With the ode to sandboxes that was my last post completed, it seemed it was time to return to my Hobo Gamer series with another sandbox entrant - ArcheAge. Originally developed by XLGames, ArcheAge has already been released in Korea and Russia, while its English language port is currently in its alpha state with Trion as the publisher. As gamers begin to tire of the endless themepark clones being developed by American companies, a lot of eyes are turning to ArcheAge in the hopes that it will deliver the engaging sandbox experience they so desire, but will it?
What I Like
ArcheAge is a very similar game to Black Desert, and with that in mind, there’s going to be a lot of overlap of my likes, dislikes, and hopes for this game and what I wrote about Black Desert. In the overall scheme of things, what I’d like to get out of ArcheAge is the same thing I am looking for in Black Desert - EVE, only on the ground. I want players to interact in meaningful ways that can impact the game and its world, and for there to be PvP driven by their attempts to do so. Like Black Desert, ArcheAge appears to be headed toward that objective.
That said, ArcheAge is far from the pure sandbox one expects after an EVE comparison. While its core does seem to be built on sandbox principles, ArcheAge brings in several themepark features to the mix in what some are calling a sandpark. Making use of unmistakably familiar themepark quest design and dungeons, ArcheAge offers a familiarity that should help to engage players new to sandbox MMOs by offering them guidance on their way to enjoying the game’s central sandbox features. Even the game’s sandbox features are often implemented in ways so as to be optional, allowing players with no sandbox background to dabble at their leisure. If all goes well, this should help to stave off the “what the hell am I supposed to be doing” feeling that has become almost ubiquitous with the beginning sandbox MMO experience, as well as some of the more punishing aspects typical of the genre. If you’re looking for your first sandbox game, ArcheAge is setting itself up to be a great one for you to play, even if your goal is a more hardcore sandbox down the line.
ArcheAge boasts an impressive multi-classing system, allowing for a total of 120 different class combinations. The way it works is simple – there are ten skill sets available, each of which loosely resembles a single talent tree as would be found in games like World of Warcraft. Players are able to choose any three that they wish to have active at any given time, and can change them by respeccing later on without losing their progress. Each skill set adheres to a fairly typical RPG archetype, be it a melee fighter, a tank, an archer, or a bard – check out this skill calculator for a hands-on look at the game’s skill system. While not as open as I would like, ArcheAge‘s class system does present a great improvement to the more rigid class systems of old, and I much prefer its relative openness to a single-class system.
What’s a good sandbox without a place to call home? When done right, player housing is one of my favorite features in an MMO, as nothing grounds you more as being part of a virtual world than owning a piece of it and being able to customize it to your heart’s content. Housing is not without its difficulties though, and each MMO has to work to improve on the pitfalls of the past.
While I really enjoyed the housing in Star Wars Galaxies, it did have one major fault – the near limitless potential for players to put houses everywhere, and boy did they ever. While cities had borders preventing players from building directly onto them, as soon as you got to the edge of that border you were greeted with an impressive amount of player created urban sprawl. SWG‘s only defense against this was an upkeep system that would remove your house once your character ran out of funds, but for most, this would take months of inactivity.
ArcheAge retains that upkeep system (as a weekly tax statement), but adds new limitations to keep its non-instanced, open world housing in check. The first, and most important, is that you simply can’t place a house down anywhere. Throughout the world, ArcheAge has designated various areas of the game as housing areas where players are allowed to build. Due to these limitations, Trion has confirmed that housing will only be available to subscribers at launch, as a preventative measure against housing plots being dominated by alt accounts or spammers.
The actual housing in ArcheAge has everything you would expect, houses and a high degree of customization (too high, in some cases). You know how it works. What’s interesting is the farming tie in. As a sandbox, crafting and gathering are both important parts of the game’s economy – but why look around for materials when you can just grow them? In ArcheAge, that’s an option.
If you’re interested in learning more about the game’s housing system, the official site has a decent explanation of a lot of how it actually works.
The economy is the core of any good sandbox, and as you would expect, it plays the starring role in ArcheAge‘s metagame. The system is complex with twenty-one unique proficiencies for players to progress, including gathering skills. Each skill can be leveled to some extent, with increasing limitations on how far you can progress the more you go. In the end, only two proficiencies can currently be maxed out by any one player. Crafting does reward players with quite a bit of experience, and it has been widely alleged that playing a pure crafter will be entirely possible due to the depth of the system. However, as crafting is limited by its own resource pool, labor, super active players may experience difficulty doing so when they run out of resources. This is mitigated at higher crafting levels with higher labor pools and reduced labor costs, so it will prove to be less limiting later on in the game. While I’m not completely sold on the labor system, it seems like a fresh take on the recent trend towards lengthy real-life time investments for crafting progression. I would much rather have a slow generating resource gating crafting times than a system where you put jobs or research in a queue that takes three days to finish, as several other MMOs have done. As you would expect, the vast majority of things you would want in game can be crafted by players.
ArcheAge‘s economy looks interesting, but it’s not quite perfect. I have included some of my concerns in the “What I Don’t Like” section below
Trading (which is its own profession) in ArcheAge takes on a role nearly as important as item creation itself, but with a fair degree of risk. In a nutshell, you craft a trade pack, deliver it to an NPC buyer, and make money. While carrying a trade pack, your movement is slowed to a crawl. This means you probably want to find a trade vehicle, be it a donkey, a car, or a boat. Of course, like any good sandbox game, people are going to be trying to kill you to take your stuff; while ArcheAge does not have traditional PvP looting, trade packs specifically can and will be looted on death, or stolen in other ways.
The trade pack system is in keeping with the rest of ArcheAge‘s core design philosophy – to take fundamental sandbox elements and adapt them into a more casual, themepark player friendly format. While not everything can be looted by PKers, trade packs represent a provision for those interested in voluntarily participating in the high-risk, high-reward playstyle many sandbox veterans want. ArcheAge does not have a real localized economy and its actual goods do not require transport, but the simulation of that provided by trade packs may be enough to keep those who enjoy such playstyles engaged, while not turning off risk-averse players.
Sea Battles and Piracy
As I said above, boats are an option for transporting trade goods, and trade goods can be stolen. What do you get when you combine them? Probably the coolest thing ArcheAge has to offer.
This looks awesome. That is all.
This is pretty much what you’d expect. Players can build castles. Other players can build siege equipment. Then they kill each other. Here are some specifics I’ve lifted verbatim from the Rift forums:
- A guild has to bid (in gold) for the right to attack a castle and it’s surrounding lands. If there are 2 or more guilds wanting to attack a certain land, it goes to an auction and the highest bidder gets the right to attack that land.
- The sieges have timers that open once a week (on Saturday night), and they are open for 2 hours.
- Once a siege goes live only the attacking and defending guild can participate. A invisible wall goes up around the siege area. Other players can watch, but if your not in the siege, and you enter inside the wall you will be ported to the nearest bind point.
- The siege starts off as 70 vs 70. The defending guild can hire up to 30 mercenary real players to help with the defence.
- If the defending guild starts bringing in mercenaries, then after 20 mins into the battle the attacking guild can start brining in reinforcements from real players to help with the offence, up to 30 players. So the battle ends up as 100 vs 100, if enough players participate.
- If the attacking guild wins they can then lay claim to the land and can destroy anything on their new property to rebuild.
- If a guild successfully defends their land, they get special coins called “Coins of the Lord”. They can use the coins to buy guild perks, and the leader can buy the “Emperor’s gear” and a cool Fire horse mount. They also get double the taxes on their lands and resources. (This is put in place to make defending lands an incentive)
All things considered, it seems like a solid and well thought out system. Weekly vulnerability nights will essentially be raid nights for PvPers, and grant each side plenty of time to build equipment and make sure they have their A game ready for the event. The siege system looks good, but it’s where they take place that I find really interesting.
The Third Continent
To start with a bit of background, ArcheAge begins with two NPCs factions, which players are a part of, on two opposing continents. Criminal players who are exiled also become a part of the pirate faction, and are KoS to both of the other factions. These factions remain important, as all players in a guild must be from the same faction. The third continent, also known as The Land of Origin, is where the real fun begins.
On the third continent and in international waters there is no punishment for PvP and all alliances are off, with each guild left to choose their allies and enemies by their own accord. The Land of Origin is a large, undeveloped world space, its canvas left empty for the players to paint. In this world space, players will be able to build farms, towns, cities, and castles, but there is limited space to do so. The Land of Origin is based around territorial control, with limited opportunities for leadership that powerful guilds will vie for; this is where the sieges come into play.
This continent and its territory wars embody a lot of the “endgame” for ArcheAge, and it seems to be a fun way to spend one’s time. There are few things more engaging than fighting to defend a city you’ve built, but I do worry that this alone (especially on a weekly timer) will not be enough to keep players around and happy. While I imagine that all of the activities found on the first two continents will be present on the third, I have been unable to ascertain whether or not there will be substantial benefits to engaging in them on the more dangerous third. However, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be, as that would be a colossally silly design oversight. If the third continent’s day to day activities resemble null-sec in EVE, there could definitely be many hours of entertainment to be had there.
ArcheAge‘s gliders are a nice addition to the usual repertoire of transportation, and are something I’ve definitely enjoyed in previous MMOs such as Firefall. Beyond the obvious locomotive benefits, gliders provide another layer of complexity to siege and sea battles by allowing players to get about quickly and unobstructed with a bit of proper planning.
That said, if you need to go AFK for a bit while travelling, you don’t have to fall behind. ArcheAge gives you the option to hop on a friend’s mount and let them take you around. I really wish more games did this, as it gives a real feeling of travelling together, and makes perfect sense for a game whose mechanics encourage trade caravans and traveling in groups.
On top of this, ArcheAge does have a form of mounted combat, which ties in well with the game’s extensive mount customization features. While the rider is limited to using a few specific mounted attacks (which are unique to the mount type and can be found here), rumor has it that passengers will have access to all of their abilities while mounted. If true, this will definitely have some interesting PvP implications.
What I Don’t Like
First and foremost, the game is Korean. I hate to list this as a negative for every Eastern MMO I look at, but I know I’m hardly alone in my unease when it comes to their design. Consumers in the Eastern and Western markets seem to have wildly different expectations and demands when it comes to MMOs, so it’s no surprise that Western players are often put off by the excessive grind, flowery art style, over the top combat animations, and sometimes pay-to-win micro-transaction models.
However, many of these cultural differences can be mitigated when the game is revamped by a Western publisher, and with Trion taking charge of that role, there’s a pretty good chance that ArcheAge will be in a good place when it comes to minimizing grind and having a fair free-to-play model. In fact, Trion CEO Scott Hartsman took to Reddit just a few days ago to stress exactly those points, and I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and take him at his word. Still, there are some remaining issues from the game’s Eastern origin that make me a little uneasy.
Immersion Breaking Armor Design
Now I’m not one to get overly offended by this, but when a game world is filled with anime girls in lacy armor it’s more than a little immersion breaking. This doesn’t begin to touch on cash shop purchases like purple tuxedos, which are even worse. Hopefully we can see as little of this as possible in the Western release.
RNG Crafting Mechanics
Another symptom of the game’s Eastern roots is the RNG nature of the crafting system. To put it simply, the quality of your item is entirely random, with both creating and upgrading the best gear being more a matter of luck than anything else. Upgrades from green, to blue, to purple are relatively safe, but upgrading to the tiers above that (and there are several) always runs with the risk of destroying the item forever. While successfully creating top tier gear should always be rare, there are much better systems to use than total RNG.
Global Auction House
ArcheAge includes a global auction house. Worse yet, at least in the Korean title, the auction house is shared between multiple servers. As ArcheAge only simulates a localized economy with the transportation elements introduced by trade packs, the presence of a global auction house is not completely game breaking. Trade packs are the only goods which can be looted in PvP, and trafficking them has nothing to do with the auction house. Still, I would have greatly preferred to have seen an actual localized economy, or even player shops.
Old School Mechanics
A lot of ArcheAge‘s game systems seem aged, and I can’t help but think that the game looks more like a 2008 title than a 2014 one. With all of my time in limited action-set MMOs with action combat, it’ll be hard regressing to a game with tab-targeting, traditional talent trees, bloated action bars, and no dodge rolls. ArcheAge‘s combat mechanics seem woefully anachronistic, and if the game draws me in, it will be in spite of the combat, not because of it.
In addition, ArcheAge‘s quest design, while passable, isn’t really enough to hold up as a proper narrative experience. It can provide you a guided path to max level, but if you’re looking for a story driven experience ala Star Wars The Older Republic, The Secret World, or even The Elder Scrolls Online, you’ll be disappointed. On the other hand, it’s good to see the development team focusing on creating good MMO elements instead of a polished single player experience, so maybe we’ll just call that one a draw.
What I Don’t Yet Know
Player Justice and the Crime System
ArcheAge features a criminal justice system through which players guilty of same faction killing and thievery can be reported, tried, and sentenced to hard time (potentially up to a few hours). In addition to jail time, repeat offenders can find themselves exiled from their home faction and changed to a member of the pirate faction, which has its own island. There is a great step by step write-up of the exact details of the player justice system here on ArcheAge Source’s Forums.
It’s fairly obvious how there’s a lot of potential for this to be an unfun system, but from what I’ve read on it, it seems to be both fair and implemented in a way where the pirate life can still be enjoyable. This system seems be analogous to receiving a low security in EVE, a mechanic which worked just fine in that game. I’m still going to take a wait and see position on this one though.
Reception in Korea
Many are troubled by ArcheAge‘s allegedly less than stellar reception in its home country, but this is something I find hard to be worried by. For the time being, sandboxes are niche, and on top of that, PvP games are not always popular in the Eastern markets. These two markets are very different, and while it may turn out to be unpopular in both, a lack of wide appeal in either should not be taken as an indicator of imminent failure in the other. This is especially true given the work Trion is doing on the game’s localization.
No Gear Loss or Decay
Typically, sandbox MMOs require some method for items to be continually removed the economy due to the game not being focused on constant progression with every patch. Gear decay and item loss on death are two of the most common ways this occurs, and ArcheAge has neither. This fits in with the general philosophy behind the game, which seems to be a gentler, softer, and more casual approach to a sandbox MMO. The creation of trade packs helps to remove raw materials from the economy, but typically gear itself needs to be removed. Is the goal for the RNG item destruction when upgrading to get the job done? Will that be enough? Could new item tiers be added with future patches to create traditional themepark progression? There’s a lot remaining to be seen about how this will work while still maintaining a thriving economy.
While I do have a few misgivings with ArcheAge‘s game design, on the whole it looks to be a very promising MMO that I do plan to play when its North American release is ready. While not a hardcore sandbox, ArcheAge looks to be a great merger of sandbox and themepark philosophy that should prove to foster a great transitional MMO for themepark players interested in experiencing sandbox philosophy for the first time. The most promising instance of this philosophy is with the concept of the third continent, where a completely sandbox experience is available in addition to the more guided experience found in the starting areas. Sea battles are an awesome idea. I don’t even feel the need to say more on that subject.
I have to admit, the hype has been building pretty rapidly ever since I first poked my head in ArcheAge‘s fandom. Do I think this is a perfect game that will entertain me for years to come? Between its aging combat mechanics and more casual friendly design, I have a few doubts, but I know there’s a lot of fun to be had in the game and I fully intend to experience it. Has the hobo gamer found a new home? He may just have.