Albion Online Review in 2018 - Let's face it
Release of a sandbox MMORPG, Albion Online, was a bold move. Sandbox, being dominated by either survival games or EvE Online, has a pretty limited audience since and competition is tough and that’s why it's not very often a new sandbox MMORPG hits the shelves. Albion Online took risk and while it didn’t actually fail it did not succeed either. Is it worth playing in 2018?
A short history of a hard start of Albion Online
Albion Online launched last year in the summer of 2017 to a moderate success. But after poor first quarter, employee layoffs, C.E.O change it seemed that Albion Online was doomed to fail. Fortunately enough the launch on Steam proved to be the last straw that actually helped the game to get out of the mess it got itself into. But as steam launches often goes, the initial influx of players slowly waned away and thanks to mixed reviews the population growth came to a grinding halt.
One of the reasons Albion faced a problematic launch was the hardcore, full-loot PvP approach and it’s the casual player that makes the majority of the market. Albion Online became a niche game marketed as a casual-friendly one. Playerbase expectations and initial perception was also one of the causes of Albion Online situation, many players “wanted” Albion Online to be something completely different than it actually was. A great majority of disappointed players tried to ignore the fact that death in Albion is painful and will set you back, mostly because a great number of them were starved for a new title in that stale market.
Problems with which Albion must fight
The issue with Albion Online, however, is not that it is a full-loot PvP sandbox, that can actually be viewed as a niche feature of the game. The issue with Albion is lack of a visible plan for the game. Albion started out as a very successful kickstarter over five years ago and has been playable (in various states of completion) for at least four and in these four years the game has changed dramatically. Albion Online started as an ambitious title that was supposed to challenge EvE Online for the title of the “king of sandbox” not only by being better at being “sandbox” but also at being a cross-platform game, and sadly they sort-of abandoned both of the concepts.
Originally (in beta) Albion Online zones were created in a way to force players to interact, you had zones that were designed as a bottlenecks, tiles were more diverse and cities more plentiful. Initial zone division was also way more progressive with blue zones being safe, yellow zones seen some occasional pvp action, red zones were designed for small-scale pvp and black zones were just full-out mayhem. Unfortunately with the reputation system implementation and map changes that game actually shipped with. For example if you were are “red zone” dweller and a “blue player” was stealing your grind from you, you had to sacrifice your reputation and alignment to kill him which eventually made you unable to go back to major trading hubs that were located in blue zones. In the end this meant that players that played the game in a way the game was designed and meant to be played were punished. The “carebearation” of red zones eventually forced PK players to retreat to black zones that were overwhelmed by zerg groups and the small-scale PvP players had no choice but to either join or die. This led to unhealthy situation where “zerg vs zerg” became the only way to do pvp in a pvp game and caused a major dissatisfaction for “casual pvp” players that were a significant portion of the playerbase.
This also shows a larger problem - Sandbox Interactive having no idea what they want Albion Online to be.
Another aspect of the game that disencourage more pvp-oriented players is the combat. Albion combat is pretty simple as it was designed with mobile devices in mind and the encounter design is rock-paper-scissors leaving very little left for player skill and knowledge of the game. You can follow some cookie-cutter builds and be sure that you will always counter certain builds no matter how good the opposing player is. Despite Albion feeling like a MOBA game when it comes to combat its less reaction-time, aim and timing based since most of the skills are pretty slow, have wide area of effect and are visibly telegraphed to opposing player which means there are no split-second decisions you can make to change the outcome of the fight. If skill does not matter in Albion, how can you affect the fight? Simply - have a superior build or bring more players and simply overrun the enemy, which is further encourage with lack of friendly fire. For example, if you take PvP in Elder Scrolls Online a small group of players can completely evaporate enemy zerg thanks to their superior game knowledge, skill and gear setup, that is not the case in Albion Online. Ultimately the combat in Albion is boring and predictable which should not be the case for a PvP based game. One might say EvE Online, the biggest contender, is also zerg-based game, but unlike Albion, EvE Online has lots of content for solo and small group pvp combat.
Short conclusions from the Albion Online review
It's 2018, the population of Albion Online is now steady. You cannot say that it is a failure but it’s pretty far from calling it a successful game. Change of CEO did not change the lack of vision for the game. If you are a player that enjoys a slow-paced zerg combat for domination Albion can still be fun. Albion is an easy game to get into and does not require a lot of experience to find yourself a group of players to run in zerg with. So if that's the type of gameplay you find appealing Albion Online is as good as it gets. But if you are looking for meaningful small-scale skill-based game Albion is not the game you are looking for.