Second Wind Roundtable Allods Online
Hello again, kind gentlefolk, and welcome to the latest installment of the Second Wind Roundtable. This time around, I coerced, extorted, and otherwise blackmailed the wonderful Bree and Eliot (and Lis, though she was unfortunately unable to join us for the Roundtable chat itself, but she was there too!) to join me in a few rousing sessions of gPotato's aether-sailing free-to-play title, Allods Online.

We laughed, we cried, we nearly died from rage-induced aneurysms. But despite all that, we all survived to tell the tale. So buckle your swashes, raise your sails, and join us past the cut, won't you?

Best NPC name ever? I think so.Matt: All right, lady and gent, let's get down to business. What did we think of Allods? Personally, I think it's fair to say that one of the words that I now associate most with Allods is "slow."

Eliot: Glacial. Interminable. Gradual.

Matt: You run slowly, you level slowly, and the game just seems to crawl at a near glacial pace.

Bree: It wasn't the slowest leveling I've ever seen in an MMO, but for lowbie levels, I think it missed the mark. A F2P game has to rope me in faster than Allods did, and one way to do that is feed us delicious candy early on. Instead it seemed more interested in making me eat green beans. [Floop] green beans, am I right?

Eliot: A special toast must be made at this point to the game's quest text, which has set a new record for utter futility. I think the point at which it started feeding us seven-paragraph quests was in the tutorial.

Bree: You read the quest text? They were throwing so many quests at us, especially in the city, that I stopped reading.

Matt: Ditto.

Eliot: On a general basis? Yes. But not when it's seven paragraphs to get to "kill those boars."

Matt: It's like they have to explain to you the entire concept of supply-and-demand economics and let you know exactly what the boars you kill will be used for before they just give you the damned quest. But that's another thing, Bree, is the sheer amount of quests. Holy crap, they just bury you in [flarping] quests.

Eliot: No one has ever told the Allods team about flow.

Matt: Once we reached the main city, Novgorod or whatever, we spent a good half hour or more just running around the stupid city to gather quests.

Eliot: You get nine million quests vomited at you, each of which is worth poop-all for experience and would be consolidated into one quest in any game that gave a damn.

Bree: I'm glad there was lots of content, but this is one of those lessons people have learned from World of Warcraft, even Blizz has learned from WoW: You have to pace your hubs or players just get quest fatigue.

Screenshot -- Allods Online
Matt: Yeah, I'm shocked at the lack of consolidation and the shameless giving of multiple quests with almost identical objectives. I'm pretty sure we got two separate quests that both amounted to "kill 10 lynxes."

Bree: And yeah, each quest felt so trivial when you know the exp rewarded will be crap... that didn't help my desire to immerse myself in the text.

Eliot: You also get tutorials about two dozen game mechanics, which succeeds in throwing up a huge wall of obfuscation without adding much of interest. When I leveled up as a Paladin, I had four stats to improve, and I don't think I could realistically tell you what the four of them were meant to do differently. You had one stat that improved your MAX damage, one that improved your OVERALL damage, one that improved the VARIANCE of my damage, and one that, oh [frak] it, I NO LONGER CARE.

Bree: Yeah, the tutorial is a waste. Admittedly, I've played it like 20 times, but it's still annoying.

Matt: Ohmigod, seriously, the tutorials are ridiculous. I'm level 1 in the tutorial zone and they're telling me about a game system I'll unlock way on down the line, and yet it took until level 8 or so before it even bothered explaining my class mechanic.

Screenshot -- Allods OnlineBree: I think -- and maybe a reader can correct me -- but I think the tutorial is old but that newbie area might have been redone since the game pseudo-launched. That could be part of the problem; the tutorial hasn't kept up with the game. (The reason I think that is I have a memory of grouping in the newbie area with guildies, and yet that was something we could not do this time because of reasons. Or maybe my memory is horribad.)

Matt: Yeah, I guess that's possible. Still doesn't make it any better, though.

Eliot: Oh, are we on to grouping now?

Bree: X.X

Matt: Are we? Because I have a few choice bones to pick with it.

Bree: A few?

Matt: It's a consolidated list.

Eliot: I have one word: [Redacted by the Bureau of Excessive Profanity].

Matt: Understatement of the year. You are actively prohibited from grouping in the starter zone, and then once you actually can group, the game does everything it can to make it hellish.

Eliot: People call SWTOR a single-player game. But you know what? EVERY DAMN QUEST IN THAT GAME WORKS WITH MULTIPLE PEOPLE. Every single one. I know; I went through and did all of them 1-55 with Ms. Lady. There was no point at which the game refused to let me group or made a quest take longer because there were two of us, or made us ROLL OFF ON GETTING [RUBBER-DUCKING] QUEST ITEMS ADDED TO OUR INVENTORY.

Bree: Yep. This is standard now. Grouping should 1) be possible and 2) never penalize you and 3) ideally reward you for being social. Why Allods isn't following the trend is mind-boggling.

Eliot: Even WoW realized, "Crap, we need to make quest items drop for everyone" back around... oh... '07?

Bree: Exactly.

Matt: What's bizarre is that it has some features that most games haven't picked up on yet, like shared harvest nodes. Yet somehow a feature as basic as "shared quest items/objectives" slipped under the radar?

Screenshot -- Allods Online
Eliot: By and large, with a few flashes of brilliance, Allods is still coated in metaphorical dust from vanilla World of Warcraft. Which is not something to be pined for unless you have a bracingly selective memory.

Bree: Exactly, the sharing objectives, the shared nodes, bag sorting, the click-button-to-auto-run-to-quest-target-because-we're lazy -- all cool stuff mashed in with retro crap like rep grinds at level 3 and running. Oh god, so much running.

Matt: If you can even call it "running." It's barely even a power-walk.

Eliot: I cringe to think of the walking speed in this game.

Matt: One thing I wanna talk about is the game's microtransaction model. At first, I wanted to applaud it for not restricting classes and races as microtransactions.

Bree: Haha, yeah, but it's just because they want you to buy mounts and exp pots and decursing items!

Eliot: Exactly. They break the game completely and then expect you to pay for it.

Bree: I know they've got to make a buck; I don't begrudge them that, but man, F2P games that annoy me into paying do not keep me around. And I know we're going to get some hardcore old-schoolers in the comments saying that we're just lazy spoiled brats and that BACK IN OUR DAY WE TOOK A YEAR TO GET TO LEVEL 50 AND LIKED IT, but man...

Eliot: I play a lot of games that convert to free-to-play, and I see people complain about how the game now nickel-and-dimes players to death... man, you have no idea. No idea at all.

Bree: Which is terrifying because apparently it used to be MUCH worse.

Eliot: Most free-to-play games fundamentally work, although you're somewhat restricted. This game is clearly balanced around the stuff you get when you pay money.

Matt: What upsets me about it is that the game has a really cool idea/setting/aesthetic to it. I love the astral ships and the crazy Russian-inspired architecture and the more unique classes/races like Gibberlings, Psionicists, etc. But it's all buried in such a laborious slog of a game.

Bree: I guess it could work -- I could see pumping some money into the game to get to the end, yes, for the FLYING DIRIGIBLES BECAUSE OMG. But for my money, I can get more out of a B2P like GW2 or a number of other F2P games.

Matt: Yeah, my thought process is this: If I put $15 per month into this game, could I get the same value out of it as I would out of putting that $15 toward a subscription game? And in this case, I don't think I would.

Screenshot -- Allods Online
Bree: I have mentioned on the podcast that one thing that's always held me back from really investing a lot into Allods is the fact that I just can't trust it to be around in a year. I realize you can't fully trust any game to be around in a year, but a F2P import comes with a lot of extra baggage. A lot of them close up with no warning and no regret.

Matt: That's not something that tends to concern me as much, but I can definitely see where you're coming from.

Bree: It does when they're asking us to put in a lot of money up front just for basic necessities.

Matt: True.

Eliot: Allods launched and wound up being a cautionary tale about ruining a good game with microtransactions. Several years later, it is STILL that same cautionary tale.

Bree: I'm afraid it is.

Eliot: The stage directions have changed, and they fixed some of the stupidity, but they just replaced it with other "pay us to fix our broken game" elements.

Bree: In a way it's unfair because they're trying to compete with F2P games with way, way bigger budgets; there's no way they should be able to compete, honestly. But with that in mind, they shouldn't be making the game less hospitable -- they should be offering more incentives.

Matt: I feel bad totally railing on it because it's not without its charm. Honestly, if I had been playing solo and never encountered the atrocious grouping flaws, I may have enjoyed it well enough. It's slow and grindy, but they do try somewhat to alleviate that issue with the auto-moving to objectives and all that jazz. It's just not enough.

Bree: Yep, it's a balance of Russian industrial fantasy charm... and blatant annoyware.

Eliot: I think even without the mess that is grouping I'd have been disappointed fairly quickly. There are so many fundamental irritations, things that pretty much every other game has discarded as bad practice.

Matt: No matter what nifty features the game has, or how appealing its setting is, the core systems are just flat-out flawed.

Bree: The sad thing is, it's not unfixable, and it's far from the worst MMO I've played. With some extra money, they could bring some of the dated systems into the modern age.

Eliot: The game works, and it can be fun, but it's so aggravatingly slow and grouping is such a nightmare that playing it is an exercise in tedium.

Matt: I think Eliot nailed it in one sentence there.

Bree: Allods, I'm keeping you installed. So you're not all bad. Call me up when Gibberlings can be Bards, though, am I right?

Matt: Yeah, I'm not nuking it just yet, but... let's just say I don't foresee taking up a long-term residence.

Eliot: Nah, Allods isn't all bad. But it's got too many alternatives that are outright good.

Matt: Bingo.

Bree: But seriously. Gibberling bards. I want one with a bongo, one with a mandolin, and one with... I dunno. Maybe a flute.

Matt: A tuba! As long as they're all comically oversized, obviously. OK folks, I think we've paid our dues. And hey, at least it wasn't as bad as last time. Small blessings, huh? At any rate, thanks for joining me for this little foray into the uncharted wilds. 'Til next time!

MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions can change with them. That's why we're here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? That's what we're here to find out as Massively gets its Second Wind!

This article was originally published on Massively.