The astral ships are made more irrelevant by the fact that you can only build your private galleon at level 35, just in time to hit the cap of level 40, and so only the most dedicated players are going to see them. Let's go back to that problem I mentioned before.
This game's budget of $12 million (the largest in the history of Russian games development) covered everything, from visuals to music to ideas to writing to the technical side of things, making this not just the most competent free MMORPG in existence, but the biggest free game I've ever played. The only thing the developers of Allods didn't quite execute with the same skill, the one thing they forget to sink money into (and this is pretty critical if you're designing a game) is... the game.
Allods' polished structure alone nudges you through the earliest levels. You're bumping up stats, slotting items into all those different equipment slots, getting skills, talents, professions, teleportation crystals, potions, confetti, hats and so on, and it's impossible to tell what's superficial and what's not. A dozen hours later, all of it seems superficial, even the stuff which isn't.
You have all these stats and items, but you so rarely get a feel that they're changing combat. You have seven or eight different powers, but you use them in the same order for every fight. You're amassing vendor trash and levelling your crafting profession, but nothing has a sense of worth. This game is a million miles away from WOW's beautiful feeling of progress - that sense that you're growing as a warrior and amassing hard cash.
Allods says: Kill 12 Giant Termites? OK. But after a while it doesn't even feel like combat any more because there's no adapting, no punch and little thrill. You're not fighting, you're digging, and sometimes getting buried by a high-level monster that attacks like a landslide. As for Allods' 1500 quests, after level eight I actually encountered a dearth of content. Just to reach level 10 and do my run of XAES, I was soloing level 12 quests.
You know what Allods Online feels like? I don't mean this as a slur on the team behind it, who clearly worked enormously hard, but it feels like a game made by very intelligent businessmen. It's a design document brought to life.
That's why XAES plays like the epitome of everything that's wrong with Allods. WOW's instances are arguably the most involving and emotional part of the game. They're designed with an eye for pacing and spark, and force players to demonstrate a mastery of WOW's well thought-out combat. They are everything that Allods, with its check-box design, doesn't have. A corridor filled with powerful monsters doesn't make a for a good instance any more than putting down loot, vendors, professions and auction houses makes for an addictive virtual economy.
There are reasons to play Allods: the visuals, the lore, the grab-bag of clever features, the astral ships, and the dim satisfaction that automatically comes from levelling up - for free! It's just that none of these are very good reasons, because this isn't a very good game. Pull back the curtain of Allods' 12 million dollars' worth of content and you'll find nothing at all besides a bumpy ride along an uneven difficulty curve. And eventually, you'll find your own personal XAES.