MMO update: Allods Online

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Allods Online Bard Combat

Allods was one of the first free-to-play MMOs to offer comparable production values to boxed and subscription-based games. When it launched in Europe and North America, its steep leveling curve, strict death penalty and the availability of premium convenience items earned it a reputation as an MMO for the hardcore, and one where some investment of real money would ultimately be necessary.

Since 2010, the game has gradually adapted to be more accessible and less punishing to players who choose not to pay. It's worth stating that microtransactions are still a major part of the game - equipment-enhancing runes are regarded as an essential factor in endgame success, and the easiest way to get them is through the in-game store. It's now possible to trade in-game gold for boutique coins, which can be used to buy items from the micropayment store. The system is based on a dynamic enconomy where the exchange rate for gold and boutique coins is established by supply and demand, combating inflation. Each boutiqe coin is equal to one gPotato, meaning that it's no longer necessary to spend real money to earn premium items.

Allods' latest update, Game of Gods, launched in February and has continued the trend of making the game more accessible - but it's important, according to producer Lori Bray, that Allods not be an MMO that doles out “gold stars for showing up.” To that extent, a major reduction in the difficulty of leveling up has been supplemented with new endgame raids, an increased level cap, and a new 'Great Rank' advancement system that grants the most dedicated players access to a coveted second talent spec.

Many other MMOs provide dual speccing as a matter of course, but Bray argues that restricting players to a particular build is the best way of encouraging them to master their role - and that it's in this act of mastery that players best express themselves. Leveling, she says, isn't necessarily one of the achievements that makes a player stand out from the crowd - the Great Rank is intended to provide the very best with a way of demonstrating their dedication, while giving everyone else something to work towards.

Allods' PvP has been beefed up with a new 12 vs 12 battleground, Witches' Hollow, and new ship physics that makes astral piracy more immediate with a greater emphasis on twitch skill. The game's player-crewed flying ships turn faster now, and cannons operate more like traditional turrets. "Your ship is something you can use as a weapon now" Bray says, "not just something you exist upon." These changes are important for the future of the game, as Allods' next major update will include instanced astral PvP.

Also new is the Bard class, a group-focused support caster that mixes crowd control, buffs and healing. They're designed so that different races bring a different twist to the role - Kanians can immobilise, Elves can blind, and Orcs stun with special abilities.

Bray's stated aim for Allods is to offer "many different experiences, [that are] more difficult to master than your typical title." Catering directly to the hardcore is one of the ways that Allods is looking to set itself apart, so bringing in new players and giving them things to do is a careful balancing act. One of the new inclusions in Game of Gods was a tropical atoll where players could go on holiday during Allods' 'holiday season'. The atoll was a non-combat zone that featured could take part in type-a-long karaoke and crab racing. Offering a way to take a break from a game within the game itself is certainly one way to keep players logging in, and Gala Net say that the tropical allod will be available again in the future.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Dead City raid is Allods' toughest content, set in a city of crumbling spires that stretch off to the horizon. The area looks very impressive - a large amount of care and imagination has gone into the apocalyptic cityscape and design of its inhabitants. One monster is a kind of Aztec Cthulhu wearing a dress, something all games should have. Hardcore players will find three dungeon wings and new bosses including Drakan, a dragon (if you hadn't guessed) perched on top of a tower. The investment of time necessary to reach this point in the game is substantial - we were shown around by a GM, and it's a shame that only the most dedicated players will get to check it out.

That's the paradox of Allods Online as it exists at the moment: it's an MMO with a low barrier to entry that rewards - and ultimately demands - a high level of commitment. For many players, that's part of the game's identity and appeal. Striking a balance between the needs of the most committed and the need to bring in new players is one of the game's ongoing challenges. Allods, according to Bray, still wants to "become someone's first MMO."

Are you playing Allods, readers? If not, are these latest updates enough to tempt you to give it a try?

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