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Microcosms: Mysterious Island of Gipat – A Look at Allods Update 1.1

Posted Thu, Sep 16, 2010 by Medawky


This week several of my friends, who aren’t hopelessly addicted to MMOGs, are out attending a midnight release event of a popular console-based shooter.  While I do in some way envy them, mostly I just wish I were young enough to pull an all-nighter for first crack at a new game. I am glad that my newfound love for free-to-plays has allowed me to check out some innovative games that break up the fantasy monotony. I took a look at one of those games, Land of Chaos Online, last week. This week Divine Souls takes another step toward launch as it enters the second phase of beta testing. With Black Prophecy getting ready for lift off and CrimeCraft continuing its steady improvement there has never been a better time to check out microtransaction-based games, especially for those who have grown tired of elves and hobbits.( If you just can’t get enough of swords and sorcery, however, then the official launches of EQ2X and LotRO as free-to-play should be more than enough to satiate your appetite.)

Two weeks ago I mentioned briefly how a producer of Allods Online, in a continuing effort to improve the gameplay experience, took it upon himself to go directly to the players and find out what they wanted most. In a welcome twist of fate I was able to sit down this week with that same producer, Darren Allarde, for a guided tour of a recent patch tailored specifically to North American users. Hopefully, this will become a trend and more folks that I admire and write about will end up sitting down with me. (Felicia Day, Felicia Day, Felicia Day.)



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Mystery awaited me in Gipat.

Few free-to-play games have ever seen a development budget that rivals their subscription based counterparts, but Allods Online is one exception. While the upside of a large budget is obvious, the downside is having to live up to AAA expectations and do so in an environment where your loudest critics often contribute nothing financially to the game. The fact of the matter is that all games need to generate revenue to survive, no matter what form they choose to seek that revenue in. Why am I prefacing a walkthrough of new content with a mini rant about pricing and critics? Because I grow tired of the perception that free-to-play games are thinly veiled scams designed to cheat us out of our hard earned money. What really drove this home for me was spending time with people like Darren from Gala-Net, whose passion and commitment to the game and its players is as strong as anyone else I have met in the industry, and whose dedication shown through in every aspect of what we discussed.

For those not familiar with the world of Allods, it is a Russian import that blends high fantasy with many steampunk elements in a faction-based battle for control. Allods derives its name from the various islands that make up the playable landscape, the newest of which is the recently discovered and mysterious Gipat. Our tour began at the first quest hub, a small area inhabited by curious dragons. Players travel to Gipat upon finding a strange rock that draws them to the island and is a link to the dragons who are seeking “The Chosen One” to aide them. With each completed quest more and more will be revealed about the true identities of the dragons, their enemies and their ultimate champion. While I was able to extract a bit of information from my host, he was mostly tight lipped about the storyline, promising me hours of enjoyable gameplay that he did not want to spoil. I was issued one warning as I pressed on about the nature of the story-driven quest line – some measure of repetition is to be expected as players earn their final few levels. As an old school vet, I personally don’t consider a lot of kill X amount of baddies quests to be grinding, but some may.

Allods

Raid bosses that can go toe to toe with any game out there.

After looking around at some of the varying landscapes and quest hubs, we added Krystin Dehaven to our party and headed off to tackle the game’s biggest PvE challenge to date – Gorluxor’s Tower. This 24 player raid zone features 8 unique boss encounters, 5 of which were available at the time of my tour. The outer courtyard, and even the area surrounding the instance, lies teeming with demons and the vampire cultists that worship them. Trash mobs varied in difficulty and density, but they look to be more than just filler because killing them will require strategy and coordination. I was impressed with the boss fights as they unfolded before me. They easily rivaled those I’ve experienced in WoW, and I have seen and killed every boss that game has had to offer so far. The dungeon progresses in a linear fashion, with each boss kill opening up a new section and the next boss. None of the encounters were mind-numbing tank n’ spanks, however one devolved into a flat out DPS race once an early mechanic was overcome. The levels of raid awareness and the synchronicity needed to defeat these bosses was top notch and should give PvE junkies like myself a lot to look forward to as new bosses and new content is revealed.

The environments were spectacular, the enemies challenging and the quests varied and fun, but none of those elements were what impressed me. To truly understand the magnitude of what I experienced you need a little background. These press tours we go on are fairly commonplace and we usually get treated to the glitziest and best aspects of the content, with carefully constructed dialogue that puts everything in the best light possible. What made this particular event memorable and unusual was the amount of candor on the part of Darren Allarde. It was easy to be impressed by the press release two weeks ago that portrayed him as a man of the people, taking a hands on approach with players and going the extra mile, and I would expect nothing less of a well constructed PR piece. But to actually hear the passion in his voice and know the level of dedication that exists with Mr. Allarde and with every member of his team is another thing entirely.

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Top notch content is abundant in Gipat

What most players may not realize is the difficulty encountered when trying to convince a game creator that their vision of the perfect game needs to be tweaked to satisfy the Western market. European and Asian players are much more accepting of a death penalty in their games; something that boils our collective blood barely registers on their radar. Having followed Allods from early beta stages I can attest to the feeling that the initial death penalty mechanic was excessive and killed high end PvP completely. It was a stacking debuff that lowered your stats and stuck you in purgatory for extensive amounts of time. While purgatory still exists (you can purchase or earn a form of currency to reduce or eliminate the wait), the former Fear of Death mechanic has been replaced by a much milder Cursed Item system. Cursed items become unequipped and cannot be used until the curse is lifted via a special reagent. The item needed to break the curse is available from the item shop and a very active level 40 player can purchase a month’s supply for about 5 dollars, about 1/3rd to 1/4th the cost of what it originally took to remove Fear of Death. In addition to a more relaxed death penalty our region also has been given many more tradeable items and has had the open space environment of The Astral revamped to better accommodate the expectations of North American gamers.

Allods Online and Gala-Net have shown a willingness to work with their playerbase and have strived towards putting the best possible product on the table. If we can continue to support the game our patience will be rewarded with amazing content because the team has some killer plans in the works. There has never been a better time for former players, especially those who left because of FoD, to return, or for new players to take a plunge into The Astral.


Allods
 Fresh off of his appearance in America's Got Talent.




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