Thursday, 2 October 2014

20-20 Visions : ArcheAge

For all kinds of very good reasons I'm not spending nearly as much time in ArcheAge as I'd like. Still and all, I managed to ding twenty the other night. Unlike just about everyone else I am, quite literally, only questing and exploring, but levels seem to fly by even so. Just how fast things would go if I was crafting and trading and doing all the other stuff I can only imagine.

The questing is ... okay. The main storyline is ordinary, unoriginal, peppered with mediocre voiceovers and near-static cut-scenes but it's not awful. The many, many optional side-quests are generally a lot better.

It's either battery farming by hypnosis or a secret training camp for the Chicken Insurgency.

The real reason questing is more entertaining in ArcheAge than it probably has any right to be comes down to something SynCaine sums up very well in his recent post on road travel. Long story short, spending time in ArcheAge feels like being somewhere. The old NPC nonsense is, well, the same old NPC nonsense, but the player activity surrounding it seems to impart some much-needed gravitas.

When an NPC asks you if you wouldn't mind taking a packed lunch to a guard further down the road (real example) the request somehow seems more reasonable, the journey more believable, simply because you travel along a road that is visibly and evidently being used by players for their own self-generated and equally mundane journeys. It's hard to explain why. It reminds me a lot of early Everquest, when players stuck to the roads because to do otherwise was suicide. I think it's something to do with shared endeavor.

I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get my Raki's head to rest on a pillow that way.
Here it happens automagically.

ArcheAge tends to remind me of many other MMOs as I play but first and foremost comes Vanguard. There's one piece of music that plays often that I swear is from Vanguard and there are constant notes of Leth Nurae in the ethereal, wordless vocals of another. As I push further into the landscape whole swathes of scenery bring back memories of central Thestra. I swear I've passed Trengal Keep and Misthaven on my travels.

Then there's the water. Twice I've been given a quest, checked where I needed to go and thought "I could get there by boat". There's nothing that tells me I'm in Telon so clearly as unshipping a ship to go sailing down a river on a quest. AA even has one over on Vanguard in the way the rowboat summons through a dimensional portal. It's a neat aid to suspension of disbelief should you start wondering just how you're carrying a twelve-foot dinghy in your backpack. These little things add up to quite a lot when it comes to immersion.

The attention to detail is impressive. The rowboat not only has a lantern but you can light and extinguish it. Also the quest item, a crate of instruments retrieved from the seabed, appears on your back. I almost drowned getting it back to the surface. And yes, I know I'm rowing the thing backwards. I was in a hurry, alright?

Roaming far and wide, I frequently end up ahead of myself and have to double back. ArcheAge is delightfully free and easy about what quests it allows you to take. There are hubs and there are pre-requisites that open up new quest-givers and chains but as a rule, if you ride into a camp or a village or an outpost there'll always be someone ready to get you started with a some trivial task or other and it snowballs from there.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. Although, then again, wheat...
Even when there's no-one who wants to talk to you you can sometimes still find things to do. By the time I hit Level 18 I'd wound my way by a circuitous route to the gates of Marianople, which, has to be one of the more visually impressive cities I've visited in an MMO and quite possibly the most impressive from a distance. Outside the walls I came across a small village with some trained wolves and a merchant who supposedly would sell them.

Pretty sure I've been here on holiday once


He wouldn't speak to me at all but his wolves were for sale so I bought a puppy. He didn't come with much in the way of instructions but I figured feed him, play with him, brush his fur, the usual. I milked one of the cows in the field nearby, did a little dance, found a brush somewhere (same one I use for the horse most likely) and in a couple of minutes I'd  trained up my own battle pet.

Don't look down your nose like that, horse. You were a cartoon animal once, too.
Which I couldn't then summon because you must be at least level 20 to demonstrate sufficient maturity to send an innocent, trusting animal into hopeless battles to die for you. Or something. Whatever the reason I rather like the way you can do the quest even though there isn't a quest and get the reward even though you aren't allowed the reward. It's the kind of half-assed inconsistency that made early Everquest the fascinating conundrum that it was.

Ideal for the sailor who hates to get wet.

ArcheAge has a lot of those feels. The ship that lurched into a desert hill-fort, half a dozen players dancing hysterically on deck; the synchronized ranks of poultry seemingly training for the opening ceremony of some great sporting event; the lurid, out-of-context custom art on sails; the steampunk charabancs driven by escapees from Where The Wild Things Are; that creepy child with her "plushie" collection...

Okay, you're starting to creep me out a little...

I'm aware some, maybe most, of this could be new-paint smell. What seems amusing now may seem annoying in a week or a month. The friction between a convincing, immersive, naturalistic fantasy world and a box of crazy clown tricks may cease to strike sparks and start rubbing raw. Worry about that when we get there.

For now, at least, the view from level twenty is looking pretty good.



5 comments:

  1. Yea, i am hoping my "fresh paint" experience sticks too. I was doing a trade run last night and decided to see how far i can get with air ships.

    It was very refreshing to stand on the platform waiting for the airship with like 5 other players and when the ship arrived it was literally like real life, with a bunch of players trying to get off and we trying to get on and having to make space. So while we were on the ship we start talking about random stuff via /say , how often does that happen in MMOs these days?

    I feel the game is creating a very cool social atmosphere, other MMOs it's rush rush rush, ignore everyone around you, group up and rush rush rush not saying a word.

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    1. I haven't been on an airship or a steam-carriage thingy yet. I can sometimes be one of those annoying people who reminisces about how great the ship travel was in EQ and how we all chatted and learned languages and etc etc but do also remember how incredibly irritating and frustrating it could be when you actually wanted to GET somewhere for a reason.

      It's a trade-off between immersion/social cohesion and convenience for sure and I am absolutely no against fast travel but I do think perhaps the pendulum is due to swing back a bit the other way.

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  2. @silvertemplar: Hmmm, that's sounding like -- gasp -- player retention. Well... naaaahhh... Aren't we being told by the game companies now that customers prefer rush rush rush to the next thing and the next thing to stay playing?... Nowait, that's sounds wrong. Uhhmmm...

    I don't know, maybe it has to do with differences in the market whence the product originates -- like, say, FFXIV -- but the different design and economic models just keep suggesting this mmo thing still has some curious potential yet.

    @Bhagpuss: Curse you nearly getting me a bit interested in this game again, but thank you for suggesting it's "new paint", for now anyway. Great screenshots and captions, as always. There's a holiday and a major expac coming to Norrath, so I don't need distractions (no, of course WvW doesn't count, sheesshh).

    -- 7rlsy

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    1. So many MMOs, so little time. I am still going to buy the EQ2 expansion, which looks like the most interesting for a long while, but where the time is going to come from to play it I am not entirely sure.

      Regardless of how much or how long I personally end up playing ArcheAge I really hope it holds a good population and remains a clear success. If that happens then, with a bit of luck, future MMO developers and investors may actually notice that players have more patience and a longer attention span than they assume and we might get some better MMOs down the line.

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