Get used to these three words. Indie Sandbox MMO. They're pretty much all the rage right now. Just off the top of my head, I can think of about ten of these games coming out. Whether through Kickstarter or just a smaller developer, these games are all vying to see which one will usher in a new era of sandboxy-ness (© TheHiveLeader 2014). The marketing for most of these games usually involves tugging on your nostalgic heartstrings in hopes of catching your attention. One of the bunch is a game being funded through Kickstarter, Albion Online. This game is, of course, a sandbox MMO brought to you by the fine folks from Sandbox Interactive. With no quests, heavy emphasis on crafting, and open pvp, the specific nostalgic heartstring this one is attempting to pluck is definitely Ultima Online. From the top-down perspective to the player-run cities, Albion Online screams how much it wants to emulate the beloved, old-school MMO.
Despite being developed for cross-platform play between multiple devices, such as iOS, Android and PC's, Albion Online provides fairly deep gameplay. Everything in the game has to be earned. You will spend hours simply harvesting the materials that you will need to create your equipment, and in Albion Online, your equipment is everything. Be prepared to chop trees, break rocks, gather gems, harvest cotton, and walk very slowly carrying all of it back to camp. Hint: Save up for an ox. You're going to want it. For higher level gear you're going to have to start venturing out into dungeons and areas with NPC's to collect Marks. These marks will be used for crafting most gear past the second tier, so while crafting is important, it is not the only thing you will be doing to progress in Albion Online.
Other than saving up your materials for equipment, you'll also want to save up for making your own camp. In Albion, you are able to claim a portion of land and create several buildings on it. You can create your own crafting stations, chests to store things, and pretty much set up your own player-built town. While this is nice to see, nearly everyone has pretty much the same things, so if you don't mind paying silver to craft or refine items, you don't really NEED to set up your own little village. But setting up a town does not have to be a solo act. In fact, it's much easier to do so with a guild. You can even set up in a PvP area and compete with others in a battle for territory! I did not get to experience a great deal of Guild vs. Guild combat, but from what I did, it was a blast to take part in. All of this plays right into the economy of the game. Items cannot be sold to NPCs, but rather only on the auction house to other players, and money can only be earned by killing enemy NPCs out in the world and in dungeons. It is truly a player-run economy. TO THE EXTREME!
Now, remember when I said your equipment is everything? I meant that quite literally. All of your character's skills and abilities are tied to your equipment. During the crafting process, you will select multiple pre-determined active and passive skills for every piece of armor you create. So a full set of plate armor could be made to increase your damage or your defense. It is entirely up to you. This allows you to create some very interesting "classes". I put that in quotations because Albion does not truly have classes. It really depends on your equipment. You can have a healer that wears plate armor, or a mage that uses a two handed sword.
You probably won't be as effective in your desired role if you do not wear the stereotypical armor type for your desired role, but you CAN. And that's all that matters. That's not to say that all there is to character progression is gear. The destiny board helps you keep track of your qualifications and gives you set tasks to complete before you're allowed access to certain perks. For example, in order to obtain the ability to wield Tier 4 weapons, you will first need to kill 180 monsters using a Tier 3 weapon. This helps prevent brand new players from immediately being decked out in the best equipment. They'll have to at least work a little.
Combat is where I felt Albion Online began to falter a bit. Click on an enemy NPC or player, and your character will begin to auto-attack with whatever weapon you have equipped. You can then use your abilities to help speed up the killing process. All skills run on cooldown timers and a stamina/mana pool. My first impression was that there was very little depth here. Honestly that's really all I found to combat. I suppose you can't have everything.
To put it bluntly, Albion Online is not for the faint of heart. The game heavily revolves around completely open Player vs Player, except in safe zones... which I guess means it's not completely open. Whatever... In PvP zones, combat is completely open. Death penalties are harsh, including equipment degradation and full loot. The only thing you will retain after death is some silver/gold. If you manage to make an "Everquest 1-esque" corpse-run back to your body, you can get back whatever is left after the looters and equipment breakage take their toll. While I am a fan of hard difficulty and harsher death penalties (heck, Demon's Souls is pretty much my favorite game of all time), Albion's feels a bit too severe.
With the entirety of your skillset dependent on your equipment, having one death nearly wipe out your entire inventory (particularly at lower levels) pretty much sets you back to square one. The easiest way to counter-act this is to not die. But with open PvP, you'd have to be the luckiest person alive to never die. So the second easiest way to avoid losing everything is to make sure you have multiple sets of armor to avoid having to go back out and grind out materials all over again. Even then you're still technically going to be farming out materials for a secondary set.
But even with this, my first impressions of Albion Online were positive. Despite what I feel is lackluster combat and death penalties that border on ragequit-inducing, the player-run cities and economy are something you don't see that often. The huge emphasis on crafting also feels well thought out, even if slightly grindy. Yet none of this is beyond fixing. With some minimal tweaks, I feel Albion Online could be an extremely strong contender in the MMO market, especially with those who love open-PvP. I am also very interested to see how the cross-platform play will affect the game and what different kinds of players this will bring into the genre, as I could easily see this becoming more and more common among the industry.