As soon as I heard that Albion Online was going free-to-play, I knew where I was going to spend the majority of my PvP time for the next couple of weeks. Now I’ve heard a few not-so-savory things about the environment of the game. So, friends, join me as I dive deep into this nitty-gritty sandbox and find out if I can come out squeaky clean.
Here’s your elevator pitch overview: Albion Online is an isometric, sandbox, play-as-you-want, PvP focused MMO. You can play your character as any class you want. You can focus your attention and become a master crafter. You can run around all day slaying monsters and harvesting raw materials. You can team up with guilds and take part in some territorial warfare. Or you can hide out in the shadows and try to steal from some well loaded caravans. I won’t say which of those activities I enjoyed the most… BOO!
That elevator pitch is mostly true
You’ve probably heard some derivative of that tag line from nearly every sandbox PvP title that has been announced in the last five years. But I have to hand it to Sandbox Interactive: It’s really put together something that I have been impressed with.
Now let me be honest here: I’ve never really been into the isometric style of games, at least not with my modern games. I’ll sit down with some Final Fantasy Tactics any day of the week, but for an MMO, I just don’t see myself taking it seriously. At least that’s what I thought.
When I first logged into Albion Online, I immediately thought, “Wow, these are some blocky-looking characters. Seriously, that’s really the only customization I can put on my character? Super weak. Oomph, click to move. This feels more like a mod for Warcraft 3 than anything else I’ve played in a while.” So, I shut down the game and popped in my Warcraft 3 disc. Ah, I’m kidding of course (although it crossed my mind). No, I needed to make sure I could get through the tutorial (which I want to say was very helpful and fairly thorough) and at least see how the combat really felt.
Play the activities you want to
After the tutorial, the game takes the training wheels off and sets you free. And for a moment, I hit my first road block. Or so I thought. I discovered while I was smashing monsters that I needed a better hammer for the tier of rock that was in my zone. The tutorial taught me how to craft the next tier so let me just go and do that. But wait! I can’t craft the hammer I need until I’ve made countless lower-tiered ones. Why does the game force me to make dozens of tools that no one wants? Wait a minute… I want one of those lame low-tier ones. Then I ran over to the market, bought it, and was very pleased. I literally didn’t have to waste time messing around with crafting right now!
Being able to play how you want also leads into leveling how you want. Albion Online’s leveling is quite different from your traditional RPG leveling scheme. It has actually been designed so that you can play what you want and level up in those skills while you play it. You can become a master crafter and open a haberdashery – just go out and gather all those furs and make all that linen.
If you want to become a great swordsman, you equip a sword and start killing things. As you kill those things, you gain experience with a sword. It seems obvious, but it is just so different from how most themepark MMOs handle leveling. In fact, I don’t think you even have a character level. Instead, you level up in different skills while earning fame, much more in keeping with skill-based sandboxes.
Full class customization
Another stark difference between Albion Online and most other MMOs is how you choose a class. Instead of picking one during character creation, you actually build your class by the gear you wear. In fact, your combat skills come directly from the gear you wear. Again, this all seems really strange, but it works and it works so well.
So I put on my robe and wizard hat… and now I have some spells at my disposal. Grab a broadsword and you can start playing as your favorite combat mage. It really just makes so much sense. The amount of customization this opens up seems nearly endless. Admittedly, I haven’t made it to endgame, and it’s possible there are exactly five perfect sets of gear that everyone simply must wear to be optimal, but who cares? The versatility of this class system at this stage of the game feels great.
I have one main gripe about the classes and combat skills. It is difficult to see from a high level what type of skills you are setting yourself on the path towards. I like to look at all the skills that exist and start narrowing down which ones I like and don’t like. I think about my preferred type of skills and which work for my playstyle. Yes, you can navigate to the game’s web resources to see them all laid out, but within the game it’s kind of a pain to navigate around and click on every individual weapon to see what skills are going to be available with them.
Multiple modes of PvP
Of course in a large open world, sandbox PvP game, you play to gank or be ganked. But a lot of that seems to be reserved for the later game. The world map is split up into zones, each of which is designed such that some restrict all PvP, some make PvP optional, and some allow free-for-all PvP.
I haven’t had any problems with the open world PvP yet. I ran through a few free-for-all zones, and those didn’t go so well for me. However, it appeared that the players in those maps knew why they were there and were prepared for it. In other MMOs you’ll see players looking for group to complete a dungeon or raid, but here, you see people looking for group to move through dangerous territory.
There is also some arena PvP available. It was your straightforward three-point capture mechanic, but it was fun. It definitely would need more work for me to recommend to anyone to play Albion Online for the arena combat, but having the option to queue up for it is nice.
Combat feels good, but it isn’t the best
The pacing of a fight is good. It doesn’t end super quickly. You feel like you have opportunities to prepare combos, counter enemy attacks, and chase down opponents. All of that is really good. However, when you begin to get more than maybe four players stacking pretty tight on top of each other, the visual clutter begins to get in the way. This is nothing compared to the kind of stuff you’ll see in something like Guild Wars 2 combat, but it does get messy.
On the flipside, the primary reason I don’t feel like the combat is perfect boils down to clicking to move. I’m accustomed to setting off combos, seeing the red circle on the ground, and running or dodging out. Here, you see that red circle, so you click somewhere away from the fight, and then you click back on your target to reengage. Just hope you don’t accidentally click on the wrong target. It feels clunky and far from precise.
All in all though, I’ve enjoyed Albion Online far more than I expected. As I said near the top, my first impressions were rough. This game wasn’t anywhere on my radar at all. The bar for my expectations were low. Playing it for the last couple of weeks has really opened my eyes up. Definitely do not judge a book by its cover.
So, fiends hiding in the shadows waiting to jump me and my caravan of opinions, have you tried out Albion Online yet? Did going free-to-play make you give the game another look? Or is your head still stuck in the sand waiting for the next big thing?