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Allods Online

Levels 1 through 8 of the edgy Russian WOW-alike.

We know mother said never to talk to strangers. But what if those strangers are offering fabulous bargains?

All it takes is a visit to the Allods Online website to notice the eerie similarities between it and World of Warcraft, and this likeness gets even more suspect when you start playing. It's a bit like looking into a mirror and seeing somebody else wearing a cardboard cutout of your face. Everything in Allods, from the combat, stylised art and quest structure, down to the hotkeys and talent trees, will be as familiar to anyone who's played WOW as the back of... well, if not their own hand then one that looks a lot like it.

And yet Allods is far more than a cynical clone. Honestly! The team behind it clearly has too many ideas and too much funding for that, because there's evidence everywhere of them trying to improve WOW's framework. The crafting professions might be similar, but creating an item now involves a mini-game unique to each profession. There's a small, cute race, but rather than being represented by a single character they travel in adorable packs of three.

That talent tree becomes secondary to a more complex talent 'grid' at level 10. Players can still look forward to their own mode of transport at higher levels, but instead of an animal they'll own an enormous floating ship capable of carrying themselves and their friends off into astral space. Even the dance animations are longer. Sold? You don't have to be. Allods Online will be completely free, with no initial purchase and no subscription fee.

Where Allods will be getting its hands on your money is through an unobtrusive item shop you open via a little treasure chest in the bottom left of the screen. It's disabled in the beta, but headers show you'll be able to buy potions, 'style' items, 'rare' items and 'services'.

It's the kind of business model that hints at Allods being a grind, but there's very little of that to be seen. It's the WOW model - a content-heavy mix of quests, crafting, exploration and the unfurling of a plot to do with a war between two alliances of races, in this case the League (vaguely good guys with a fairytale feel) and the Empire (vaguely evil guys with an interesting Soviet-steampunk look).

Allods' initial generosity might even be unparalleled among the wretched ranks of free-to-play MMOs. Following an explosive, set-piece-heavy tutorial which drops you right into the war and practically flings loot and new stat points at you, the game takes a good four hours to slow down to a more traditional pace.

This is to do with the way Allods treats quests. Despite the fact that each task is accompanied by a mass of introductory text from the quest-giver that at least 90 per cent of players will learn to skip straight past, these quests are initially insubstantial things containing less of a challenge and less of a reward for less work. It's an odd system, fixable by taking every quest you find and meandering methodically through the wilderness, but that won't be to everyone's taste. This lack of anything to sink your teeth into also makes group questing a little harder.