A Modern Blast From the Past
The Business Area of Gamescom can be a strange thing. The vast amount of exhibitors and ultimately finite amount of space means that there are many many companies sharing booths at times. These little islands of business and networking are dotted around the halls guarded by stern appointment keepers who don't like you wandering just anywhere.
I don't remember much about the Albion Online booths exterior. I can't. It's all drowned out in a shared memory with the team from Sandbox Interactive GmbH. Someone is playing a trailer of some description. We're trying to talk about a medieval sandbox MMO. All we can hear is someone insisting voiciferously that we should "Come to mama!"
I am not sure if they are braver for making an open world sandbox, a modern day take on Ultima Online, or sitting in that booth hour after hour and being told to ...well. It was a distracting trailer.
The game is a player driven game. Everything we discussed returns to this point again and again. If you want a city, players are going to have to come together and make it. If you want to have the finest armor and weapons, you're going to have to work your way up from rags to riches.
While there will be some preplaced infrastructure style buildings to help cities, what you build is up to you and these things will all work towards the communal player experience.
"It looked to Sacharissa that the only tools a dwarf needed were his axe and some means of making fire. That'd eventually get him a forge, and with that he could make simple tools, and with those he could make complex tools, and with complex tools a dwarf could more or less make anything." - Terry Pratchett, The Truth.
Albion Online wants you to be that Dwarf, starting with nothing and building the tools you need to get to bigger tools. Those bigger tools ideally include a lever to help you move the world.
Not everything in Albion Online is business and crafting of course. It does have a large draw naturally, I can run someone elses store for them if they want me to. Franchises aren't an impossible idea if you ask me. Still sometimes what you need in your life outside of the landings on Albion is combat. Not just against those creatures you skinned for your first clothes, player on player combat.
All of the areas around the starting points are safe enough. If you get "knocked out" fighting creatures, you'll get to keep your equipment. As you progress however, you will eventually cross over the Wall on the world map. Beyond the Wall? Think Null sec space in EVE. The laws of the King don't reach over the wall, open PvP is the name of the game. Naturally enough for all the budding city builders still excited about franchise opportunities, the best materials come from over the wall.
Venturing over the wall in Albion carries a little risk, if you get defeated, the person who put you down gains silver. This nice little buffer is to act as a training cycle. You may die, but all you are going to lose is some silver and some time. Further into the lawlessness over the wall, now you're playing for keeps. Death will matter when people go head to head.
A central part of this lawless area and of Albion will be Guild play. If you want to make your life a little easier in the wildest of wild wests... or was it east... Guilds can claim territory and build retreats. These aren't impregnable fortresses of course, you have to mark some times during the week when your territory will be vulnerable to attack. When this time rolls around, players get to go head to head in 5 on 5 attacks to conquer territory.
Bringing a little strategy to the table, conquering land can only be done along lines of attack marked on the map. This may end up forming little kingdoms in the wild, but who doesn't love the sound of that? Of course there are some people who aren't entirely into slaughtering their fellow players for glory and land. As such there are player and guild islands near the centre of the safe zone that will let you set up all the structures you otherwise could over the wall. The trade off comes in those "safe" player areas are not as efficient in terms of crafting and materials. To be competitive, you need to compete.
Hardcore MMOs have a slight issue in that well... they are hardcore. They require an investment in time and sometimes things happen in competitive spaces at inopportune times. Albion Online is aiming to be cross platform and this means that there's less of a chance of being caught out. The running demo at Gamescom was displayed on a gorgeous big screen television, but it also appeared on both an iPad and an Android tablet. So long as I have a tablet and internet, the full and complete experience of Albion Online is available to me. I was able to get my hands on the tablet and freely move the character around and harvest trees while watching it play out at the same time on the big screen.
There's no reason to be caught out any more or if you are interested in just doing a spot of crafting or checking your stores over lunch, Albion is at your fingertips.
Does this mean we'll see tablet weilding lunatics defending their guild territory against a team of 5 PC players? Oh sure. We'll probably see that at least once. Albion Online though is not forgiving and not at all apologetic about it.
If you've ever pined for a version of Ultima Online recreated today, this may well be up your alley.