Rise and Shiny: Allods Online's Pearl Ring, selling power, and the Astral

Allods Online screenshot
Allods Online has long been a game that immediately conjures up some form of controversy any time it is mentioned. Whether it's because of cash-shop policies, changes to game mechanics, or the alleged mishandling of player issues, the game just can't seem to catch a break. Since the very beginning, I knew that the players who were complaining the loudest also loved the game the most -- a standard for the industry -- and that, meanwhile, thousands of players have enjoyed the game since being introduced. I have always loved it, but from the point of view of someone who is a constant newb and explorer. I have never understood the raider mentality or at least never wanted to; if I wanted to work at a game, I would get a job playing games. Oh, wait.

This week I sat down to go through the newest bit of content, The Pearl Ring, to see just how fun the game could be on a character fitted with good gear and attached to a super-friendly yet hardcore raiding guild. I also wanted to explore the more general gameplay and pay another visit to the shining light of the Allods universe: the Astral.

What I found surprised me and made me remember just how incredible this game is.

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First it's important for me to tell you that I am usually outfitted with a press account character, one that has a cool ship and good gear and nice duds. I say this not to brag but to let you know just what I am working with. It's also just as important to note that other, non-press players have even better gear and that many of them paid almost nothing to get it. As you can see in the videos I have embedded, players can and do often get to the level of my test character and do it while remaining healthy and sane. Do some of them spend a lot of money? Yes, but according to my developer source, those players are not the majority. The amount that is often spent is no more than someone else might spend on four EVE Online accounts or on a fleet of ships and pilots (EVE players know exactly what I am talking about). It's also no different from a hardcore PlanetSide 2 player who spends tons of dough on a new heatsink or giant monitor. Money buys all sorts of advantages that can add up to a superior experience. Let the debate over buying power end; it's already happening in all sorts of games. You can't race in Nascar without spending cash, either.

The most important part of my time in Allods Online this week was spent in the Pearl Ring, a new set of content areas that is essentially a group of a dozen or more islands that surround one larger island. I found the areas to be breathtakingly pretty. But then, Allods has always been one of the best-looking MMOs out there. It balances stylized artwork with incredible and powerful spell effects. Calling it a "WoW-clone" doesn't do it justice and ignores the long history of MMOs leading to both games.

"Combat is Allods is bright and crisp. Animations make it usually a joy, even when you are repeating the same fight over and over."

The islands themselves are lush and green but sinister. The waters are beautiful but filled with biting eels and other creatures. You'll find yourself wrecked on one of the smaller islands after accepting a story-quest that tosses you into the middle of a pitched Astral battle. Demons fly in, and you do your best to shoot them off, but they dish out too much hurt and your ship is sent crashing to the ring. I was so intrigued at first that I forgot to turn off my PvP flag and was soon killed by another player who truly needed the ego boost, but soon I was off performing quests for bird-like people and creatures made of wind.

Combat is Allods is bright and crisp. Animations make it usually a joy, even when you are repeating the same fight over and over. I stumbled across a giant and mowed him down, fell into the water and fought off some eels, and generally found myself tumbling with danger at every turn. I also took a series of flight-paths over some of the prettiest virtual scenery I have seen yet, stuff that perfectly skirts close to realism without falling into that dreaded uncanny valley. Slowly, though, I realized that most of the quests I was doing were of the kill-ten-rats variety. Now, I know that many players prefer this sort of brainless activity as it allows them to burn through it quicker than I ever would want to, but I find any sort of repetition to be repetitive. Call me crazy!

At one point I grew a bit tired of moving to the next island just to be asked to perform another series of kill quests, so I tried to make my way onto the larger island in the middle. Surely I could explore and find some real danger up there? Alas, I was struck down when I found out that I would have to go through a series of linear quests just to get the chance to explore that island. I found it so disappointing that I decided to try my luck in Astral space, my favrite activity in Allods.

Those who have never seen Astral space or who don't understand what is so incredible about it (and why its presence makes "WoW-clone" accusations so incredibly shortsighted) can check out many videos online, or better yet, the embedded video above. Sithe, a member of Ascendancy, the guild that has invited me to its events time and again, offered to take me on the first part of a shipping quest that is designed to show new captains how to work through the Astral. We got to talking, and I ended up recording a quick interview about buying power, the Astral, and how things work in a hardcore guild. Many thanks to him!

So now, here I am, at the end of another trip through Allods Online. What did I think about the new content? It's gorgeous and sometimes challenging but mostly a grind. Where Allods shines is in its raid content and group-play and in the fact that there is no other MMO quite like it. It's also completely free -- yes, it is -- unless you want to achieve certain things. Bear in mind that most of the cries of selling power or of developer corruption and money-grubbing come from people who are wanting to achieve the title of best of the best. To get to that level, you should have to pay something, either in a monthly fee or in cash-shop purchases. For a casual PvE player, Allods provides tons of things to do and hundreds of hours of play in a world that not only is beautifully designed and sounds amazing but has a very large, active playerbase. Strange how through all of the cries of foul play, there are still a lot of players spending thousands of hours playing the game.

Consider me blown away by the new area but not impressed by the lack of variety in questing. Allods can do better; I've seen the quests. I just wish the grind was less emphasized.

Next week I will be playing through Salem, the hardcore MMO once again. I am sure I will be cursed at and murdered over and over, but it does deserve a second look. Wish me luck! You can watch the slaughter on Monday, March 25th, at 5:00 p.m. EDT right here on our streaming channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!
This article was originally published on Massively.