ArcheAge Beta Impressions

logoFrom XLGames and Trion Worlds comes ArcheAge, a new MMORPG that promises a sandbox environment and player-driven content. This weekend, Trion opened the game up for a round of Closed Beta testing in preparation for the game’s release this Fall. Does it meet it’s promises, and where does it fall among the rest of the MMO fare?

First off, the Closed Beta event we participated in did not include Patron status, which will be a monthly subscription-based service for players looking for additional content. The game as a whole will be following something similar to, say, TERA, in which the base game will be Free-to-Play, but additional actions can be bought with real-life currency or subscriptions.

As of the time of Beta testing, all of the paid-for items were purely cosmetic and in no way would affect the player-character in terms of combat advantage. It truly is a F2P game, if that is what you desire. However, the actions Patron status gives you do play a major role in the game; features like player housing and labor point regen (explained later) amount to quite a bit of fun in a player-driven environment.

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The ArcheAge character creator features an extensive list of options.

After first booting the game, players are greeted with the usual character creation screen. What separates ArcheAge from its predecessors, however, is the sheer amount of options available to make your character. While most starting faces are the typical pretty looks standard with Korean MMOs, there are enough sliders to rival even Dark Souls with creativity. Everything from jawlines to how tilted your upper eyelids are come included.

What does seem odd is that, with such an array of features, developers decided to skip customization of everything outside of your face. Gone are height or weight sliders, which would have been a nice option. However, given the MMO environment and issues that could arise from armor clipping with the number of patches seen in most MMOs, XLGames can be forgiven for what is a minor issue.

All servers are the same, with no dedicated Player-vs-Player or RolePlaying servers. Instead, these aspects are generally included in the nature of the game itself.

Using the CryEngine 3, the world is given a fair level of detail.

Using CryEngine 3, the world is given a fair level of detail.

The game itself is gorgeous once players mess around with the quality settings a bit. It did take a couple of logouts before the settings would hold on our system, but once they did, players are given an impressive level of textures. Even moderate systems should be capable of playing without issue outside of typical slow-down areas in cities.

In our first 15 levels, we didn’t encounter too many changes of clothes, but the ones we did see were fairly rich, though the physics for female anatomy were overemphasized and entirely unnecessary.

Of course, with our medium-sized system, draw distances were only set to around Normal, and the stunning environments do lose their luster in the distance without a good spread of grass and trees to draw the eye. The distance range seemed far shorter than in other games and did leave some environments with a nasty haze that felt far too close.

Combat is typical for veterans of WoW, but has the benefit of a class system like none other.

Combat is typical for veterans of WoW, but has the benefit of a class system like none other.

Gameplay itself varies between standard World of Warcraft-esque button systems for combat and an incredibly complex system for crafting and economy.

Quests themselves are pretty linear and nothing all-too-unique for veteran MMOs. Sadly, many of our first quests involved collecting the proverbial boar asses, though the amount needed were usually low and guaranteed to drop. Combined with five+ bars for combat buttons, players getting WoW fatigue may find themselves wanting.

Where the combat does succeed, however, is the leveling system. Players do receive XP and levels, but also choose from 10 specializations at the start. As you gain levels, you eventually choose three different specializations out of that list of 10. Depending on how you combine these options, the options allow for the creation of 120 different classes.

So, our character, for example, chose to start with Shadowplay (essentially rogue-type moves). At level five, we got to choose another specialization, and we chose Archery. Our third specialization at level 10 was Songcraft because why not? Those three combined to make an Ebonsong character, allowing us to select movesets out of any of those three, some of which combine with each other for additional Combo options when fighting.

Switching is apparently easy to do and fairly cheap. Skills also do not reset, as far as we could tell, meaning you can potentially movesets from all specializations for mix-and-match playing.

ArcheAge wastes no time in giving players a variety of movement options.

ArcheAge wastes no time in giving players a variety of movement options.

To aid in your fairly simple questing, the game throws a variety of movement options at you. Mounts are gained fairly early on, and also tie in with crucial crafting skills (i.e. you “raise” your horse rather than simply being given its reigns).

Plus, there are more than just horses. In addition to public transportation options like airships and trams, players can own individual boats and air gliders for unique travel. These are also somewhat customizable, so players opting to play trade barons can own large Man-O-War vessels whereas craftier players can fight to take over those Man-O-Wars using a few carefully-made cruisers.

Players can make their own boats, allowing for interesting battles at sea.

Players can make their own boats, allowing for interesting battles at sea.

This is really where the crafting system comes into play. The grand majority of end-game content seems to be focused around both maintaining your own property and fighting over others’. While dungeons do exist in the game, the options to steal or control other peoples’ fortunes is at the heart of AcheAge philosophy.

Building your own houses and items takes Labor Points. Labor Points are free points earned either over time or by completing quests. Patrons will supposedly earn LP at a faster rate, but they are vital for all players.

Almost any bagslot action in the game takes points. Opening a coinpurse or identifying an item cost between 1-5 LPs. Chopping down trees or building a house can cost 100s of LPs, and may even require help from fellow players or guilds! Supposedly, though its far too early to really test, truly entrepreneurial players will be able to “purchase” labor from other players, essentially creating their own empires in business.

This is all, of course, under the threat that these can be fought over at certain points. While houses can be placed on certain Housing Areas within the world, some areas are flagged for conflict between the two factions in the game. Go too long without keeping watch, and thieves can possibly swoop in to steal your crops, or vice versa.

Only Patrons are allowed to own land, and even they must pay property taxes (with in-game currency, of course, not real money), so the upkeep on grand purchases can get steep for the uninitiated.

However, this aspect of the economy holds incredible potential, even moreso when taking into account large-scale sieges and such in other areas of the world. It gives a true life to the ArcheAge environment.

Mirage Isle, a sort of shopping hub for players to browse mounts, ships, homes, and more.

Mirage Isle, a sort of shopping hub for players to browse mounts, ships, homes, and more.

That’s not to say the entire game is perfect. For one, the shopping hub of Mirage Isle seemed quite lacking at first glance. Its cartoonish look also reminded us of something more out of a Sonic the Hedgehog game than a life-like fantasy world.

Also, the true disappointed with ArcheAge is the promise of an open sandbox world, a kind of “Skyrim” but as an MMO.

The game certainly offers a ton of features and customization, arguably more than any other MMO before it. However, with houses and land only available in certain areas, and with quests still sticking to the basic WoW-esque exclamation points, the potential developers had hinted at before seems somewhat dampened.

While more items and crafting options can be patched in later, it would have been great to see an MMO allow us to build our own true airships, warships, and castles without restrictions like “Housing Areas.”

To this end, ArcheAge is a weird mixed bag. Some people will love it because of the sheer amount of fun the crafting and player interaction will have at later levels (and believe us, it is quite fun). However, it does alienate that strange contrast of people who are sick of WoW and people who want end-game raids. The missions and combats are almost directly ripped from Blizzard’s behemoth, but raids and dungeon progression are almost nonexistant after a certain point.

The F2P system here is the biggest advantage ArcheAge will have to win over players. The game is one of the more fun MMOs we have played recently, and allowing players to give it a taste for free will likely win over a lot of people. However, by keeping the absolute best options available, none of which actually affect a player’s ability to fight as well as the next, behind a paywall will ensure a steady revenue stream once players realize how much they want to buy a house.

If you already are in the Beta or sold on the options available, you can also buy a Founder’s Pack at varying prices that include Patron status for a limited time, Beta access, and the ability to reserve land via a Pre-launch head start.

While the Founder’s pack may be a little much for us at the moment, we will definitely be giving Patron status a try at launch. It doesn’t deliver on all of its promises, but ArcheAge is certainly a fun and driven MMO that houses an incredible amount of potential. With the right group of players, this game can be an outright blast once the economy gets up and running.

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