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First Impressions: Alganon

Eliot Lefebvre
Today's First Impressions could use a little bit of external reading before you go too deeply into it. So I'm going to start by linking an article that's nearly seven years old but still excellent -- Fantasy Heartbreakers.

Now that you've all clicked "Back" in some confusion or just avoided the link in the first place, some explanation. The article is the origin of a term that pen-and-paper RPG fans have come to use to describe a certain type of game referenced in the article. It's referring to the countless game companies who thought they could make a game that was better at being Dungeons and Dragons than, well, Dungeons and Dragons. Many of the games in question weren't bad games -- sometimes even good ones -- but they were built on the fundamental premise that they would be "like D&D but with X."

Some of you probably see where this is going, or got it as soon as you saw the term. Because we're all very aware of how predominant World of Warcraft has become in the MMO marketplace, to the point where it's the essential standard that other MMOs are judged against. Alganon, then, could be seen as our genre's first fantasy heartbreaker. Because it's genuinely tough not to play the game and see that there's some really good stuff in here.

Let's make no bones about it: if you've played World of Warcraft (which at this point means something like 90% of the MMO playerbase at worst), you will feel very at home with the game's controls and classes. You can look at this as a bad thing, if you want, or you can look at it as a thing. There's little to no learning curve, which is a good thing, but there's less variance and nothing that jumps out as being refreshingly original. Of course, it also helps one to zero in on what's different from the game from what we'll affectionately call its big cousin.

Further reinforcing the whole "fantasy heartbreaker" notion is that much like the pen-and-paper games under that moniker would try and distill the best parts of D&D from an earlier point, Alganon tries to take several of the endgame systems of WoW and bring them into the game from the beginning. Reputation grinds and token exchange systems are in your face from level1 onward, although the latter sadly take up bag space instead of residing in a separate bank of currency. You get talent points from level one instead of level ten, giving you a bit more room to specialize. And, again, there are two ways to respond to this. They could be seen as improvements on the way that WoW does things, or they could be seen as irrelevant changes. It depends largely on the player.

The biggest element of the game that sticks out are the studies, which are (as many people noted) similar to the execution of skills in EVE Online. What's noted a bit less frequently is that it's also very, very satisfying. For those not familiar with the way the system works: there are a list of studies. You double-click on one, and a timer begins counting down. When it finishes, you've completed that study and gain access to the benefits of that particular study. Individual benefits are generally small, but they add up in short order, as well as the fact that you can take the same study more than once for increased benefits and ranks.

It might sound a bit complicated, but in execution, it dovetails several aspects of play into one point. Planning out your character in advance is helped by the fact that you can queue up your studies far into the future -- you know where you'll be improving before it happens, after all. It allows for tricks like weapon specialization without burdening a character's talent selection. And the whole thing provides a carrot to keep getting you into the game -- you log in just to see how your study is progressing, and then you find yourself still playing half an hour later because you figured that you'd just get one quest done, and then another...

Unfortunately, while the studies seem to work well enough, the game suffers from bugs. A large number of them, in fact, and a symptom of how quickly it moved to release. I would sometimes find that a buff I'd applied would keep counting down past zero seconds remaining with no indicator that it had worn off. Other times a new casting of the buff would add another application of it while the original kept counting down, which often dovetailed with the timeless buffs. Certain spells, notably mounts, had a casting time listed but no actual casting time in-game -- either a tooltip bug or an engine bug.

The in-game knowledge base seems to work well enough. At the low levels, there wasn't a great deal of opportunity to stress-test it, but it ran well enough.

In the same category of bugs, to an extent, are the sometimes jerky or short animations. The models of smaller-than-human creatures occasionally exhibit some problems with gliding across the ground, and some animations seem to be a bit too short or too long for the actions in question. On the other hand, the landscapes are excellent -- vibrant and diverse, with an almost surrealistic color palette. Looking around at the game world was a treat.

Alganon is hardly a bad game. It's not a spectacular game at this point, and the earliness with which it launched is unpleasantly apparent. That doesn't mean the core of the game isn't playable and enjoyable -- it just means that it doesn't have the strengths it should have front-and-center, especially given its fantasy heartbreaker status.

I hope the game has a chance to get itself more firmly settled and fix the issues it has. The positive aspects are there, but the game gives a first impression that's weaker than it should be. Given some time and some polish, it has potential, and it's clear that the staff working on it certainly has the energy and enthusiasm to make it excellent. It's not going to appeal to everyone, but it will appeal to some people, and it has some genuinely good execution of the concepts it's using as selling points over WoW. Whether or not that's enough to sell you on the game is a matter of preference, but either way, it doesn't make the game deserving of hatred.

Those were my first impressions, but that's not all we have. Our Managing Editor decided to give his own first impressions as well. Follow along below for Shawn's thoughts on the first 10 levels in Alganon.