The hope of the next sandbox generation, ArcheAge, is finally here! Well, mostly.
I've written and we've talked at length about the Early Access phenomenon that's sweeping the gaming industry, and ArcheAge's Early Access Alpha is as pointless as any of them. I crashed a couple of times, there were a few graphical glitches, and the localization needs to be completed, but the game I played resembles more a well-polished beta than the unfinished, bug-laden alphas we've come to expect.
That's not surprising, considering the game's been fully launched in Asia for over a year. But I see it as less of a good thing and more of a subtle way to encourage people to spend on the pricy Early Access pack to give them the notion that they're going to see the game way earlier than expected. It's practically done already, at least the parts that I could see.
And what bits I could see were nice.
I really want to enjoy the sandbox aspects of ArcheAge, and I have no doubt that I will – when it launches. As stated in the ArcheAge FAQ, “Alpha progress may carry over to a Public Test Server, but it will not carry over to Beta and the Live launch servers.” I've never been one to dive headlong into an alpha or beta like some people and play for a hundred-plus hours when I know my progress is going to be erased once the game goes live.
ArcheAge triggers those feelings in me and then some. The first 10 levels are as typical a themepark as can be, going from point to point talking to NPCs and receiving quests revolving around a story that, quite frankly, I don't care about. Nobody's playing ArcheAge because they want to hear about the drama between the elves and the nuians.
Once you hit 10, some of the sandbox elements, such as housing, farming, crafting, and trade become available, in limited fashion, but you're still steered along from quest to quest, which is the most efficient way to level and accumulate cash. I've heard that the game really opens up around level 25 or 30, but there's no way I'm going that far just to do it all again once the game goes live. And I certainly wouldn't want to pay for that privilege.
Doing justice to the genre
As for the game itself, I can see a lot of potential. I'm not a huge sandbox fan – I've never played EVE Online, for instance – but I can see the appeal in seemingly mundane tasks like trade-running and farming, and I could definitely see myself enjoying ArcheAge. It requires a different kind of thinking to succeed than a typical combat-focused, raiding MMO. The notion of planning your travel routes, maximizing your income, and occasionally ambushing your enemies and stealing their stuff looks like a ton of fun.
Then there's the justice system, which, judging by the comments I see scrolling by in the [Trial] channel, look positively frightening, if I were to stand as one of the accused, but a lot of fun as a spectator – or even better, one of the jury. I liken it to how people used to show up for public executions. Hey, gotta entertain the masses somehow...
Character progression feels like a simplified version of Rift's soul system. You'll select three of 10 skillsets, each with its own range of active and passive powers that you progress along as you possess skill points. There probably isn't quite as much room to diversify as in Rift, not only because of the fewer skillsets and powers, and people will eventually promote what they feel are the “best” builds, but it should be enough to allow you to adopt a distinct play style.
The first thing I ever read about ArcheAge's combat, a forum post from a few years ago, lamented its rigidness and reliance on crowd-control elements. Though I didn't get to try out any PvP, I can see how that would be a thing. Many moves have combo elements that trigger when the target has another state on it. So you can snare someone and then do an attack that knocks down someone who's snared, and follow that up with a move that does +50% damage to a downed target. That post was probably accurate when it said that 1v1s were basically decided by who got in the first shot.
I'm not going to let that get me down, though. Combat is only a small part of the later ArcheAge experience, and I've got the inside track on a guild, that I'll join after launch, to watch my back – and to stab other people in theirs.
That would be my suggestion, to wait until launch, or at least after there's a promise of no wipes, before trying the game. There's little reason to spend $100 to try a game you can try out in a few months for free, especially if it means you'll have to repeat all the dull parts. It's the same as I feel with regards to the early gameplay – not much to see initially, but it'll be a better experience if you're patient.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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