Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The View From Level 10 : ArcheAge

At 10pm last night I decided I'd been patient enough. Trion had brought a third additional North American server online. It was a weekday, still not quite prime-time in the States, and it seemed there might be a chance of getting to Character Create in something under an hour.

There were around 250 people ahead of me; a huge improvement over the two and a half thousand I found on the least-busy server last time I tried. Even two hundred and fifty sounded like an awful lot but the queue just melted. I was first in line in just over four minutes.

Character creation in ArcheAge is weird. The range and depth of customizations available for every aspect of your character - above the shoulders - is possibly the greatest I have ever seen. There's a wealth of hairstyles and shades, flesh tones and eye color. There are sliders for just about every imaginable cranial dimension. There's a wide choice of make-up, lip-gloss, scars, and disfigurements. There's even an excellent selection of aging and weathering effects, allowing you to make your character look like anything from an ingenue to a dowager.

All of this for the head and absolutely nothing whatsoever for any part of the body. Your lovingly detailed, personally specified physiognomy is bolted onto a stock frame from central casting and that's that. Consequently I have a rather more buxom country wench than the typical, undernourished cellar-club habituée I favor.

If there's any rational explanation for this seemingly bizarre design decision I can only imagine it relates to a desire to maintain uniformly-sized hit boxes for PvP purposes, although how that's going to work when/if XL ever gets around to adding the long-promised Dwarven playable race I can't imagine. Maybe they'll be very tall dwarfs.

Even though I did my best to exhibit some restraint, by the time I finished fiddling with the sliders and stepped out into the world, (does it have a name?) it was time for bed. Play resumed around lunchtime today, when, being the middle of a mid-week night across the ocean, there was naturally no queue whatsoever.

No queue very definitely doesn't mean no players though. The Nui starting area was heaving. This time, rather than run off and explore as I did in Open Beta, I stuck to the suggested agenda and did my quests. All of my quests. Last time I didn't get a horse and I didn't want to make that mistake again.

The tutorial tooltips in AA are, by and large, quite useful. They're certainly reasonably accurate. All except for the one about getting your first mount that is. When that one popped up, somewhere around level nine, to tell me that somewhere around level ten I might start thinking about finding a ride, I'd already been cantering the countryside hither and yon for three levels.

Much has been made of the initial quest for a horse, with various bloggers gushing and goshing over the originality, excitement, unexpectedness and general all-round magic of getting a mount that you have to feed and play with and brush and generally raise as if he was real. These bloggers clearly never played Free Realms. ArcheAge's horse quest is pretty much a postage-stamp sized edition of the Pet Trainer job from that much-missed MMO.

Pet Trainer was just about my favorite Free Realms job so it was lovely to return to it. Shame it had to be such a short visit. There's an ominous in-game warning that if you neglect your horse-rearing responsibilities the poor thing may keel over after an hour or so. Fat chance of that. Taking your tiny foal up to seventeen hands of strapping grey stallion takes a couple of minutes, tops.

Horses in ArcheAge are pretty horselike. The proportions look about right and they move nicely so long as you go in a straight line. The jumping animation is more of a bunny-hop and you won't be winning any dressage medals when you strafe but overall it feels convincing enough. The hoof sounds are a bit metallic, not to say annoying, but at least there are some.

Speaking of sounds, the audio in ArcheAge isn't at all bad. The opening music sounds astoundingly like the main theme from City of Steam, which is welcome if a tad disconcerting, although ufortunately after that it's back to the usual Enya-lite you'd expect to hear in an elven elevator. The most impressive audio moment by far was the thunderous roar as Thunderbird 2 an airship passed close overhead. I actually thought it was a lorry parking outside my house the first time it happened.

Going back to the questing, ArcheAge, much like Rift before it, has been taking a lot of stick for blandness in that regard. I always felt Rift's quests were better than people gave them credit for, being certainly no worse than the MMO average (not that that's setting the bar so high a gnome couldn't walk under it without taking his hat off) and ArcheAge seems there or thereabouts the same.

Yes, the questing is generic but the quest text is snappy, there's some humor (albeit labored and heavy-handed) and it looks at least as if someone has put some effort into fleshing out a little backstory here and there. I toddled around for two hours questing until I hit level ten and it was pretty fair entertainment.

Ironic foreshadowing
The quality of the questing experience may be a matter of opinion but the question of whether mobs can or cannot drop useable equipment is a matter of fact. Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere they most definitely can and I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

I was killing Four Fingered Thieves (you can guess how they got that way) for a quest and collecting their Brown Hood quest items as they fell when I was surprised and delighted to see a flash of red in my loot window. One of the thieves dropped a "Four Fingers Hood" which, on examination, turned out to be an equippable face-slot item. Yes, it had poor stats compared to the quest item I was wearing and yes, it was required-level 10 and I couldn't put it on - yet - but it was, indubitably, mob-dropped, wearable armor.

That one drop removes my single biggest objection to ArcheAge. I love getting stuff off mobs. I actually prefer it when drops are rare enough to come as a surprise, too. Even if it happens once in a blue moon, just knowing it might happen makes every kill a thrill.

Another box I like my MMOs to tick is open-world Nameds or Bosses or whatever you like to call them. Nothing like roaming the wilderness and coming face to fang with an oversized beast with a non-generic name. "How tough is he? Could I take him? Can I afford to prep or will someone else KS me if I dither?" The thoughts that race through your mind the moment you spot a target of opportunity - for me that's a big part of what MMOs are all about.

And ArcheAge has them. I ran across a very large crab on the Bloodhand beach. It had a name but I was too excited to notice what it was. Several people had already engaged it and I was fearful of missing out so I spurred my mount into a gallop across the white sands and leapt off as we came within bow shot. A few seconds later I was reviving some ways down the strand and my poor horse was horsemeat.

The crab was still skedaddling up and down the shoreline when I headed off into the interior on foot and, presumably, carrying my injured horse, in search of a stable where someone might know how to fix him up. How many newbies it takes to kill a 3/10 star boss is something I'll have to find out another day, (it's more than half a dozen, apparently) along with what, if anything, you get for winning.

Eventually my hunger began to tell me I'd be playing for too long and I looked for the next quest hub along the trail to camp for lunch. Climbing up out of the farmlands behind the coast the leaves on the trees began to change color. Autumn comes earlier inland it seems. Behind the next village lowered an impressive snowcapped mountain range. I'm still not completely convinced that the World of ArcheAge (what IS it called?) is quite as genre-shatteringly beautiful as some claim but it's certainly pretty enough.

My labor points have so far accrued unspent. I'm content to quest and explore for now and let them build up until I have some idea what I might want to do with them. Much of the chat in-game seemed to revolve around farms, houses and how to acquire them but to be truthful I can't summon up much interest. Call me a traditionalist but I kind of want to be an adventurer not a farmer or a traveling merchant.

Early days, though. It's not all that often that the view of an MMO at level 10 bears much resemblance to the view from level 50. I'd say there's a better-than-even chance I'll get that far. Might take a while. What happens after that remains to be seen.


  1. Nice summary of the early levels of AA! Glad you're having fun. :)

    I've had loot drop off a few mobs I've killed here or there, but I could count on my fingers how many times. Sold what dropped for a good few golds, too. :)

    I did gush about the mount quest, but that was because it took me unawares when it happened. Never did play Free Realms, you're right.

    I like some of the music on the West faction, but some of it also seems out of place and odd to me. On the East faction, the music is much more Asian sounding in areas, which I ended up liking much more.

    I've still got a lot to explore, myself, but I'm just settling into farming and crafting finally.

    1. I'm level 14 now. Gosh but there are a lot of quests. I was following the main storyline but I managed to reach the part where the mobs are level 20 when I was still only level 13 so I thought I'd better backtrack and complete some of the pile of side-quests I'd acquired along the way.

      Good fun and I still haven't spent a single labor point. I would like to see if I can get to 50 without spending any but I already have over 500 and since the F2P cap is only 2000 I'm sure I'll need to spend some before too long just to make room.

  2. one question I've been meaning to ask for ages: why do you choose to play on NA servers? As far as I've discerned from reading your blog and comments on other blogs over the years, you're a Brit, I think?

    So I'm curious as to why the NA server choice?


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide