Another MMO seeking to topple the leaders in the MMO business empire, or just another pretender? Alganon is neither. Its soft launch into the market place and the obvious work in process game mechanics make this a creation of love. It’s a game for those who are looking for something new, but also something that is the same. It’s for the MMO fan, and the more you play it the more you understand that it is a rare gift in the making.
Alganon has all the standard MMO fare: you have the two opposing factions, the Asharr and the Kujix. The former is humanoid, while the latter not so human. You have four classes to choose from as a player (Soldier, Mage, Ranger and Healer). Each has three differing skill trees that allow you to set up sub classes within the main class. Each faction has a starting continent, and the obligatory care bear starting area.
When beginning the game the first thing you notice is the level of familiarity. This in fact seems to have touched a raw nerve with many MMO players across the genre. Accusations of plagiarism, cut and paste of artwork and the replication of player interfaces have all been levelled at the game. Are these fair? Well it’s easy to see the similarities in places and some leave you wondering (the chat window as an example) but a troll is a troll whichever fantasy game you play. The beer gut may be bigger but the basic shape is a troll.
There is no getting around it; if you are going to do a fantasy game there are some things that work or just make plain sense. The UI for one has been reworked by many MMO's but after so many attempts, if you picked the best in breed you would get what you see in Alganon. Picking the best from the all the current MMO's is not being lazy, it just makes sense. Besides, does copyright extend to all the details of a game or the game in its entirety?
The soft launch of the game delivers a title that's rough. How rough? Where do you start? The avatar animations are basic and terrain features can act as a trap that is awkward to jump out of. This is in contrast to combat where you generally shoot through obstacles such as trees and rocks. Your aggro range is a complete sphere, which means crossing a bridge will see those below mysteriously attack you from underneath. Monsters don't know the meaning of personal space and tend to get inside you rather then in front of you. You can jump from any height, and underwater movement is on the basis you can hold your breath for an infinite amount of time. There are no dungeons or PVP yet. Some quest NPC's disappear for no reason. Respawn times on some mobs are insane and brutal. There are numerous other niggles and bugs (crashing when conversing with some NPC's for one) and these all paint the picture of a game unfinished. But it’s not all bad…
What’s so hard to understand though is not its unfinished state, but why the game is so compelling to play - even at this juncture in its evolution. It’s absorbing and just plain fun, and despite its oh-so-obvious flaws Alganon keeps you coming back for more.
It’s hard to put your finger on it. There are some really interesting aspects in how they have handled families (all your characters under the same faction having common user created second names, and also the wider social families of picking your play preference – explorer, achiever, craftsman etc.). Designed to create in-game social groupings of like minded people and to make people easily identifiable regardless of character; it’s a fantastic way of creating a sense of community. The designers want the players to be sociable.
Then there are the graphics. Not stunning, they are however delivered in a package that just seems right. The animation and movement of the trees and the atmospheric sound effects just plain delivers. It’s an example of a masterpiece on a limited palette. As an example, the beach and dunes on the coast seem to spread out into the distance, with salt spray, windblown tents and the crash of waves - all which leaves you with a real sense of sand in your underwear. We liked the water effects, a bit of personal taste here but we thought they were one of the best we have encountered in a game (some people on our server were less enamoured by them). In addition, an interesting bug allows you to ride a mule 40 meters underwater.
The crafting side of the game is complex, with crafts often requiring materials from other crafts. There is a vast array of items to make and many are very useful right from the start. There is also a study mechanic. Designed to support casual gamers, it allows you to set up a chosen area of self study to improve your character’s ability, and this study timer continues regardless of whether you are online or not. It’s an interesting concept and one that will hopefully go a long ways towards levelling the playing field.
There are a huge number of items to loot. One nice little touch is when one does drop, it’s separate from the monster loot icon, as a separate chest drops containing the item. The economy is not ravaged by a huge player base. Level 10 saw us finally gaining our first shiny gold piece and you realise that obtaining your 95gp mount will be a real achievement. At a cost of two silver pieces to use the transporter (which looks like a star gate), you often find yourself walking to save the cash.
None of this however answers the question of why this game is so compelling. Well it all comes down to one word: quests.
They are well crafted, designed and paced. They offer enough of a challenge to have you mulling over the best strategy for that awkward boss fight. They are sufficiently contained that they avoid the long trekking that you see in other games. There are truckloads of them, and they are plain fun to do. Kill the explorer called Dora, and eliminate the froggar called Kermit are just two examples of more topical (or the more attractive) quests, but they are different, refreshing and logically chained together. They have been designed by someone who understands the essence of fun in a MMO. A useful arrow in the mini map and a circle icon when you get close all help to make them easy to find, and they are logically grouped so you don't have to run all over the place.
The maps are big though - really big - and with a fog effect that only exposes what you have explored. Exploring seems to turn up more and more quest givers.
Despite all of its current failings and controversy this game is a rare gem. Rough cut and with a bit of dirt attached, it still is a gem and one that over time will quietly be polished and improved from its obvious beta state. It’s a good game and well on the way up the ladder to becoming a great game. Believing is of course playing. The Alganon team are so confident in their product that they have opened a trial server for players to try before you buy, and if you are any sort of fan of MMO's we encourage you to have a go.
Stay a few levels and see what we mean by how it hooks you in.