By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
Albion is a game I have loved a lot for the last three years, but also started to hate. It’s a bit of a Jeckyll & Hyde relationship for me, and having tried this last beta before release in a couple of months has made me once more question what path the game is trying to carve. The game has had its postpones, extra extended alpha phases, and also an extra Beta phase, but finally in July the game is supposedly set to come out. This beta I went in with the mindset and the question wondering, is it still worth it?
For the people who are yet unfamiliar with Albion Online, let me give you a brief introduction to the game. Albion Online is an open world Sandbox game with a fully player driven economy. Set in the medieval setting, I personally call it the EvE Online of normal MMORPGs. Player versus Player is the main focus of the game, and this can be found back in the design of the world map. Every guild is able to get its mark on the map, in one way or another, and even solo players can have a bit of an influence. And the game itself is also heavily inspired by EVE Online, but is it still the same game I used to love?
Well this question is something I had some trouble answering. The game in itself is fundamentally still the same, but with each extra testing phase it has shifted the meta of the game in new sometimes random directions, and it made me slowly realize that the developers might have the Star Citizen syndrome. Trying its best to make the perfect game, focusing too much on its flaws and trying to reshape it in one way or another without thinking of the repercussions of what it might do to the game as a whole. So the meta itself has shifted from heavily PVP focused in the alpha, to focusing too much on the need of gathering resources, and almost making it a requirement to do if you want to develop in the world. While I don’t mind crafting all that much, in a sandbox game I just want to live the way I feel, and I feel like it’s becoming a linear stale game in its current state that I fear might not be able to stay popular for as long as I had hoped.
If you have followed Albion, let me give you a brief example of what has changed in this beta since the previous one and the alphas. For about the fifth time now, the whole world has been reshaped once again to their new ideas, and where we had too much space to run through last beta, there is now a bit too little and the game in itself feels too small. A bunch of extra weapons and armor has been put in the game, but the concept of most of these weapons are from the ones we already had in one way or another. The game has had a graphical overhaul and does look much better, but it isn’t a huge difference that matters all too much. And an extra addition, Expeditions! But more on those later…
Albion Online tries to put the focus on bigger groups. Scattered in the world are objectives that the player can focus on, though the larger your group, the more they favor you. Since I have had a lot of experience from the last betas, and have been somewhat known in the community, I was able to get into the guild that has been at the top of the leaderboards for most of the testing phases. A heavily focused PVP group with players all sharing the same goal, trying to be the best in PVP. And this is where we somewhat struggled right from the start, mainly because the game puts its focus too much on the crafting, so that the rest of the players are held back quite a lot.
When you create your character and get thrown at one of the starting zones all around the map, you are free to do what you want to do; there is no story line to follow, or set path to take. It’s all up to you personally. Most players obviously go and level up their weapons and armor, because everyone in Albion aims for a build. Since weapons and armor both give you different skills and spells, there will always be some sort of a meta with armor set/weapon combinations. So most players at the start are set to just grind their way to a higher tier of gear for their build and go from there. What made Albion previously so enjoyable was that even with doing your daily dose of PVE of trying to level up your character, you had to do so in the open world, and eventually go into the higher leveled zones where people were able to attack you, and contest your dungeon or grinding spot. But this is where the Expeditions come into place.
In every city you will find these Expeditions that are basically like different player bound instances where you will have to run its entire course to get a money reward. And while ‘Fame’ gain is the same as in the open world, the silver is a lot less. Fame is used and needed to level up your gear and thus very important. As you can imagine 90% of the people farming up their gear does so in these Expeditions because no one is able to contest you, and the fear of dying is also thrown out of the window. Instances dungeons aren’t really what Sandbox games are all about.
Money can easily be made by everyone if you know how, and the game in itself is mainly a drag because it forces you to do something in one way or another. Leveling up your gear used to be different; it used to take a lot longer and feel like it would reward the more dedicated player more. But this time around, grinding through the higher tiers is simply too easy, it’s so easy that you are always held back by the crafting and gathering. And this in itself isn’t too much of an issue, but if you would compare the need to level up your gathering, to having your whole character decked out in the best possible gear, there is this confusion that makes you wonder if the game in itself is actually a sandbox. It forces you to participate in this special grind since not even the dedicated crafters are able to do it, and since the game is so heavily focused on the PvP you can imagine why this might be a fairly big issue.
State of the Beta: Fair
While there are changes set in place, I do not think that this will change the game all too much, and I honestly don’t think I will return to the place I once loved. Albion Online is a game that has changed so much, in one way or another that makes it difficult to still be loved. With every new update the game is catered towards the more casual players, making it easier in one way or another. But of course most importantly, the need to not enter the open sandbox world to compete with others is destroying the very nature of the competitive sandbox world they intended to build. It honestly tries to get rid of its sandbox shackles with each update. The game will always hold a special place in my heart, and when it does steer in the right direction I will be driving the hype train back myself, but as of now I am honestly a bit cautious with recommending the game to everyone. If you love crafting/gathering resources than the game is a no brainer. Everyone will love you and the game in itself can be a lot of fun. But if you are a pvper like me, and are not playing with a big group, you have no place in the world. The game tries its best to only make you experience a handful of the game. Sure there is a core group of players that will love these changes. But I’ve been selectively removed from the pool.