Archeage: Hands-On Impressions
When setting out to write a First Impressions piece on a new massively multiplayer I always set aside a note pad and split the page into two sides. On one side is a list of the immediate “Good” things that jump out at me and on the right, a list of the “Bad”. Most of the time by the end of my first play session I’ll have an equal list across both columns but where Archeage is concerned, it was mostly bad.
As an individual going into playing Archeage and knowing very little besides it’s sandbox and has been released since January 2013 in Korea, I was a little apprehensive. Use of the word sandbox is like a line of cocaine to me and instantly perks me up. Unfortunately, the fact that the product spawns from Korea and I instantly shiver at the prospect of grind based misery. I’ve been badly burnt in the past by Westernised massively multiplayer games with promises that the grind and oddities of cultural preferences will be fixed. Sadly for me, I’ve yet to see it.
With Trion Worlds behind the localisation of Archeage I must admit I was a little relieved. They’re highly experienced, created a solid product in Rift and managed, despite tough competition, to keep its head above water. Having looked at a couple of Archeage videos while my client was downloading as well as information regarding housing, trade and politics, I was actually really looking forward to the game. There’s too few sandbox products on the market and too few developers and publishers willing to take the risk, despite plenty of players enjoying the game type. Eve Online demonstrates perfectly the strength of the sandbox model (and arguably so does the likes of Minecraft) but there’s very few massively multiplayer games on the market which are 3rd person, high fantasy and sandbox. Those that do exist (Darkfall, Wurm Online or Mortal Online) lack a degree of polish in order to attract a player base large enough to support its systems.
From the character select screen it’s instantly clear that Archeage intends to change that perception as the visuals of the characters and the range of options are pretty impressive. Hair, eyes, facial details and skin tones can be manipulated with great depth. At this point however, my list of “Bad” had already begun to grow and my gut instinct about my likely enjoyment of Archeage began to plummet.
You might wonder how that’s even possible on the character select screen and I’d have to say it came down to only a couple of things. My first issue is that the available races are not only limited but that they’re incredibly boring. The Elves are, predictably, pointy eared and beautiful while the Nuians are your token Human. On the eastern continent the Harani are also Human in appearance (though seemingly slightly smaller than the Nuians) and the Firrans are your two-legged furry, complete with tail and fluffy ears. What frustrated me so much about the races (besides the abject boredom of their design) were the furries and the female models. Proportionally its women are downright bizarre from the hips up and the Firran females in particular have some serious cranial issues that desperately need immediate medical attention.
On the subject of furries (and the rest of the races) it just stinks of lazy, safe design. I appreciate that a small product such as Archeage needs to appeal to the majority but I for one am sick to death of seeing Elves and Humans with furry ears (which is effectively all that the Firrans are). When did creativity in fantasy fall so far?
After making my character (a Firran and arguably the best of a bad bunch) I actually had to check my graphics settings when I arrived in game. Not only was I surrounded by several dozen Firran who all looked carbon copies (clearly white fur is a must-have this season) but the game, for a product that is only a little over a year old, looks awful. Even on the highest settings possible it really doesn't look great. I’m a stickler for aesthetics and Archeage, unfortunately, is completely devoid of it. Despite using the CryEngine 3 it looks pretty poor and character models aside (which look good but have poor animations) the game world - or certainly the starting areas - are incredibly dull.
Games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and WildStar have their aesthetic nailed down. The developers know exactly what image they’re wanting their game to portray and yet Archeage sits anonymously amongst the crowd. Landscapes are empty scenery devoid of life and are filled with bland hills with only a scattering of forgettable quest enemies. Unlike in Guild Wars 2 where animals inhabit the landscape or where plains of gorgeous fields and life filled scenery stretch before you, it just isn’t present in here.
What I wasn’t necessarily expecting from a sandbox title only 18 months old is the fact that it’s very fundamentals of questing and combat would be so lacking in innovation and excitement. I’ve been accepting quests and reading from lifeless quest givers for over 15 years, and I make a habit of reading all quest text, yet Archeage has somehow managed to turn back time even further. The standard here doesn’t even match the likes of World of Warcraft, a title which has a frighteningly old and replicable blueprint.
Although XL Games have attempted to add variety to the drudgery of questing by providing in-game cutscenes every time you interact with a quest giver, it’s completely lost because of the lack of voice over. Watching a wide eyed NPC completely lacking in emotion move his lips (badly) while you read quest text doesn’t make it any more immersive, it simply makes it a nuisance. Despite reading every shred of quest text I also couldn’t tell you a single thing about what I was doing or why - stroking a cub (what?) or killing some bandits nearby is hardly awe inspiring.
I’m not suggesting other massively multiplayer games do it better, but even The Elder Scrolls Online (which I like and loathe in equal measure) offered a much grander start and even that was piss poor. Heck, I still hold Guild Wars 2 as offering one of the best opening sequences in any massively multiplayer game even if it contained some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard. But for Archeage to arrive on Western shores in 2014 and present itself in this way, it’s agonizing to witness.
Things didn’t get particularly better after the immediate opening area as the lack of instancing left me unable to continue on my quest due to the sheer number of players trying to kill one enemy. At one point there must have been 100 players attempting to kill Ohnar’s Lackey, which not only highlighted the stupidity of the quest itself in a new player area but also the bad-old-days mechanic of enemy tagging. In Archeage there’s no shared kills so the need to “tag” as quick as humanly possible to receive a contribution to your quest is frighteningly present. I was constantly stalled due to this single mechanic and while some might argue “just get a group”, in this day and age, it really shouldn’t be required. It certainly shouldn’t be required in a starting area against an enemy I can kill in two hits. The last thing I want to do with my time is stand in a single location for over 15 minutes attempting to tag Plateau Earth Elementals before another player.
Where combat is concerned, Archeage doesn’t particularly fair much better. World of Warcraft for many was a revelation at the time of its launch but the genre has moved forward to such a degree that tab targetting in Archeage pales in comparison to its modern counterparts. With no cleaving (certainly not as a Ranger) or dodging it just feels archaic. Tab targetting to an enemy and having to facetank it while you repeatedly use your skills neither feels fun or fulfilling. Even with the addition of Combo Effects (which are worse than Guild Wars 2’s) there’s still little here to get the blood pumping. The genre in 18 months since Arechage launched has evolved to the point where these simple combat improvements are mandatory for fulfilling gameplay: even Age of Conan which launched six years ago made giant strides in comparison.
You might argue that World of Warcraft still has Archeage's limitations and you’d be absolutely right, but that doesn’t make World of Warcraft's combat system any good either. If you’ve played any of the recent crop of massively multiplayer games, to revert back to mechanics such as this feels a backwards step to the point where it's like driving a toy car when you’ve owned a Lamborghini. To lose health against a snail because there’s no physical way to mitigate its damage without excessive kiting or facetanking is a low point in my gaming career. Certainly coming from WildStar it all just feels ridiculous.
So what did I enjoy about Archeage? It’s a thin list but there are a couple of things (literally only a couple). Firstly, it’s class system is refreshing. You don’t pick a single class but instead construct your class from the 10 skill sets available, with the ability to have 3 at any one time. It’s a good change and gives some brilliant flexibility to how you want to play. I’ve often been frustrated when a massively multiplayer game I want to play doesn’t quite present a class I truly love and Archeage at least permits you that. A bow wielding, sword swinging shield user is a very real possibility and that’s definitely a good thing for players who want flexibility in their builds. As to how the balance of this mix and match system will work out in the long run (certainly when it comes to PvP) it’s hard to tell, but if it’s anything like The Elder Scrolls Online it’ll be a challenge for Trion Worlds.Other than that, the ability to hand your quests in early for rewards scaled on your contribution is a nice touch while having the opportunity to exceed your contribution is also welcome. And… that’s about it.
There’s clearly a lot of interest for Archeage as the three European servers I played on were jam-packed all weekend, yet I struggle to understand how players can flock to a title that’s old before its time and so poor. It’s not even a case that Archeage does what it does well because for the most part, it all feels sloppy. The user interface is unsightly, skills and animations are poor, quests and none player characters are dull and the world is entirely soulless. Worse still, the combat - for a game that promises epic PvP encounters with ships and sieges - is woeful.
At a price of £109.99 for the Archeum Founders Pack (around $175) and £39.99 (around $60) for the Silver Founders Pack, you’d be better off going to your nearest pub and getting blind drunk. You’d still feel that even on a hangover from hell you had spent your money wisely. Alternatively, if you insist on playing a massively multiplayer game you could buy any number of other titles that are cheaper and infinitely better. Eve Online is $16, Guild Wars 2 and WildStar $36 and even The Secret World is as little as $10 on Steam if you catch it right.
So while a weekend isn’t enough of an opportunity to truly see and experience Archeage’s “sandbox” elements first hand, I’ve played more than enough to realise that the foundations of the product are too shaky for me to even begin to delve deeper. With the core game as poor as I’ve experienced, it wouldn’t matter how good its politics, farming or housing were when everything else surrounding it is garbage. Players shouldn't have to wade through said garbage in order to find gold.
What The Rest of Ten Ton Hammer Thought
I’ve played ArcheAge both in Alpha and the beta weekends, and while I was expecting something miraculous, the whole thing just fell flat for me. It’s a pretty good looking game, with some decent ideas, but it’s STILL a kill-10-rats game and it doesn’t try to hide that fact. The added features - namely farming, building, and running crap everywhere - didn’t magically make me enjoy what ArcheAge has to offer.
Other than being entirely derivative (mashing ideas from other MMOs into it’s mold), it is quite simply incredibly boring. ArcheAge doesn’t really offer any new value, in my opinion, other than that fact that it is free-to-play. Just another F2P game in a sea of hundreds, that may or may not pan out in a western market. Time will tell if players are interested in the grind and paywalls that have been implemented.
Beta 1 had me hooked and I loved the classing system. Combat felt really fun. When Beta 2 rolled around, though, I felt like I was quest grinding through another average MMO and didn't even play the full weekend. TL;DR: boooooooring
Having not played the game I rank it among one of the best games I have never played. In fact, it would say that it is tied for first as my non-impression of this title is equal to that of every other title that I have yet to try. At first I thought the title was spelled incorrectly, the "e" after Arch threw me off, but then... I assumed that it was actually a missing letter that was causing the problem. Archie Age would be a superb game. I would, of course, play JugHead, happily eating hamburgers and impersonating Shaggy from Scooby Doo. What a great game that would be with Betty and Veronica in it.. Hubbah! Hubbah!, but alas... I have not tried it.
ArcheAge is fun and exciting if you're a die-hard fan of social gaming and believe that hanging out online is more fun than the nominal grind that most games present then you will have a blast, but if you're a solo player or even classify yourself as introverted, the game isn't for you. Trion is working closely with XLGames to bring in some cool features in the future, so unless you're wanting the custom items, it may be best to wait until launch and give the game a try - this is the root beer of MMOs, much like EVE, it's an acquired taste. It's for sure not for everyone, but those who love to talk and play, it's one of the best. Consider if you will an entire world available to do whatever you want, with very little linear content designed to bring you through the game. You can be a pirate, you can build a home, you can take to the skies and be an airship passenger who roleplays as a well-to-do used car salesman. The options are near endless, but most of these things are only fun with friends, and allies, and you will need to for sure be extroverted to get the most out of this game.