Rise and Shiny revisit: Alganon's new expansion

Alganon screenshot

It's been quite a while since I dived into Alganon, the indie MMO by Quest Online. The game has had a bit of an up and down development cycle, but I always found it to be a pretty unique game with a nice mix of mechanics. Granted, according to many readers, the game is nothing but a World of Warcraft ripoff thanks to its similar avatar graphics, but the game is only as similar to World of Warcraft as most other themepark titles are. There are quests, skill trees, and other things in Alganon that you'll find in a score of titles, but Alganon also offers a few things that together make for a pretty unique combination of gameplay in spite of superficial similarities to other games.

The game is still rough around the edges, however, and needs some patching and tweaking in order to be nearly as polished as many other titles. The team is small, and I tend to forgive small teams for the these oversights as long as the game runs smoothly for the most part. Alganon does run smoothly and offers quite a few interesting and immersive systems.

Let's go over what was added with this expansion as well as what's still missing.

Alganon screenshot

Of course, many of you might be asking, "That game is still around?" or saying, "I didn't know people played that game!" I am in the business of covering games that many people might have forgotten about because the truth of the matter is that, obviously, if a game is still open, chances are that there are plenty of gamers who have not only kept up with the game but kept it as their mainstay. I know, I know, some of you might think that because you have no idea what it is or if you have forgotten it then it must be the same with the rest of the world, but strangely enough my time covering indie games has taught me that every game has a fanbase, no matter how bizarre and obscure that game may be.

No, Alganon has not been forgotten. It does have players, just like Ryzom, Myst Online: Uru Live, Ultima Online and so many older titles that bring out the same "That game is still around?" comments. Yes, it's still around. Explore the genre! It's bigger than a few games!

It is true, however, that when you build a large world like the kind you'll find in Alganon but it is not exactly filled to the brim with players, it could seem as though literally no one is playing. The same issue pops up in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and other open-world games; it can even happen in World of Warcraft, such that the developers have invented clever ways to combine server populations. It's inevitable in a large MMO, and it should be that way. After all, MMOs are imitating real worlds, worlds that can often seem devoid of life with the simple turn of a corner. Even in the real world, it's all in where you're standing.

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This is especially true in an MMO that offers mostly linear questing and centralized, large cities that tend to funnel players in and out of specific areas. Alganon does this, but the game makes it easy enough for players to break away from the standard path for exploration.

The new flight paths that were added to the game with this expansion (along with brand-new flying mounts) have opened up the world immensely. A players does not even need to open flight paths by visiting them; instead, all of the routes are already open and waiting. All it requires is a small fee. Flying around on a off-the-rails flying mount also solves many of those issues, although the mount's more-realistic method of travel makes it somewhat difficult. It could just be my poor driving, but flying in Alganon means hitting the space bar to slowly flight up to a point and then being forced to glide down. There doesn't seem to be any hovering allowed, and that gives flying a more "realistic" feel. Try to name a real animal that can support the weight of a humanoid while hovering!

Alganon features many odd choices in design. For example, learning skills is easy enough. A player opens up his or her "studies" book and can queue days and months of skills that will be learned in real-time, similar to EVE Online's skill system, and these skills act as supplemental buffs or tweaks to a character, like extra cold resistance or bonus damage to melee. On top of the skills, players have access to a skill tree that can be switched out and tweaked easily or different gear that affect stats as well.

Thanks to the expansion, a player can also roll a character of the new race, the Ourabani, a neutral race that can switch loyalties as the other two factions in the game fight over PvP towers and keeps. As one side conquers the other's towers, keeps, and finally King, the Ourabani remains loyal to whichever side loses, in order to help that side rally and take back the lead. This means that the Ourabani race is truly neutral and will gain access to new allies quests and other content.

Although the expansion has started everyone off on the same foot, with no one having conquered anything at the time of this writing, I witnessed players attempting to attack and conquer towers and keeps this week. The cool thing is that after level 10, any player who attacks a PvP goal will automatically be leveled up to max level in order to have an equal chance at achieving PvP goals. Are there enough players in Alganon to make this interesting new system work? Time will tell.

Alganon screenshot

The new expansion also added mercenaries: purchasable, helpful AI-controlled groupmates that have a variety of skills. Strangely, a mercenary will spawn only for several minutes before disappearing for another several minutes, and I'm not sure whether it's a good design or not. On one hand, it prevents players who buy a mercenary from having a a huge advantage, but on the other hand, the timers need to be adjusted to make the mercs worthwhile. My mercenary was a nice addition, but I kept forgetting to spawn the darned thing thanks to its timer.

There are a variety of new items in the Tribute cash shop, and prices remain relatively cheap. I do think that the game's free-until-level-30 model is only going to hurt the game's chances, but it is also possible that a game can become too free. I'm not sure whether going completely free-to-play with just a cash shop for monetization would make much sense for a game with a smaller playerbase, and it's very possible that the game's current freeish plan is the reason it's been able to weather the storms it has. A reader recently asked me how the game can afford to stay open, and the only thing I could think of was, "How do most games stay open?" I can only imagine that Alganon has just enough loyal players.

Unfortunately, the game's wonderful landscapes and sound design are brought down by the ugly character animations and lag. I've been told by the developers that the recent bout of lag has been caused by the strain on the servers, but I'd say the team's next priority should be to fix the character animations. They are clunky and feel non-responsive. In fact, the characters don't seem to really match the rest of the game world because the trees, water, weather, and day and night cycle are really nice. It's just that the characters probably turn off more players than the world turns on.

Overall, the new expansion for Alganon is great. It adds a lot of modern functionality and gives players access to convenient yet realistic systems like flying and training. There's also a new class, the Warden, if players want to try something new. The in-game cash shop is filled with goodies that are priced reasonably, but the game's payment model might not attract newer, younger players. The hideous character models and animations need to be fixed as quickly as possible because the game is otherwise quite lovely and almost alien.

If you want to try Alganon free until level 30, check out the official site! I am off next week so you won't see me again until then. I am not sure which game I will covering for the next article, but keep an eye on my Twitter feed or the Stream Team posts and you'll find out!

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!