Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adieu to Allods

Following is a criticism of the PvP in Allods Online. If you like the PvP there, this post is not for you.

The PvP beast began to rear its ugly head around level 17-18 in Allods, because that's when I encountered the first questing zone that forces the player's PvP flag to be on all the time -- The Frozen Frontier. It wasn't a problem most of the time, but then it started getting raided by groups of Empire players whose levels show only as ?? to me, which means they're at least 10 levels higher. Possibly even max level (40). So they kill the portal keeper so you can't leave the zone, and all the quest NPCs in town, and of course all the poor lower-level players who stand no chance against them, and who didn't even want to fight, but were marked as targets anyway because it's a PvP zone. That is not a challenge, nor is it fun -- it's just bullying.

The next zone, Darkwater, was back to normal, with no forced PvP, which was a welcome reprieve, and it was a very nice zone to quest in, with lots of interesting stories and characters, including the famous Baba Yaga! But after I'd exhausted all the quests in Darkwater, it was on to Tenebra, where it was back to forced PvP all the time. Perhaps to prepare you for the ganking to come, Tenebra (derived from "tenebrae", meaning "shadow") has an additional gameplay mechanic that spawns vampires to attack you randomly whenever you acquire a debuff from venturing away from the areas lit with lamps. Finally, it was on to the very appropriately-named Holy Land, which is full of players killing other players nonstop.

I'd like to think this sort of behaviour would be frowned upon, but in fact the game encourages it, with quests and "combat glory" awarded to players for killing other players, and there's a special item that you can acquire in the game called a "war banner", which allows you to attack and kill players outside of PvP zones, who don't even have their PvP flag up!

Allods does not have a PvE-only server -- what some people disparagingly call a "care bear" server. If they had one, I would be on it, because I play games like this for the quests, the story, and combat with level-appropriate mobs. I like MMOs because of the social aspect, i.e. grouping up and doing quests together, helping people out, and chatting with friends and guild members.

At my level, these random player attacks are a serious interference with my playing of the game, causing me long wait times in Purgatory and longer wait times for the "fear of death" resurrection sickness to go away, plus the time it takes to get back to the place I was questing in, possibly also including time spent waiting for the player-killers to stop camping the area where I resurrect. Prepare to be staring at the giant guardian of the gates of Purgatory for quite a while.

Here, of course, we start to see possible reasons for the company to encourage this sort of thing -- there are items for purchase in the cash shop or for large amounts of in-game money which reduce the wait time in purgatory and remove the resurrection sickness.

So, there are several large zones for me to explore and quest in, but I can't take my time and enjoy the scenery anymore, and can't enjoy reading the quest text or consider which quest reward I want to pick because someone is likely to kill the questgiver and/or me while I'm reading. I find myself playing much less often, and mostly playing on lower-level alts. I've picked up other games in the meantime. Once you get to the Holy Land, it becomes a completely different game from the one I'd been playing for the last couple of months. It's a great, fun game until then. There's plenty of PvE content to explore and enjoy, the chat and guilds are lively, and the in-game economy is easy to play with (all my experience with making money in WoW translated perfectly to Allods). But as far as I'm concerned, once you're sent to the Holy Land, the game is over.

I'll be writing about a different game soon. There are several very interesting and fun ones that I've been getting into.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nice side quest in Elven Alienage

I came back to playing Dragon Age after a lot of time away, and found a nice side quest in the Elven Alienage, which had opened up to me during my last play time. (Yes, I still haven't finished the game.) A blind Templar was looking for witches, and ended up investigating some strange sense of something not being right, and needed help (good thing he was blind, too, considering I'm a blood mage and I'm traveling with the Witch of the Wilds).

Anyway, without spoiling the quest content, you get to investigate a haunted orphanage! It's a quest full of spooky ambience, with ghosts of orphans, disembodied voices, and plenty of evidence of something very bad having happened there.

It all wraps up neatly and satisfactorily at the end, and is worth a good 20-30 minutes of play time. I like short, independent quests like this, with their own little self-contained stories, and I hope to find more like these made by fans, or even (gasp) make one myself!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Allods Online

I'm still playing Dragon Age when I get the chance, but in the meantime I've also been playing another MMO -- one that satisfies the craving for World of Warcraft that I sometimes get. It's been more than a year since I've played WoW, and I've missed it sometimes, but it's just too much of an investment of time and/or money, with that recurring monthly fee. Other than that, it's almost exactly what I want out of an MMO.

And that's why Allods Online scratches that itch. As far as the WoW-receptors in my brain are concerned, it is WoW. The gameplay, art design, and class types are virtually identical. It basically feels like a whole new expansion to WoW, with new lands, factions, and races with a Russian feel to them (since it's made by a Russian company). And, unlike WoW, there's no monthly fee to play. It also doesn't have WoW's huge addon/mod collection, but I see a few mods here on Curse Forge.

But first, a little about other games, for the sake of comparison. I've played a couple of other free-to-play games, which make their money through selling items in-game for real-world cash, like Free Realms (which I reviewed before) and Soul of the Ultimate Nation, and both seemed like perfectly good games in their own rights, but neither held my interest long enough to want to consider a real-world monetary investment in them. Both were visually attractive, but SUN suffered in its interface and insufficient in-game tutorial, and Free Realms was perhaps a little too watered down and kiddified, both in content and atmosphere. I had already complained about the ridiculous chat filter, but I never mentioned the root beer. There's a town where the half of the chug population that are lazy instead of militaristic have a perpetual Oktoberfest, where they brew and serve root beer. That's not the problem in itself, but that they apparently were so afraid that people might think it was actual alcoholic beer if it had any colour at all, they instead made it look like water. A frothy mug of water. And this isn't even some special other-world root beer, it's actual root beer made with sarsaparilla root, just like classic root beer, which is most assuredly not clear.

All this background about other games is to lead into my impression of Allods.

The game is well-made, colourful, full of quests and interesting landscapes and architecture, nice special effects, and a logical, easy-to-learn interface and combat/skill system (of course, if you're familiar with WoW, then there's not much you need to learn). Your character begins in a beginner's special instance, which acts as a tutorial before you're sent to the starter's area with other live players. You can turn off the tutorial messages, which is nice.

There are two warring factions, like WoW, with faction-only zones and some PvP contested zones, and the races are pretty distinctly different, though there seem to be only three races for each faction. Interestingly, though the Empire seems to be the evil faction, with their orcs and their Soviet/Nazi theme, the League isn't all sweetness and light either, because they have the elves, which resemble the WoW blood elves in appearance and sinister, opulent elegance. If you want to play as a warlock/necromancer on the League side, you play as an elf.

Minor downsides to free play

So far, it being a free-to-play game where you pay for special items or services hasn't yet intruded on my gameplay in the way that it did in Free Realms, where many quests, resource nodes, professions, and items were marked as "member-only", and free players can only advance so far in certain professions or questlines before hitting a members-only brick wall. They made a change a short time ago that made things even worse in my opinion, by allowing users to play all professions, but limiting them all to level 5 unless you become a member.

As far as I can tell, none of that occurs in Allods. All quests have been available for all to play, as of my highest level, (about 75% to max). From what I can tell, the pay items are a matter of convenience or special privilege, rather than things that are necessary to play the game, at least for a rather casual player like me, who doesn't plan to get into any hardcore raiding.

For instance, bag space is limited, and vendors don't sell bags, and tailors can't craft them. The only way to get a bigger bag without visiting the cash shop is through a grind-fest, collecting creature parts with very low random drop rates, from creatures in several zones. While doing this quest, the items will be stuck in your bag until you finish it, because you're not allowed to store them in the bank. This long, boring quest is meant to encourage you to spend a little money in the cash shop to simply buy a bag with real money. But people do complete the bag quest anyway, gaining a lot of XP and salable junk while doing so.

I have not seen any gear items in the cash shop. No weapons, no armour, nothing like that. Mainly just convenience items and consumables.

Level of mature content

The content in the English version has been very mild. The English forum run by the English-version licensed company states that forum content must be "PG-13", and it seems that the game content is about the same level. There is mild swearing, alcohol use, and Victoria's Secret style underwear. What irks me is that I think the content is being somewhat kiddified for the English-speaking audience, because there appears to be more adult-oriented content on the Russian version.

For instance, there is official artwork on the Russian site depicting a seated, rather disinterested-looking male elf with two naked female elves "servicing" him as he gazes off, lost in thought with a glass of wine in his hand. See also here for what looks like an alternate, earlier draft of the same image. Both of these images are used in part on the official web sites.

Secondly, there is a bath house quest, which I've read about, which seems like it would be entertaining and funny, but which appears to be completely excised from the English version. (This is not to be confused with the public sauna which is near the windmill outside Novograd.) The bath house is still in the game, but you can't go in, and the attendant standing in front gives you a blank dialogue box if you talk to him (usually, a message saying "interaction not available" will appear instead of a dialogue box, if they have nothing to say.) This was not even adult material, in my opinion, since even in the baths the characters would not be nude (unless you have the nude patch installed). Nevertheless, considering the average ages of the people I've seen chatting in-game and on the forum (30s, on average), and the age of the average gamer (35, I seem to recall), I see no reason why any adult content should be excised. Keep the kids out, I say, and let us grown-ups have our fun. The world should not be limited to what is suitable for children.


One problem is spammers. I encountered spammers hawking their gold-farming web sites as soon as I was out of the tutorial instance, and it was so bad I couldn't see any legitimate chat until I figured out how to add them to my ignore list, so fast were they spamming their messages. WoW definitely has better chat handling features in this regard, where you can just right-click on anyone's name and either block them or report them for spamming. Here, you have to manually enter their names into your ignore list (easiest way at the moment is to click their names once, which starts a whisper message, then click it again, which copies the name into the chat box, where you can highlight it and copy/paste it into the ignore list.)

The nonsensical thing about these spammers, is that this is a game with a cash shop. If we wanted to spend real-world money on in-game items, why buy in-game gold from some irritating spammer when we can just buy items from the cash shop, and sell them in-game on the auction house? Many people do that to make quick gold in the game, in fact, so for those who don't want to visit the cash shop at all, you most likely will never have to.

We could also use some basic filter options, to let us players block any particular words or sequences we want.


I've tried three classes in this game: Healer, Summoner, and Psionicist. The healer is basically a cleric/priest, the summoner is a warlock, and the psionicist...well, I don't really know what to compare it with.

These classes, from my experience, differ somewhat from their WoW counterparts, but are very comfortable to play. Although there are paladins in the game, the mêlée-specced healer functions more like WoW's ret pally. Healers also get to wear leather at level 10, and plate at level 30. Plate! I've never seen a priest in plate before.

Summoners have the different demon pets, such as the tank and the support-type ones warlocks get in WoW, and they have the DoTs and curses you'd expect, and have a mechanic similar to the soul shard from WoW, which in this case are drops of blood harvested from enemies, which are used in various spells. The biggest difference with Allods' summoner is that it has healing spells. Some, like Plague of Mending, are very powerful group heals. I've heard some say that at the current patch, healing-specced summoners heal better than healers at high levels! I wouldn't know. I go for damage.

As in other games, certain classes are restricted to certain races. Since only gibberlings can be psionicists on the League side (the good guys), I ended up making a human psionicist on the Empire side. The most I can tell about this class is that they're intended mainly for crowd control. But for survivability, I find that the "mental twin" talent is the most useful. This allows you to project an illusion of yourself around your selected target, and the enemy will attack that illusion instead of you, allowing you to unleash damage on your target with impunity unless it destroys the illusion (the game treats the illusion as a "pet", with its own health bar, and it gets hurt more easily than you would).

Starting experience

There is a single, unified starting experience for each faction, which may be a disappointment if you were hoping for a unique starting area for each race, like in WoW. All League players begin in a tower where you won't encounter any other players, and then after the tutorial adventures, you progress to the first small starting island with other players, where you can get acquainted with quest hubs and group quests. Empire players start on board an astral ship, as a newbie recruit in the Empire's compulsory military service (note the short-skirted sailor suits that are Empire military standard uniform for girls). This is the only opportunity anyone gets to see the ship to ship combat and giant astral raid bosses that are a major part of the end-game content, until your guild manages to build a ship to sail the astral. After this, you make your way through petty internal politics and governmental red tape until you reach the first sewer areas where you meet other players, and do the sort of thing the League players do, just in different surroundings.

Both factions, at the end of this, end up in their respective capital cities, where you get access to the mail system, the bank, and the auction house, and get to pick up a profession to make money. It seems to me that the League starting area was much longer and more interesting, and the Empire boots you out into the capital much sooner. You also stay within the Empire capital much longer than you stay in the League capital zone, because the Empire city is a huge megalopolis, whereas the League capital is a modest kingdom, and most of the quests are out in the surrounding forest.

The Empire city aesthetic makes me think of 1940s or 1950s eastern European, with its apartments, cafeterias with refrigerators, wood-paneled auction house, and heavy industrial power plants with smokestacks. The League areas, on the other hand, have very much a fantasy aesthetic. I prefer the League by a long shot, but Empire is nice for a change of pace now and then, as long as I don't mind feeling like an oppressed citizen of a totalitarian state.

All in all, I highly recommend this game if you like WoW, and want to try a free alternative. You'll get a bonus if you like PvP, as there are no PvE servers, and the higher-level zones start turning on your PvP flag against your will. For me, that signals the time to play another game. Your mileage may vary, and you'll certainly enjoy the first 25 levels out of 40, if nothing else.

A repeatable quest where you turn into a werewolf to hunt down sparkling "Twilight Vampires"... Hmm...

Some more random screenies