Alpha clients for an MMO are always a mixed bag. You have to go in assuming that features may be missing, and that those present aren’t in their intended final state. Sometimes the results can leave you with that nagging feeling that the game simply won’t live up to expectations, yet occasionally you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
The latter case held true this week as I took my first steps into the Summer Alpha for Albion Online. The isometric perspective has caused me to have a very standoffish attitude towards the game up until this point, as did the announcement that the game will be playable on both desktop and mobile devices.
Seeing the game in action and experiencing it firsthand has shifted my opinion on the matter for the better, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that the game is visually stunning. The Summer Alpha for Albion Online isn’t all sunshine and roses, however, but hopefully the current test phase will provide the kind of critical feedback the development team needs to unlock the game’s full potential.
Into the Void
Taking those first few steps into a new MMO is one of my absolute favorite things. The attention and care given by the developers at this stage is oftentimes very telling of how compelling and immersive the game will prove to be later on. Sandbox Interactive has done a great job of introducing you to the core interactions and systems for game within the first 30 minutes of gameplay, and puts most other sandbox MMOs to shame in this regard even at this early stage of testing.
Character creation is, admittedly, a very barebones experience. You’ll be able to select an avatar, and dial in a few stock options for things like hair, skin tone, and underwear – none of which can be seen very well on the wee tiny UI display of your character. If you’re the type of gamer who loves to obsessively work out a distinctive look for your character, you’ll be doing so more through gear selection than anything else. Again, this is symptomatic of the aRPG packaging for Albion Online and may not be much of a concern for most players.
Albion Online technically has no specific classes, so you won’t be locked into an immediate decision that you may end up regretting later on. Instead, you’ll be completing a series of tasks nested within the Destiny Board that help unlock new options over time, and pairing that with decisions on what armor and weapons to equip in a given situation.
In its present form, the Destiny Board is a massive webbing of potential unlock paths your character can take. Rather than seeing your skill bar at the bottom center of your screen, you can filter the display of which paths within the Destiny Board you would like to keep track of. This also replaces the typical XP bar approach, as advancement will occur in multiple paths simultaneously based on your in-game activities.
As you go about harvesting materials, refining them, and using them to craft new or better gear, each of these areas will have separate unlock paths, and will also feed into your overall Fame Ranking. Pretty much everything you do from combat to crafting will grant you Fame which ultimately replaces the more standard XP-based progression.
While the Destiny Board is a great concept, in its current state it does represent a fancy interface for tracking a seemingly endless series of Kill Ten Rats activities you must complete in order to advance. Many MMO crafting systems come under fire for expecting you to create 10 copies of a sword you don’t need in order to progress, and you will find the same here, albeit packaged a bit differently. As an example, to unlock the ability to craft Journeyman’s Mages gear you’ll need to craft a bunch of Novice Mage’s gear worth a total of 387 fame.
Albion Online does have some other tricks up its sleeve that help prevent its systems from feeling like a mere repackaging of some of the most commonplace and lackluster solutions. For starters, it makes crafting a major focus of gameplay, and does so in a way that seems so simple and obvious you can’t help but wonder why it hasn’t been a staple of MMO gameplay all along.
As you advance in crafting tiers, you not only unlock the ability to craft better items, but those items can also be customized in some meaningful ways. The industry has begun to adopt the concept of having core skills bundled in with active weapon selection, but Albion Online takes this concept to even more interesting places.
Above: Harvested materials need to be refined before using them to craft armor, weapons, tools, furniture, or other items
All armor and weapons you craft will have some combination of Active and Passive skills that can be slotted. At early tiers your options will be somewhat limited, but even then I could choose things like adding a DoT component to my fire staff, or shift my focus from offense to defense when crafting a new set of armor. Some of this will provide a boost to core stats, but you will literally be able to choose which active skills you want based on gear rather than an awkward arrangement with a local trainer or having them magically appear on a skill bar as you progress.
I pretty much love everything about the concept, and would love to see more MMOs adopt a similar approach. It also helps that you’re not restricted to any specific combination of gear and weapons to help determine the overall playstyle for your character. Want to wear mage gear but wield a sword and shield? You’re welcome to do so. What about heavy armor with a staff? Yep, that’s totally possible too.
As much as I don’t typically like having to craft multiple copies of an item in order to advance, Albion Online does at least attempt to make it worth your time and effort by injecting different quality ratings on items. You are going to be playing the RNG game in this area, but it’s still fun to see the alert flash on your screen that you just produced an Epic quality version of an item which grants you an enhanced version of the passive benefits selected during the process.
Worth the Price of Admission?
All told I’ve only just begun my journey into Albion Online, but can see a lot of potential for the game the further I progress. The Summer Alpha is already a more polished and stable experience than just about every title hitting Early Access on Steam these days, even with the major influx of new characters swarming the starting maps.
There are a few questionable elements at this stage, such as the horribly prohibitive encumbrance system that makes it difficult to carry enough harvested materials to craft early on, but those are the types of things that test phases exist for sorting out. Likewise, opening up the leaderboard I was a bit shocked to see that the top spot was held by a member of the Black Cocks guild. While I’m sure the name is all in good fun when the guild emblem is taken into account, if I were a gaming parent I would be very reluctant to allow my kids to play a game that doesn’t filter for words like Cocks in such obvious places like character and guild names.
Those nitpicks aside, I would consider Albion Online worth the price of admission even at this early stage of testing. Legendary founders already have access to the Summer Alpha, while Epic founders will gain entry later today. For details on price points and includes for the current founder’s packages, be sure to ride a virtual boat over to the official website.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Albion Online Game Page.