Wot I Think: Allods Online

Free-to-play MMOs don’t tend to get the time of day around RPS Towers, but I thought I’d had a look at this one because… well, it’s pretty. Allods Online has some exquisite art, and as we all know, it’s best to judge things by superficial appearances. Hell, if you don’t judge a book by its cover then you tend to end up reading the wrong kind of literature. Anyway, here’s Wot I Think.

It’s pretty in a familiar way, of course. In the way that all the women in American teen dramas look identical – all primed with the same flawless teeth and watery eyes – so there’s a certain kind MMO that looks very much like World Of Warcraft. And boy does Allods Online look a lot like World Of Warcraft. It’s got that rounded cartoon friendliness that says “hey, I’m not going to kick your graphics card in the kidney, and I’ll probably run on your mid-range laptop.” It’s got very much the the same kind of trees, similar fonts, and the cousins of the WoW UI windows are living in Allods’ inventories and skill-tables. Yes, this, a free-to-play MMO, is one of handsomest-ever videogames to come out of the hot furnaces of the Russian games industry, and its aimed straight at the heart of the MMO world. The Warcraft-like visuals are clearly meant to entice in the millions of people in, the millions of people that this game will require to pay back to the reported $12m that was spent on its development. That’s not a lot in the wider scheme of things, but when you are giving your game away for free then you’d better have some other idea for getting that cash back in your pocket. The idea here is micropayments, and seeing as only a tiny percentage of people seem to want to give up pennies for magic hats, Allods had better have a lot of people. Anyway, let’s come back to that in a bit.

The millions of dollars seem to have been spent on the art design. I’d go as far as saying that it’s better in places that WoW ever was: the world itself is ludicrous and pretty rich in its furnishings. The Arisen, my favourite race, looking like Aztec Necron, are basically super-stylish in every way. One of the nice little touches in the game – which I have seen somewhere before but can’t quite pinpoint – is that you can cast some spells without having a target. This nuance means my Arisen mage can walk around with a fireball in his hand, particle effects streaming. It’s lovely. The fantast hipness of the Arisen are counter-balanced by the kitsch furriness of the Gibberlings, which are a super-cute trio of creatures which are on the “good” side of the two factions, the Legon. The character creation process actually sees you naming and selecting the features of each one of the three creatures which then work together as you play in the world. It’s really not much different to playing with a single character, but it’s such a clever touch, and representative of the game as a whole: it might be aping MMOs immemorial, but it wants to be memorable. The same goes for the shamen, who wander around with his cigarette-smoking demon in tow.

Taking it further, the world at large is resplendent: a kind of Spelljammer-esque fantasy of flying ships. Apparently – and I haven’t got this far so I can’t actually have any objective thoughts about it – the end game allows you produce astral galleons of your own and fight other gangs of Pvpers. That sounds okay to me, even if the later game is a bit broken, as I’ll explain in a moment. Those flying ships ply trade between various worlds – the titular Allods – which float in the astral plane. The astral is a big spacey nebulae of magical dust in which demons live, and the backdrop for the world at large. Those demons range from squig-like micro-horrors to giant spectral monstrosities the size of houses, and a couple of them are introduced to you in the action-packed tutorial mission. The Allods themselves contain a huge variety of fantasy worlds, from idyllic faerie forests to spooksome citadels. They’re not all particularly great, and the world is certainly less interesting to explore than Azeroth, (the area you land in straight after the Imperial tutorial sequence is quite dull), but it has moments of genuine imaginative flair. In conclusion: Allods is mostly pretty, with some sporadic dullness.

As I was to discover in the course of playing Allods, however, there’s other stuff to a game than how it looks. I know! It’s amazing, but true. All the little numbers and icons actually add up to a complex system which determines your progress and ultimate success within the game world. At the core of the game you level up, and from there you can pour points into both numerous personal attributes such as luck, intelligence, strength, and about a dozen others. Then there’s a talent tree, which basically allows you pick and choose across a wide selection of skills that are specific to your class. Some of these come in multiple tiers, such as the psionic Gibberlings being able to do a mind-meld thing where they access high powers if they prep themselves psychically before a fight.

All this looks good in theory, but in practice it seems that there’s very little obvious consequence to your fiddling with stats, equipment, and skills. The changes in WoW, for example, are quite obvious and on the surface. You can see it right there in the numbers: the results of working hard to have the best loadout for your dwarf are clear. In Allods, however, it’s rather more opaque, and it really seems to be down to little more than your level to determine your overall effectiveness. It just seems like a bit of a mess – something to fiddle with that is ultimately pointless.

But perhaps that’s down to the shop. Ah, here is where Allods intends to make money: an online, in-game shop system that sells a range of the useful items for real world cash (neatly traded through a gold system). Perhaps the marked flatness of the standard experiences is intended to propel you toward virtual-item shopping so that you can feel that you make a real difference to your character? Maybe that’s it? Hmm, then again maybe not. There’s really not much in here other than random resources and potions. A bigger backpack might come in handy, but it’s not exactly transformative.

As the game goes on, however, things do seem to lean more towards shopping. Assuming you keep playing into the level 20s, you’re going to face PvP, and you’re going to be crunching your resources to stay alive. You might not choose to flag yourself up for PvP, but that might not matter, because attacking opposing faction NPCs still flags you. Worse, there’s an item – the War Banner – which allows players to attack enemy players of a similar level, even if they are unflagged. It’s a step into a hostile territory that seems to be putting many players off.

I get the feeling that this PvP-horror issue is one of different cultures clashing. Lots of Allods players are going to get a kick out of a PvP-heavy game in the later stages, but it does seem to have baffled others who are acclimatised to getting on with the PvE in the game. When Allods is so relatively approachable – casual, even – it does seem a little odd to force players to suddenly jump off into a chasm of brutal PvP come level 25. Anyway, the grumble-heavy threads on the Allods forums suggests there might be some changes on the way there, and I’d expect lots of adjustments in the coming months. gPotato are rather open about this being a work in progress, and it clearly has a way to go.

Ultimately, of course, Allods is just another suspect in the lineup of MMOs that have whacked snakes and looted their corpses for year after year. The fact that it’s pretty and available to anyone will certainly attract the eye, but I couldn’t stick around, and I doubt many of you will, either. This game is going to draw a large crowd simply because it’s free, but scratch the surface and things are both boringly familiar and not altogether satisfying. The fundamental physiology of the game, those moment-to-moment processes of fiddling with character builds and bashing enemies simply aren’t meaty enough to sustain us.


  1. Metalfish says:

    One wonders if there isn’t some sort of guild-wars-esque way that might involve a boxed copy containing a big pile of this paid-for loot. I suspect that would at least sit a little better with some gamers.

    What does RPS think?

  2. Mathew Jensterle says:

    Oh a shame. I love the character design but if the mechanics are opaque and unoriginal I don’t see the point in muddling through another free-to-play.

  3. Tei says:

    I think is better to start RPG’s outside the city. That way the player will salivate in anticipation, and imagine a city bigger than it is. It seems on this type of games, the imagination of the player are replaced by the hands of the artist, that create enormeous citys, simple but giganteous cities (too big,really, to be usefull). So wen you walk there, you feel in a valley of giants (in egypt, maybe).

    Also, the sewer feel much like MacDonalds.. “Do you want some epicness with your rat tails?”. Individual rations of heroism. I have nothing against rats, rats are really cool animals, and I am here, killing rats. Why? One can say rats are bad, if theres something like a plague of these animales. But all I can see around me is a plague of heros, killing that noble animal.

    Even the best MMORPG is nothing like Ultima 7 or Morrowind. I can’t walk around the continent and steal *all* of the spoons, and put all these spons in a hill creating the word “SPORK!”. You can’t do that, because most stuff is not interactive, other than NPC’s.

    NPC’s are much like guards in the Guard at Buckingham Palace,… these that turist poke fun about.

    What I don’t understand is why I have ad more fun with Hero Quest than with all 8 MMORPG games. Maybe is me?. It has to be me. These games have all. Graphic (amazing, like this one, top noch). Nice music, probably lore.

    Maybe I am too fat, and well feed of my game hunger. Maybe these games are for people withouth the skill to download open source of freeware games, withouth the money to pay for real games, and with a enormeous hunger for gaming. The hunger has to be really big, because these games feel more like a job, than something you do voluntary for fun.

    Has been the combat on Allods speedup? in a early version was too slow, there was too much typing for too litte bang bang.

    • Tei says:

      Re: npc’s don’t move

      I have made a simple draw about the idea.
      link to zerror.com

      Please, imagine turist around the “NPC” tryiing to take his quests. Hope this don’t sound disrepectfull (I am just abusing the mental image that these guards are not-interactive).

    • Sobric says:

      Tei I bloody love you and everything you write.

    • Flobulon says:

      That’s an interesting point about the NPC’s, Tei. Assisted by a beautiful diagram.
      But how would *you* make them move around more? Have them assisting you in quests?

    • Wulf says:

      “I have nothing against rats, rats are really cool animals, and I am here, killing rats. Why? One can say rats are bad, if theres something like a plague of these animales. But all I can see around me is a plague of heros, killing that noble animal.”

      You’re my hero, Tei. I really wish more people thought like you.

      This reminds me of the bubonic plague, funnily enough, which was England’s own MMORPG moment. The thing is… when the plague was going around, religion was at an all-time high, and cats–seen as a servant of the devil–were persecuted. So there were all these Englishmen, running around and killing ten cats, but where did it get them?

      The thing is, the cats were actually hunting rats, and what caused the plague? Rats! So by killing ten cats they caused an elongation of their own suffering. I see MMORPGs as a bit like this, people are addicted to killing ten of this, collecting ten of that, and their life is suffering for the sake of their addiction.

      The moral of the story: Anyone who would encourage you to kill a noteworthy amount of anything may not have your best interests at heart, and you may indeed end up suffering because of it.

    • BooleanBob says:

      If RPS was the futuristic Deus Ex/Beneath a Steel Sky hybrid cyberpunk narrative that my mind already insists it to be, a dramatic climax would see Tei brutally assimilated into the Hive Mind in a whirl of tendrilous bio-organic interfacing mind-claws. All would seem lost for the brave denizens of the PC Gaming Alliance – only for the beauty of a singular human mind to bring peace and understanding to the cold, calculating logic of that terrible machine intelligence.

      Encouraged, the Holy Imam of Activision, Robertron Kotick XVI, would put out the call, ending the Millenial War against the Free Brotherhood of Electronic Artisans. Ubisoft would revoke their preemptory DRM shield from the sky and allow real sunlight to reach the Earth for the first time in centuries. The Devoted of UT and Q3 would embrace and weep openly for joy. Peace would reign.

    • Sagan says:

      Re: NPCs don’t move.
      I have this idea which I think is brilliant.
      Bioware should use the Sims 3 AI for all it’s NPCs in The Old Republic. Bioware and Maxis are both EA, so they should have access to the technology, right? What you would get is a world where the NPCs not only don’t stand around, but they plausibly don’t stand around. As in, when their social slider gets too low they go to the bar to hang out. And when they get too bored they watch TV or whatever it is you do in the Star Wars universe. Bioware can completely skip the toilet and sleep needs of the NPCs though. That would just lead to suspension of disbelief breaking moments when the player walks into someone on the loo and the guy promptly offers you a quest.
      I realize this is probably very hard to do, and there might be confusion among players along the lines of “where did that guy go?” (solution: the minimap) but please someone create something with the Sims AI.

    • Clovis says:

      @Sagan: He wouldn’t offer you a quest. He’d get all embarrassed and push you out of the loo. Even better, you could spend hours stopping NPC’s from entering the bathroom just to see them wet themselves. Then you would see other NPC’s all around the city telling the funny “Bob the quest giver peed himself!” story and having a good laugh.

      Wow, that was really a fantastic idea!

  4. Spoon says:

    That pretty much mirrors my experience of the game. Was lured in because it looked great for a F2P, but there was really nothing great to keep playing for.

    • Choca says:

      Yeah, that was my feeling too. It just feels like I’ve played this game a million times already and it just doesn’t offer anything fresh to keep the player hooked. Plus I found the levelling to be excruciatingly slow once you hit level 10.

  5. Bremze says:

    Umm, you do know that there are two character development tree thingies, right? The first one is for your skills and is a bit dull but when you get to lvl 10, you can unlock a talent grid that allows for tons of customization. Its kinda like the WoW talent tree, you can get get some additional skills there too.

  6. Dominic White says:

    Allods is decent, but it’s still a generic MMO.

    The one free MMO that everyone should at least try once is Atlantica Online.

    link to atlantica.ndoorsgames.com

    The closest point of reference I can come up with is King’s Bounty: The MMO. You’ve got realtime overworld movement, but combat is tactical and turn-based, with you leading up to a full party of nine characters by yourself. If you party up with other players, each player fields their entire party. The gameplay is involved, challenging, and has great pick-up-and-play PvP. Even within the first day or two of play, you can just jump into tiered arena matches where you’ve got nothing to lose, but can win stuff. You can also bet on players in the arena.

    There’s a lot of mindgames and strategy involved in fighting other players, too.

    It also has a ton of clever convenience features, like being able to autotravel to any point you’ve visited before, and a huge searachble in-game database of every character, class, enemy, item, etc.

    It really doesn’t play like any other MMO in existance. It’s also fun enough that it’d be fun enough to play offline if that were an option. Try it out at the very least. Oh, and it gets regular free expansions every couple of months. Big ones, adding new dungeons, classes, features, etc.

    • Dominic White says:

      Oh, and to appease Tei, there are a bunch of NPCs that wander the world. Also passive villager NPCs who travel between towns, and if you’re a member of a guild that owns one of the in-game cities, you can talk to them to convince them to move into your city.

    • Choca says:

      This actually sounds like fun. Now if their PR people would stop spamming me with junk mail I’d consider trying it.

    • Namos says:

      Totally agree with Dominic here, Atlantica Online is definitely worth a try. Personally, I like my RPGs turn based or at least semi-turn-based (DA, for example) – and this has meant I can’t stand most MMO fare. AO is the only MMO I’ve found myself actually engaged in and enjoying.
      The description as King’s Bounty: The MMO is kinda off, though. I find the influences to stem more from Eastern SRPGs, particularly the Ogre Battle series. Imagine a regular MMO with each monster representing stacks (ala King’s Bounty). Both parties (the player and the monsters) split off, each on a 3X3 grid. You’ll put melee underlings in the front, with ranged and magic underlings in the back providing support. Then you and the monsters will duke it out, each in your turn. Realistic? No, but a heck of a lot more fun than many other MMOs.
      As far as I’m concerned, the game has two main flaws:
      1) The Grind: It’s a free, Korean-made MMO. With 130 levels, the first levels blaze by, but by around level 50 it starts slowing down… and down… and down…
      Mind you, this grind is alleviated somewhat by the fact you’re tracking a lot of experience bars. Experience for each character, for crafting, for your guild, for your guild’s town, and for your nation. The grind is also somewhat mitigated by the fact that the game does its utmost to incentivize almost any action you take. PvP is actually a great way to earn money and experience, and the fastest way to craft is actually to battle monsters.
      2) The World: In a word, boring. The game is set on Earth, with the premise of the story being that lost Atlantis (therefore Atlantica) has released some strange energy that makes the world go bonkers. The timeline is a mishmash allowing Shakespeare to coexist with Roman Pharaohs, and you can expect to meet monsters from practically any mythology on the face of the planet. I’ve yet to encounter any Aztec Necrons, unfortunately.

      Other quibbles include inventory woes, as an equipment upgrade mechanic where you need to merge two weapons of the same level to upgrade means that your inventory fills up with equips in no time; and the music of the game, of which there is almost none. Then again, I prefer to play MMOs with my own music and/or podcasts.

      Yep, I like this game, seeing as I can complain so much about it.

    • Dominic White says:

      The comparison to King’s Bounty was largely because a lot of commenters on this forum have apparently never played a console game ever. It’s definitely closer to Ogre Battle, although more directly controlled.

      And yeah, it ain’t perfect – there’s definitely some elements that could be tweaked, and the levelling curve higher up could be sped up. But for free, I don’t think you’re going to find a better MMO.

  7. Dawngreeter says:

    I played it for a whole weekend. I got bored after some four or five hours on day one, then decided to come back the next day because my Arisen is so damn pretty. I didn’t come back for day three, prettiness can do only so much.

    What bothers me about these kind of games, the kind of games the masses imagine when they see the MMO abbreviation, is that they are so incredibly, mindnumbingly, offensively tedious. And pointless. And implausible in ways I can’t even begin to describe. It’s one huge Diablo level (or a couple of them) and all these other people are running left and right while I’m trying to pay the damn game. Go play your own game, I want to play this one!

    The size of said Diablo level is absolutely fake, who cares how big the damn forest is when it’s filled with exactly the same exclamation-point-wearing motionless polygons and boars of varying colors and sizes. The player interaction is meaningless, boiling down to the same damn thing I did with my friends when we played Lord of Destruction in LAN. Except for other people disrupting my fun. And PvP is just one huge douchebag contest because there is no consequence to winning or losing or holding ground or whatever. Except when there is some consequence system, which is still absolutely inconsequential and is, essentially, an exercise in conceptual sadism. “You just got out-jerked! Now you get to have less fun until this timer here runs out!”

    The Matrix comes to mind. You know that monologue Agent Smith has?
    “…I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery.”
    I really, truly hope he wasn’t right. But it seems he was. Just look at the most successful virtual worlds we’ve created.

  8. Flameberge says:

    The fundamental physiology of the game, those moment-to-moment processes of fiddling with character builds and bashing enemies simply aren’t meaty enough to sustain us.

    And yet, millions still play WoW, EQ & EQ2 amongst many others. I just guess it that many other games do these archtypical MMO template better than Allods can hope to do. However, ‘better’ is a relative term, because the difference between this and WoW is entirely superficial – WoW hides its inane, pointless and boring mechanics behind a thin veneer (at least in Burning Crusade and Lich King) of actually doing something interesting. Which in most cases even in WoW, you aren’t, but by putting some clever scenery around you, they make you think you’re actually doing more than your usual skill-rotations and other boring nonsense.

    At least Aion was up front and honest with its MMO template, allowing you to create macros in game that could essentially play the game for you.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Perhaps, but what I was getting at was that WoW is simply a better MMO engine. Your fiddling produces clear results, whereas Allods doesn’t so much.

  9. Network Crayon says:

    It really is Massively pretty to.

  10. Garg says:

    ” The idea here is micropayments, and seeing as only a tiny percentage of people seem to want to give up pennies for magic hats, Allods had better have a lot of people.”

    If only micropayment items literally did cost pennies. I dare say it would be much more than a tiny percentage of the player base who bought them then. Imagine if you could buy TF2-esque funny hats for your class in WoW for 10p. I bet there would be 50%+ uptake. I guess the problem is that credit cards charge per transaction, so minimum viable prices are in the few pounds/dollars bracket.

    • Clovis says:

      Isn’t that avoided by pricing the items in “gold”. I think your idea still applies even if you have to buy a minumum of $5 in gold. If you know that you can buy a bunch of stuff for that $5, then you’d be more likely to do it.

  11. jsdn says:

    All I have to say is… WOW. Both definitions.
    The more game developers try to create something new and different, the better. MMO’s have been starving themselves through copying each other since the genre’s conception. World of Warcraft was a an amazing success because it asked why to every element innate to MMO’s, and then improved upon them to maximize enjoyment. Granted, this is just a free MMO, but I really wish someone would learn the method instead of copying the solution. The MMO genre has far more potential than it expresses.

  12. Zoonp says:

    The game is a bit generic in the beginning but the endgame is pretty unique because you get your own astral ship and then you and your crew can start exploring the huge world. Here’s my favorite ship video:

  13. kwyjibo says:

    So this is like all the other MMOs out there, but you don’t have to pay an overpriced monthly subscription?

    Sounds good.

  14. Lorc says:

    As free-to-play MMOs go, I’m rather fond of Asda story.

    I’ve never actually played it mind, but come on: it’s called “Asda story”.

  15. Kirian says:

    It wasn’t so much the PvP. I was actually looking forward to PvP. It was the roving gangs of lvl 40 people using the new entrants as arse-towels that annoyed. The War Banner allows you to attack anyone without a flag. As soon as you attack them, they then become flagged.

    The fact that forces you to either grind resources or buy ’em is worse. If you’re going to make a subscription-based game, please make it obviously so instead of underhandedly.

    Is that an actual word?

    Jim’s entirely right. There’s not a lot of stuff in the free MMO space that’s worth sticking with. Which is a shame, because there’s plenty of interesting games with good ideas out there. I’m currently pinning hopes on Vindictus being good.

    Mostly because I like Monster Hunter and Frontier won’t see the light of day over here. Sad face.

  16. malkav11 says:

    I was enormously attracted by the Aztec Necrons and the Gibberling trios and the spelljammery stuff. I then heard about the PvP and ran like buggery in the opposite direction. (I may well not have liked it anyway, I’ve not had good experiences with free MMOs, but I would have at least tried it.)

  17. Flappybat says:

    There is an incredible ad showing on RPS for this, clearly from the Evony school of T&A.

    link to googleads.g.doubleclick.net

    • Joseph says:

      Wow that’s terrible. If having superficial skills that don’t influence your character didn’t put the nail in the coffin of ‘giving it a go’ for me, that ad sure did. Such a shame because it does look really pretty.

    • Anonymous Bob says:

      That ad was made by the European producers, completely different people from the Russian developers who made the game and who had no involvement with that ad.

      That ad only reflects on the European producers, not the Russian developers or the NA producers.

  18. Nezz says:

    I’ve played this to Lvl 40, and I can’t agree with Jim about the character system at all. It’s true that it’s opaque and messy, but that’s because its algorithms are much *too important* for your effectiveness, not the other way around. The skills, the talents and the stats (via items) you have to choose have dramatic and often unpredictable effects on your DPS. Some are so much worse than others that it’s too easy to paint yourself in a corner if you don’t follow one of the class guides, and then you get pwned in PvP by players 5 levels below you. Puzzling all the formulas together to balance crit/anti-crit chance, damage buffs, resistances/anti-resistances, mana pool and cooldown modifiers turned into a mathematical nightmare pretty quickly; at least that was my experience as a mage.

    Do I understand you’ve played a Summoner, Jim? Perhaps that’s just a class with very few possible development paths.

  19. dethgar says:

    Until we, as a society, refuse to play video games full of “levels” and hidden “grinds”, we’re going to be stuck doing things like this in every game(as in, micro-transaction difficulty curve).

  20. Anonymous Bob says:

    It’s pretty clear you didn’t play more than an hour.

    You mention the talent tree and say how it’s undeveloped and boring, making it so the skills you pick don’t matter much.

    How about the three talent grids that you get at level 10 in addition to the talent tree? Those talent grids are the core of character customization, and something you clearly missed.

    Good job at a half-assed review.

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