We came. We claimed. We conquered. Albion Online is a Free-to-Play game in its alpha-testing stage which offers a cross-platform sandbox MMO on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. Think of it as a living world with no NPC vendors, no questlines and no NPCs to report to. Instead you, your guild and your friends decide who owns what: it is an entirely player-driven economy with full-loot hardcore PvP.
Towns, buildings and regions can all be conquered and owned by a guild. Each region owned by a guild can set the tax rate for loot, and the rising entrepreneurs who build the venues can set various taxes for friends, public and guilds when the building is used. The game is a blank canvas and the players are its painters.
The world is one large server, with multiple zones which are split into three rulesets: “safe”, where PvP cannot occur, “one skull”, where the defender gets a slight bonus against anyone attacking, and finally “three skulls”, where everyone is fair game with no bonuses to either attacker or defender. Albion Online is a game that encourages PvP, with the best resources for crafting your gear located in the full PvP (“three skulls”) zones. The game is full-loot which means if you die you lose everything you are carrying. This obviously carries huge risk but just as huge a reward, and was something my guild took advantage of many times... (thanks for the founder’s horse Hammer and Sickle!)
(they got revenge)
At the launch of the winter alpha I entered the world of Albion Online with Pyran, a gaming community born from the love and passion of PvP. At the start we gathered in Kings Market, which offered cheap starter buildings, allowing us to construct gear up to tier 3. These are the only buildings owned by the “system” and tax you a flat 10% usage fee, a dev decision to help new players get into the game easier. Our goal was to gear up, earn money and conquer the land. Hundreds of other players swarmed the surrounding countryside so mobs and resources respawned slowly. The system offers limited resources with varied respawns which reflect rarity. In addition, the longer the resource of a mob is unharvested the more resources or silver it awards. Sadly, due to the heaving population, as soon as a node appeared it was harvested. This led to a few days of solid grinding to get enough resources to build gear to tackle higher tiered mobs.
With the lust to get better resources we ventured into the PvP areas in Seamouth and found untouched resources and mobs, and we became rich. We were gods: we soon realised in the early days that people were afraid of dying and losing everything, so we capitalised and earned a pretty penny. In addition, because we were in the PvP zone we had access to higher tiered resources which gave us a small head start to the next tiers of gear.
There are no classes in the game, as the developers’ slogan reads "You are what you wear!" All the skills you learn are tied into the gear you are wearing: wear a plate metal chest piece and get a high resistance to physical damage and a taunt. Wear a cloth robe and get a resistance to magic and a mana recharge ability. Gear offers multiple spells or skills when you craft it, and the more you craft the more you unlock as you progress up the tiers. I opted to play a mage and ran about in cloth with a staff.
Buildings come in tiers and each tier allows the user to build better and higher gear. Each time you craft something you gain fate points, which leads to unlocking the next tier.
So it goes like this. You harvest tier 2 logs from a tier 2 tree, you then process those logs into tier 2 planks, you can then use those tier 2 planks to create a tier 2 magical staff. Each step of the process awards you fame which progresses towards unlocking the next tier. You can achieve up to tier 5 in the safe zones (even though it would take an age) where 6-8 are achievable only in full PvP zones. This is due to both resources being limited and building level caps in safe zone regions.
Everything you do in the game awards you fame which links to the Destiny Board, a huge daunting grid, which tracks your character’s progression. For example: each time you use a druidic staff you are awarded points to the staff section of the grid, and eventually you unlock it which leads to more specialised requirements. Now, each time you use the druidic staff you earn fate points towards unlocking the next tier, which then unlocks the next, and so on. On the opposite side of the board you have the corresponding crafting. So each time you craft a druidic staff you are awarded fate points towards the next tier. It is quick to understand, but daunting as it is the first visual representation of the sandbox experience.
Guilds, PvP and group play is important in Albion Online, as you require a guild to claim a region. Claiming a region allows you to set tax to anyone farming in the area, and it also secures you high-tier resources to allow you to craft gear. It allows a nice range of sandbox interaction between guilds, players and politics. Even though you could play Albion Online with no PvP, you’d be missing out. You would need to find your niche and develop it in a true sandbox sense.
We had one guild member focus entirely on becoming a major food supplier to a certain city with a goal to have a monopoly on farming in that area. The banks are local, the auction house is local, the trade is in person. You cannot mail items, you cannot teleport across the land, and if you die you lose everything. The game promotes a local feel, and requires trade of goods. While playing we saw trade oxen moving up and down the roads and I even purchased goods for the cheap from one area, to sell for with a 250% mark up in another. And it worked!
What we did encounter as a small guild on our rise to power was the zerg mentality. We were wiped out by two different large alliances who steamrolled us outnumbering us 3 to 1. The devs have stated they are tackling zergs for the open world by making AOE attacks do more damage the more people they hit, and other nerfs/buffs in the same manner. While the open world can suffer from zergs, the actual claiming, conquering and battles for regions are instanced 5v5 guild versus guild arenas.
The GvG offers a fairly clever and complex system. When you claim a region you can set four times in the day for a guild to schedule an attack. It can come in either raids or conquers. The raid can reduce your defensive bonus (which recharges up to 40% in increments of 10% over time) where a conquer can remove one of your tokens. If you lose three tokens you lose the region. This system would allow a small guild like Pyran with 20–30 people to keep and hold a region against a 150-person guild. In addition any guild can have a “battle bank” in which the guild can place items that can be retrieved for the battles.
We did have complaints which may just be due to the fact that the game is still in Alpha, but it would be remiss of me to ignore them. We had no party chat (but once our guild was set up we could use guild chat). When we did die we would be respawned at the nearest city, naked and alone, forcing us to run through full PvP zones (and get ganked again) to get back to my stash. It was annoying and soul crushing to have to run so far just to get back.
The game is set to be Free-to-Play with a buy-in Alpha via founders packs which offer you gear, horses and premium currency which can speed up your initial start. The premium currency is not final, but currently you can use it to build vanity items like banners or trophies with your guild emblem upon it. It can also help pay for the upkeep of buildings and crafting fees. The cries of “pay2win” have been uttered, but Albion Online is quickly compared to games like Eve Online where you have plex: it’s a quickener, having gold can save you the time you would otherwise spend farming mobs for cash. You could have all the gold in the world but you still need to put in the time to earn fame to unlock the tiers, and as I’ve experienced on both sides, you can lose everything in one bad fight, or gain everything in one good fight!
Overall Albion Online is a unique take on the MMO genre and is slightly reminiscent of other games like early Ulitma Online, but the concept of the entire game being driven by players sets it apart from traditional MMOs. The game is in Alpha and the developers interact with the community in a friendly fashion. We had a dev join our teamspeak for 15 minutes to answer questions; the devs constantly chat in the global chat and forums; reddit and online communities feature threads where the devs answer questions, discussing decisions and interacting with the players. The game has a huge potential, and a passionate set of devs supporting it.
The developers have given us the means to create our own world, we, the players, get to choose our fate.