In June I had the pleasure of visiting the Sandbox Interactive games studio for an up-close and personal introduction to the forthcoming Albion Online, a sandbox MMO, due out in the last quarter of this year.
As I was first introduced to the guys and gals behind Albion Online it was clear that the entire team was driven by an unrelenting passion. The studio thrived with a variety of people working together to create the game: where some were passionate about providing a game offering hardcore PvP without the need to coddle the player base, others would jest that they knew nothing about the game and their passion was just to provide the best code. The enthusiasm could be found in every corner of the studio as I was shown upcoming graphics, plans, and concept artwork, and it was backed up by a culture of supporting developers who shared one goal: to make a game because they wanted to play it.
After meeting the studio team I sat down with CEO Stefan Wiezorek, Lead Game Designer Robin Henkys, Game Designer Emil Ötkins and CM Szymon Wilkosz, and had hands-on experience with Albion Online, after which I was able to machine-gun the crew with questions about the game in order to try and summarize the game for you in one paragraph:
Albion Online is a free-to-play sandbox medieval fantasy MMO featuring player-driven economy, crafted, tiered equipment, with buildings and limited resources in a persistent non-instanced world. It offers non-global markets with no fast travel, requiring physical transport of goods between regions, and full-loot PvP with open-world freedom backed by guild supported PvP, complete with territories and organised battlegrounds. The game doesn’t feature levels and classes that limit you use of items, but instead allows full use of anything by anybody, and uses a paper-scissors-rock mechanic to calculate damage with equipment and weapons (sword beats cloth, magic beats plate, etc). It is feature heavy, and I don’t say that with a criticism but instead as something to note as I try my best to describe Albion in my own words. But can the game deliver?
I have personally been hyped up about various MMOs, only to have the crushing feeling of “meh” when finally getting my hands on a highly-anticipated title. I’m not entirely driven by graphics or the need to see next gen fish, birds and shimmering grass. I am driven by the need to have an experience where I can be over-awed by the gameplay. Some of my favourite moments and experiences come from games such as Ultima Online, Eve Online, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning, early vanilla, World of Warcraft, and Graal Online. There are other games that I’ve enjoyed thoroughly, but there is a difference between witnessing an event and reading a report of that event. Albion Online seems to be providing the tools for future experiences in which we are eye witnesses to events rather than readers of the report.
As the name suggests, this game is set in the world of Albion. You are a newcomer to the land, arriving fresh in the town of Seaport completely naked, with eyes set on conquering the old forgotten continent of Albion. The land has various wildlife, undead and creatures wandering the lands seemingly stirred by your arrival. You wander up the pier and into the town, where you start to snap off branches and knock down trees. With some logs in your inventory you gather a few rocks and make your first crude axe, pick and skinning knife. With that you are able to skin some rabbits and make some armour, and you craft the armour with one of a number of possible features in it, such as “heal over time” or “increase defence”. From here the world of Albion opens up.
As you use equipment you have made or found, whether through mining, chopping wood, etc or through killing animals, bandits or mobs, you will gain passive points towards the relevant skill, unlocking more uses, abilities and advantages. The Destiny board is a progression system that highlights what you are unlocking and what you can aim to achieve with each skill. Will you craft, craft and craft some more to progress and unlock bonuses through the branch of armourer? Or will you maim, slaughter and kill with an axe to unlock bonuses with the weapon?
Armour, weapons and restrictions do not exist in Albion Online, the armour does not make you slower, nor does it stifle your ability to cast spells. All characters have hit points and ability skill, and with each bit of equipment the stats alter slightly and gives you the ability to wield a different skill. It is only normal that wearing full plate armour will offer more hitpoints and give you a resistance to physical damage, while wearing cloth armour will give you more ability points, various damage spells, and heals while giving you resistance to magical damage. The abilities and spells are crafted onto the weapons, and can only be crafted by you rather than found in-game. Past the first starter zones you have no NPCs or towns that provide you base level items. You will have to physically conquer land, harvest resources and build the items... but I get ahead of myself.
Resources are separated into six tiers with each resource being a requirement for various weapons in those associated tiers. Rare are rare: there won’t be thousands of players running around with the same Axe of Maltrop, but instead maybe one or two wielding it. But those players won’t be unbeatable even with the Axe, as with each tier the power increase is around 20%, meaning a player equipped with sixth tier gear can be killed by a group of second tier players. There is no massive power creep, everyone is dangerous, and... do you want to risk the Axe of Maltrop? [NOTE: the Axe of Maltrop does not (yet) exist in the world of Albion Online and is just something I made up.]
The game offers a level of dynamic adjustment, such as one day the a player group such as the Red Raven clan may have the Axe of Maltrop, but when they enter a dungeon the Blue Boars sneak in behind them and attack while they are engaged with a boss... the result being a huge amount of deaths and the Axe of Maltrop being lost to a newbie stumbling upon the aftermath.
I posed the scenario of a clan being in Tier 5, all well equipped and harvesting daily. Would a friend joining them at Tier 1-2 actually matter? The answer is yes: some high-level buildings and items require a large amount of low-tier resources. This strengthens the importance of harvesting low-tier areas and giving a genuine importance to your new friends joining the game late.
The player-driven economy seems to be the crux of the entire game, fueling the reason for your desire to conquer the lands, why you’d fight over Albion and why you’d have PvP. All items and buildings in the game are crafted by the players. Albion will offer you low Tier 1 and Tier 2 starter towns with the basic stuff, but after that you will need to gather resources, buy a plot of land, build a building and craft the items. Buildings include the stonemason, the arcane shop, the forge and so on, offering advancement in buildings, magical items or weapons and armour. While your buildings offer a brief pause in combat the surrounding areas, wilderness and territory will be open full-loot upon death.