Review: Alfheim

Alfheim is a VRMMO featured in the light novel and anime of “Sword Art Online”. Built on the “Cardinal” system, the same engine used to create Sword Art Online, it is an immersive game with many unique features that take advantage of the system. Through this article I will be reviewing the game, as if it were an actuality, and giving opinions from a game development point of view. This article references my “Sword Art Online” review multiple times, and it is suggested you read that one first.

There isn’t too much new to say about Alfheim’s interface that I didn’t say about Sword Art Online, as the game uses the exact same engine. The only truly unique features of the interface are the flight and magic systems, although they are definitely quite amazing. The magic system takes advantage of the full dive system by using the player’s voice, in order to cast magic you must say the magic incantation for that spell. This adds a degree of difficulty to using magic, and adds more than magic point cost changes to balance spells, as the more powerful spells tend to be much longer. The flight system is the key feature of Alfheim, as all players are faeries, everyone can fly. There are two interfaces for flying, the assist controller, and manual controls. The assist controller is a small hand held controller that can be created by reaching to the left and grabbing at thin air. Pulling it closer/farther away will cause you to ascend/descend, to the sides will turn you side to side, and pushing the button on it will accelerate you forward. This is a bit complicated and tedious, though. You can also manually fly, by imagining a set of wings on your back, and moving them around, similar to the controller, to control yourself. Of course much harder to get used to, this is the method most advanced players use, and shows the power of a Brain-Computer Interface.

The gameplay is geared more towards fans of PvP. There is no levels, characters progress and grow by using their skills, which slowly improves them. The maximum skill level appears to be 1000, although anything above 900 is generally considered an amazing feat. Equipment uses their matching skill’s level as requirements as opposed to player levels or stats. On top of that is the flight system, which allows a player to fly for 10 minutes straight before needing to land. The game’s world is split between multiple species of faeries, all of which have their own specialities  These territories can go at war with each other, competing for riches and power. One player is at the top of each, the leader of that territory, and they have near GM level power over their kind. If this leader is defeated in PvP, that territory loses a large sum of money, and their territory becomes victim to the victor’s taxes and attacks for a short while. All in all, the game heavily encourages large scale strategy and warfare, with very complex combat.

Player creation is a bit more limited in Alfheim than in SAO, a large negative. You choose your name, gender and territory, but aside from that your appearance is at least partially randomized at creation. Thankfully, some of the armour and equipment seem to change your players appearance, but I am not sure to what extent it is possible to customize your appearance this way. Thankfully however, the extensive skill system helps bring uniqueness to your character in gameplay, even if a lot of players tend to look similar.

Towns in Alfheim are much like in SAO. Each town is themed based on the territory it is in, and has a large tower or temple instead of a teleporter, to start flying at a high altitude. There are inns for players to stay at, and there seems to be areas to rent similar to SAO. There are shops around each town, some with unique specialities only found in that area. The towns are also safe areas for the players of the territory, protecting them from being attacked. This makes it so the capital towns are usually exclusive to one type of faerie.

Unlike the previous games I’ve reviewed, Alfheim does not seem to have distinct “fields” and “dungeons”, the world is continuous, with caves, forests, plains, mountains, all spread around the land. There are also much less monsters, as the game’s focus is PvP. The entire game takes place on a single large island, with the different factions spread around the edges and neutral areas in between. In the centre is the World Tree, a massive tree that takes a large part of the games storyline. Beneath the tree is a massive town with a mix of all the faeries, and the entrance to the final quest of the game. With the flying mechanic and heavily varied terrain, the game would probably attract adventure seekers to join.

The item system is basically the same as SAO, with the exception of one feature, rarity tiers. Equipment now have rarities, placed in tiers, with ancient equipment being the top. Although great for braggarts, or people who want a clear cut definition of what is the best, it doesn’t change much in terms of gameplay. With magic now in the game, crystals are also out, with some normal items replacing previous crystals, and magic replacing the others.

Alfheim has one thing largely in common with SAO, and that is the large focus on combat. The similarity with combat ends there, however, as Alfheim drops sword skills and adds magic, flight and large scale PvP. The magic system is very complex, with the previously mentioned spoken incantations, as well as multiple elemental categories of magic to choose from. Magic also allows the creation of trackers, familiars that will track down a player for you from a distance. With flight, there are many more tactics and strategies possible, and more room for error in combat. There are also special skills on equipment, which allow for interesting strategies, such as a weapon which will phase through an opponents first attempt to block an attack. The game still has SAO’s anonymity as well, meaning nobody has to know just how powerful you really are.

Most of the unique features of the game have been describes, so I will have a recap. The game has no player levels, progression being purely in the form of learning and training skills. There is a flight system which allows for user-controlled aerial movement. There is a magic system that uses speech and a unique language as a trigger. One major system only touched on is also the politics and economy of the game, which is entirely player controlled  such as players having the ability to become leader of their entire faction. The penalties for this leader being killed in combat is also a very unique feature, and would result in that player needing to be well defended, or very powerful.

For what I think, the most obvious would be an improvement to the character customization which appears to be lacking. I also believe that the factions are not quite done the right way, and would be a huge undertaking to balance properly. Instead, all players should start neutral, and choose a territory to join. Although this would make it more difficult to visually determine which territory a player was part of, it would allow for a greater variety of skills to be used in each territory, instead of being tied down to your faction’s specialities  Also, with a tier like “Ancient”, it sounds like the best equipment in the game is not made by players, but either dropped by bosses or obtained from quests. I would hope not, as it would discourage players from crafting skills in the late game. Also, although not shown well in what I have seen, I hope there are epic boss fights similar to SAO, taking advantage of the flight system would make bosses much more interesting. My largest criticism however is on the conflicting themes of the game, faeries would attract more relaxed games, yet deter more hardcore gamers. Vice versa with the PvP theme.

A great looking game, and quite unique considering it was built on the engine of another game. There were a few poor design choices in the game, but most of them are not very hard to fix with patches. There was also mention of a “Rebirth” system, which would allow players to change factions, although I’m not sure how that would work in terms of specialities and skills. If it were developed, and received some of the fixes mentioned, I would most likely play the game. This is the end of my VRMMO series, next I will be going to actual games people can play, so look forward to it.

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