Saturday, 18 October 2014

Halfway Up The Stairs : ArcheAge

Last night my one and only ArcheAge character, a Battlerage Novice of the Crescent Throne, dinged 25. Exactly half-way to the level cap. For what that's worth. Which isn't much.

Somewhere back in deep time getting a character to the midpoint of the level range on your first run through an MMORPG was a significant achievement. It took me several months to get there in both Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot. Even in the era of EQ2 and vanilla WoW it was nothing to be sniffed at.

In recent years, though, reaching the Level Cap in some MMOs has seemed not so much like an achievement as getting to the end of an unreasonably extended tutorial. A tutorial, moreover, that sometimes seems to bear little resemblance to, and provide scant preparation for, the de facto "real game", the one that only starts when the number next to your character's name stops going up.

One thing you can generally still rely on, however, is that whatever passes for a main storyline or narrative arc will have been designed to last you roughly the same time as it takes to hit max level. Generally, that is. Not, as it turns out, in ArcheAge.

Oh, the game does have a central storyline, although you could be forgiven for not having heard about it. That's how I came to ding 25 last night, finishing it somewhat by accident when I rolled into Two Crowns at level 24 on the trail of what I thought was an entirely unrelated matter, having been sitting on what turned out to be the final step of the main storyline quest since I was twenty-three. I think it's meant to last you to level 30, the point at which you are expected to leave the protected PvE Kindergarten safety of your homeland for the Big School of  contested territory where bullies can steal your lunch money you get your first taste of PvP.

It's true that, as is my wont, I was running about five levels ahead of where the developers probably expected me to be, but even so to have the main storyline conclude while your character still has forty percent of her levels left to gain is far from regulation for the genre. I had already heard that a premature ending was on the cards but it still took me by surprise. I guess it's fair to say that Story is not one of however many pillars ArcheAge stands on. Can't really have one pillar 40% shorter than the rest if you expect your roof to stay up.
 

SW:ToR, GW2, LotRO and FFXIV:ARR all put story front and center in much of the pre and post publicity rounds but Trion always seemed to keep rather quiet about their narrative offer.  Now we know why. All the same, neither they nor XL Games were prepared to do without a story altogether. Someone in Korea certainly spent some considerable time and effort on it, creating a wealth of cut scenes to illustrate the gnarly and largely incomprehensible plot, while someone else, presumably Trion, employed an Actor (very much with the capital "A") to provide a lengthy and sonorous English voiceover for the international market, an expense and effort that has yet to be extended to the many untranslated NPC voice samples in the gameworld itself.

Some sources indicate that ArcheAge was based on a pre-existing series of novels by an established Korean fantasy author named Min-Hee Jeon, which would lead one to expect that the storyline, at least in the original Korean release, might have been more important than we in the West have found it to be. Intense investigation (aka googling) reveals, however,  that Min-Hee Jeon actually came on board after the game was already in development to produce the official novelization so perhaps not.

Either way, the central storyline exists and I have finished it. Or, rather, I have finished the Nuian racial storyline. I believe each race gets one of its own. Don't ask me to explain it. There was something about a Princess, I had a Mark on my arm and now it's gone, there was a big fight that I won somehow without really knowing how, Lucius turned up at the end and supposedly cast a whole load of lightning that I never saw... Par for the course, really.

The reward, apart from the satisfaction of a job well-done and a handy final chunk of xp that shoved me from 24th well into level 25, was a Level 30 Cloak I can't wear. That's what you get for pushing ahead.

So, no more main quest line to follow. Now what? Obviously leveling itself won't be a problem. ArcheAge is one of those modern MMOs that hands out xp points for just about anything.  Whatever you fancy doing will likely siphon xp towards you as fast as you can suck it down. Nevertheless, partly from whimsy and partly from a sensible desire to avoid the early-day crowds, I decided right at the start to attempt to level my first character to the cap purely through exploring and questing and I'd like to try and complete that goal. Lucky for me, then, that there seem to be roughly a gazillion non-main-sequence quests to keep me going.

Most commentary on AA has concentrated on what it does differently from other MMOs: competitive open-world housing, farming, trade-routes, vehicle-building, naval combat and so on. Little has been said or written about the questing and those few who have mentioned it have been less than complimentary. Not without good reason. It's very certain that neither the original writer nor whoever did the pedestrian translations is likely to be taking home any industry awards for either originality or quality.

That said, I have seen worse. A lot worse. There are moments of ironic or self-referential humor that are rather well done. Some of the characters have personality. There's plenty of variety. You get a sense of some kind of society in action rather than merely a scattering of unconnected tasks.

At the moment my quest journal is stuffed with unfinished jobs picked up along the roadside. There seems to be an infinity of farmers with infestations of Goblins, Groundlings and recalcitrant wildlife while every quarry, mine or fishing village proves to be a hotbed of intrigue and rivalry, where a passing adventurer or mercenary is seized on by all parties. I don't imagine I'll run out of good works, mercy killings and old-fashioned assassinations for a while yet.

Quest xp doesn't appear to scale, hardly surprising really, since one modern MMO feature AA appears to have eschewed is any form of scaling or mentoring. Consequently if I backtrack it's going to take more and more quests to make less and less progress. Then again, I'm not on the clock so who cares how long it takes?

And then there's the question of whether there are more, and more level-appropriate and therefore rewarding,  PvE quests in the contested areas. I'm guessing there are, given that there's supposedly a progression of quested armor and weapons all the way to fifty. It's going to be an adventure finding out. I'm very much looking forward to it.




4 comments:

  1. I ran across this very thing when I hit about level 24 on my character, too. I was following the main storyline strongly, mostly because it gave the gilda stars and I wanted to net a farmhouse before all the land was swiped in the peaceful areas. I was really taken aback when I realize I hit the end of the main story halfway through the leveling process.

    So, it seems what folks say about the questline being an extended tutorial is true. Oh, yeah, there's still lots of quests in the contested zones, though if you just want to pick up armor, like I did, I had to research which quests actually gave that.

    The interesting thing about quest flow after level 30 is that it weaves you back and forth between continents, which I didn't expect. When I finished all the quests in Yny in the East, I was instructed to head out to Halcyona to continue in the West. Which I haven't done, because I'm almost level 50 and most my levels from 27 on up came from farming, crafting and other non-questing activities.

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    1. I was glad I'd read about the main questline stopping early. I think I'd have been pretty confused otherwise. I probably also ought to research which quests give the armor/weapon upgrades. The way I dot about all over means I've been getting upgrades for some pieces but not others. I'd really like to lose the tunic I've been stuck with for a few levels too. It's not very flattering to put it kindly.

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  2. Having done all of the elf and at least bits of the other racial storylines (partly in beta) I noticed that they all tie in with each other a little bit which is kind of neat on the one hand but on the other seems to mean that you'd need to do all four in order to get any real handle on it.
    I've personally enjoyed the questing. It's definitely not the best I've ever done but it's interesting and the weaving back and forth between continents gets interesting. Though... heaven help you if you're an elf over in one of those war zones in Haranya. Still despite not enjoying pvp I'm actually finding that that makes it oddly entertaining. Reading some of the quests in zones definitely also presents an over arching storyline in them too. I just finished helping with a problem in Rookborne Basin that took me pretty much the entire zone to sort out and which seems to be related to the game's overall story.
    I finished my racial story at level 32 to because I was doing all the quests along the way despite wanting to rush ahead and see where it took me. I am glad I waited now and I do also wish that it lasted through the entire leveling process. I was disappointed to see it end.

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    1. I'm about certain to play one of the Eastern cat people at some point but whether I'll ever get round to the other two races is a lot more doubtful. I'm all in favor of individualized quests for each race or class in an MMO but as you say it does have its drawbacks.

      There's stuff in GW2 that only turns up in the Asura personal story that I'd have liked to have known back when the Living Story was getting started. Its even more complicated there because even the racial stories split into fragments according to those odd questions you have to answer at character creation.

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