The subscription model is, in a way, a trap for players. As is having to pay for a retail box. If you paid $20, much less $40 for, say, the latest EverQuest II retail box, you’re likely to try to recoup that cost through play – you want to get your money’s worth out of it. Even for games for which the retail a box is optional or absent, you’re still in for (probably) $15. Every time I’ve shelled out cash, I’ve felt an unconscious obligation to get as much out of whatever game as I could.
On the other hand, games on a free-to-play model, or even which just offer free trials, are incredibly dependent on first impressions. Let’s take Aion for example, a title I was famously unsatisfied with after less than an hour playing, and which was summarily dismissed from my computer. Had I blindly bought the retail box, I’d have felt compelled… well, not to like it, necessarily, but to have at least dropped a dozen or two hours into it. A quick jaunt in the beta saved me from that orgy of masochism.
It used to be that free-to-play games were either Asian imports or targeted at youngsters. I personally have little interest even in high-quality kids’ games (as Wizard 101 is said to be,) and, like most western MMO players, think Asian MMOs almost universally suck. Even Runes of Magic, which has a lot to recommend it, doesn’t deliver for me – while I think it’s a fairly decent game on its own terms, it doesn’t feel like an MMO.
And so we come to Allods Online, a free-to-play game that’s not either a western convert (like DDO) or a Korean import. And having spent my first hour or so in the game, it does feel like an MMO.
To be sure, there’s a great deal I have not yet seen at level 4. I have no idea how the world is set up, nor do I yet know how its presumed microtransactions are going to work, or if they will become de facto mandatory in order to play satisfactorily, the killing blow to a free-to-play implementation. So it’s really early to make a call on it, but my first impressions, on which a free-to-play title depends so heavily, are very positive.
As we should all know by now, Allods Online is a lot like World of Warcraft; Mrs. Ardwulf, walking through the room in which I was playing, thought it was WoW. But while it does have roughly the same graphical sense as WoW, it struck me as being more similar in feel to Warhammer Online. Which is not, now that I think of it, an encouraging thought – but then, the flavor of WAR was really not among its problems.
I had some trouble getting the thing to run, which I think is very troubling – but then, it is beta after all, and not even closed beta. You would expect there to be issues, although I think a client that flatly refuses to work is well into unacceptable. It also runs terribly on the laptop; it’s playable until you get into combat, at which point the framerate slows to a crawl. But it runs great on Mrs. Ardwulf’s PC, and should certainly pose no challenge to mine (once it’s fixed,) and gameplay is very smooth.
Like I said, it’s early yet, and there’s plenty of room for Allods Online to disappoint me. But so far this game looks solid, the first free-to-play MMO, as far as I’m concerned, that feels like an MMO when I’m playing it, and not some kind of multiplayer RPG or some other hybrid, and certainly not like a Korean grinder.