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11:38am on Monday, 27th August, 2018:

Albion Offline


I've been playing Albion Online recently, as I'd heard interesting things about how its crafting system is used. It's still in beta, so improvements may come, but at the moment it's not really there.

So, it's a sandbox game, built around crafting. As with a good many other crafting games (Black Desert Online springs to mind), the crafting is all grind. There are five types of raw material (metal, stone, skin, wood and fibre) in eight tiers. You collect the raw material at a tier and convert it into processed material (bars, blocks, hides, planks, cloth). To do the conversion at higher tiers requires processed material from lower tiers: one raw copper makes a copper bar; two raw tins plus one copper bar make a bronze bar; two raw irons plus one bronze bar make a steel bar; three raw titaniums plus one steel bar make a titanium bar; four raw runites plus a titanium bar make a runite bar; five raw meteorites plus a runite make a meteorite bar; five raw adamantiums plus a meteorite bar make an adamantium bar. The same progressions work for other resources. It's riveting stuff...

Processed materials can be combined to make things. For example, 20 tier 5 (cedar) planks plus 12 tier 5 (titanium) bars make a tier 5 Infernal Staff. The same items can be crafted at each level, using the appropriate level of processed materials. Some of those materials only come from combat, not from gathering; these tend either to be expensive or to be inexpensive but you need lots of them and when you get these combined they give a random result.

It's not just a case of having the materials to make something: you have to have the skill. This means you have to make a lot of objects to level up your crafting (or processing) skill. Having made them, you then either take them to pieces to study or you sell them (because it costs a lot to make and study things). I'm still selling tier 2 fishing rods I put up for sale three weeks ago. It's not just a case of having the skill, either: you need to be able to use the item you want to make. This means you have to use it a lot, too. I can make tier 5 fishing rods because I advanced to tier 5 in fishing; I'm currently level 24 fishing (it's my highest rating) and will be able to make tier 5 rods when I reach level 30. I could actually do the remaining 6 levels in one go, because the game has "learning points" that drip in daily, and if you save up enough you can skip a lot of grind in the area you use it. Then, I could concentrate on mindlessly making boots or whatever (having first levelled up gathering cloth, processing cloth and wearing boots).

There's housing in the game: you get your own, personal island that you can build things on. You can grow vegetables (for food), herbs (for potions), stables (for mounts) and farm animals (for food and potions). There may be more, but I only built a veg patch and herb patch; this is because if you want a decent return you have to invest "focus" in them, and there's really only enough focus arrives per day to do one patch's worth of focusing. You can also hire labourers, who will give you extra resources: you buy a journal, then when you do what the journal is about (gathering fibre, say), it fills up. You give this to your specialist worker, who disappears then 22 hours later reappears with more resources and a replacement journal.

The map for Albion Online consists of a number of towns, with areas in between that can be used for gathering. These areas are rated by the highest tier of resource that can be gathered in them. Your island is attached to the town you bought it in. You only get one island. If you buy your island next to a town that only has low-level areas next to it, you're going to have to go a long way for resources once you out-level it. That's just the kind of thing it would be useful to know when you buy an island; I didn't, and wound up fine up to tier 4 then having to go on long treks for higher tiers. I could have destroyed my island and bought a new one, but they're relatively expensive.

Now one of the main things about Albion Online is factional combat. When you join a faction, you get reputation points for doing all the stuff you do. There's also guild combat, but I didn't join a guild: I must have been invited to join guilds maybe 30 times, but no-one ever spoke to me first, they just invited speculatively. Some weren't even English-language guilds. I did join a faction, but it transpired that when someone of a different faction finds you they can kill you and take all the stuff you have on you, leaving you naked and penniless except for what you have in the bank. This happened to me just after I'd reached tier 2. Having suffered much worse fates in MUD, this didn't bother me, but I can see how some people might have stopped there and then after being ganked while chopping down chestnut trees in a zone they think is safe because it's colour-coded blue. I left the faction after that, though.

I've played this game for 123 hours. In that time, I've managed to get all my gathering and processing skills up to tier 5 and can make any tier 5 cloth clothing (given the materials) plus some other stuff like bags and capes. I can also make fire-based weapons. Normally I try to play a healer in MMOs so I can get a group, but the requirement that I have to level up in holy staff usage makes that hard (you can't really do it playing solo as you're not going to win any fights when all you can do is heal). This is why I wound up being a ranged fire DPS.

For gatherers, this game is a complete grind. There's a mini-game for fishing, but for everything else you just go up to a resource, click on it, and wait. The wait can be up to a minute for resources at the top of your limit. Sitting there, watching a figure skinning an animal for a minute, is not fun. It's bearable, though, if you have a stock of online cartoons to catch up on, so you can switch windows and do something else until the minute is up. That's a bit of a risk, though, as you could be attacked while your attention is elsewhere.

I quit playing last night after something I suspected would happen happened.

For tier 6 and above, you can't gather items in safe areas. You have to go to areas where people can attack you even if you're not flagged for PvP. The game has been running for over a year now, and as a result, most of its players are at tier 8. They can easily go into tier 6 areas and beat up anyone they find there. If they want tier 6 resources, they can simply kill and loot someone who's just spent an hour collecting them. That's what happened to me. I was reading the news or something in a different window, and returned to find two guys with red name tags standing over my looted body. If I'd had my headphones on, I may have known I was being attacked and been able to make a fight of it, but I wouldn't have won anyway as there were two of them in tier 8 gear and I was in my tier 5.

Now as before, I wasn't particularly fazed by this. I was a bit annoyed that I'd just spent half my money on two tier 6 mounts that were now gone, but I had some back-up gear already made. The point was that this was going to become a regular occurrence from tier 6 onwards. I was going to get ganked every time I went to gather something, with no hope of escape. Amusingly, the two people who killed me said I was a bot (which I obviously wasn't, as I wasn't wearing specialist gatherer gear); I told them no, just a noob, which raised a LOL from one but he still added "nice try". When the grind of a game is so ingrained that even non-bots have to behave in a mechanistic fashion, there's something wrong.

The other problem I have with the game is that it's pay to win. The in-game currency is silver, which you get from drops and from selling stuff, and as occasional rewards in instanced content. You can buy silver for gold. One gold would get you around 1,100 silver last time I looked. You can buy gold for dollars, $4.95 for 750 gold. One dollar will therefore get you around 165,000 silver. Other than buying silver, you can't do anything with gold except pay for premium status (which is like a subscription). The idea is that people sell silver for gold so they can play for free, and people sell gold for silver so they can go gank lower-level players for laughs. I bought an account with two months of play on it (still a month to go, but I won't be using it) that came with 4,500 gold for free. That's worth close to 5 million silver. The most I ever had in the bank was a tenth of that, immediately prior to buying those two mounts I lost.

One final thing I won't be too unhappy to say goodbye to is the mouse-based movement system. This is a third-person game with a zoomed-out camera that you can't move independently, which means you always see everything from the same direction (south). So many times, I clicked on random critters or rough wood or useless stones that I didn't see (or did see but throught I was clicking on something in front of or behind it). They need to sort that out. Letting people click through their mount to pick up the stuff their mount is occluding would help, too.

I was planning on playing Albion Online up to tier 8, but given that everything is the same at each tier before then (except for the being ganked bit) and the propensity of players not to engage when you try have conversations with them (only one other player apart from the ones last night ever responded when I spoke to them — four, if you count the two in the /help channel), I think maybe I'll invest my time playing something else instead. The high concept is good, but it needs more flesh on the bones.

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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).