EVE, but not IN SPAAAACE
Ultima Online is my favorite MMORPG. I don’t usually dig the genre too much, but when Chris brought up Albion Online by Sandbox Interactive, it looked similar, so I thought I’d have a go at it. What I got was a much different experience far more akin to EVE Online — extremely dense and demanding, but still fun at a more casual glance.
Albion is a demanding crafting and PvP-centric game where skills and equipment dictate the totality of your character, eschewing a traditional leveling system. The more you do something the better you get at it, and it retains one very jarring element from game of old: when you die, your equipment is fair game. So everything you have crafted or are carrying around on your person is up for grabs if you are in a PVP zone. Which is, consequently, where you are also going to find all the best materials for better equipment.
The trading and in-game economy is a big focus here. Starting out with basically nothing, you will immediately begin scrounging up loose materials. After you have enough, you’ll start crafting all the basic tools: Pickaxes for mining ore, axes for cutting down trees to collect logs, and so forth. You will craft your own weapons and armor, and your available combat skills and buffs will depend entirely on what you have equipped on you at the time. If you die and someone loots your corpse, you are essentially starting from scratch with whatever you have in your bank (which is a local-only system; you can’t go to another town and access the same items you had in the last one) and whatever you can find. And you will have to craft everything again and make sure you are prepared to go back into the wild.
Skills of course, are retained, otherwise the game would be a brutal misery. There are several tiers of equipment, and the only way you can progress to be able to craft the next tier is by crafting enough equipment in the current one first. If I want to forge a level 3 axe, I need to spend the time crafting multiple tools in the second tier first in order to earn enough mastery points to proceed to the next level. What results is a somewhat dull but necessary early game in one of the starter cities where you will be taking long trips to and from the safe beginner zones gathering hundreds of materials in order to start climbing your way up the skill tree.
Completely understandable; but tiring all the same. I’ve come to expect this sort of systematic progression and am somewhat numb to the grind at this point. And it’s important to remember that this compulsion loop of incremental progression is the bloodline of Albion, and the developers are not shy about this. Albion can be played at a pretty casual rate as a result of the relative simplicity of its system of skill progression, and although I did not have a tablet at my disposal to test Android compatibility, one of the major features Albion has is a persistent world across multiple platforms. Windows, Mac, and Linux are all supported, as well as Android on screens 7 inches or greater. The interface on PC reflects this; you can do just about everything with a single mouse button should you choose, no need to memorize a hundred hotkeys.
My biggest gripe at first was in the way the world is actually constructed. It is a sandbox game with a world that has no soul whatsoever. It feels extremely functional in its layout, but you will not be getting lost and exploring with any wonder here. You will be finding the most adequate zones to get what you need, whether that be combat with enemies to collect silver, or hunting and gathering mats, and you’ll move on. I appreciate the layout of towns not being an unnecessary maze; most of what you need to do is going to be pretty straightforward. Things are located in a well-organized manner, so you can quickly get where you need, but it feels so functional as to be board game like, and not like a sprawling fantasy world.
Albion is an intricate weave, a spiders web of interlocking economic mechanics which will undoubtedly please number crunchers. The world itself is part of this puzzle; areas are uninspired and don’t feel differentiated from one another in any notable way visually, but that isn’t the point. Everything here relies on the relationship of different values, be that the currencies you trade in, the materials you gather and items you craft, or the territorial wars you wage. You are a piece on this board, trying to carve your own mark in the world, setting your own goals, and me personally being someone who is not used to more modern sandbox experiences such as EVE, it took awhile to grasp and appreciate this.
There is a learning curve here, a confusing-at-first Destiny Board with dozens of branching paths aiding you in developing a unique character build, and even understanding gold and its function, which is similar to PLEX in EVE Online, can eventually be used to pay for your subscription, and a housing market where you can own an island and farm in order to accrue more profit. Albion is a daunting game. It’s easy to get to grips with, but requires a lot of patience to grasp its intricacies.
You do need to pay a one-time fee to play Albion, and the cheapest package for $29.95 grants you a 30-day premium subscription as well as 2,000 gold to get started – the equivalent of ten real-world dollars. This is a very helpful start for new players. Albion Online embraces an older model of premium subscriptions, with many perks granted to people that are willing to fork over a bit of money. Likely a deal-breaker for most, but for those who get invested, definitely worth looking into.
There is a ton I haven’t been able to explore or cover, but my first impressions were good. There were some issues with troubled servers, DDOS attacks, and other things that the developers have been working to iron out the kinks in, but they seem to be doing their best to remedy this, and in my time playing I didn’t run into anything major. The game is a bit overbearing for my tastes these days, and getting involved in a guild of some sort is going to be almost a necessity for most people, but it didn’t seem bad even with the ugly visual style and dated combat mechanics.
Albion Online is available now.
[This preview is based on retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]