mmo-a-week: week 2: alganon

Week 2: Alganon

When I was kicking off my research for this project, I read up a bit on Massively. One of the games they were talking about a good bit at the time was Alganon… and one item of particular interest was that they were launching open beta on Nov 11th. I figured that was sufficiently coincidental and added it to the calendar ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m starting a day late (Nov 12th) because of aforementioned deadness on the 11th.

Registration and Download

Well, it’s supposed to be an open beta in its first week, and they’re advertising it rather prominently on the site. I expect this process to be comparatively painless. Big “Beta Signup” buttons look promising… and the form they led to was quick and painless. There is an email validation step, but I didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds for it to send out.

Upon completing validation and logging in to the portal, they take me directly to a page that contains all manner of everything I want to see:

  • Server status.
  • Beta disclaimer.
  • Download link.
  • Patch notes.
  • In that order.

They offer both a downloader and a direct link. I’ll try their downloader since it looks like a targetted downloader and not a generic download manager like the Dragonica one seemed to imply last week. Downloader prompts for password (I assume the direct link also has some auth and would thus be a bit tricky to run through a 3rd party dl manager).

The total payload is 1.5gb, after which I will probably have to run the installer separately. No big deal there. It’s coming down at >130Kb/s so will take about 3.5 hours if it can maintain this rate. A bit of poking shows that the transfer is simple http, so there’s no peer-to-peer bandwidth concerns. I’m guessing that a direct download would have had the same result, provided I could launch it in something that supports resume.

Research and Waiting

While the download happens, it’s time to do some research. The beta login splash page has some interesting tabs on the right “Instructions for Beta Testers”, “New in this version” and “Playing the game”. But it doesn’t look like any of them expand. I tried 3 different browsers, so it’s just stub content it seems. Time to poke the rest of the site randomly then ๐Ÿ™‚

They have a very good integrated character profile and item database on the site. Something like this from day one is interesting. Character profiles are on par with WoW’s Armory and the item browser is very good. The first thing I would add is a better search/filter option, but what they have is amazing for a pre-launch MMO. The URL’s are pretty, but the rendered html does not look very friendly to spidering and parsing for 3rd party use.

They have a blog system built into the site and surface it in a way that leads me to believe that people are actually posting. Player profiles also provide a place to post screenshots and shared calendars it looks like. Lots of community features. In fact, it looks like MyAlganon.com is nothing but their community site. Can’t find any details on the game itself here. Curious…

Following the Forums link takes me to Alganon.com, where my previous login is expired in order to gain access. That’s kind of a letdown – but I see actual game details here. And it looks like forum accounts are completely separate. Boo, they were doing so well for a while there. ๐Ÿ™ Well, it looks like I’m not looking at the forums then.

Interesting features:

  • Studies – basically EVE style offline skill advancement it seems? Need to log in immediately on install so I can start training.
  • Families – sort of game sponsored metaguilds that you join at birth. I like this. There are only five of them per race, and you get to pick one. They basically match you up with other players of similar Bartle type it seems.
  • Controlled release – they are planning on intentionally gating the rate at which new paying customers will be accepted at launch? That’ll be… interesting I bet. Maybe they just meant for beta? Hmm.
  • Consignment – auction house meets player-sponsored quests meets WTB purchase order posting. I like.
  • Kudos – positive karma from other players to influence your LFGability. I like this. And it looks like they’re smart enough not to allow negative karma. Good.
  • Dual Roles – looks like they have a good system for multispec that winds up with results similar to CO’s roles and builds, but maybe a bit more focused? Liking this too…
  • Religions – looks like something similar to EQ2 religious affiliations meets WoW’s Scryers vs Aldor choice.
  • Teleporters – it looks like there will be a good teleport hub network on the ground to save walking time ๐Ÿ™‚ Mounts are mentioned, but they don’t say anything about making them available from day one, so I’ll have to find that out later. Preorder accounts look like they get a mount, but it could be like Conan mounts that you have to carry around for 40 levels before you can use them…
  • Mods – aaand it looks like they’re also going to allow for Lua scripted client mods, so that’ll be all kinds of fun.

This looks like an amazing foundation for a big time game. If they can actually pull it off, I’ll be impressed and pleasantly surprised.

The religion and consignment systems don’t look like they’re implemented yet, but they’re being publicly announced as planned features for future game growth. This growth looks like it is going to happen as part of scheduled major events – sort of like the opening of Ahn’Qiraj, meets the sort of events games like to launch to herald new expansions. The first of these is scheduled for Dec 1st (launch day). If my interest in the game remains, I might be checking back in for it.

Other things of note…

They have two main warring factions (Order and Chaos with fantasy names of Asharr and Kujix). The two factions cannot party or guild together “at this time”, and each only has one race. The races are humans for order and Talrok for chaos. Talrok appear to be largely human in shape with faces that remind me of nothing so much as Githyanki. Apparently high level members of both factions have different sorts of eye-glowy effects ๐Ÿ™‚

Four classes fairly standard classes. Soldiers have a classic rage mechanic and stances similar to those of a WoW warrior. Rangers have poisons and auras and some healing ability. Healers have a pretty standard set of clerical/necromantic sort of abilities, including an ability to somehow become temporarily undead (dps form). Magus are what you’d expect but with apparently broader ability choices than simply which element of damage they want to inflict.

It appears that they are planning on a mild death penalty (no loss mechanisms), they want to avoid any sort of end-game raiding ruts, and want to make the game very soloable. Crafting skill progress seems to be gated on the RL timed study system, so one cannot simply buy max level smithing for an alt. No restriction on having characters of different factions on the same server.

90 minutes left in the download… it sped up.

Installation and Startup

At least the patch client looks nice.

Oh, good for them. When the download finished, the downloader IS smart enough to ask if I want to actually install the game. ๐Ÿ™‚

The installation process asked a few questions that may scare people… but at least they were courteous enough to ask the questions in stead of simply patching DLL’s without permission, and asking to be added to the Windows firewall whitelist beforehand is something I wish more games would think about (so you don’t have that awkward first launch where the game hands and the error dialog pops under and everything crashes…). Otherwise, it was a bog standard installer, complete with ego folder and desktop icon and everything.

The installer to the patcher to the loading screen all went uneventfully. The game launches up by default in a very tiny window (800×600) with an illegibly small print NDA warning. Whuh? They lifted NDA when they announced the Open Beta start date, but forgot to remove it from the client. Hehe. Anyway.

Patch notes on the login page are in the same illegible font as the NDA. But at least I can get in.

First Session

Character creation interface is ripped directly from WoW. There is a tiny bit of icon rearrangement, but anyone who’s seen one will recognize the latter.

alganon-character-creation

You know what, this tiny font thing irks me with a fierce irking. Closing and restarting… no option to change resolution from the patcher… but no NDA this time, and no tiny window once I get in either. It looks like 1280×1024 with legible text and everything. Ok, crisis averted, carry on. Nothing to see here.

Hmm, this really feels a LOT like WoW. The art is eerily similar but less refined. There are some strange animations when I pan the characters around and some clipping issues with the ground, but if I squint when I look at things… I’m seeing WoW so far.

Anyway, character of choice… I think that despite having rolled an archer last week, I have to go ranger. It sounds like WoW hunter (possibly minus pet) meets paladin with a side order of rogue. Yes please.

Ooh! I gets to pick my last name? Yay! Oh, wow, and my new character appeared up in their website Library immediately – before I even entered the game with him.

And upon entering the game, the WoW similarities only continue… Chat interface is similar, character portrait and minimal layout are similar, actionbar layout is similar… even some of the icons are. Hrm. However, it seems they’ve differed from WoW in one major way – no Yellow Bangs for quest givers. In stead, the icon is a big floaty book. Closed book for questgiver, open for turnin, locked for high level.

Characters have big level indicators above their names. These indicators are 2d and are pinned to the name label… and feel kind of strange in the 3d space. Hopefully I can get past that.

Upon entering the game, little tip icons are spamming me and a bright flashing warning that I’m wasting time by not studying. So… after a second or two of confusion, I take a look. The studies can be queued. This will be convenient, though initially, only three basic skills are visible.

Ok, time to kill some wolves I guess.

Yeah. ALL of the UI feels like cheap rips of WoW. I sincerely hope they resolve that before launch. Corpse loot cursor and dialogue are. The Spellbook is (though they call it the “Action book”). Talent tree (called “Abilities” but bound to the N key like in WoW) is similar but not exactly stolen, and it is flipped upside down. Quest journal is identical to the terrible stock WoW quest journal as its accompanying tracker. Friend list is similar, not stolen. Reputation and skills tabs off of character sheet are unmistakable… Even the general UI configuration menu is. Wow. Ok, well, let’s see if I can struggle through the uncanny valley of a bad WoW rip then. It was so promising on the web site too…

alganon-more-similar-ui
alganon-copied-ui

Anyway, back to killing wolves. Combat feels … slow and unpolished. Animations are a bit off. I have separate buttons for automelee and autoshoot, and the game switches between both automatically, but I was able to glitch it on my 4th kill and have both toggled on somehow (even though it looks like only one attack was happening).

There appears to be no minimum range for archery, but I switch right back to melee attacks after shooting. Ammo determines damage type and is not consumed on use.

The study allocation UI is a bit broken. Sometimes the last item in the list disappears. Likewise, the reputation window seems broken. I know I have rep with a faction, but the panel is empty.

It looks like I have one talent point to allocate from the very beginning, and got a second one when I dinged 2. It doesn’t look like many of the tier 1 abilities can actually be used at this point, however… Oh, and speaking of dinging 2, they dropped a treasure chest for me when I did. So I got a cool little knife now. Go go dual wield!

I turned in my wolf quest and walked into the first town upon noticing the questgiver dialogs down the road. First guy I see in town is a mount seller. Mooles (ponies). He’s selling the Lazy Moole for 1g, and it is theoretically usable at level 1. The next upgrade is 15g and usable at level 10. I have 15 copper, but then again, I’m level 2 and I’ve not vendored anything yet.

alganon-tainted-well

Second set of mobs to hunt after I’m done with wolves are some weird goblinoids camped around an authentically cool looking tentacle-entangled well thing. Apparently it is their fault? I’m not reading quest text at this point, I’m just murdering bigeared goblins… at an agonizingly slow pace. A critical hit with this pike I just found deals a whopping 6-7 damage to these guys (who have 80 health – a number I can only see by opening my character sheet while fighting). The listed damage for this spear is 5-11. My dual hatchet/dagger combo was laughably bad. I was hitting for 0-3 damage a hit. Yup, hit for 0. This is on top of misses and parries.

The camera control is a bit broken. It works half of the time, then occasionally it’ll snap back into place, ignoring my attempt to rotate so I can loot a corpse I’m standing on top of.

Turning in the quest to murder goblins was not enough to ding 3 yet. Let’s see if I can even injure these level 3 aligators. Thankfully I only have to get 3 drops from them… and it looks like they had the decency not to give them six legs (as per Warcraft crocolisks). Yup, I do full damage. Looks like the goblins had some sort of mean damage reduction.

Lost some time as I actually just played the game for a while…

Then I got into a discussion with old testers about whether or not the game was not simply “copying” WoW but intentionally plagiarizing. I was referred to the forums to find some dev post on the subject but could not find anything on the subject other than the normal uninformed lunatic ramblings of people who think Blizzard actually invented the fantasy MMO. The forum search was useless. It doesn’t allow searches containing words under 4 characters and locks you out for 20 seconds between search attempts – including those that returned zero results, etc…

Apparently, the whole “copying wow” discussion comes up every night… which leads me to believe that either they’ve got some sort of secret art pass that they’re waiting on, or they’re willfully ignoring it in the hopes that they can somehow make a buck before legal shuts them down.

This is actually my biggest concern right now. The game has so much potential… and they’re going to get sued off the face of the planet before they’re polished enough to actually play.

Ended the session on a sour note, with the one loyal beta tester almost begging me to take the discussion to the forums and see if I can’t get a dev response. Though I’m sure I’d be anything but the first such post, I just might do that. Will have to see if I still care in a few days.

Intermission

After reading a few interviews and some of today’s other press on the game, I’m convinced that Alganon’s leadership is just flat out mad. They’re drinking sweat from hallucinogenic frogs and have deluded themselves into going some place they really ought not to have wandered. So… I promised the nameless guy on the other side of the screen that I’d give the game more of a chance. But I almost don’t want to come out with yet another review panning the game next week. We’ll have to see. I think the odds of my getting a meaningful response on the forums is negligible, I doubt there’s anything I can actually do for them. It’s a shame, the whole game really does look good on paper…

I’ve been playing MMORPG’s avidly for over 13 years now. I like to think I am familiar with the history and the culture. So when I say something is a WoW rip-off, I’m fairly certain I mean it is a WoW rip-off as opposed to a clone of EQ or RO or DAoC or UO or FFXI any of the other countless influential games to hit the genre. And when I say rip-off, well, I don’t mean “inspired by”, I mean something the legal department should have kept from getting out the door. Somebody is living in a bubble if he ‘has yet to hear anyone who has played Alganon for any duration call it a “WoW ripoff”, and I have yet to feel “looked down upon” by anyone that has experienced firsthand the amount of effort, talent, and determination it takes to make an MMOG.’

Regardless of the blind drunk at the wheel, I AM going to continue trying to play. I have committed myself to at least 3 meaningful sessions with each of these games, and so far I’m only level 3 (because I got sidetracked at the gross plagiarism of it all and from there was stuck in conversations with others who made the same observation) so I don’t know if session one even counted ๐Ÿ˜› Who knows, after another 8 or so hours of this, I might forget that I’m playing the English speaking world’s most blatant bad Warcraft clone.

Second Session

After a few days spent alternately between states of trepidation and morbid curiosity (and shooting zombies), I have geared myself up for another whack at the game. Let’s see if I can’t ding 10 or something today. No socialization, no crafting, no moping about the stolen UI, only solo quest grinding.

Ok. GOOD, there is a patch. And it addresses concerns I had, so we’ll see if things are at least a bit smoother. I’m also going to remember to take screenshots this time around… though upon entering the game, it doesn’t look like they have native screenshot functionality. I’ll have to use something 3rd party. I normally depend on XFire in cases like this, but that’s not much of an option with games in beta ๐Ÿ˜‰ I also tried to record a few brief gameplay videos, but was unable to come up with anything I actually liked.

Heh, loading screen message read “Remember, there are no trolls in Alganon. If you want to troll the chat channels, you are in the wrong game.” ๐Ÿ˜›

Grind, grind, quest, quest, ding, ding…

Hit level 5 after a bit more killing and encountered a few bugs. Friendly GM was friendly and spawned broken quest drops for myself and the 3 or 4 other people who encountered the issue at the same time. The people in game actually are quite friendly, all things considered.

Ok, I lied. I’ve talked to people and wound up doing some crafting along the way. There really is a lot of interest to the game, it is just so rough around the edges. Lowbie crafting seems to combine multiple disciplines into a single generic skill initially. So by cooking and making bandages, I am able to increase my ability to make gloves.

They rebooted the servers while I was in town cooking spiders. When it came back up again, much of the rubberbanding and client/server sync latency issues had resolved themselves. I was able to quickly mop up all remaining missions in the newbie zone and dinged 6 while turning them in.

Upon arriving in the second town, I got a good mix of quests and was confronted with a number of advanced tradeskill trainers. I think I am not going to bother with advanced tradeskills since I don’t have the time – and I doubt auctioning off gathered ore will really gain me anything (that is, if I can even find the auction house in time).

Talking to the local ranger trainer revealed interesting things of interest. The guy knew three abilities that I qualified for that the trainer in newbieland did not… this is a trifle annoying. I could have really used one of them (though the other two were very party specific). Regardless, the whole level 1-5 experience should not have taken me as long as it did. Less crashes and complaining and such would have gotten me out of there and on to my second town fairly quickly, I think.

Other Sessions

First real zone after newbiedom is… highly reminiscent of Westfall. Am I surprised? No. Am I disappointed? Not really. The theme’s a common enough one that I wouldn’t even suspect them of cribbing ideas were it not for their immediate track record. I’ve killed some insane farmers looking for the cause of their insanity, have gathered untainted sacks of grain, and have even killed some gnolls (which to be fair are also starting mobs once you get out of newbiedom in EQ2… but go very well with the Westfall theme).

I followed the trail of questgivers into a farmhouse where some survivors have huddled and got a popup from Steam telling me that L4D2 has activated… a few hours before I thought it would – but it looks like they’re operating on EST and I’m not complaining, so detour a bit while I kill zombies and build up the nerve to do Westfall again.

And another hour or so of playing later… and I am done.

/played says I’ve spent just about 5 hours actually logged into the game and I only got halfway to level 8. If they are looking to mimic WoW, that’s an inexcusably slow rate of advancement. As it is, the entire advancement process felt like I was swimming through molasses. The XP bar barely moved at all, even when I turned in a whole batch of quests.

The game really is “playable”, and it is occasionally even enjoyable… but it isn’t interesting, and it doesn’t feel like it has an original bone in its proverbial body. The Westfall similarities continued to dominate until I ran out of time. I even get to kill evil autonomous scarecrows and recover a piece of lost jewelery from a cupboard in an abandoned farmhouse.

The whole Ability/Talent system is broken. You get one point every level, starting at level 1. But you can’t use them on anything. Several of the first tier talents affect abilities I haven’t even seen at trainers yet and plenty of the more generic talents seem entirely broken. For instance, spending points to reduce the cast time of my Triage action (basic heal spell) by 0.5s does nothing, and spending points to increase my “parry” chance leaves parry unaffected but mysteriously increases my “block” chance (though I can’t use shields)…

Gameplay

alganon-melee
alganon-slow-projectile

I use the word “playable” in the most literal of senses. It is physically possible to play the game when nothing is crashing. Combat is agonizingly slow, walking is slow, advancement is slow. The rubberbanding and agonizingly slow projectiles (I can outrun my own arrows) added to mildly unresponsive ui and the awkward animations make it feel like playing a pre-release WoW proof of concept demo over dial-up with bad line noise.

The map tracks where you’ve been very effectively. While the web site brags up this feature talking about meters of accuracy as if they were selling GPS units, it isn’t far off. You can walk a few seconds and the big map will reflect the change.

Likewise, the quest tracker is actually pretty decent, once you can get past the fact that they don’t actually label which quest objective is being hilited. You can try to track multiple quests at once, but that only gave me a headache. But it seems you can track any mission, which ties in with their whole first party Library site nicely (which you can actually open in an in-game browser window… though since the game defaults to play in windowed mode in the first place, I’d likely just use an external browser).

Art and Music

So… I’ve mentioned the graphics. The UI is an unapologetically bad complete WoW rip, the 3d models are attempted in the style of WoW but fall short. Animations are jittery and amateurish. The breathing animation is terrible. There are bad clipping issues with regards to terrain.

The jump button. Oh my. The jump animation is just unacceptable in its badness. It’s like Princess Peach landing on a pool of gelatin.

Basically, they have no art budget left over after they built the overworld itself – which does look nice and is occasionally kind of unique. However, I would not be surprised if they literally unpacked WoW assets and broke them.

alganon-overlooking-town alganon-underwater
alganon-scenic-overlook alganon-instance-portal

The Asharr and Kujix theme songs are available for listening on the web site. That’s always a good sign. Both themes are exactly what you’d expect. After one full listening each off of the site, I was neither impressed nor dissatisfied. They are appropriate but a bit long to be immediately catchy.

In game, the audio is fine. The music in newbieland is nice. I don’t know if it’s the same as the theme song from the web page, but it’s appropriate and possibly a bit more memorable.

Stability

I got booted from the server without warning while trying to decide where to spend my first skill point, and then the client quit completely. Upon attempting to log back in, it looks like the server crashed… all three servers crashed. This is certainly not a game that they could have launched in October, it isn’t open beta quality in my opinion. To be fair, the patch notes said that they were hotfixing servers and it did come back up quickly… and I don’t appear to have lost any data, which is nice.

The game client crashed the first time I tried to double-click on a quest-giver to turn in and they gave me a report dialog.

Looking back at that beta disclaimer I mentioned on the post-registration spash page, it is appropriate to share the thing now, I think:

NOTICE: You are participating in the first BETA phase of Alganon. The game WILL crash. You WILL encounter issues. Your valuable efforts in helping us test Alganon will diminish these problems over time.
Please be patient as we update the game on a regular basis. To log a bug with the game, type /bug and enter the details. Remember, both the Client and Server are being enhanced and rebuilt on a daily basis. You can expect a Client Patch at least once a week.

At least they admit it.

Server also came down hard once in the middle of a normal reboot countdown… I’m unimpressed with the stability of the client or server, but I’ve seen worse. They get a C for stability of a beta quality client. This level of crashitude would be unacceptable fail if they were live and charging people.

Final Grade

Alganon is a low budget poorly executed clone of World of Warcraft. While it has its moments, it is rough around more than just the edges. While it looks good on paper, the end result is laughably bad. I give it a 2 out of 10, with mercy points for having managed to entertain me briefly.

Pro

  • Registration, download, installation, and patching were all painless.
  • The Library on their website is awesome.
  • I love many of the game’s goals and ideas.
  • Loyal, involved playerbase.
  • Responsive GM’s (so far).
  • Learning curve is a few degrees above zero.
  • Flexible classes, everyone’s a hybrid with viable off-spec roles.
  • Mild (WoW style) death penalty.
  • EVE style offline skill training is very friendly to casual players.
  • CoH style map that hilites where you have been is nicer (IMO) than the WoW-style “map ding” sort of system they could have copied.
  • Quest tracker works.
  • Early missions reward with bags.
  • Mounts are usable at level 1.
Con

  • The forums aren’t integrated with the rest of everything on the site, which is a big letdown after all of the other SNS features they have implemented. Forum search is a joke.
  • Shameless WoW user interface copying, sometimes salted by mirroring a component.
  • A whopping two races available at launch. Humans and humans without noses.
  • Setting a game up for two warring factions and then scheduling PvP for 2 years after launch does not bode well.
  • Nothing about the world design itself strikes me as unique or innovative. I encountered and killed wolves and dogs, goblins and more goblins, big lizards, zombies and ghosts, gnolls, insane farmers and evil scarecrows – all of which are textbook lowbie mobs. I’ve already seen copy-pasted buildings and can’t even remember the name of the faction I was supposed to be earning reputation much less the name of the city I logged out in.
  • Hybrid classes might be a trifle confusing to people used to more rigid roles – took me a while to figure out that ranger is a viable healer, etc…
  • Despite being available from the beginning, mounts are still too expensive to realistically afford until much higher level on an initial playthrough.
  • Bad client/server sync (rubberband) issues that seem to increase to unplayability as server uptime increases.
  • Projectile animations are disconcertingly slow – and the resultant effects occur in a non-intuitive order.
  • Range and timing in combat are generally unrelated. You can run away from a slowly charging melee attack and still get hit by it 20 yards away. Mobs can take 3 arrows and a few DoT ticks before realizing you meant to pull them. Then they start hitting you with melee long before closing in.
  • Reputation system seems to be broken.
  • Talents Abilities either don’t work or improve abilities you don’t have yet.
  • Killing things takes forever. A level 5 mob may have 150 hp, but when you’re doing 10 dps in full burn mode… that adds up. It doesn’t help that all of the low level ranger abilities at least have moderately long cooldowns. I still wound up doing most of my damage via melee autoattacks.
  • Some mobs seem to have truly broken combat numbers for their level.
  • No embedded fonts makes for ugly text rendering.
  • Icons often overflow their containers.
  • Numerous UI windows are broken.
  • They’re delusional if they think the game will be ready to launch in two weeks.

Afterthoughts

I don’t really have any thoughts that I’ve not expressed a few times already over the course of this week. The game looks good on paper, but so did Auto Assault and Matrix Online. It has a lot of fans, though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why they don’t all just go play on some bootleg WoW shard in stead.

If they can clean up the interface, and fix all of the hurdles to playability, and rebalance abilities/mobs/economy, and retune the advancement rate, and write some really original content, and recover from all of the bad press they’ve bought for themselves… I think I would be happy to give them another chance.

What’s Next?

I’m still deciding. I’ve got two or three games on the list and will update the post here when I make up my mind.

Update: Next week is Ether Saga. Reasoning behind the drawn-out decision will come with the report ๐Ÿ˜›

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