It’s amazing how quickly popular perceptions can change. Five years ago when subscription MMOs were peaking and publishers were scrabbling in the shadow World Of Warcraft, free to play was taboo.
Since then, competing subscription MMOs have consistently failed to draw even a small percentage of players away from the elephant in the room, turning F2P or folding completely and finally, even Blizzard itself has bowed to the pressure of the changing market and relinquished at least a small part of World Of Warcraft up to the free-loading generation.
It’s thanks in part to developers like Astrum Nival who, with this official launch of Allods Online after over a year of open beta, has put the same effort into creating a micro-transaction funded MMO as Blizzard, Turbine, NCSoft or any other publisher put into their high-profile, subscription based MMOs.
That’s pretty good value for money considering that, short of any bandwidth cost, you don’t have to spend a single penny in Allods Online to get exactly the same experience as someone willing to splash the cash on a wallet full of gPotatos, open up the Allods Boutique and buy the mounts, chests, crafting bonuses and other items that enable you skimp on some good honest grinding… cheating, in our eyes.
A little bit of hard work is character building (literally), though the real currency in any F2P is time: whether you have the time to head off into the Astral or areas outside the Empire and League faction hubs to hack down enough of the local fauna, or whether you’ve got an hour and a couple of quid spare and you’d rather just buy time-saving items then head straight to the really fun parts.
And what are the really fun parts of Allods Online, you might ask? Because there’s no getting away from some of the fundamentals of MMO mechanics these days, established long before even World Of Warcraft exploded onto the scene.
Allods features two warring factions, three races for each (including Gibberlings, who count as one character animated as three furry creatures) and eight careers of the usual tank/healer/mage/hybrid varieties.
You can craft, join a guild, sell items in auction houses and most importantly of course, quest with other players. There’s a certain charm to the art style that might have beguiled us more if Blizzard hadn’t done it better a few years ago, which neither goes far enough to distract us from the fact that technically, Allods is starting to look dated too.
We’re sure the flying cat-thing just wants a saucer of milk and a warm place by your ship’s reactor.
There’s an upside to that of course – it’s well within the comfort zone of your laptop or five year-old PC, but Allods isn’t going to win us over on its visual merits.
But at level 38 out of a possible level 47 experience cap, you gain access to a ship, a sort of cross between a steam-driven ironclad and a classic medieval warship that can fly out into the Astral, the ethereal limbo between the floating islands known as allods.
It takes a lot of real time to build and maintain a ship, but it’s absolutely worth pursuing because it’s unlike any MMO endgame we’ve experienced. Controlling it is simple: you start the engine, select a speed and then use the helm and turbine to control the direction.
You can use the scanner to detect wormholes, other allods and nasties like the marauding demons that inhabit the Astral while the visor will keep and eye on your ship status.
As we discovered on board our newly christened GalleyKeep (in honour of the flying ship from Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy series), it’s perfectly possible to navigate the Astral alone without any crew mates, but if you run into trouble – and you’re guaranteed to find trouble in the no-man’s land that is the Far Astral – then things will turn nasty fast.
Your helm, shields, scanner, artillery, cannons, shields and other positions are all located on different parts of the ship. Sailing and navigating the ship is just about possible for one character running between the scanners and the helm, but to steer the ship, pinpoint the location of the enemy attacking you and to man the cannons to broadside the attacker in time is near impossible without help.
You’ll need an able team to carefully navigate the Astral.
That’s the point of it, the Allods endgame is about gathering a crew of up to six people to explore the new Allods that float freely around the Far Astral, fight the high-level mobs found on them and gather the loot.
Or to fight the good fight by questing and destroying enemy ships in the name of your faction. Or to engage in a little piracy by stalking the Astral and waiting for a ship that’s recently loaded its hold with treasure from an explored allod, then attack it.
For the sake of managing the ship your class and level doesn’t exist, so as long as you find a role you’re comfortable with and can prove your worth to the captain, you’ll be welcome aboard most forays into the Astral. There are even 24-man raid ships, which are vital to any quest to take down the largest and most dangerous demons.
When boiled down to its basics, managing a ship isn’t so different from managing a group in a high-level instance, but the way it forces communication between the different roles and the more transparent effects of a cohesive team effort is unique.
That’s Allods Online major selling point, because an MMO hinges on its community and the reward gleaned from working together to achieve an otherwise impossible solo task.
You might feel you have to graft a bit to get to the Astral in the first place, but they say a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled, and once you have your own ship Allods Online will return your investment in time and effort many times over.