Choose My Adventure: Deep in the dungeons of Allods Online

Allods Online
Last week, I presented Choose My Adventure voters with one simple choice: Where, exactly, should we go next in Allods Online? The community responded by sending my low-level Psionicist directly into what many consider to be a core component of the modern fantasy MMO, the instanced dungeon. Understanding how a game approaches bosses, loot, grouping, and raiding is key in understanding that game's design philosophy, so it makes sense to dip a toe or two into the instanced content Allods has to offer.

Assuming, of course, that I can find a group.

Monetization rears its head

Since agreeing to take on Allods Online as the subject of this CMA, I've been barraged by warnings from commenters that the game's free-to-play server has a nasty monetization scheme that demands players open their wallets in order to actually enjoy core gameplay fundamentals. And because we so famously were unable to use the subscription server for this adventure, the free server just happens to be where we are currently stuck.

Allods Online
As it turns out, there's some truth to the warnings. We've already discovered what a painful process it is to turn real money into gPotatoes. But finding a dungeon group turned out to be a special exercise in bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustration. As a low-level player, I'm not sworn to any guild or social group, so there's no built-in friends to hang out with or beg for a dungeon run. And since gPotato railroaded me onto the game's European server without my knowledge (North American servers either have or are about to merge with EU), the guilds currently recruiting via the bulletin board aren't doing so in English. I'm on my own.

Allods Online
There's no dungeon finder or meeting stone to use, so I'm out of luck in that department. The only way for me to put together a dungeon run in Allods Online is to get in general chat and start asking, just as in the bad old days of MMOs past. Unfortunately, players are not allowed to chat in either /shout or /world unless they have purchased megaphones from the in-game cash shop (or auction house). No real money? No talking to the world. Eventually, I figure out that /zone is available to free players and am able to wrangle one other dungeon-goer, though one has to wonder whether the process would have been faster with all channels available and no painful microtransaction-based restrictions in play.

Still, two players aren't enough to clear an Allods dungeon. Two DPS players, especially. But when it comes to Allods Online instancing, the players you round up are only half of the equation.

Mercs for hire

In the world of Allods Online, mercenaries are folks who are willing to join your dungeon party and fill specific roles -- for a price. If you're short a tank, for example, you can pay a mercenary tank to step into whatever dungeon you need to run and soak up some damage on your behalf. What's unique about mercenaries in Allods, however, is that they aren't actually human players. Instead, mercenaries, or "mercs" as they're known in-game, are savvy, tough AI companions good for one dungeon run a pop.

Allods Online
Hiring a merc is simple. You open your spell book and call the mercenary trader to your dungeon. She shows you a list of mercs, and you hire as many as you can afford (up to the five-person dungeon limit). Mercs can serve any role a human can serve including healing, tanking, and DPSing. Mercs are also buffed and geared to the hilt, meaning you don't have to babysit them as they roll through the dungeon.

Control is relatively basic; you are able to tell the merc to attack and to retreat, but that's pretty much it. Mercs use their abilities as they see fit. It's an interesting mechanic that serves to make group content more accessible, but it does raise the question of how interesting and engaging a game's content can possibly be if a couple of bots can cruise through it with only two commands. In my dungeon run, the mercs serving my partner and I did the lion's share of the work, work that consisted mostly of hitting things until they died without any sort of strategic complication.

Still, without the mercs, we likely would have had no dungeon to run at all.

gPotatogate continues

Originally, we were supposed to play Allods Online on a subscription server. However, after paying the $20 it costs to buy enough gPotatoes to actually buy game time using gPotato's convoluted proprietary concurrency, I ended up stuck in some sort of "pending" purgatory where I could not actually access my funds. No updates, no information, just a perpetual "pending" on the transaction, which was originally made on December 23rd.

Allods Online

"Never, ever pay anything for Allods or anything else that relies on gPotatoes."

After tweeting in frustration Monday about the issue persisting for two weeks, my funds were miraculously refunded to me (though I never actually asked for a refund). The email claimed my purchase could not be approved, but it seems to me if you have my $20 to give back to me, you must have at some point been able to acquire that $20 through a legitimate transaction. It's not as if my credit card got declined, right? It is important to note here that if I had waited for my purchase to go through so we could play on the sub server as requested, we would still be waiting, and I'd be starting the process over again with another purchase of gPotatoes.

There's one week of Allods Online left in this CMA, and I'll be summarizing final thoughts in the next post, but I'm confident putting this one on paper right now: Never, ever pay anything for Allods or anything else that relies on gPotatoes. The publisher behind both has proven that it doesn't know how to deal with transactions in a timely or transparent fashion, and there are plenty of other games on the market that can at least promise to, you know, let you use the money you spend.

Closing down shop

This edition of Choose My Adventure is cruising toward the finish line, so this week's poll is more about how you want things to end than you want them to continue. I'm scheduled for a final stream of Allods on Friday night at 6 p.m. EST. I want to know what it is you'd like to see in action for that final stream. Be aware that this puts the poll on a shorter timetable; this particular collection of votes ends at 12:01 a.m. EST on Friday.
I'm looking forward to my final week of Allods. It's been fun getting to know the game, and there have certainly been nice surprises, but the hurdles put in place by gPotato have made the entire process a frustrating endeavor. Let's send it off with a bang, either way.

Mike Foster is looking for a way to beat the winter chill, preferably by losing himself in a brand-new game world. Help him find his way to warmth in Choose My Adventure, and keep an eye out for him on the Massively Stream Team as he puts your votes into action.
This article was originally published on Massively.