Monday, September 8, 2014

Pocket Review, Take Two : ArcheAge

The brief ArcheAge open beta has come and gone. I manged to fit in two short sessions, maybe four or five hours altogether. I played one character to just under level eight in an MMO where the general consensus seems to be that the real game doesn't even begin until level 30. Many say 50.

It's not much to base an opinion on but that never stopped me before. My verdict is this:

Enjoyed: Will Play Again.

Having dutifully followed the constrictive demands of the tutorial in my opening session, I chose instead, on my second outing, simply to head over the next hill and see what trouble I could get myself into. In other words I began to play normally.

ArcheAge features an extremely unattractive, alienating HUD-style "mini" map (I put mini in inverted commas because something that covers the best part of a quarter of the field of view can hardly be called small) and a lovely, faux-parchment, immersive main map. I opened the latter, oriented myself, and headed off along the road in search of adventure.

After a short stopover at a farm, where I sheared some sheep (hmm, this reminds me of Mabinogi) and killed some bees wasps (the farmer seemed confused over which they were and, hmm, this reminds me of GW2) I wandered around a stable-yard trying to work out how to get a horse. Other people had them. They kept thundering past me on the road, kicking dust in my face.

This scene looks positively Flemish.

No-one would sell, rent, or lend me any kind of mount but I did manage to vault onto the back of someone else's horse, while they were still on it, which was profoundly unexpected and not a little embarrassing. The designated rider just sat there as if uninvited horse-passengers were an everyday occurrence, which, for all I know, they may well be. Since he didn't seem inclined either to comment or to take me for a test-ride, after a minute or two I jumped down and continued my travels on foot.

By now I could see a coastal town of some size on the map so I headed there to get a look at the famous ArcheAge sea. Traveling along the road seemed entirely safe. Even the harpies flapping in the nearby fields declined to pay me any mind. Although horses cantered past me as I jogged along the miles passed quickly enough and the gates of the city soon came into view.

You shall be Lord Mayor, Dick Whittington!

The city, whose name I didn't note, was built on the scale of most fantasy MMO towns, with ceilings way too high and doors way too large to feel natural or comfortable for anyone shorter than a half-giant. There seemed to be a band playing in front of the fountain in the main square. Unfortunately whatever music they might have been making was drowned out by the ArcheAge soundtrack, which is among the worst I have heard in an MMO. If I play regularly it may be the first where I have to turn the music off altogether.

Excuse me, can you tell me the way to The Prancing Pony?

The architecture is no great shakes compared to other worlds I've visited either. That fountain's no LA lion, that's for sure. Gawping around town like a sightseer I found what might pass for an art gallery, although it might have been a palace. Even the guards were editorializing about their own lax security so it's hard to be sure. I have an odd feeling I might have seen some of those paintings before...

Who hung those? The janitor?

Opening the map again showed a detailed view of the city with the docks clearly marked. I headed that way but, on a whim, I spoke to a man in dress-armor reviewing some troops in the atrium on the way out. By a stroke of synchronicity he suggested I speak to someone at dockside about getting a rowing boat.

A boat! That's so much better than a horse! Don't have to ask me twice.

No, I do not want to go on a cruise around the bay with "a real pirate", thank you, fishface.

At the docks there were more of the strange air-breathing fishmen, their scales and piratical stylings looking marginally more in keeping at waterside than in the farmland where I'd encountered them earlier. Marginally. A six-foot tall walking fish in a frock-coat, monocle and tri-corn hat isn't really going to look "in keeping" anywhere outside of a museum of surrealism or a 1950s Disney animated classic.

Are you sure that's the right translation?
They weren't much help but a regular human standing not far off pointed me to a rack of rowboats and invited me to help myself. Which I did. With alacrity. The mechanics of launching a boat seemed familiar. Stand near water, open inventory, click on icon. (Hmm..Vanguard). Boarding and rowing were equally intuitive (if in doubt Press "F").

The boat was a joy to control. It moved responsively and smoothly but with enough heft and resistance to feel convincing. The animations were excellent. I rowed around for a while just for the fun of watching myself row.

Eventually I decided it was time to row somewhere specific. Since I hadn't paid the least attention to what either the rowboat man or the man in armor who sent me to him had said I just looked for a landmark and rowed towards it. The landmark I chose was a pair of large, moored vessels along the coast and by sheer chance (or possibly unconscious memory) that turned out to be the very beach where the pirates I was meant to be dealing with were based.

Once I worked out how to park the boat and disembark fighting ensued. The very first pirate I saw was a Captain. He had one star in a list of maybe five possible stars under his name, the first such denomination I'd noticed. I twigged immediately that he was a stronger opponent than the average pirate, although if I hadn't worked it out for myself the helpful tutorial hint that popped up advising me of the benefits of grouping with other players for more difficult fights might have given the game away.

Now that's a good idea!
I pulled him anyway and, solo in my starting gear and early quest rewards, he was a fair contest. I was always going to win. Indeed, in the entire time I played I never once died to a mob. Players...we're getting to that.

On the pirate beach I picked up a couple more quests and a daily from a signpost. I was merrily slaughtering my way across the sand, facing up to a particularly aggressive crayfish, when a player emerged from the surf beside me. I noticed immediately that her name and guild were all in red.

Red is for danger so I was alert for trouble. Still, so far as I knew, I was still in a safe area. No danger of PvP for me unless I'm the one to start it. Then she stood directly between me and the crayfish and I divined her intention. I sidestepped neatly to the right and sent my arrow past her self-sacrificing shoulder into the crustacean behind her. Passively acknowledging the failure of her crude piratical ruse, she ran off into the scrub beyond the beach, never to to be seen again.

Would that I had been so cautious and prepared a few minutes later. It was growing late so I finished up on the beach and decided to take the rowboat for jaunt across the bay. There was no sign of my boat where I'd left it beached, which made me think of thieving pirates, but a quick check of my bags found it despawned safely inside.

On reflection, maybe he thought I was planning on ramming him.
Back on the water I set out, rowing heartily, towards the far shore. Before very long I spotted a smart yacht cutting through the waves. "Photo opportunity" was my immediate thought and I turned straight for it, meaning to pull alongside. Fortunately I took a snapshot as I approached because the instant the skipper spotted me he hauled on the sail, turned on his own length and BANG!

Whatever he'd done, it one-shotted me. I lay dead in the gunnels, laughing. Well, I was about to stop anyway. At least it gave me the opportunity to try out the Revive option before beta ended.

My money's on the bear.

I respawned back on dry land at a shrine I couldn't remember visiting so presumably thre post-death mechanic puts you at the nearest one available. I wandered around for a little while, stopped for a minute to stare at a curious menagerie outside someone's house, then finally decided to call it a night.

All in all a jolly entertaining romp. Obviously I have barely even scratched the varnish on the surface of the deep layers of player-driven content available. I reserve judgment on that for much later. For now, though, I can say that the exploration is inviting, the questing is no worse than many other MMOs (I found it more interesting than most bloggers and commenters seem to have done, but then I probably enjoy questing more than the average MMO player these days), the combat is satisfyingly mid-school (more WoW than EQ but still very familiar) and the sailing is top-notch. Okay, the rowing.

Excuse me Miss, have you wandered in from another game?

ArcheAge reminds me very heavily of a number of MMOs I've played. Other than the focus on a player-driven economy (which is, of course, the staple of another long-established MMO, EVE) I'd struggle to think of anything in AA that I haven't already experienced somewhere else.

If I had to pick one MMO that AA most resembles it would definitely be Mabinogi.  I always wanted to play Mabinogi a lot more than I did but I struggled with the very odd perspective there and anyway, a long time back, they changed something and the game simply wouldn't run on my machine any more. I think ArcheAge should make a very good Mabinogi-substitute.

I look forward to launch with some enthusiasm. I just hope Trion have re-recorded the voice acting by then. Hearing NPCs speaking Korean doesn't really cut it, immersion-wise.


  1. I was thinking I was going to try out this game, but after doing a lot more reading and watching reviews of it, I think I shall pass. It basically boils down to a fancier farmville with hardcore pvp ... or EVE in fantasy land with actual avatars.. all with a dose of P2W mixed in (by P2W, I'm not talking about free players, but rather people with founder and patron status who can then spend even more money to come out ahead.) I suppose I don't get the point of this sandbox game. Build a house, make a garden.. for..? Then add in the PVP which can see your hardwork stolen off you? Meh, no thanks. I'll go play the Sims if I want to build a proper house or make a garden.

    The game looks very pretty, but realistically, I know it's not for me.

    1. At this stage I think it highly unlikely I will play AA "seriously" at any point, although you never know. Much more likely is that I'll dabble around with several low-level characters, see the sights, take a lot of screenshots, do a fair bit of the questing and quite likely never get a character high enough to see the PvP areas. Pretty much exactly what I did in Allods, yet another MMO which, come to think of it, AA resembles more than somewhat.

      If AA does manage to plant itself in the Western MMO player's consciousness as a kind of fantasy, earthbound EVE then I would say it has a good future. Not sure that's likely, though.

  2. I'm looking forward to AA launch as well. After playing in two of the beta weekends, I didn't hop into open beta because I wanted to save further experiences for the real thing. While I don't see this as being a main MMO for me (could change, it might surprise me), I'm looking forward to dabbling in it casually. It has a lot of features I think I'll really enjoy once I get there.

    The dual riding horses surprised me, too! Luckily, I discovered this when a friend of mine saddled up behind me. Of course, we had to explore how this worked from there. No more putting my duo partner on follow! :)

    I also really like the over-achiever concept for quests. I always go out of my way to kill more than needed to get that little boost in XP. I can't be an early bird... the game quest text mocks me and encourages my over-achieving! Dunno why!

    1. Before AA launches I must look up how you actually get a horse. I can't keep hitching rides!

    2. If you follow quest progression there is a quest that teaches you how to get your own mount. You basically get a foal (or baby equivalent of whatevet mount you want) and help it/her/him grow up.

      Your mount also gains xp and grows with you as long as you keep riding it. And also if you dismount but unsummon it during combat.
      Mounts can die if they are attacked and if you jump from high enough areas while riding (fall damage goes to mount) so be warned.

  3. Lol as soon as you said you got a rowboat I was thinking "uh oh I bet he's going to get jacked" and a few paragraphs later there it was. I saw bunches of people prowling the coastlines looking for newbie explorers and newbie traders in rowboats. Same thing happened to me.

    1. It was very funny at the time. I really should have seen it coming but I was lulled into a false sense of security by the "safe area" thing. I didn't realize it stopped when you hit deep water.

  4. I have a bad feeling that once there are tons of bored, high level players, levelling is going to be next to impossible. Sure, there are "safe" zones, but they won't last forever.

    I would definitely be a "sheep" among the "wolves" with my distracted levelling and playstyle. I'll need to pass on this one.

    But really looking forward to reading the glorious stories that come out of it =)

    1. If I'm going to play this game even casually I guess I'm going to have to do some research. I had assumed the "safe" areas would be permanent fixtures. Certainly there was a constant stream of people in chat stating that there wasn't much PvP to be found before level 30 unless you actively sought it out.

      Plenty of time to look into it. What with the WvW tournament lasting through September, then going on holiday, then the EQ2 expansion I'll be lucky to get in a few sessions of AA this side of Christmas. I kind of have it penciled in for early next year.

  5. I played a lot of AA during some beta weekends and open beta. I really liked some of the mechanics. The world and the classes were also pretty fun. While the whole farm side of the game reminded me of the games like farmville on facebook and this was the part of the game I was least interested; I hated the abusability of it (farm/housing areas were the rarest commodity during my time because people kept claiming all available land and either griefing or selling for a fortune) Trion did not give any indication that they were trying to fix the problem or even acknowledge that there was a problem so I don't think this will change in near future.

    While I had a lot of fun while playing it I do not think I will play it when it opens. I have only 1 reason for this decision. pvp.
    I do love pvp, I can't pvp spectacularly but I do love it. And whats more I love open world pvp even more. But when you first enter pvp around 30 (was closer to 25 for me); you do not face people like yourself. You face max level characters waiting for you.
    The game is pure pvp, and while I do love pvp there is not rules set either by the game or something like a gentleman's rules by the community to make pvp enjoyable for everyone.

    After reaching appropriate level you have to enter zones that pvp is allowed. This is not a bad thing and I was looking forward to it. I tried it 2 times; first time I was dead 4 times in 15-20 minutes, and second time I was more defensive. That time I gave up on 3rd death in 20-30 mins. I was mostly 1 shotted, sometimes 2.

    I hope my experience was the rarity and you will fare better.
    I will not play but I am looking forward to reading about your adventures.


    1. I'm similar to you I think in that I haven't been afraid of PvP for a very long time and for many years I've actively sought it out despite not being all that great t it (and that's putting it kindly). I doubt anyone likes being repeatedly ganked by players against whom they stand no chance whatsoever of defending themselves though. I certainly don't.

      I was watching the justice system play out in the Trial channel last night and it's clearly intended as a mini-game not any kind of deterrent to gankers. When sentences are handed down in minutes and the most infamous Pirate on the server once served a whole 8 hours in jail you have to assume anyone who wants to kill you will do so without fear of retribution.

      It's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out. I don't play EVE but as I understand it players can participate in the economic part of the game without really putting themselves on the line in PvP. If Archeage doesn't have the equivalent of HighSec and Concord then it could struggle to attract even an MMO-level "mainstream" audience.


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