrate all players. For example, if I wanted to take a bundle or stack of wood logs to be refined, I can’t just bring them by itself. I would need not only the intended unrefined logs, but also the tier below, refined, and matching the quantity expected to be produced. The max tier of each resource is 8, so you can see how frustrating those transitions can be.
Crafting items is generally more straight forward, and easier to follow. Take the required materials to the station that produces what you are wanting to craft. Next, watch your timer bar go across the screen (the most fun part!). There is a chance to produce higher quality items the more you craft in that mastery. Quality of an item determines the modifier bonus that affects the item’s innate stats. This bonus can also be manipulated the more you use a specific item or weapon. Higher quality items generally sell for a lot more on market too. If you will be investing a majority of your time in crafting, get to know the market well. Each market is localized, meaning there is no global access to any particular market. This applies to your personal banks as well. This can create a greater sense of worth for every item in the game, dependency of the players, and value of the available resources surrounding that city. For a sandbox game, this decision makes sense, and adds some layer of immersion.
Most veterans of the sandbox genre will compare this game to Ultima and/or Runescape. Albion Online, however, has been streamlined for the modern gamer, but it won’t hold your hand. You will likely want to join a guild at some point, as a large portion of the game will require it. Guild vs. Guild fights are your standard PvP battle mode; 5 on 5, where each team will attempt to control nodes, forcing the enemy points to decrease. These fights utilize a special battle chest that you will create specifically to have gear useable in GvG battles. They may also be used as supplements to your ordinary personal chest/bank.
PvP in some zones can be full loot, so always check your map before heading off on an adventure. Know the risks before you leave town, and store any items that could weigh you down. Traveling is an important aspect to grasp. Weight is percentage based, anything greater than 100% will slow you down. When you are encumbered, you can easily become a victim to another player or enemy mob. Horses and oxen can help manage your weight, gaining these mounts is crucial early on, and can prove to be invaluable as you progress through later tiers and difficulties.
So you’re sitting on your horse or ox, you’ve crafted some nice leather armor and weapons for yourself, and put up a bunch of orders on the market. What’s next to do? Well remember, this is a sandbox game, so there is nothing the game is forcing you to do. There are many social aspects to this game, not directly advertised to players, and it’s up to you to find what role you want to fill. Everyone is technically competing with each other in many senses. There are routinely updated rankings for players in all facets of the game, but it can get more “meta” than that. Fighting over resources and territories is a daily occurrence. This can put pressure on you to adapt to these changes in order for you to succeed in whatever area of the game you are focused in. Even at lower levels, some zones, as friendly as they may be, might provide certain obstacles for you to overcome.
Here’s a common scenario: Player X wanders into a specific zone in which he knows will be a great place to mine several tin ore nodes. Unbeknownst to Player X, Player Y arrived just 10 mintues before him, and almost cleared every single tin ore node in the available vicinity. Player X might have a couple of options depending on the type of zone he is in. If he’s in a friendly zone (green), he might be better off moving to another nearby zone where the resources might be less scarce. It takes quite a bit of time for resources to repopulate, but there are plenty of them in the world of Albion. Now if Player X is harvesting rare and valuable resources in a hostile area (red), he has the option of stalking Player Y, killing him, and thus guaranteeing his spot in the line.
Albion Online is not without its shortfalls. The game by its own standards isn’t even out of alpha yet, and potentially has until the rest of the year before the closed and open betas will begin. So how much game is there left to be seen? What we have now seems relatively stable and playable. Many could argue, a swift move straight into closed and open beta is right around the corner. Players are definitely enjoying their time in Albion and don’t want to wait long until they can get another crack at it. I’m one those in that camp, and I am slightly dreading the moment when they press delete on all of our characters.
I also understand that Sandbox Interactive wants to polish, balance, and tweak everything that needs attention. Since the game will be free-to-play at launch, they still need to front their virtual marketplace; only backers have paid any real money for the game thus far. There is quite a lot of optimizing to be done on the PC, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux devices. Yes that’s right, Albion Online will be completely cross-platform, all under 1 mega server. Logging into the game at work from my Android phone is both impressive and super convenient. While I wouldn’t jump into a PvP battle anytime soon, farming my fields, buying and selling orders on the market is a great way to keep players always engaged. The only downside is that all devices are being updated simultaneously, inheriting each others advantages and disadvantages. If you’re a hardcore PC player, you get stuck with big, clunky menus with no option to re-scale the user interface. Hopefully we see some updates to make either version stand on it’s own merit without giving an unfair advantage.
Any hopes of bringing in the PvE player will be determined within these next few months as well. Currently, the world’s lore is being held together by a string. There’s no rhyme or reason to why Heretics are trying to take over Albion. All you know is that they have silver and fame points that you’re trying to collect. That soon might change because, Peter Newman , a U.K. fantasy author, will be writing an actual novel for Albion Online. Along with that comes the task of fleshing out the backstory, characters, and various points of interest.
Albion Online’s real driving force will be the classless, choose your own destiny approach to gameplay. The “Destiny Board”, as it’s called, is far from being fully fleshed out, but it still offers an avenue for every type of player. Whether you wield a sword and shield, a bow and plate armor, or a cloak and dagger, the choice is yours to make. I’ve spent most of my time gathering and crafting during alpha, and it’s been a largely enjoyable experience. Some players may skip direct combat altogether and become the auctioneer they were destined to be. For others, harassing players will become their central focus. When each of these different play-styles are layered upon one another, that’s when you can create a community, and even a virtual ecosystem. Albion Online has the potential to fit in a nice spot, with a genre that is eagerly on the rise.