Normally when I see the word “Sandbox” I turn around and walk the other way. The popular understanding of the term has changed a lot in recent years, but generally, either way, it’s not something I get excited about. Games developed under the current understanding of the term tend to devolve into PvP-with-crafting gankboxes (eww) and those developed under old understandings of sandbox tend to be too slow moving and too open ended for me (and still contain more PvP than I enjoy). But something about Albion Online caught my attention. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve spent a lot of time emphasizing that they want PvE and crafting players to have a real place in the game, even delaying the game’s launch significantly to make sure those players have a good experience. Maybe it’s because it looks so much like RuneScape, my first MMORPG and the only sandbox I’ve ever enjoyed. Either way, I bought the founder’s pack about a year ago, messed around with it a little, and decided to come back when the game was finished (and the threat of wipes didn’t excite me either).
Starting out, after a short cutscene, players are dumped unceremoniously on a beach with nothing but a loincloth. Then there’s a quest to gather some basic materials and craft gathering tools and armor, and that’s about it for the introduction. This has changed very little from beta, which surprised me, because I always felt like it was kind of a placeholder tutorial. In town there’s a guy who instructs you on how to make a weapon, but that’s easy to miss. I know I did the first couple of times I walked past. I am, however, struck by the fact that all of the introductory quests are about teaching you to make things and gather materials, not kill stuff. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this, since that’s kind of the definition of a sandbox, but it’s oddly refreshing.
One interesting thing about Albion is that it is fully cross-platform with Android. I thought this would be a cool game to play on my phone, but, as it turns out, it’s a bit much for my two-plus-year-old Galaxy S6. It runs decently, but it gets really hot and burns through the battery in a matter of minutes. I tried playing with the phone plugged in, but that made it heat up even more and go into cooldown mode, which limits CPU usage and makes the game unplayable. Clearly, this game is meant to be played on beefier Android tablets and not phones. Sadly, I don’t have an Android tablet that’s capable of running Albion, but I do have a Surface Pro 4, and the Windows version of Albion supports touch as well. I spent a few hours last night playing keyboard-free while watching TV (given the massive launch rush, most of my time in the game was spent waiting for stuff to respawn, so distraction was welcome) and I can see myself playing a lot on a tablet just as easily as the PC.
As I mentioned earlier, playing Albion feels a lot like going back to RuneScape. It’s an isometric, crafting-focused, click-to-move game where players have to compete for resources. Even the graphics are similar. They’re not going to win any awards, but they’re distinctive and I like them. I posted a while back about going back to Old School RuneScape. That was fun for a while, but once the novelty wore off, I was left with a daunting amount of grind before the game gave me anything like convenience in terms of getting around or getting useful gear. It left me wishing for something similar to Old School RuneScape with a little more accessibility, and I thought Albion might be that. What remains to be seen is whether or not the developers’ promises of the endgame being viable to primarily non-PvP players. If I get to the endgame and everything I need is walled inside PvP zones controlled by massive, Eve-style guild conglomerates, I won’t be sticking around. Sadly, from a lot of the player feedback I’ve been hearing, it sounds like that’s what a lot of it is going to end up being. Worse, if you believe MMO news site commenters (which is always iffy), the developers have tried to keep this kind of behavior under control, but don’t seem very competent at it. Don’t quote me on that, though, because honestly I haven’t done much research into any of it, because, let’s be honest, when’s the last time I did any endgame gathering and crafting, even in games I really like?