Saturday, November 23, 2019

Albion (MS-DOS) - Unfinished Playthrough Review

This review contains spoilers for this 24 year old game, so beware.

Albion is the kind of game I wish I had come across 20 years ago, when life was... more full of time. I so wish I had the skill and patience for it because I know I could enjoy it greatly if I gave it the proper amount of love. There is a lot to like here, but it's buried under gameplay that doesn't jive with me anymore.

Albion, released in 1995 to MS-DOS and not to be confused with some other game named Albion Online, is a role playing game developed by Blue Byte. The German video game company Blue Byte are maybe mostly know for their Settlers series, at least by me but Albion and the Settlers couldn't be more different.

Maybe the inspiration for Avatar

The game takes place a couple of hundred years into the future and seems to be a pure science fiction game at first. In it you play as space ship pilot Tom Driscoll who is sent out on an expedition to scout out resources for his home ship. He and his co-pilot end up crashing on the planet which, contrary to reports, turns out to be inhabited. And not by any kind of life, but advanced and intelligent humanoid cat-people called Iskai.

The Iskai rescue you from your wreckage and you're quickly thrown into a plot where an important Iskai is murdered, you being outsiders are the first to be suspected, and the only way for you to get out of the mess is to uncover who the real murderer is. This is only an excuse to get the story going however, giving you both means and motivation to travel around and discover more about the Iskai race and their planet.

You'll quickly find that there is quite a lot to see and explore on Albion. The Iskai and their planet really feel well fleshed out and thought through, it is a world you want to know more about and definitely save from the threat of exploitation that looms from your home ship.

Visually and audibly the game sells its ideas too. While the audio can get a bit repetitive, this is 1995 after all, the visuals are colourful and bright and lovely to look at. Most of the time you have an idea of what you're looking at and when you don't it's not because of bad design but because it's alien to you.

Initially the game plays out with a top-down perspective, and you can choose to control your character (at least in my GoG version) either with the arrow keys or by dragging the mouse. Personally I found that the arrow keys worked a lot better since it ended up controlling more accurately. At the very beginning, when you're still on the space ship and preparing for your trip you play alone but it won't take long before you get party members and you can choose to control either one of them.

Soon you'll discover that instanced areas, such as cities and dungeons (but not the space ship for some reason), use a first person perspective similar to Doom. At first this confused me and it took me quite some time to get used to controlling myself this way. While eventually you get used to it I would've much preferred it if they had just kept the top-down view throughout the game. The first-person perspective makes it so easy to lose track of where you are, you have much less overview of your surroundings and I spent a lot of time just feeling lost. It is fortunate that there is a convenient map to use that allows you to see which direction you're moving, because you're going to need it a lot.

I am not sure what the thought process was behind the first person perspective areas, maybe they wanted you to have a more immersive experience. While it's not horrible I really do think the game would've been much better without this style. The first Iskai city you come to is pretty large, with many different shops and guilds worth visiting and I spent way too much time just trying to find my bearings.

I have no idea where I am

Combat plays out in yet another fashion, in which you're moved into a grid-like area where you move your characters on the fighting field like on a chess board. You can choose to do a number of actions each turn and there is both melee, ranged and magic combat in this game. Combat is pretty straight forward with your character swinging (shooting) away at the enemies as you command them. Some things are more obscure, like the fact that you can use items during combat. It's easily missed but on the other hand once you realize this it makes the whole combat experience one that works well enough.

You will be bad at it to begin with though and this is where one of the bigger flaws of the game becomes clear. Being designed according to the older school of "git gud", it is very easy to not only venture into areas that are well above your ability grade, but also to completely miss areas and items that are essentially crucial for your continued existence.

While the story is well paced and I rarely found myself stuck as to what I had to do next, it is too easy to miss things that are really helpful in your endeavours. Just after I had crashed on the planet and I found the first dungeon I just kept dying to some mobs that I found in there, also the first enemies I had even encountered and fought in the game. At first and for some time I felt really frustrated. How could the game already be so difficult that I didn't feel like I had a chance against the very first enemies of the game? Had I missed something?

The combat is actually well designed, too bad it's so dang hard.

Turns out, I had. First of all, apparently there was an entire area on the space ship that I could've gone to, which would've awarded me a very useful weapon even before I crash on the planet. But it is entirely possible, even stressed, to just continue with the story. At no point is there a hint or indication that there are other areas to check out in the space ship. The only way you'd find it is by ignoring the call to go to your launch and wander around exploring.

Usually I would enjoy gameplay that rewards curiosity, but in this instance it was too well hidden and I only ended up feeling snubbed of something I really needed.

Secondly, as I end up looking at a walkthrough I find out that these first enemies are optional, but it's definitely not something that is particularly clear. As you move through the dungeon there is a possibility to trigger a cave down that traps you with the enemies, it happens if you just move through the dungeon normally as one would do. What you're supposed to do though, especially if you're nowhere near ready to fight the enemies (which you don't know yet since it's your first combat), is to avoid triggering the cave down and not venture further into the cave.

Realizing at this point, some hour into it, that the game had already tricked me twice I felt a bit annoyed. There is definitely a fine balance that needs to be struck between rewarding curious players, and punishing the not so smart ones (like me). In Final Fantasy VII it is possible to find a lot of secrets that are cool and useful to you. But they don't just require you to be lucky enough to find them, for almost every one of them there is some component of extreme farming or skill involved to acquire these rewards. Furthermore, the game is entirely possible to beat without too much trouble even if you never find a single one of these secrets.

All Iskai furniture are made of plants, it's pretty cool.

In Albion however you realize that you missed a really important item just because you happened to not take the right turn at some point, and there is no going back for it either. You didn't just miss out on a fun item, you've missed out on something that makes a huge difference to your gameplay.

It is also too easy to stumble into areas that are way above your capabilities and there is little way to know if you're just doing something wrong or should head in another direction. Mostly it turned out I just really needed to farm for more skill and levels.

When it's so easy to get lost, die and have to start over it makes it all the more annoying when you know you've missed some item that could've made it so much easier for you. It makes me feel like a bad player, and that is pretty much the opposite of fun.

The inventory system didn't give me much trouble though.

Which is unfortunate, because I really do feel like so much about this game is great. There is literally a whole world waiting for you to be explored. A world filled with interesting characters and places to meet and see. There is a story that, at least for as far as I got, has a lot of potential to be really interesting. Not only do you realize that the planet you're about to exploit is actually inhabited, you eventually end up finding other humans, living rather humbly, on this planet as well. Where did they come from?

But the gameplay and world design ends up being too punishing for me. What killed it for me was when I set off on a boat toward another continent to continue the story. As I get there I find that I can barely move anywhere without really having to struggle for my survival. Yet again a walkthrough explains to me that unless I've come to a certain level and acquired certain skills there is no point in me going to this area yet. But how was I to know this? Grinding for levels and money is painfully slow and arduous and the prospect of having to do this throughout the entire game just put me off it, even though the story and world really intrigued me. Just watching let's plays of it makes me really want to give it another go again.

In the end I still want to recommend Albion. For a 1995 game it is actually pretty ambitious and if you're one who is more familiar and used to the older style of game design I think there could be a lot of fun to be had here. Me, I guess I have to give it another chance when I am a pensioner and have more time and patience. The game deserves it.

Images from: Private,,,

Friday, November 15, 2019

Let's Talk About Addons [WoW Classic]

Let's talk a bit about addons shall we?

Oftentimes when I have thought about going back to playing WoW (before Classic was announced), one of the main things that held me back was thinking about all the addons that I would need to install and get into shape before being able to play. The mere thought of going "naked" into retail barely even crossed my mind and that's even knowing that Blizzard had implemented a great deal of the addons I used to use into their own UI.

Fast forward a bit and Classic was announced and suddenly my brain goes all puritan - now I want to experience the game with as few addons as possible!

But that doesn't mean I don't need a couple though… Technically you don't need any addon to play the game of course, and I did play it completely addon free for several weeks before I caved in.

Unrelated picture of me playing.

There will always be some addons that I will never* install. A quest addon is one such addon. While I do occasionally google a quest here and there, having help with every one of them feels like it robs a bit of the fun out of the game. I enjoy reading the quest text and having to think for a bit for myself, at least for the most part. Some times the quest text is so damn vague I wonder if the whole idea was to actually go have me run all over Barrens to find that one dude hiding in a hovel somewhere. Probably. There are points to that as well - more experience as you fight your way through areas and a good way to discover places you maybe wouldn't go to otherwise.

It didn't take long before I realized that just as there are addons I really wouldn't want to use, there are addons I really wouldn't want to play without this time around as well. And it all comes down to one of three things. Either it's an addon that gives me information about something that I really think the game should already provide me with. Or it speeds up a process I often use. Or it's just for fun. And considering I used to use somewhere around 30-40 addons back in the day, the four I've settled on so far feel like nothing.

Let's get the "for fun" addon out of the way - Recount. Yeah, I like to see how much damage people do. It's not just about peen-measuring, I actually use it to test the efficiency of skills and rotations that I use. If I see someone doing good damage I like to pore over their stats to see if I can learn something from it. I try not to be that person who links damage meters in chat every two seconds and I think I've succeeded pretty well.


Now for the information ones - VendorPrice and ClassicAuras.

VendorPrice: Classic has a combination of facts that in themselves aren't a problem, but combined become quite the issue. At least for me. Firstly, you don't really have much bag space. And secondly, everything seems to drop a ton of crap. Every murloc has the possibility to drop Murloc Eye, Murloc Fin, Shiny Scales, Shells and other stuff. Kill a couple and your bag will very quickly be filled with loads of things that is everything from grey to green (and even blue if you're lucky!). You will have to prioritize, ie throw things out, unless you want to run back to some vendor and unload every fifteen minutes. But how do you know what to throw? Is a 5 stack of Murloc Eyes worth more than a 10 stack of Sharp Claws? I don't know! And after having played a couple of weeks not knowing I decided money was hard enough to come by as it is without me literally throwing it away. So I got an addon that does nothing but show me the vendor value of items. That also allows me to see if it's even worth putting that stack of Linen Cloth on the Auction House, when the going price is just coppers above what the vendor gives me for it anyway...

I don't want an addon that tells me how much things are going for on the Auction House though, which might seem odd. For some reason I don't mind having to find that out for myself, and besides, the prices can fluctuate so much there that in the end that's probably what I would have to do anyway.

Spiders also drop a lot of crap.

ClassicAuras: Classic also has a big problem in that it doesn't show you the time left on your debuffs on your target. The fact that it doesn't actually absolutely baffles me and feels like straight up bad design. You might think, as I am guessing the designers did, that there isn't more to it than just looking at your target and seeing when the debuff runs out. That quickly becomes completely impractical when you've got more than one target, or even worse, another class using the same debuffs as you. Partying with another warlock is a nightmare when I no longer can tell if that is my Immolate on the target or not! I shudder to think how this works in raids...

Then the one that speed up some things - Clique

Back in the day I used to pair Clique with Vuhdo for some easy healing, because the in-game raid frames are frankly just... not good. At least they weren't back then. Since I only do lowbie dungeons now I have settled with Clique, at least for now. It allows me to bind my spells to clicks with my mouse, so that shift-right click does a certain heal on my target for instance. The default way is to click a target and then choose one of your heals in your bar. Clique not only saves me time since I choose spell and target at the same time, but it also saves slots on the action bar since I don't need to have my spells on there (I usually do anyway though, just in case). It just makes healing so much more practical, which doesn't matter much when you do lowbie dungeons but it makes a ton of difference when you're raiding difficult bosses. So now I'm so used to it I really don't like doing it the original way. (Clique has an issue in Classic though in that it can't distinguish between different ranks of spells).

I have a big wish for an addon to add... on... to this list here though. That is AutoBar. It's an action bar that auto-updates with contents from my bag. For instance it would automatically update with a Healthstone if I have one in my bag, or automatically put up any food in my bag. What I have to do now is locate any food in my bag every time I want to eat, or swap it out on my action bars as I get new types. It's just a little handy thing that doesn't make you a better player or anything, just saves a lot of hassle.

And that's it. For now. I know for sure I will get more addons because that is just how these things go. You tell yourself that one addon won't hurt. Then there is another. And another. And suddenly you're sitting there with 40 addons and wondering how the heck that happened and still you couldn't get yourself to turn off a single one. But I think I am still some ways off that yet.

What addons are crucial to your gameplay?

*never say never though.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

I Just Got My First Ignore [WoW Classic]

After harping on about how nice everything is in WoW Classic I guess it is only fair that I share an encounter I had with someone that clearly wasn't having a very good day.

My bf tricked me into going to Loch Modan with my level 18 paladin, when I realized I was too low level for most quests in Redridge and didn't really know where else to go. I say "tricked" because I don't like Loch Modan and I also outleveled a lot of the quests there.

After I had a successful group to kill Chok'sul, which is almost a story worthy telling in itself seeing that we pulled four elites on a group of three and still got out of it alive (well I wasn't but the other two were), I ended up running around and passed a Peacebloom.

I've decided to go for gathering professions on my paladin because I suck at collecting money otherwise and so I stopped to get the Peacebloom. I also really fancied some cake. I had been thinking about it for a while but didn't want to run off mid-elite-killing. So I started picking the flower and went to get cake thinking I'd auto-loot as usual. I was gone less than a minute. Apparently I had full bags, so when I came back my character was still in the loot window. No biggie I thought.

But oh no, there was a biggie.

I noticed someone had apparently run past me while I was kneeling there next to the Peacebloom and said "Either loot it or don't".

I could've just left it at that. Maybe I should've. But I like talking and for some reason I thought it could start a fun conversation, since people are generally nice and easy to talk to.

"Sorry, I went afk while looting and apparently had full bags" I told the person through whisper.

"Who goes afk while looting" they answer.

"Someone who really wants cake" I wanted to answer.

But they had ignored me.

Ignored me! Over a Peacebloom!

But it gets better. When I shift-clicked them to see their level I noticed their guild name - "No Offense Taken". Fighting over a Peacebloom. Some times, comedy just writes itself.

So I've just gotten my first (that I know of) ignore in WoW Classic, but I'll definitely try to step up and loot my herbs a lot faster from now on.