When I think of “free to play” MMOs, almost immediately my mind thinks of feature-light Eastern-style games that have a niche following but are just generally a cookie-cutter of a similar unremarkable title that has come before. Typically these games try to force money out of you through some sort of item shop or by providing a much better “pay to play” experience if you want to subscribe full-time. What is the point of being a “free to play” MMO when, in reality, it is far from free? I’ve tried out many throughout the years, ranging from the decent Guild Wars to the horrendous Eastern-style MMOs I just mentioned. In my free time the last few weekends, which was arguably limited, I’ve been checking out another in the seemingly long list of these MMOs – Allods Online. The game is officially in an “open beta” right now, but you can download the game and play, retaining your character and all your accomplishments into the official retail launch version, whenever that may come around. Want to know my thoughts? Read on!
For a F2P MMO, Allods Online does a lot right. It has a very WoW-esque feel in the graphic style and UI layout, but very different underlying mechanics. There are two factions, certain classes can only be used by certain races/factions, there are PVP zones, questing is the largest source of experience and the best way to level up, there are PVE dungeons, there’s crafting, there are banks and auction houses and the list goes on. It is a rather full-featured MMO, for a F2P title.
So, I created my elf mage. For some reason I always gravitate toward caster classes, and this seemed like a good place to start. There is a beginning instance that introduces you to the story and many of the basic game play mechanics. This part of the game reminded me much of other MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online – it gets right into the story right away. Once you complete the beginning instance, you’ve usually leveled up a time or two and then you get deposited on the “noob island” (it’s an island, or “allod”, in the faction I was playing with), the beginner area for this faction. This plays out much the same way as a beginner zone does in World of Warcraft – it has some basic quests that boost you up a few levels and a few mostly separate but connected quest lines that eventually culminate in you moving away from this area and onto the first major city of the game.
I got a good sense of polish for a game in beta, at least as far as the visuals and general features go. There is also a good variety of quest types – from collection, to kill, to escort and “elite” quests in which you need a party or raid to accomplish. Yes, in the starting area of Allods Online there is a raid-only quest. And let me tell you, it took us five minute to kill this quest mob in a raid of 20-some people.
Once I complete the starting area, I moved onward to the first big city, Novograd. I swear I spent the better part of an afternoon exploring this place, as there is a plethora of quests you can partake in right away, without even leaving the city. Most of these quests are to get you familiar with city services and profession trainers. The city in general reminded me a lot of Stormwind, from WoW. A compliment? I’ll let you decide.
Throughout my leveling, I figured out a specific order of spell casting that works best for me, and this is part of the fun here. There is no auto-attacking, the game is built around ability usage, and the way you use those abilities will make or break you in combat. There is more than one way to go about things, but there are also definitely some things not to do. The starting area is pretty lenient in giving you time to learn, but after that each battle seems like a fight for survival. The game seems very gear-dependant, which could be good or bad, depending on your outlook. Keep in mind, I only played one class to level 14.
Another thing I enjoyed from the get-go was that there is reputation and repeatable quests to gain that reputation. What was nice about the repeatable quest in the Legion starting area was that it is a collection quest that you can do as you work on doing other quests, so it didn’t really seem like you were doing the quest multiple times in a row. It required you to pick plants that were your typical “interactive environment collection quest”, but you can hit the “t” key to highlight objects around you that you can interact with. So, if you keep tapping “t” as you run around doing other quests, these repeatable collection quests become second nature to you and you gain reputation at a rather brisk pace.
Later on I created a psionisist character on the opposing faction. I would venture to say I enjoyed this class even more, although I haven’t played as much with it as I did with my mage. It was a unique take on a warlock-esque type of character, giving a darker side to the magic-casting crowd.
The problem with the game is that the underlying mechanics have a large learning curve. Sure, it takes a little trial and error to get your ability rotation down, and the game gives you the leniency early on to work with that. But each class – especially caster classes – have way too many stats to balance. Intelligence, willpower, faith, luck, stamina – and that is just the beginning. Each piece of gear does highlight the stats that your class needs to balance, but the fact that there are a lot of them makes things a bit overwhelming. Add to that the fact that, at each level up, you have to distribute a new stat point to one of these stats, and only one, you’re left wondering what you should do then almost regretting your choice at various moments after that. To add insult to injury there is no way to respec early on in the game and/or without making use of the Cash Shop (we’ll talk about this in a minute).
Perhaps I’m spoiled by playing WoW for so many years, especially in the last couple years since they’ve been refining things and making them more “casual friendly”, but it is annoying to be forced to group for non-dungeon quests, especially in the starting area. There are limited mobs for collection quests, and, even with a fairly quick respawn rate, nowhere near enough to keep up with the amount of people killing them.
Leveling seems a bit out of balance, because if you go up against an enemy even one level higher than you, you have a high risk of dying. This comes about by too much focus on gear to balance things out or someone messing up their stat and talent point distribution (which you can’t reset easily, mind you). Also out of balance is your damage distribution. As a mage, I fire off this “fire arrow” spell, which is my main form of damage. One shot might take off half the mob’s health, then it takes me five more shots to take the other half? One mob I kill very quickly with a couple hits and the next very same mob of the very same level as the last it is taking me twice as long to kill? I don’t quite get it, what is going on here?
A lot of this stuff might be less of an issue if I play more and get used it it, what the stats do and what not. But not having an easy, affordable way to reset your stats if you screw something up is almost unforgivable. The community also doesn’t help, as their typical responses are either to reroll or “not be a noob”. How are new players supposed to get into this, then? Level a character to 10, realize they screwed up then reroll, starting all over again? The Cash Shop just adds insult to injury, as well.
Allods Online is not quite a “free to play” MMO, but it is better than most that I’ve seen. There is a Cash Shop, in which you can spend real-life money to buy in-game items to help your character along. Most of the items, however, are also available in-game through various means – usually a time-consuming quest. Getting a larger bag, for example, will set you back $6, or you can do a quest for it that, from the research I’ve done, seems to take anywhere from 6-12 hours total to collect all the items required by the quest-giver.
So, on the surface, the Cash Shop isn’t that bad. However, when you get to higher levels, apparently the cash shop is the best and only means to get enough of a certain item fast to keep up with a “hardcore” end-game PVE player, and that will set you back way more than a typical $15 subscription each month. In addition to that, given the difficulty you have getting your stats correct and not having a way to easily redistribute them, the Cash Shop is very anti-alt. If you pay $6 for a larger bag, it is only good for one character. Decide you screwed that one up? Tough luck, when you reroll you have to shell out another $6 for a larger bag on that character.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, when the Cash Shop went live in North America a few weeks ago, things had outrageous prices on them. The $6 pack used to be $20, and so forth. Finally gPotato got their chickens in a row and fixed things, but rumor has it future patches are patching in/out things within the game that basically require Cash Shop usage, especially at end-game. There is a huge controversy surrounding this type of business model with this particular game right now, because it is a very well done, well-rounded MMO, for a “free to play” business model.
All in all, it doesn’t hurt to give it a try and, like me, you may be surprised at just how good it is for a F2P MMO. It shows great polish in presentation, but lacks polish in the area of game mechanics, and seems to overwhelm the players, throwing too much at you too quickly, without enough tutorials or just time to get you going properly. It attempts to be different by having a ton of rather interesting, yet overbearing mechanics, but by doing that, it tends to alienate a certain demographic, as well. All that being said, though, if you’re looking for an inexpensive alternative to paid MMOs, this is likely your best bet. Who knows, you may enjoy it as much as I did. Will I keep playing? It’s a strong possibility. Even though I don’t have much time for MMOs these days, it is a fun, engaging title, and not having to worry about subscription fees to a game I can’t get around to playing often is a definite plus.
[Disclaimer: This is not a review. I played approximately 10 hours of Allods Online, getting my mage to level 14 and my psionisist to level 8. These are just initial impressions.]