The Game Developers Conference 2010 is in full swing, and so are running press demonstrations of Allods Online, the upcoming free-to-play online role-playing game from gPotato. Those who find free-to-play games unfamiliar and scary will be in luck with Allods, since the game's graphics, art style, and interface bear a striking resemblance to a certain world where war is crafted, and its story and factions are also not dissimilar to the setup in last year's AION.
Allods Online is an alternate fantasy game with World of Warcraft-like fantasy elements such as wizards, orcs, and bows and arrows, but it takes that game's primitive clockwork technology to its logical extreme with interstellar travel on gigantic astral ships. The world of Allods has been rent asunder by a great cataclysm, leaving it in fragments (or "allods") controlled by wizards of great power. Some wizards are worshipped by the League, the game's "good" faction; others are worshipped by the Empire, the game's "evil" (but not really evil) faction, while a third faction of astral demons prowls the intraplanetary space and is hostile to both player factions (hence the similarity to AION, which has a "light" and a "dark" faction fighting over a shattered world where demons live in between).
In any case, Allods will have the quests and player-versus-player gameplay you might expect from a large-scale online RPG but will attempt to distinguish itself with its endgame. The current plan is to launch the game in North America with a level cap of 40, at which point you can commission an astral ship of your own. Astral ships are enormous floating airships that currently carry up to six players but will eventually carry more. Astral ships have numerous moving parts, including engines, steering, and propulsion, and gPotato suggests that you'll need a smart team connected via the real-time voice chat application Ventrilo to really get the most out of your ship's speed and handling. Ships will also have jump pads that can be used to board other ships, though you'll need to make sure you line up your jump properly or risk flinging yourself into the void.
Astral ships act as floating bases and also as the literal vessels for high-level gameplay, since you can use your ship to explore far-off allods that may house hidden treasures; you can get into astral ship PVP if you sight a ship belonging to a player of the opposing faction; and you can use your ship to go hunting for astral demons. We watched a demonstration of demon hunting, which is easier to get into than you might think, since demons can be tracked by your ship's astral map. Once you've located a demon, which look like phantasmal blue monsters, you can attack it primarily using your ship's deck cannons, which you must manually aim and fire. Unfortunately, demons fire back and will damage your cannons and your hull--you'll need to commission your ship's repair goblins (yes, repair goblins) to fix them by running belowdecks, picking one up by the scruff of its neck, and dragging it to the ship damage. Should you lose an astral battle with a rival ship or a demon to the extent that your ship suffers critical damage, everyone on board will die and need to respawn, while your ship will end up as a nonfunctional wreck in your hangar and will need expensive repairs.
Allods will, like many free-to-play games, let you play for free, but it will also offer a cash shop where you can purchase in-game items for real money. The game recently went into open beta, and the most popular stuff currently includes convenience items, like a larger container and experience-point enhancers. gPotato feels that the mitigating factor of letting players actually purchase powerful swords and shields will be that players can also take these cash shop items and sell them in the in-game auction house for the in-game currency of gold, so that players who don't necessarily want to spend the cash (or don't have the cash to spend) can acquire such items with in-game currency, as well as in various free quests.
Despite its more-than-passing similarity to other games on the market, Allods looks to distinguish itself with its unusual high-level gameplay. While the company has not yet confirmed an official, final launch date, the game has gone into open beta and is already available for anyone to try, complete with a functional cash shop. [Editor's Note 03/16/10: gPotato has contacted GameSpot and stated that more-powerful weapons and armor will in fact, not be sold at the cash shop.]