This time, ZAM sets its sights on Allods Online (the most expensive Russian video game ever made), highlighting the most interesting news and features we've seen so far.
With the recent news of Allods Online's second closed beta test less than one week away from launch, we, at ZAM, thought this would be an excellent time to take a closer look at this upcoming, high fantasy/high-tech MMO. It is, after all, the most expensive Russian video game ever made; one fact alone that warrants a second glance. The Moscow-based games developer Astrum Nival spent $12 million creating Allods Online, the largest video game project in Russian history. In spite of its unprecedented price tag, Allods Online will launch as a free-to-play MMO in 2010, relying on micro-transactions for revenue.
The buzz surrounding this game has picked up steam during the past few months, billed as "AAA," East-meets-West fusion of MMO influences, literally created smack-dab in-between the U.S. and Asian "superpowers" of game development. It's said to feature unique themes of both fantasy and sci-fi; traditional sword-and-sorcery fare intertwined with epic battles of space opera grandeur, all staged within a plane of existence called The Astral. The mainstream gaming media still has yet to cover Allods Online in-depth; only a handful of early previews exist today, based on the closed-beta. In the mean time, ZAM pulls together all the most important news you need to know in our early-feature format, "What We Know So Far," offering a broad—yet succinct—overview of Allods Online.
Prior to developing Allods Online, Astrum Nival served as the Russian publisher/operator of several Asian MMOs (Perfect World, ZT Online). Allods Online is the company's first "in-house" game, and sequel to Allods (a.k.a. Rage of Mages), an existing IP with a proven track record in Russia. According to Astrum Nival, the core development team behind Allods Online is also responsible for Heroes of Might and Magic V, among other games.
Earlier this year, the developer announced its partnership with Gala-Net, Inc. (more commonly known as gPotato) to publish Allods Online in North America. Riding on the success of its recent "Best Online Game" and "Best Game Developer" awards at the 2008-09 Russian Game Development Conference, Allods Online was an obvious candidate to join gPotato's successful North American stable of MMOs. With its second closed-beta phase beginning on Dec. 1, Allods Online should see a live release in late 2009 or early 2010.
Featuring its own proprietary graphics engine, the MMO has already received substantial acclaim for its rich and vibrant visual themes; you can check out the original trailer and take a look for yourself. The "Astral" trailer is also visually telling, and demonstrates a unique aspect of the game that might leave you scratching your head after watching it for the first time. What are those giant Clipper-esque ships doing flying around in a purple-hued vacuum of space, lobbing energy blasts at each other from high-tech cannons?
It's taking place in a realm called The Astral, where much of the "space and sci-fi" elements of Allods Online come in. According to the game's lore, The Astral is home to both "Creative" and "Destructive" forces. At some point in history, a world called Sarnaut once existed somewhere in The Astral, but was eventually torn apart by the Destructive forces. The planet shattered into several islands, which are known as "allods" to their inhabitants (hence the game's title).
So, much of the fantasy-themed settings take place on these islands—or allods—and resemble a variety of the landscapes and architecture found in traditional MMORPGs. Conversely, the great battles of Astral Ships are set in space, within The Astral. Fueled by Astral Power collected through their sails, the ships are used to travel between allods as well as warfare. At level 20, players are able to build their own Astral Ships, which are meant to be constructed and sailed with help from friends. To accomplish both PvP and PvE objectives, players can choose among various functions on the ships, like steering, navigation and cannons.
There are two factions in Allods Online, each with three races. The League is home to the Kanians (a human-looking race), the Elves and the Gibberlings (an extremely innovative race that actually consists of three small, furry characters working as one). The Empire claims the Xadaganians (a tech-savvy race), The Arisen (undead) and The Orcs. Across these six races is a surprisingly large total of 28 available classes; 14 for each faction, each developed by starting with a "starter archetype." But, similar to Warhammer Online's "mirror" class mechanic, neither faction shares the same class. Check out the official class page for more information about each one.
At launch, Allods Online's level cap is maxed at 40, with over 1,500 quests to get you there. Developers promise to "win the hearts of gamers worldwide by supporting an exceptional variety of play styles," with familiar MMO staples such as raids and instances, various pets and engaging PvP (both on land and in The Astral). You'll have a complete guild system at your disposal, which you can use to form up to 24-player groups to tackle raids and dungeons.
As we reported last month, the developers even added a sport called "Goblinoball" to the MMO, which is apparently a more-violent form of soccer (using a goblin instead of a ball—sounds a little like Blood Bowl). It's a PvP game all its own; players of the same faction can visit "Competition Island" to queue up for a team. Once formed, they'll be sent to the pitch with "real-life crowds" cheering them on.
The gathering and crafting professions are also worth nothing because of how they work; crafting is designed to play out as a mini-game. Gathering includes Herbalism, Mining and Disassembling, while Crafting consists of Alchemy, Tailoring, Leatherworking and Blacksmithing. The crafting profession mini-games are based on concepts similar to Poker, Blackjack and slot machines—and of course, a little luck is involved, too.
The MMO community mostly agrees that Allods Online seems to offer quite a bit for a free-to-play game, based on the gameplay videos and feature blogs released so far. Vanity items are expected to drive the micro-transaction aspect of the game, like special clothes and cosmetic upgrades for your character and ships. We don't have many details regarding what other kinds of items will be offered, or if stat/leveling enhancers will be included. Nevertheless, Allods Online is definitely an MMO you'll want to keep an eye on in 2010.