Now in closed beta after months of alpha testing and gathering feedback, we caught up with Sandbox Interactive to chat about what they've learned, where the game goes from here, and how they're working to make Albion Online the best sandbox MMO it can be.
MMORPG: If you had to put a point on it... what would be the main reason for an MMO or RPG fan to check out Albion?
Sandbox: With Albion Online, we wanted to develop a game that hasn’t been made in many years and to give the freedom in an MMO game back to the players. The game is a real sandbox, where everything in the world is truly driven by the players themselves. The entire economy is based on player crafting items and selling them on the markets, (almost) all crafting stations are also built and maintained by players and even the food and other consumables in the game are farmed initially. The result: everything in Albion is really interconnected because of that!
We believe that there are many players who are looking for an MMORPG where they can decide what will happen in the game world and what their role within that should be. That’s also one of the reasons we decided to have classless characters, which means that players are not limited to one type of character at the beginning of the game already. Instead, by choosing the gear and equipment they use, they determine what role their character plays – be that a warrior, mage, hunter, farmer or crafter. We call that concept “You Are What You Wear”.
MMORPG: The Demon Prince video shows a lot of the lore for the game, but what fight mechanics can players expect when they reach this level of play?
Sandbox: The cross-platform aspect of Albion Online is an aspect that some people are skeptical about when talking about our game (I know that there are quite a few on MMORPG.com as well). With the Demon Prince boss fight, we wanted to demonstrate what is at the core of this concept: We are primarily building a PC game that we want to live up to standards PC gamers are used to, while at the same time, the game also works on other platforms, such as iOS and Android tablets.
The Demon Prince is therefore a boss fight, that definitely does have some resemblance to World of Warcraft bosses. Our goal was to design it in a way that tests players’ abilities to understand a boss and its mechanics. In that sense, we aim to make every boss in Albion unique, so that players really have to learn and understand its moves in order to defeat it.
With the Demon Prince, we specifically gave him several interesting mechanics, such as...
He spawns so called “Hell Rifts”, small circles causing high damage and moving away and back from the boss, where players have to react instantly and need to know the pattern in order to avoid them.
The Prince also has a move where he pushes all players attacking him back with his wings and then directly pulls one player to him to cause massive damage. The group of players needs to react really quickly to this in order to protect their team member as his or her death could be really lethal for the entire operation.
Finally, this also shows the last element of our boss fights – teamwork. The boss fight is designed for 10-12 players, who really have to work together and coordinate well in order to defeat this, so far, mightiest of all bosses in Albion.
MMORPG: Can you tell us what the biggest lesson from Alpha has been among the community? How has it changed your approach to beta?
Sandbox: The main thing that we really learned from our previous Alphas was that the progression of item power cannot be too large in an MMO. Our game designers (and naturally also our users) expect our combat to be skill-based to a significant degree. If the gear progression is too steep now – which has happened to us previously – the outcome of fights is usually only determined by whichever character wears the better gear.
As a consequence, we have now done significant changes in that area. Operationally, we’ve even assembled a combat strike team, consisting of game designers, artists and animators, who are almost exclusively focused on improving our combat. The result was that we now have flattened our item progression curve substantially and also introduced different armor types as well as specific characteristics to every weapon. That way, players are now able to perform different roles in combat, be it a deadly assassin or a long-lasting warrior, making the outcome of fights much less dependent on pure item power.
Since combat is one of the key elements of Albion Online, this will definitely be an aspect we’ll keep working on – our aim is to come closer and closer to the combat experience you have in MOBAs, such as LOL or Dota.
MMORPG: Do you feel the progression curve to get to high end content is fair to your players?
Sandbox: We think that it is fair in the sense that we give all players the chance to reach a decent level of play with a reasonable amount of effort invested. It’s important for us to design the low and mid-tier content in a way that allows many players to have good fun playing the game and being able to somehow keep up with the most hardcore kind of players – e.g. for the Closed Beta we have completely changed the concept of Learning Points which now work as a bonus to complete the next step in our Destiny Board, the player’s skill tree, faster.
At the same time, we feel that it is important to reward those players who are really putting in a lot of time and effort into getting towards the real high end content. We are currently having 8 Tiers and 6 Power Levels for gear in Albion Online and we believe that players who are eventually reaching the highest progression step should feel really special and somewhat unique. So in that sense, we’ve designed the game in a way that this really high-end gear remains rare for quite a long time – similar to what maybe Titans are in EVE Online.
MMORPG: What steps does your team take to avoid elements like the "grind"?
Sandbox: Well, Albion Online is an MMO – so “the grind” is something that people are looking forward to, right? No?
On a serious note, of course there is an element of grind in Albion Online, especially when trying to unlock the next node in the Destiny Board.
At the same time, in our game, players can at least decide themselves what to work towards. The freedom I already mentioned earlier allows people to choose if they want to work on unlocking the next higher sword for fighting or if they rather want to grow more chickens in order to eventually be able to grow horses, which can be sold for a decent profit on the players market.
Even more important than that is the meta game aspect of Albion Online. Similar to EVE Online, we already now have a lot of backdoor politics going on between our guilds and encourage that element to grow stronger and stronger. In that sense, you can be a really successful player in Albion even without grinding for any kind of skill progression but simply by being a masterful diplomat, negotiator or trader for your guild. The meta game aspect is so important for us in that sense because it gives everything you do in Albion a much higher meaning.