Category Archives: Roleplay

[Allods] Would you like to….divorce me?

So I picked Allods Online up again the other night because that’s what we do, me and Allods have this steamy on-and-off latenight relationship. The game has changed much since last I played it – there’s been the Game of Gods expansion this February 2012 and the look of the game has improved in every aspect. Allods has always had great characters and customization, but now there are more choices and oh my god the bard class! That’s right, you can now play a BARD in Allods! I haven’t had much time to level one yet but apparently the class mechanics are somewhat similar to the bard class in Rift.

Personally, it makes me happy to see that Allods is still alive and kicking and that Astrum Nival were able to launch a full expansion stuffed with shiny new content. The game has always been described as shameless WoW clone, mostly due to its similar cartoony graphics, and no matter for how long dedicated Allods players and fans have been working on dispelling that notion, the comparison stuck to this much younger Russian MMO like duct tape from hell.

Let’s look at this just briefly. Yes, Allods looks like WoW at first glance. Yes, it also pretty much adopted the questing system and the talent tree isn’t all that different. The zones are a little empty here and there despite looking nice. Combat works different from WoW in certain aspects, for example there are pre-charged attacks and no auto-attack. Experience gain used to be fairly slow but over the years the developers improved the system several times to make both combat and progression feel smoother. Also, Allods is a free-to-play which means RMT is part of the deal and a very stylish item shop is an integrated part of the game – which doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy this game without spending money. I do.

Other than that? Allods is awesome. The overall graphics are much sparklier than WoW’s. The polish, music and performance have always been top notch, especially for an FTP. Races like the Arisen or Gibberlings are legendary. There is quirkiness, humor and atmosphere in the world. There’s also the rather refreshing Russian flair which shows in some of the NPCs or cities. In short: Allods doesn’t feel one bit like WoW and from what I know about endgame, it is a different game entirely (there be lots of war ship PvP up in astral spheres!). If you’ve got any spare time to dabble at some free games, don’t skip Allods.

Amazing armor! …Wait what, divorce papers?

One thing I’ve not mentioned yet is Allods’ armor and how that too has taken a massive step up since I played it last. Now, if you’ve got any love for the eye candy, customization and gear in MMOs, you will love this game. If anyone’s going to emulate WoW’s graphics, they should at least do better than WoW in the armor department – and Astrum Nival have. You want wicked armor? Allods has it! I browsed tons of high-level gear and tier sets and was dazzled by a flamboyant carnival of colors, fabrics and quite possibly the greatest cloaks ever! If you’re going to pose in your shiny epics, it better look like this:

Too sexy for my shirt!

Like to see more? Fear not, I finally added an Allods gallery. I need to highlight my favorite piece here though because….whoa – this gotta be like the greatest, badass look ever:

He’s got a raven!

I named this guy the Scarecrow and if you’re still wondering what he’s got on his back, that’s a wooden box (I bet full of torture tools). And there’s a black raven perching on his shoulder! Amagad! *worship*


Thus hunting down irritated high-level players for screenshots, I came across a chapel the other night and found this:

I’ve certainly heard about MMO marriage before, wedding bands and ceremonies and whatnot, but divorce papers? Now that’s new. I started digging a bit and it turns out Allods Online has possibly the most intricate and complex marriage and divorce system of them all. And unlike so many other games where the union of two players is merely symbolic, marrying in Allods comes with a list of special, spouse-related spells and abilities to give the relationship more meaning. Getting married isn’t quick and neither is getting rid of a spouse – so hedge therefore, who join forever!

For those of you who prefer a TL;DR version of the above link, I’m going to highlight the few most remarkable points about Allods’ marriage system:

  • You are eligible to marry a person of the same faction, minimum level 15. There is no restriction for enlisting same-sex relationships.
  • Every faction has dedicated wedding manager NPCs who will offer a quest to the person properly equipped with a wedding ring. Both players will have to take vows and actively consent to the union….and pay a tax.
  • Once legally declared married, you will receive special wedding gifts along with several “spousal spells”. These are unlocked for both characters and draw on a resource called heart affection.
  • The spousal abilities can be leveled while both players draw on the same pool of heart affection. Just to give one example of such an ability: “Enheartening: Your spouse’s health is increased by a certain percentage if you are within 50 yards from each other.” (aww)
  • In case of a divorce, players lose access to their spousal abilities. Both partners will have to be present for a particularly sad quest and have one minute each to consent to the divorce prompt.
  • Astrum Nival have announced an upcoming shop item, a bottle of champagne, that will be required in special cases of a forced divorce where one spouse has been offline for a very long time.

One must wonder what exactly that champagne bottle is for! I think we can agree they do take their weddings seriously in Allods (is there any MMO that comes close?). And a system that comes with bonuses like this may well appeal to a wider audience than just a roleplay corner. To me personally it’s a fascinating approach and illustrates the many depths of MMO dynamics that still haven’t been explored fully, by a wider range of titles.

Massively Multiplayer Misnomer?

I’ve come to a conclusion (drum-roll): the vast majority of all MMO players out there today are not in fact MMO players. Even less so MMORPG players. That’s right. We need a new name, more than ever.

What caused this insight? It’s not so new – in fact I’ve asked for a change of name-giving before. In the meantime though, things have moved on from there with considerable speed. Or as the Dude would say: New shit has come to light!”

Two cases against the “MM”

By now, the “massively multiplayer” label is a complete sham; a false premise, an empty promise. Think about it: what is the maximum of players you actually share your time with when online? When you run dungeons, how many do you need? 4 more people? 9? And how many friends have you made online the past 5+ years? With how many people do you effectively have regular exchange in your social group, guild or band of brothers?

A massive amount? I doubt that very much. If I think back on my time in WoW, some 6+ years of raiding, I have spent 95% of my time with the exact same 10 people. I don’t remember any fleeting acquaintances, I certainly don’t remember anyone from my friendlist that I stopped using halfway through TBC. What I do remember though, is all the downsides from playing on big servers: the headache to choose a guild or recruit, the over-camped outdoor bosses, the cringe-worthy general chats, the awful anonymous PUGs. Oh, there was quantity sure – but quality?

My recent thoughts on Skyrim and player-hosted servers has brought me to an inevitable bottom line: Online games don’t get better with bigger servers. Opportunity does not equal the need to play with others, nor does it improve matters for the individual player after a certain number and size. What is the effective difference between an online server with 50-100 players who play cooperatively together, know each other, benefit from more available space and resources and a server of 100’000 people? Wait, I know – the auction house. If a convenient economy is the only up-side, then I believe I have made my point. Any MMO player currently out there who is dreaming of the immersive experience, the role-play, the simulation, the story, the building of community down to player housing and whatnot, would be better off on a drastically limited size server.

My second argument against the “MM” in MMO is influenced by the current trend we can observe in popular games like WoW or SWTOR: NPC companions. Tobold draws a particularly dark image today of the future raidguild that hires bots rather than people for crucial raid spots. Maybe even most raid spots. Who needs flawed human beings when a program can do the job much better? What will happen if NPCs do not only look, talk and follow you like a best friend, but get an AI to out-perform even the best player?

The cooperation factor in WoW took a massive hit with the introduction of the anonymous dungeon finder. Already now, many players spend most of their online time solo with a companion pet by their side, doing the odd 5man run with mute strangers from a different server.

Are smart NPC companions the next step in the MMO-evolution towards player isolation? Like the vast cities of man where every individual sits alone in his apartment at night, tragically independent, surrounded by baubles and clutter?

Not so “RPG” either

Whether it’s MMO, MMORPG or online RPG – terminology has been in disarray for at least 5-10 years. The more online has entered the world of gaming on every conceivable platform, the more you could hear the term “MMO” used, misused or mixed up in various context. Frankly, I am not sure I know anymore. Anything since UO that has looked remotely like WoW has been called MMO, even Call of Duty and League of Legends are obviously online, cooperative games – just not the kind classic MMORPG players (who don’t exist by now) used to refer to.

It’s the same with “RPG”; less than ever does role-play actually define the MMORPG genre. What does role-play mean? Is it just to play a given character and control him, or is it to invent your avatar from scratch, to add a past, history and personality that defines him? Is it to be completely in character (and have the tools and means to do so) or to at least act in a way that is consistent with the setting and world you play in? If not, then any game where we just “steer a hero character”, Mario Brothers included, is a role-playing game.

…What makes WoW an RPG? Or is the online component maybe by nature an enemy of immersive role-play?

Rock bottom line: Uh-“O”

At this point I realize that I have completely disintegrated an entire definition and from there a genre I happen to love. I’ve stripped it, reduced it, lost it. One letter is all that’s left to me: “O”. That’s all I’ve got for you, one stinking letter! That one is a dime a dozen; the future is definitely online. I’ll happily invest in online shares.

As for the rest – it lies in darkness, doubt and uncertainty. Change can be a good thing, but I’m not sure I’m ready for too much change and re-definition. I can see the nice features along with the new….yet all the while I keep thinking that I really just want my rug back (peed on or not).

The beast that wrecked wonderland. Or: Oh noes, I’m an RPer?

The blogosphere is loaded on fundamental design questions and debates lately and it’s not just events like Blizzard’s most recent Call to Arms announcement that make us wonder about where the future of MMOs lies. The more I’m reading, the more I realize how conservative I am – and how I really hopped off the bandwagon somewhere around the Burning Crusade. Very few game design changes have actually appealed to me since then. Maybe I’m just not the average MMO gamer anymore. Maybe I have become too “oldschool” for this genre.

Scrap that “maybe”.

I’ve tried to put a finger on this sentiment lately, but I couldn’t quite find the right word. This recent post by Green Armadillo is a great example of the overall problem though: I really do resent the fact that dungeons have become a synonym for lootbags in MMOs. That is SO far apart from what dungeons used to stand for, game designers might as well stop putting any effort into dungeon design if drops are all that matters. And now, as if loot, gold and tokens weren’t enough, you even have to bribe people further to play cooperatively in there. Sic transit gloria mundi?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg which fast-food, drive-thru MMOs are developing into, with their dungeon finders, achievement points, welfare loot and in-built quest helpers. Big fat red arrows across your fantasy world. Flashy text hovering over your stupid head. Min-maxing guides for teh win.

All the things I want are almost completely opposed to the current trend: no quest helper, no maps, no fast leveling, no soloing major content, no anonymous grouping, no welfare loot, no cookie-cutters, no bottomless bags, no epeen titles and silly achievement points. Instead, more need to cooperate. More need to play intelligently. More consequences when not playing cooperatively or intelligently. More customization. Lore rather than loot. More need to travel without an instant map. More wetting your pants on the way. Proper outdoor PvP. Less linearity and more player-generated content. Player housing. More campfires. A bag-pack with bandages you actually use.

And then it dawns on me, the inevitable conclusion: my wish-list strongly resembles the 100+ pages long RPer’s wishlist that was up on Blizzard’s official RP forums a few years ago, a collection on how to improve the game for roleplaying (unfortunately that topic is long gone). Is to wish for these things, to be an RPer in today’s post-WoW MMO world?

I’m not an RPer in the strict sense. I do play role-playing games, but I’ve always played on PVE servers. I cringe a little at the whole “in character”-stuff some people really take to extremes on dedicated servers. On the other hand, I’ve absolutely no problem with players who enjoy their MMOs that way, it’s just not my cup of coffee to make up a past history for my character, attend ingame weddings or talk in Shakespearean English. But when it comes to everything else that adds atmosphere to fantasy worlds, yes I do want that. It’s been there before.

So, am I an RPer now? A traditionalist? How do you call MMO players like me today? And is it really me who needs a new name?

But finally, I realized what this whole mess is called that’s currently happening to the genre (thank you Spinks): the beast that’s wrecking wonderland is called “Gamification”. It’s been going on a lot more rapidly on consoles ever since the XBOX went live and now it’s made its way into PC MMOs too. And I really shouldn’t be surprised: just the way traditional RPGs have become a rarity on console ever since, the classic MMORPG is doomed to disappear. I never realized the parallels in such clarity. MMOs might be part of the world of games, but they never played by the same rules, their virtues were always of a different kind. They were virtual worlds; not linear, scripted scenarios with the goal of instant gratification, stilling players’ achievement hunger and collection drive whenever they please. Those games were about setting, narrative, simulation and cooperative longterm goals. But there’s a whole new mentality out there today, a new type of gamer walking down my virtual streets. A gamer with different values than me.

And I’m fine with it, really – you can collect achievements ’til kingdom come for all I care. But if game studios start developing more and more MMOs for you rather than me, then I have a problem.

And no, I don’t want to start playing MUDs or write fanfiction.