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Allods Online: Pretty Good Game…and Free to Play

January 24, 2010

So, here’s the deal. Cryptic released a massive update for the Star Trek Online beta that went live a few days ago which made many improvements and fixed a few known issues. I was fortunate not to have experienced too many bugs myself, and it seems my biggest beef with the game (the fact our scanners were virtually useless during exploration missions) has been addressed. With my pre-order in and the Early Start Program to begin in less than a week on January 29th, I’ve taken my hands off the beta for the time being.

Meanwhile, I set off window-shopping for a MMO I can play casually concurrently with my other game that I play casually (which right now happens to be Lord of the Rings Online) in order to help kill the time. You know, just browsing. That’s when a game called Allods Online caught my eye in the form of a closed beta key giveaway on Massively. Given that my propensity to resist beta key giveaways is near non-existent and the fact that 9 out of 10 comments I come across about this game tend to be positive, I just had to give it a try.

So here’s the rundown on Allods Online: an import of Russia, the game is currently in beta stage (closed beta test #4, to be exact, which started January 19th and will run until February 3rd) and follows a free-to-play (F2P) model with an item shop. You’ll most likely end up spending your real life cash on certain in-game enhancements there, but its F2P status means you do have the option to play this game without ever having to pay a cent if you don’t want to.

And for a F2P game, I have to say I’m quite impressed. The environment is simply gorgeous and the game runs very smoothly. You might have heard the term “WoW clone” being applied to many MMOs out there, but in this case, there’s a bit of truth to it. In many ways, Allods Online feels like WoW (which in part could be due to the art style) but spend a little time in it and you’ll start to see features that distinguish this game as a top-notch fantasy MMO in its own right.

I decided to go with the League faction,  choosing the Warden archetype for my first character, ending up with my Kanian Druid (I guess I’m just naturally drawn to those tree-hugging types). I’ve heard that the combat can be pretty slow for certain classes, with some players complaining about the time it takes to kill something. Luckily, I didn’t run into any of those problems, and thus far my Druid and her pet lynx can hold their own when it comes to pummeling foes into submission and doing it in good time.

As I leveled, I gained points that would give me access to more skills, made available in a pretty generic looking talent tree. But at level 10 is where it gets a little interesting. At this point, you can start buying Rubies from your class trainer, which you can then spend in an attribute grid. I’m not far into this system at all, but I can already see its potential for allowing many diverse builds.

While the quests in this game are pretty run-of-the-mill, I still find them surprisingly enjoyable to do. For the first time in a long while, I find myself looking forward to reading a questgiver’s text to find out their back story. Like, okay, Ms. Innkeeper lady, why do you want me to play messenger for you again? Wait, what? Your husband’s just died and instead of grieving you’re off gold digging for another? Hold on, let me get this straight, I’m the one who’s supposed to run across town to help you look for your next sugar daddy? Needless to say, seeing her being rejected by one man after another was pretty damn funny, even though it meant more running around for me.

There are also a few group quests, and you usually encounter these towards the tail-end of a zone’s level range. Community is fostered when you’re encouraged to team up with others to take down a boss, which sometimes leads to raid-sized groups of 15 or more! So far, targets I have helped take down this way include a Damned Soul, a while-tailed deer boss and a fluffy blue rabid squirrel that hits like a Mack truck. I also did my first instance the other day, which provided our regular group of 6 plenty of fun challenges.

At least one thing is for certain, all the wildlife in this game are on steroids.

The UI also deserves a mention. As you can see in the screenshot above, it’s a set up that’s fairly conventional and familiar to many, with one glaring exception–the absence of a mini-map. While the lack of one is hardly gamebreaking, it did lead to many annoying moments of trying to find my nearby yet ever-wandering party members. Needless to say, you learn to rely on frequent taps on the M-key for the zone map very early on in the game.

There is also PVP in the game but I’ve yet to really try it, unless you count my unwitting stumbles into the arena area. It is said that PVP really shines at later levels when astral ships come into the picture. According to the game website, these are “flying ships which can be crewed by multiple parties to explore new realms and pillage other astral travelers”. Not too many people I know have had the chance to really experience this yet, this being closed beta in North America and all. But all in all, it sounds like fun and I can’t wait until I can try it for myself.

If you can’t tell by now, I’ll just say it: I’m pretty hooked. This started off as something for me to dabble in, just a random game to fill up my time for the next week, but it’s looking more and more like something I can stick with into open beta and launch. Not sure how I’m going to juggle all these games in the coming months, but that’s the beauty of a free-to-play–it’ll always be there, and I’ll never have to worry about maintaining a subscription. I think this would make an excellent first game for people who are looking to get into online gaming, but MMO veterans will also find a lot to like. If you’ve enjoyed games like World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online in the past, you’ll probably enjoy Allods Online too. Admittedly, I think the comfortable familiarity I get from this game is one of the biggest reasons why I’m drawn to it, but you also get to discover a lot of things that are refreshingly different along the way.

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