Wednesday, 30 July 2014

All Work And No Play Makes ArcheAge A Dull Game. Maybe.

It seems that ArcheAge is gathering a certain word-of-mouth momentum, which is odd, considering just how long we've all known about the game. I last mentioned it in the context of the eye-watering Alpha buy-in price but its been going the rounds for, what, three years now in alphas and betas and various live releases.

Back then, Ardwulf was drawing comparisons with Vanguard, which naturally made me feel somewhat favorably toward the possibility of playing it one day. Now Saylah is running a series of detailed "what you can do and how you can do it" type posts that are pushing  me two ways. The Piracy on the High Seas post I linked yesterday was kinda exciting but her most recent entry on the various ways of making money in ArcheAge made the whole enterprise sound anything but.

Here's the problem: just about all the activities Saylah lists - mining, crafting, trading, fishing, farming, playing the market - sound like work to me. Yes, they are, by and large, things you can do in most MMOs but in most MMOs they are sideshows, optional activities you could either go at with vigor, dabble in or opt out of entirely. They don't comprise the core activity of the game.

This, really, is my issue with sandbox gaming in general. I don't especially want to come home from a real job to a pretend one. I want to go exploring and adventuring I want to goof around. I don't want to tend crops or carry packages over long distances just to earn enough imaginary money to buy better crop-raising tools and faster package-carrying transport so I can do it all again only slightly faster. At least I don't want to have to do that.



The core activity of MMORPGs, at least in my understanding of the genre, is killing things to see what they drop then putting the best things you find on your character. Serial Killer Barbies; it's what the genre is. My characters live in the world and understand it but as a player looking in from outside, when it comes to actual gameplay, that's my motivation - kill some wildlife, dress a doll. In ArcheAge, that's right out: mobs don't drop coin, gear or crafting components. I'm not quite sure if that means they don't drop anything other than quest items but it doesn't leave much other than maybe consumables.

Saylah explains that questing is at the heart of leveling and gearing your character. "Gear is provided as quest rewards, looted from dungeons, earned with end game tokens or crafted by players...You receive gear sets at the end of quest chains – 3 pcs to the set from this guy, 2 pcs from that gal and a weapon from another one." That just happens to be a mechanic I strongly dislike. Several of them in fact. 

So, we appear to have an MMO in prospect that heavily focuses on things I would consider "work" not play, while excluding one of the key factors that draws me to play MMOs in the first place. Added to which it uses a series of mechanics I usually try to avoid whenever I can. The PvP and Piracy aspects don't put me off the way they did Syp - it's the underlying premise and basic mechanics.


Then I read SynCaine's rhetorical piece, where he asks himself, in tones positively dripping with ennui, whether he might end up giving it a run. He ponders "I still don’t get what a ‘sandpark’ is, in terms of what you are trying to accomplish...if your core gameplay (combat via questing) isn’t fun or engaging, am I really going to keep playing so I can fly around or sail a boat?" Is there a good answer to that? The only one I can think of is that the scenery really is that good and the gameplay you have to endure is not actively unpleasant. That's hardly a ringing endorsement.

Saylah, at least, is reassuring on both those points: Of the visuals she says " ArcheAge on the water has no equal in my MMO experience. It’s simply breath taking. Mining along the shoreline, fishing or standing by watching players load their ships, is a visual treat."  And on quests "All I can say is that they’re not horrible."

Unlike Syncaine I'm not struggling to find an MMO, any MMO, worth trying. I'll probably take a look at ArcheAge when it launches just because its new, it's free and it looks pretty. I wouldn't expect to stay long but you never know until you try. Perhaps what sounds like work in print will feel like play in practice.

On balance, though, the more I think about the full implications of sandbox gaming, the less attractive they seem. Oh, and since I didn't have any pictures of ArcheAge, I've taken the liberty of using a few snaps from The Hammers End. I finally caved and started the free trial last night. It's definitely not any kind of sandbox, the questing is meh and I don't think I'll be staying there long either but, hey, I'm a rat with a sword bigger than he is exploring dark woods with his undead, dual-cleaver-wielding pet fish! Beat that, ArcheAge!





 

18 comments:

  1. All I had to do to permanently remove myself from the Archeage playing pool was read Saylah's piracy post. Of 4 attempted trade runs, with a big group of PvEish players going at it, they encountered pirates -every- time and lost stuff at a 75% rate. That's a lot of 'work' someone in that guild has to put in and invest into ships that get blown up.

    The ones that are having the time of their lives are the PvP groups, that get to steal things from others. Except PvP being PvP, it's always going to be an arms race. Fall behind, and you will end up the victims. So 'work work work' too.

    I'm just not interested in a game which allows for 'backward' progression, especially one that puts power into the hands of other players to inflict that on you. I call that a hidden timesink.

    I can just about deal with the concept of permadeath through self-carelessness in things like Realm of the Mad God, but even then lag is an everpresent threat of losing-stuff-through-no-fault-of-mine.

    Anyhow, all power to those who want that experience and are willing to pay for it. I'll just read the blog posts.

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    1. ArcheAge is like one of those things that seemed to look better the further away it was. The closer it gets to being a game I could actually play, the less it looks like one I'd want to. Saylah's post today on housing is another coffin nail. Hard to imagine how that could ever work.

      Still, I'm sure I'll at least download it and take a look.

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    2. If you're getting zerged by pirates (not very likely) then choose a route that uses islands as cover. If you're getting outclassed in PvP, bring more friends or improve your gear or skill with practice. Not wanting to do either? Spec into a class that has high survivability and CC, to push people off your boat or cc until your friends kill the intruder.

      There are flaws in the game (i.e. the economy) from imbalances that used to exist, that won't exist in the actual game. Basically it comes down to "use your brain to fix your situation." This game allows that. If you don't want to PvP then do intra-continental trade runs or group with people who are good at pvp.

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    3. Holy cow you guys sound like a bunch of girls, seriously. ArcheAge is one of the most innovative and fun to play MMOs to come out since Ultima Online. No idea what you carebears are smoking. If you're getting killed in PVP.. GO PVP THEM BACK! If you're not good enough to, get good and learn the game better. Why does everyone want a theme-park game these days? lol. Just boggles the mind.

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    4. My point, as the title of the post suggests, wasn't that ArcheAge sounds too scary or too difficult. It's that it sounds a bit...boring. It seems to have all the grindy parts of PvE MMOs but with extra elements that make that grind take longer and be less productive. I don't have a problem with the PvP part per se - it's the rest of the game systems I'm struggling to see as entertaining. .

      But then, I'm increasingly beginning to that think most sandbox gameplay, even without any form of PvP attached, looks dull. I don't much want to run a virtual business or a work on a virtual farm, regardless of whether it's with or without interruptions from other players.

      It might all feel very different when I get to play it, which I undoubtedly will at some point, but almost every write-up I've read, even the very positive ones, have left me thinking "that sounds like a lot of doing not very much interesting for a little action and excitement". If you took out the PvP you might not have any action and excitement at all, so it's not that I'm saying it would be a better game if it didn't have PvP. I'm saying it doesn't sound all that interesting with it.

      I'll be delighted to be proved wrong

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  2. About the screenshots: As I was reading I was wondering just how low you had the settings for AA to make it look like that :)

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    1. THE (weird name, weird abbreviation, very weird MMO) actually looks pretty nice when you're in it, in an old-school kind of way. Very hard to take a decent screenshot though.

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  3. Boo, I think my comment got lost :( And for once, I forgot to do my "select all and copy to clipboard" routine. Murphy! *shakes fist*

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    1. Doh! I hate that. Used to happen to me a lot until I trained myself to copy EVERYTHING before I press any buttons ever!

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  4. Great pics and solid finish. A nice Friday laugh!

    Will Archage be one of those games that is more fun to read about than to actually play (a la EVE for many..) and if so, looking forward to the stories that spawn. I'd definitely be the pirated over the piratee (?) but oh, the excitement (sounding...)

    Some excitement would be nice again in gaming....

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    1. It has more the Darkfall feel than EVE to me in that I am imagining a lot of tales of individual skirmishes and narrow escapes but not many large, overarching political or espionage storylines. Kind of how SynCaine reported his individual and guild battles in Darkfall. I used to enjoy reading those but it never made me particularly want to play the game.

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  5. Hello. I've been posting so furiously, I'm just making the rounds in comments. I think on paper, ArcheAge sounds like more work than it is however. I feel like leveling is a breeze, if you're open to participating in all flavors of the content. Similar to GW2 absolutely everything you do generates XP. I've out leveled zones so quickly I barely got a glimpse at them which is great for not spoiling content in an alpha.

    As far as earning gold, isn't it the same in every game?? If you care about having lots you grind something or other. I haven't played any MMO where that wasn't the case. If you only need to have enough to make ends meet, you do the bare minimum of questing and run dungeons, selling off the things you don't want or need. My son has never harvested or crafted in any game. He HATES IT with a passion. However, he loves running dungeons collecting the best of the best of himself and at some point he has excess he sells on the AH for gold. ArcheAge is no different in this, except that very little of the gear is soulbound so you can pass it along/sell if once you're upgraded to something better.

    PVP is what it is and if it's something you absolutely never want to encounter then AA isn't going to work. You could certainly level to max level and not encounter it but you won't see content from level 30 and up. You can have a profitable trade business without it, you just wont make as much as someone who will risk pirates to transport to another continent.

    I think housing will be an issue Trion might have to address but PVP is there to stay.

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    1. Yep, all that is true. I have a particular issue with not getting interesting loot from mobs though that would be very hard for me to get past. Opening up each mob corpse or bag or chest or whatever mechanic a particular game uses is a really major motivator for me. Do mobs drop anything at all?

      The level 30 thing is interesting. That makes it very similar to Allods, an MMO I really like. That has unavoidable open-world PvP from somewhere around the same level. I did get that far in beta and had quite a few skirmishes but there was easily two-three months gameplay leveling up to get to that point if you played just one character on each faction I think. Leveling was pretty slow.

      Anyway, the PvP in ArcheAge doesn't bother me at all. If anything it's one of the positive points. It's a lot more the mob loot/gear-by--quest mechanic and especially the restricted housing. Still, as I said, I'll almost certainly try it when it hits open beta or launch. In the meantime I'm really enjoying your series of posts even if the cumulative effect is making me less keen on actually playing!

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  6. I, too, was initially drawn to ArcheAge because of the comparisons to Vanguard, and the earliest trailers very much emphasised the open world-exploration bit. The lack of a 'small' race (in an Asian MMORPG no less) is more likely to be a dealbreaker than the PvP to me.

    I find the apparent lack of mob-drops a tad odd, especially with regards to Skinning and dungeon mobs. In a sandboxy game I expect Item degradation and Craftables being very good (if not outright BiS), sure, but Open World mobs dropping nothing at all...isn't the whole point of a sandbox to get people out of Instances and into the Open World :?

    As far as the 'work no play' factor: I have fallen for the charm of Eldevin and its grindy crafting, which also grants you XP for everything (just more Craft/Proffesion XP than 'adventuring' XP in case of smelting etc.). I think it's seeing a bar grow that's tickles a primal urge. Also, it's kind of neat that you can put it on the background, enjoying the music and the sound of smelting etc. whilst writing these comments ;)

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    1. Supposedly there will be dwarves. And Warborn, whatever the heck they are. They already have a cat race so I'm covered.

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  7. Its a sandbox....you play the game how ever you want to play it. Get in a guild of mercenaries or a band of pirates. The reason for no mob loot is because you dont need it. The crafter centered people will sell it too you for a price. If you cant afford it be a pirate and earn the gold to buy it. Mob drops would ruin the social aspects of this particular game.

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    1. Yep, I understand all that. I think the inevitable conclusion is that I don't find sandbox gameplay interesting, or at least not when it emulates the kind of real-world activities I would go out of my way to avoid. It's taken me a while to come to this conclusion - some aspects of sandbox gameplay have a superficial appeal - but unless I find evidence to the contrary I'm going to take it from now on that this sort of thing just doesn't amuse, entertain or satisfy me once my initial curiosity has been slaked.

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  8. Sounds like care Bears to me. If you want theme park, go play theme park please.

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