Saturday, 6 September 2014

Another Day, Another MMO : ArcheAge

I wasn't even going to download ArcheAge for the "Open Beta" because a four-day OB beta with a full character wipe for a F2P game that starts in a couple of weeks, what would even be the point, right? Then Mrs Bhagpuss got the invite email and a friend of hers has been bigging the game up for a while so she wanted at least to see what it looks like.

If I have to download it and set it up for her then I may as well do the same for me. Why not? And anyway I was always going to at least look at it when it finally launched and it'll be the same client and I might as well get it done now as later...

So: excuses. There was some late-night kerfuffle getting Glyph set up. Passwords had to be reset and suchlike. Who knew Trion had all those games? The download speeds were excellent. The install was flawless. Whole thing took about an hour. 8GB seems like a small footprint for an AAA MMO though, doesn't it?

It was around 1 am when the big red PLAY button lit up. I was mildly tempted but it's indicative of my lack of fundamental interest that I opted to go to bed without even making a character. Not only that but I forgot to set the alarm and when I finally woke up I did a bunch of blog stuff before I got around to logging in, so it was getting on for midday by the time I hit character create. Hardly off to a running start.

That's one heck of a pair of starter boots!

Character creation is slick. You can pretty much click through if you're in a hurry to get going or you can take hours defining the exact position of your character's tear ducts and the width of her septum. Up to you. Yep, providing you want to play a late-adolescent/young adult in peak physical condition with perfect hair, skin and teeth, ArcheAge has you covered. Oh, and there are cat-people.

Weirdly, for all the myriad of super-detailed options for facial features there seems to be nothing at all for body shape, size, height, weight...anything at all. I'm guessing that because the game is primarily PvP and features player-character collision everyone has to be the exact same size for balance reasons. Or else I missed a whole menu somewhere.

So as to start on the Western continent, and exercising great personal restraint, I eschewed the catgirl option and made a human female instead. I picked the Warrior-looking archetype (Battlerage) for simplicity's sake, chose a server at random and, after I'd watched a lengthy introductory video that was heavy on emotion and short on information, stepped into the world.

Don't ask. Just don't even go there.

On first impressions ArcheAge looks like every other Korean MMO I've played. It has those unmistakeable, slightly blurred textures that make the landscape look like its been blown up from a smaller image. The local wildlife in the starting area consists of real-life animals as re-imagined by a six-year old child. As is normal with Eastern imports, the default settings are low. I tweaked the graphics as far as my aging PC would stand it ("High"), which improved the sharpness and detail somewhat, but there's nothing to be done about the underlying art design. It remains chunky.

As everyone who likes the game has emphasized, strongly and persistently, ArcheAge is not about the PvE quest experience. That, however, is what you get given when you begin. In that respect AA joins a very long line of MMORPGs that choose to introduce themselves with the diametric opposite of the gameplay that might appeal to anyone who sticks around long enough to find it. 

XL/Trion get bonus points for a tutorial that at least takes place in the main gamespace and uses the character's regular skills and abilities. It's a painless transition that morphs seamlessly from handholding to open exploration and foraging if you allow it. Quite hard, though, to set off across the inviting open landscape when there are three different colored arrows at your feet trying to guide your path in three different directions.

But he doesn't. He stays right where he is and starts banging on about brass rubbing.

The content of the Tutorial and early leveling quests is, arguably, just a grade up from bog-standard. Trion has done a good job with the translations, which are idiomatically sound, but they can't change the generic feel of both the subject matter and the way it's being approached. In exactly the same way that ArcheAge looks like an import it also reads like one. If you struggle with the kind of things you'd be asked to do in Dragon's Prophet or Loong, or, more particularly, the way you'd be asked to do them, then you won't think any better of what's on offer here.

Don't worry, little girl,
one badly-animated shimmy up this tree...
...and I'll have your unconvincingly painted-on doll
out of these branches in a moment.
I don't have much of a problem with this stuff myself. I quite enjoy running errands between people at either end of a tiny hamlet, who probably pass each other fifty times a day on the dirt track that passes for the high street in those parts. I don't mind retrieving lost dolls for small girls or taking crayon-rubbings of monoliths, even when I'm doing the latter for the father of the former because he's, well, let's not put too fine a point on it, not responsible enough to be a parent!

At this low level the PvE combat is about as difficult (and as exciting) as you might imagine. I didn't bother to read what any of my abilities did nor how they interacted. I just stood in front of the mobs the arrows pointed me at and pressed all the hotkeys at random and everything fell over. I imagine that only works for so long and clearly it isn't going to work at all when other players come into the equation, but still, it's an act of faith to imagine better to come.

Animals carrying money? Check!
It was pleasant to find that mobs do have loot after all. I had understood from what I'd read that they dropped absolutely nothing, which was a major negative point as far as I'm concerned, but they drop their quest items (rather than those being automagically updated in the quest UI) and they drop bags of coin. That's enough to satisfy my need to get something off a kill.

The coin bags require the use of Labor Points to open.You also need LP to forage, mine or do any form of crafting. As a F2P scrub you get one point every five minutes but only if you're logged in - a total of 288 per day if you never log out. Subscribe and you get a point per minute on or offline. If I ever do play AA casually I imagine leaving it logged in in the background or on the laptop while I play the MMOs I'm really interested in. Chances are it will never even come to that.

Experience comes fast. Just wandering about doing a handful of tutorial quests and mining the odd rock took me to level six. It was pleasant. Well, it was pleasant once I made a chat tab without Faction chat. I tried first to turn Faction Chat off but it seems to be the one channel you can't remove from the default window. It's not that it was offensive - in fact the two people I blocked for homophobic rants were using /shout . It's more that a person can only stand to listen to people discussing how best to build a gaming PC from scratch for so long and I really never want to hear another interminable discussion of which MMO is better than which, ever again.

That's not false perspective. The bunny really is bigger than me.

Will I play ArcheAge when it goes live? Frankly I doubt it. Making headway in any new MMO requires commitment even when you don't have to factor in the considerable time-sinks of an open PvP sandpark. If I was struggling to find MMOs I wanted to play then ArcheAge would look like a possible contender but, unlike GW2 and TSW, each of which hooked me solidly within the first few minutes, there's nothing here that screams "Play Me!".

Also, it's nowhere near as "pretty" as I was expecting. It's unusual in that it looks much better in screenshots than it does when you're playing it. The screenshots in this post look almost like a different game to the one I was seeing when I took them.

It's installed now, though, and I very rarely uninstall MMOs. Most likely it will join the ever-growing list of MMOs I drop in on occasionally on a whim. I suspect I'm unlikely ever to get far enough to experience the PvP by which the game will stand or fall.






10 comments:

  1. Somehow I think I'm not alone in wanting to be able to play the character from the third picture instead ;)

    Good to hear they at least let mobs drop some things afterall, but the 1 LP/5 minutes makes me wonder wether Freeps also need LP's for combat.

    Otherwise they might end up with the situation that people will run F2P accounts solely to 'WPvP', which can lead to Salem ghost-towns and the punishment system not really working (''Jailtime! Cool! Free LP's!' if not outright deletion and starting over)

    The news that the combat is from what I understand mercifuly not 'action combat' (which IMHO should have only been introduced with the return of those ergonomicaly sound flight-simulator joysticks) does make me more interested in ArcheAge. Wouldn't mind reading more about any adventures here :)

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    1. With my greater knowledge gained form one more short session late last night I now know that that fish-fellow and many of his fish-buddies run most of the services in...what is this world called again?

      I ran into several more including one running the auction house, a couple minding the teleport system and another down on the docks. Can't remember what his job was but he was wearing an eyepatch. I hear that one day we might get playable dwarves but no word on playable fish.

      The combat system is solid old-school tab-target and hotkey. That is the main reason it's entirely possible that I may end up playing more of ArcheAge than of most other recent and forthcoming MMOs.

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  2. I participated in 3 of the 4 closed beta events, and didn't manage to get to 30. The open world PvP aspect is what I was most looking forward too as well. I think it's a negative aspect to have a barrier to entry right off the bat. I suppose being eased into the game is a good thing in some ways, but it would be a better option to allow you to travel to where the PvP is happening out of the gate, even if you can't build a ship yet (which I understand is where a large portion of the PvP takes place). I probably could have made the push to 30 during the open beta, but with wipes I didn't see the point. It's installed, and I'll get to it once it releases, probably. I still have other MMOs collecting dust on my hard drive as it is, so unless I see a bunch of friends playing it, it will probably join them in the dust collecting.

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    1. There was a lengthy discussion of this last night (in the Trial channel for no good reason that I could see - people seem to use all the channels indiscriminately for anything). There were plenty of people who felt making players wait 30 levels to get to the real game was a terrible idea but they were countered with good arguments from those who felt that Western MMO players aren't ready (and probably never will be) for open PvP from the get-go.

      It is difficult. You can experience PvP under 30 - I got ganked last night at level 7 - but the consensus seemed to be that you probably wouldn't be in a position to enjoy it much until you hit 50.

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  3. Downloaded it. Didn't work. DirectX 11 mode wouldn't run at all (complained about missing DLLs) and DirectX 9 had a bunch of textures not rendering (so characters were disembodied heads and hands) and crashed to desktop every couple of minutes.

    You sure can tell the difference between games from big developers like Blizzard and Sony that have the resources to QA the infinite combinations of PC hardware, and Asian F2P games.

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    1. Someone in chat was complaining of exactly the issue you describe (missing heads and hands) but only one other person replying had experienced it. The default for the game is DX9 so I left it on that and I've had no obvious related issues. Given that the game's been out for a couple of years you might expect these things to have been sorted out some time ago.

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  4. ArcheAge stands or fails on commerce/trade, not PvP, imo.

    Also, if it works like the Russian version, you'll see plenty of freeps running in circles to stay online.

    Your initial reaction was exactly the same as mine, btw. It took a while for it to grow on me. (Though now that it's about to launch I don't have much interest in it anymore heh.)

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    1. I have to admit that even by my second session last night I was starting to get into it. My interest went up by an order of magnitude when I got my row-boat, especially since I got it while exploring and not from the designate quest, which I found an hour later.

      Whether or not I end up playing much ArcheAge I am very curious indeed to see how well it goes down with a Western audience and how successful or otherwise it becomes. The economic part of the game is by far the most unusual for the EU/NA audience. Other than EVE and possibly Planet Calypso (nee Entropia) I can't think of anything remotely similar.

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  5. Blogger ate my comment I think....

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    1. D'oh! I hate it when that happens. I checked the spam folder just in case but it didn't go in there :(

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