Albion Online Closed Beta Preview
In the MMORPG community, people have been crying out for a return to “old-school hardcore mmo’s” for a long time. They want harsh death penalties, intense player-vs-player actions, and a fully fleshed out crafting system. With a name like Sandbox Interactive, I expect nothing less than a sandbox MMORPG. I expect a game where I can do whatever I want from the start. If I want to focus on crafting, I want a way to do that. If I just want to do combat, I want to do that. I’m happy to say that Sandbox Interactive delivers a good sandbox experience, almost to a fault.
After a basic character creation screen, the game drops you off in one of three starting zones. It briefly teaches how to gather resources and craft armor, but after that, it’s done holding your hand. It lets you out into a small starting town with some basic gear and no direction whatsoever. Some NPCs have an exclamation mark above their head, but their “quests” are simply “Craft X items” or “Kill X of this mob, and X of this mob”. Part of this contributes to the “hardcore” sandbox charm of Albion Online, but I was thoroughly confused about what to do. It took some research online and some helpful players to get me to a point where I semi-knew what I was doing. Apparently, these quests are a waste of time that you could otherwise spend grinding for fame.
Almost anything you do in Albion Online earns you “fame”, the game’s equivalent to experience points. Almost every action in the game contributes to a separate skill line. If you gather resources for long enough to earn lots of fame, new tools are unlocked and new resources become obtainable. The same goes for combat. For example, if I kill monsters with my light armor and mage’s staff for long enough, I will eventually earn enough fame to wear higher tiered light armor and stronger staves.
My main problem with the skill system is how long it takes to accomplish anything. It took me hours just to get to tier 3 gear. Thousands of fame points are required to move up any skill line. If you aren’t a patient player, I don’t expect you to enjoy the hours and hours of grinding you’ll have to complete in order to get where you want. I understand that grind is to be expected in almost every MMORPG, but come on, it’s 2015. I think Sandbox Interactive needs to tone down this “old-school” aspect of Albion Online.
The combat of Albion Online is where the game’s tablet concessions become apparent. The gear you are wearing determines what type of skills are available. The skills appear as large buttons on the edge of the screen that are also assigned to a hotkey. Combat boils down to clicking on an enemy to auto-attack, and using the limited amount of skills available to you. It’s a neat idea that gear affects your skills, and it leads to some interesting combinations, such as a plate-armored mage. However, it doesn’t spice up the boring combat enough to make it entertaining.
Player-vs-player combat is one of the main pillars of Albion Online. Players can travel outside of the safe “green zones” to battle other players. In “yellow zones”, you can find better resources and fight other players with no need to worry about losing your gear when you die. It’s Albion Online’s “red” and “black” zones that are really interesting. In these zones, you can loot an enemy player’s entire inventory when they die, but the same goes for you. This brings an awesome risk-vs-reward element into the game. The best resources and the toughest monsters are in these zones, but another player can take everything away from you in an instant.
The dangers of PvP pushed players together to form guilds to find some sort of organization in the chaos of PvP. Group battles between guilds is where Albion Online truly shines. Guilds can form alliances and battle over forts. In large group battles, combat feels much like a game of Dota, with players tentatively pushing and backing away, scared to lose their belongings. There’s nothing like rushing a group of hostile players and taking their loot.
Crafting is hugely important to the world of Albion Online. Every item in the game is crafted by another player. Starting out, I spent way too much time trying to gather every resource I could and either sell it on the auction house or craft gear and items. Even when I narrowed my focus down to only gather resources relevant to my playstyle, I still spent hours gathering the resources and slowing taking them back to town to deposit.
The actual process of crafting is simple and easy to learn. Items are divided into tiers. Tier 2 resources are used to craft tier 2 armor. Tier 3 gear is made from a combination of tier 2 and tier 3 resources. It’s pretty easy to understand, but boy does it take a lot of time to progress. After learning to craft tier 3 gear, I decided that I didn’t want to put the time and energy into grinding for the resources. The best thing about Albion Online is that I faced no disadvantages for abandoning crafting. I just had to find other ways of making silver to buy my gear from other players.
Crafting isn’t limited to only weapons and armor. Players and guilds can have their own islands. Farms and buildings can be made to create a personal area for the player. Horses and oxen can be raised into mounts and a cozy home can be built for your adventurer. In an otherwise extremely crowded world, it’s nice to have your own space to decompress.
Even though this is a closed beta, Sandbox Interactive is happy to take your money if you wish to buy something. Players can buy gold, which can be sold to other players for the in-game currency of silver. Effectively, you can pay real money to buy in-game currency. Players can also buy “premium” membership. With “premium” status, players will receive extra resources while gathering and more chances to retain resources while crafting. This aspect of the game being “pay-to-win” is up for debate. On one hand, paying players are literally getting more resources than free players. On the other hand, free players can easily get anything a paying player can, provided they are willing to spend some extra time grinding. Furthermore, a free player can definitely kill a paying player and loot their entire haul. Paying real money in Albion Online is more like a shortcut than an obvious advantage. It should be noted that all money spent in Albion Online’s closed beta will be refunded.
Even in its beta form, I can tell that there’s potential in Albion Online that will be fully realized by its players. At release, the game will be free-to-play on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even iOS and Android devices. This should usher in a huge amount of players who will no doubt explore and fight their way through the entirety of Albion Online’s world. Even though a very grind-heavy skill system and simple combat mechanics hold the game back, I would say that the huge PvP battles make it worth it. If you aren’t persuaded by that, the game will be free-to-play in early-mid 2016, so give it a shot.