It happened; I have taken my first steps into the world of ArcheAge, reaching level 15 after a few short hours of play. ArcheAge‘s leveling grind is mercifully short, with experienced players reporting it can expected to take less than 30 hours for dedicated players; this is always a comfort to hear for a port of a Korean game. I’ve only scratched the surface of ArcheAge, but for what it’s worth, my first impressions are mostly good.
As you would imagine, my first impressions began with character creation. I clicked through the different races and genders, and was pretty happy with the options available. There are a variety of sliders and options for facial features that should keep most people happy; the ability to rotate, re-size, and re-position scars being one of my favorites. Unfortunately there are no customization options for character body types, which is annoying if you want to play a female Nuian or Elf without gratuitously enormous, jiggling breasts.
Upon entering the game world, the first thing I noticed is that it is much better looking than screenshots or streams had lead me to believe. I hadn’t noticed the blur effect on distant objects, which I greatly prefer to having them pop-in through a thick fog. Unfortunately, the game is also poorly optimized right now, so after a few minutes of enjoying the view, I turned down a few of the settings. My computer isn’t amazing, but I can get by with most of the settings maxed out or on high with anti-aliasing completely disabled. Keep this in mind when viewing future screenshots.
In addition to the lack of optimization, there are a few apparent issues with textures loading improperly, game crashes, lengthy load screens, and a vicious memory leak. Given that the game has released in Korea and Russia already, a lot of people have faulted Trion for its lengthy testing period, falsely assuming that the only work being done was to translate the game and make a few small tweaks. While there’s definitely a marketing angle to ArcheAge‘s testing model, I don’t think anyone currently playing the game could seriously argue that it’s in a release ready state right now – and that’s ok, it doesn’t have to be. Try to remain patient while testing continues, because it definitely needs to.
The actual gameplay proceeded much as expected. The controls are completely standard for a traditional tab-targeted MMO, and I picked them up easily after assigning keybinds and enabling a few extra bars. Combat is fluid, responsive, and really feels good; while I still prefer action combat to a tab-targeted system, ArcheAge has done a very good job of implementing the latter. The game has also avoided the skill-bloat found in games like Star Wars: The Old Republic, and seems to have a reasonable amount available at endgame. Ability gain does seem to be a bit slow early on, but I’m anticipating having an enjoyable amount by level 20.
ArcheAge‘s out-of-combat regen mechanic is interesting, and to my knowledge, unique. Every player has access to an instrument slot, where each player can slot an item that increases either their health or magicka when playing. These instruments are frequently upgraded to higher quality ones with greater restore values as you progress. Though rather slow to heal, playing your instruments also grants its affect to allies in a small AoE around you, making it more effective when grouped.
While thankfully informative, ArcheAge‘s interface is unfortunately large. Even with the UI scaling turned all of the way down and the mini-map set to small, I’ve found it to be a little intrusive after a minimalist game like The Elder Scrolls Online. It’s far from the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, but I hope to eventually see a little more freedom with UI customization, especially when it comes to reducing the over-sized quest tracker. That said, the mini-map is a truly excellent addition to the game. It shows a wide swath of the region with quest icons and the trails that traverse it, with a toggle to add vendors and your own farms. With a world as expansive and open as ArcheAge‘s, this functionality was almost necessary to keep players from being constantly lost.
Beyond its sheer scope, ArcheAge‘s world is bolstered by its open, seamless nature (not a single load screen – even between continents) and an impressive level of interactivity. Sitting in chairs, climbing ladders, destroying crates, lighting lanterns, etc… While not a huge deal, this definitely facilitates a more immersive gameplay experience than can be found in other MMOs. In addition, full collision for both allies and enemies helps to add weight and realism to the characters you encounter in the world. A rather silly immersion feature is the dance ability, which actually functions while moving, and has different animations for the different directions and jumping.
Questing is one of ArcheAge‘s less impressive features, with its primary appeal being nostalgia from older MMOs. Most players will be picking these up and knocking out their predictable objectives (Kill X of Y, Talk to X, Kill X and Loot Y of Z, etc…), without any care for the story. There does appear to be a main story for each race guiding the player through the world, but as the cut scenes have not been translated, I haven’t been able to discern whether or not it’s worth paying attention to. Interestingly, ArcheAge does offer a bit more freedom with its otherwise completely standard quests. Several quests so far have been able to be completed early with only a few of the objectives done, awarding the player with the physical reward, but less experience. Other quests, usually kill or gather quests, have been able to be over-achieved for extra experience as well. This is especially convenient when you have several quests in an area and complete one before the other. I quite like this system, as it eliminates the feeling that I’m wasting my time by continuing to kill mobs once the objective has been reached.
Many of ArcheAge‘s quests serve to supplement the game’s tutorials as introductions to its sandbox elements, offering a helpful bridge between themepark players and the sandbox genre. In one of the earliest, the player is given a foal to raise into a mount of their own by feeding and playing with it, mechanics which presumably function similarly when raising animals on a player’s farm. Beyond its tutorial value, it was really great to be given a mount within the first few hours of play, rather than as a major gold-sink later on. ArcheAge has no shortage of important gold sinks, so it was good to see players quickly able to travel about the game’s large world at a reasonable pace. Towards the end of my push to level 15, I finally acquired my first glider. Even with the crappy starter version, gliding about the world is a whole lot of fun, and I’ve really enjoyed sailing from mountain fortresses to valley farm villages. Though this may be a symptom of the poor quality glider, its handling was much more difficult than expected, with a slow, broad turning radius that makes precision flying incredibly difficult. Although I’m a fan of glider use being limited, I’m looking forward to see how these improve at higher quality.
The importance of ArcheAge‘s world design cannot be overstated. Its layout is massive, open, immersive, and seamless. Instant travel, while present through both a hearthstone-like mechanic and a teleportation book which requires crafted reagents, seems to be limited enough that traveling on the ground is preferred. Even if it weren’t, trade-packs would force many players to use it anyway. ArcheAge‘s fast travel comes in two varieties, airships and carriages, most analogous to airplanes and buses. Both of these are public transportation, so players will encounter others both during the wait and along the way. I’ve long advocated for these transportation types as a social feature, so it’s fantastic to see them in ArcheAge.
This was my first step into ArcheAge, but it’s worth emphasizing that it was exactly that. So far I’ve done some low level quests, and in a game like ArcheAge, that means I’ve seen approximately nothing when it comes to meaningful content. So while I may be bitching about the user interface and other superficially noticeable features now, there’s a whole lot more goodness to come as I continue to progress and reach the real meat of the game. Overall I’m absolutely loving my time in ArcheAge. Its world design alone is huge, hearkening back to an older era of MMO, one in which you truly felt that you were part of a virtual world; that’s what I really want out of a game, and ArcheAge seems to have it.
There was a lot to cover in this post, but that’s the nature of your first day in a new virtual world. Future posts will be more focused as I get more in depth looks at specific game systems.
Thanks to a high-level friend, I was also able to get a sneak peak of ship gameplay in ArcheAge. The game’s water graphics are simply stunning, and the implementation of water physics adds an incredible amount of realism to the experience. Even when simply cruising around exploring some of the low level friendly waters, the feeling of being aboard a ship realistically rising and falling with the waves as we explored the open seas was one of my favorite experiences in an MMO to date. Expect an entire post dedicated to the sea faring game when I’ve obtained my own ship.
Up next is a look at my first run-in with the game’s farming and trading systems. As I write this, my character is sitting by a farm waiting for his crops to mature. Stay tuned for first impressions on ArcheAge‘s farming system, here on The Errant Penman.
#MMO #ArcheAge #Impressions