I’ve had nothing at all to write about for the last month except Critical Role and Sekiro. I can’t write about Critical Role because a) most people don’t care and b) any discussion of it would basically be 100% spoilers and c) D&D isn’t really my thing anyway.
I can’t write about Sekiro because there’s nothing much to say except “I’m playing Sekiro.” It’s not the kind of game that lends itself to a lot of discussion. It’s a bit like Pac-Man-you either play it or you don’t, there’s not much to say during the process. (Unless you want to start a Big Internet Fight about whether games should be hard or not. That was just one of a billion different links provided for context.)
So! In order to find something to write about, I downloaded the recently free-to-play Albion Online. I was pretty stoked about it. Until I realized, after installing it and playing it for a few minutes, that I *thought* I was playing Legends of Aria, a totally different game. Legends of Aria is the game that’s been getting a lot of praise lately for being a worthy successor to old-school Ultima Online, and I’ve been curious to see if that’s true or just hyperbole.
Albion Online is not that game. It’s only occasionally crossed my radar. One of the last things I wrote about it involved half their dev team losing their jobs. Way back in 2016 I commented on their hardcore PvP ruleset that inexplicably punished people for engaging in hardcore PvP.
In any case, it bears only a slight similarity to Ultima Online. The only thing they have in common is the isometric style. (Actually “isometric” is the wrong term for it. It’s not *actually* isometric, in the architectural drawing sense, it’s just a fixed overhead 3D viewpoint that sort of resembles that UO and Zaxxon isometric style. There’s probably a name for this camera viewpoint that is more accurate, but I don’t know what it is.)
I think I’ve written before about how I generally dislike isometric-style games like this. My basic reasoning is that me the player should be able to see everything that my character on the screen can see, and it frustrates me endlessly that I can’t see off the edge of the screen in these isometric games. To me, the only reason isometric-style games ever existed was as a compromise for lack of computing power. Nowadays we have the computing power to render the entire world, so what is the point of continuing to make isometric-style games?
But I can tolerate it for short periods of time. Honestly I was mainly looking for a game that I could play while listening to Critical Role, and Albion Online is a pretty good choice for that.
On the plus side, I really like the user interface in this game. It’s very clean, stylish, colorful, and easy-to-understand. It’s pleasantly animated in a way that’s interesting, but doesn’t get in the way. There’s even a sizing option to make it big enough to read on my monitor, which is always a plus in this day and age.
It’s a bright, colorful game, which is itself a bit of rarity in the MMO space these days. It’s not quite cartoonish, but skating really close to that line.
On the negative side, it’s got some technical issues. There are queues, but they haven’t bothered me. I was in a 2000+ length queue but it only took 10 minutes of real time to wait through that, which is irritating but certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen during a launch window.
The first time I played, the game disconnected in the middle of the tutorial. When I came back, I was in the “main” game with everyone else and couldn’t finish the tutorial quests, or figure out how to abandon them. It doesn’t let you accept more than one quest at a time (kind of a bummer) so I was stuck. I had to re-roll. It worked the second time.
I find my character stuttering a lot on the screen, as if from intermittent connectivity to the server. I’m assuming the servers are overloaded right now from tons of people trying out the game. There’s certainly a ton of players on the screen around me in newbie zones, wandering around in seething masses, all ignoring each other like any modern MMO.
Most of these connectivity issues remind me of typical issues with MMOs around launch time that will straighten out over time. They don’t concern me.
In gameplay terms, though, the biggest irritant in the game so far is that it’s really hard to find the quest-giving NPCs. There’s a minimap in the corner but it’s not very accurate. I have to spend a lot of time running around the landscape to pinpoint exactly where the question marks and exclamation points actually are. There’s no arrow that points me in the right direction. It’s tiresome and I often find myself thinking, “Screw this, I don’t need this headache in my life.” But once I *find* the NPC, it’s all better.
The game is not particularly “massive” in the sense that you’re always playing within a comparatively small map zone. The world is built of a series of these small maps that you have to warp between with loading screens.
As an aside, I don’t know why modern game developers aren’t capable of producing games with massive seamless world maps anymore. I would have thought the technology for that would get better since World of Warcraft, but instead it’s been abandoned completely. It’s kind of a shame, because that was one of the coolest features of the massively multiplayer genre for me. That you could run for an hour in any direction without hitting any loading screens was amazing.
Supposedly you can play the game on iOS and Android, which would be cool, but I can’t figure out how to do that. I think those clients might not be released yet.
Anyway, it’s not the greatest game I’ve ever seen, but it’s cute. It’s not an “I’m going to make my home here for the next 10 years” kind of game though, at least not for me (then again, I’ve never started playing an MMO with that goal in mind). It’s one of those games that’s good to have in front of you to click on while listening to an audiobook or a podcast or whatever. It occupies your hands and vision in a way that makes you feel like you’re doing something useful, when you might otherwise be sitting in a catatonic stupor.
I suppose you could interpret that as a good review or a bad review, depending on what you’re looking for in a game. It was better than I expected. Certainly worth a look for free, if nothing else.