Albion Online is an MMO I’ve been watching for some time now due to how its development has taken many cues from the great sandboxes of yore. Ultima Online seemingly being the main influence, but also learning from the more popular PvP MMOs like Dark Age of Camelot and Shadowbane as to how open world systems work and what failures to avoid. It is definitely not an easy thing to get right and even more difficult to sustain that interest, but with how the development has progressed over time I do have hope that it will at least fulfill its niche. A big part of the reason I do hold this hope is how they are iterating on the standard MMO mold with certain innovative ideas.
Regional Time Differences
I was incredibly surprised to read in a recent update post the changes around Territory control of the various regional maps and how each will have a specific time period they will be open for attack. At the moment, it’s just a set time period that isn’t that great for an international audience, with the usual North American Crowd being the ones to primarily benefit from it. They get times for defense and attack timers that are focused on them. Perfect prime time play and the rest have to suffer.
Playing MMOs from Australia with their specific event timers has been an effort in frustration, especially when it comes to territory control orientated PvP as very few MMO studios that deal with an international audience actually plan and organize their events or systems around this. Guild Wars 2 had a number of early events just focused around an NA audience and forgetting the rest of the world, which caused a bit of community backlash. And then there was constant debate and drama around the issues of night capping. I remember trying to get into Age of Wushu but dropped it when I realized I would probably never have much chance to get involved with the PvP and PvE events just because they were focused around North American times when I would likely be asleep or at work.
This just seemed to be the consequence of living in Australia, perpetually out of time with the NA audience that developers primarily account for, but there are obviously others this effects as well. I actually thought there was no balanced fix to this issue but Albion Online seems to have found it, or at least a more equitable way of designing its PvP systems.
You can pick and choose the areas to attack and control based around the time zones you are the most active within. Different guilds based on the various international regions will have a better chance now to control and contest spaces within the map – and the ability to hold onto them rather than constantly being lost to the larger NA guilds. Everyone who plays has an equal right to enjoy and participate in these events and content, and that I believe is the primary reason for this change. I believe it might also function to consolidate the various international communities in specific areas, which will make them busier within your time of play, maybe allowing a greater chance of connecting with others.
Focus on 5 Man
Balance between factions and forces has always been a rather contested issue for PvP focused MMOs. Faction warfare usually means being controlled by the largest side and of course the effects of the zerg are well documented in many complaint threads across MMO forums. Many MMOs have been trying to figure out a fix, or at least a way to balance the effect of the zerg, and while some have made improvements it’s still an element I believe hurts the overall enjoyment. Albion Online has a focus on 5-man content instead with much of its PvP. Territory control elements will have a specific set amount of players on the field, and the hell dungeons where you compete against other teams will also have that cap.
That’s not to say that large guilds won’t have an advantage because they still will. They will have the ability to gain more resources overall, specialize crafters, and equip the best gear on the teams that need it. They will also be able to control the various open world spaces: who can enter and what they may be able to do in their territory, as well as affect neighboring spaces, but it isn’t an advantage that is completely insurmountable for smaller guilds. They are still competitive and have the ability to enjoy all of the content and possibly own territory as well.
There is obviously going to be open PvP content where the zerg will very much be alive and kicking. It will still have an effect on the game space and a way people can play but it won’t be the only type of PvP content. It just feels like there will be a better balance between the zerg and structured PvP here; not just a distinction between open and arena style difference, which is good to see.
Crafting as a Profession
I know this seems like a silly thing to say is innovative because we’ve seen this design around for a while. Many games have dedicated crafting professions these days, and every MMO has crafting but most don’t seem to be required and nearly always allow far too much independence across every system. They allow you to do near everything at once, the king and queen of all trades, and so it becomes a system that is mostly meaningless. It fails to be a profession and more a side quest to be done at your leisure, which only affects yourself.
It seemed to be the standard while the genre was growing and there are still a few around like EVE doing it extremely well, but many MMOs try to create this facet most fall extremely short. And that’s why it’s good to see an MMO trying to make the various ways of playing be just as important and impactful as combat with the mantra of “everybody matters.” While I don’t think they exactly succeeded in that aim, they certainly created a far better economy and ecosystem of play styles.
Gathering is a profession all on its own with both progression along the destiny board with being able to gather bigger and better things, but there is also the exploration aspect of finding and remembering where specific nodes are and searching out those rarer components. There are a number of different crafting professions, each being rather useful and having their own progression base. Many of these require specialization to get the most use out of as well, or at least optimize what and how well you can craft. Each will have a place in the Albion Online economy that individuals and guilds will use and seek out.
Cross Platform Play
Unlike the apparent majority, I believe the cross platform functionality between PC, tablet and mobile may actually be a positive feature for the game. It is certainly an innovation for MMOs by creating a game that functions reasonably well between these platforms and I don’t think we’ve seen it before except for simple addon functionality.
A large problem with MMOs is both gaining and keeping a reasonable population, and this is where I think such cross platform functionality may help. We don’t really have many decent 3D MMOs on the mobile market yet – and certainly not any I could be bothered playing. Mobile is an incredibly large user base as well and one that has been barely tapped when it comes to proper MMOs. If Albion online can solve the issues with optimization and polish that it currently has, it could turn out to be an excellent experience across all platforms and one that stays at a healthy population.
I also don’t think it is much of a limiting factor in many cases. The game will obviously be graphically inferior but mechanically it still seems like it is comparable to many of the MMOs currently on the market. In terms of combat, it may be lacking but with the various other elements of gameplay like crafting, gathering, and guild functionality may actually be superior to many games. Personally, creating and focusing on a graphically less intense game allows, and encourages, developers to expand the breadth of their MMO far more; we shall see from here when release comes and afterwards how well it goes.
Now this doesn’t mean Sandbox Interactive is bringing an MMO revolution with Albion Online. At this stage, I don’t think a revolution is even possible for the genre but instead we will see steady improvements, refinements and iterations on various elements, mechanics and world designs. Albion Online is currently innovating on these. Breaking from the standard MMO style, refining what works for it and creating an experience that is more nuanced and engaging than what I normally see. It’s definitely not going to be the MMO for everyone either, and that might be a good thing as it allows Albion Online to innovate on the ways that matter to it and its playerbase.Related: Albion Online, MMORPG, PvP, Sandbox, Sandbox Interactive