Saturday, June 14, 2014

ArcheAge impressions – Part one

It's a curious thing...
I can't honestly say what pulled my attention towards Archeage above the rest. It's a game that has, to my knowledge, been out for some time and yet it's one of those very few people in my social circle had even heard about. Somehow I can't blame them; it was one of those that suddenly just popped up and you either went with it or you forgot about it. A few people were streaming it, even fewer really talked about it and the general impression of it was that it was “different” from the rest in some way. At least the general talk made huge claims for it to be so.

Personally, I think what really had me going was the way that it didn't focus on being yet another clone of WoW; at least not in the initial sense. There seemed to be a big emphasis on crafting and social interaction with several elements of the game being player driven. Also, naval combat, trade organizations and an open world PvP that could work? The fact that a guild would be more than just a green chat-channel with everyone sharing one huge bag for loot appealed to me, greatly; yes – I am one of those old people who believe that people were generally nicer towards each other in the old MMO days, and the more mainstream you go, the bigger dickheads you start socializing with. So is Archeage any different?

We've got to
Archeage is currentlyin alpha, with no indications but rumors for when it will hit closed beta. That means you need to dish out the savings if you want access to the playground. And hold your horses, because it's one expensive ride – around 150$ for an alpha access, along with some additional rewards once launch hits (more credits, a 4 day head start which I believe will be extremely valuable and some additional equipment). Alternatively, you can book for your beta ticket for a lesser price, but it's still steep for a game you don't know whether you'll like. I hope to bring you some more information in this essay about it.

For me, it took several days of consideration before I cashed out in the webshop. There were some minor problems at first accepting my payment method, but from thereon you'll download the Runic client and the game pretty much works as you know it from, say, the application.

As of now, you don't really get that many advantages for your amount of money, except for the entry. I perfectly understand how some people will back off by this amount of money, but in my view, it's still less than what some of my friends will pay this summer in order to go to concerts or trips. So har-har.

 Culture Shock
I read some guy at Reddit who said that if EVE-online was the Olympic swimming disciplines, Archeage is the kitty-pool right next to it, which I believe is about as spot on as it gets, in a non-patronizing way.
At its core, Archeage doesn't deviate too far from the basic MMO-formula – You create your character, you bash monsters by clicking your abilities as they go off cool down and harvest XP and items so you can bash bigger monsters. The world itself is somewhat generic fantasy with an obvious touch of Korean/Eastern mentality – something I haven't really been that into in other MMO's such as Aion. Mostly because the manga-final fantasy-themes just never...appealed to me and seemed so strangely out of place; yet it feels controlled in Archeage to the degree that at some times I kind of forgot about it entirely. Of course, you will see strange blue impish creatures, Furry-races (ugh...) and just about all the male characters look like something out of a cosmetic commercial – but put that aside and we're about to hit interesting land.

The world of Archeage is split into three factions, which has an extensive impact on the game. The westerners (who're basically elves and your typically plain human race) and the easterners (a strange race of furry-people and what reminds me of feudal Japanese) – And then, to the north, you have the outcasts, the pirates. And yes, you can become a pirate too!

As you progress into Archeage, you will learn that the meat of the game is how these factions strive for control and dominance of the world. Initially, you will settle down in your familiar homeland and start crafting and establishing your foothold, perhaps with a guild, but eventually you will need to do trade-runs if you want your hands on some of the good stuff the game has to offer. And this often means crossing vast distances into enemy territory where world PvP quickly becomes an issue. Add on top of that, that your own faction can turn traitorous against you and player-pirates stalk the oceans and lands in search of your hard earned goods – you will learn the value of having friends. And ships of war, merchant ships, transport vehicles, submarines, gliders and much more if you need to make a stand.

Archeage is much about crafting. In fact, it has 21 professions that you can all master and yes, they will take a lot of time and dedication to master. In addition, you're limited to a certain pools of Labor-points – crafting mana, if you will, that dictates how many projects you can undertake at a given time. Since gathering materials also counts towards this, you kind of have to agree with yourself on a set goal.
And make no mistake, while the prospect of having your own ship, your own house and even become a part of a navy is grand and appealing you'll have to cover a lot of groundwork by yourself, especially if you're not with a guild.
To try and describe the depth of the Archeage crafting in just a few lines would be a gross simplification. Suffice to say, you will likely need plenty of components from the various professions if you wish to progress far. Of course, some of these can't be crafted but must be cultivated, which is why the game handles you your own mini-farm early on. From here you can grow various crops, trees and livestock that are all utilized by the 21 professions. Of course you can also feel free to plant outside your chosen land, but that is to be done with care, since it becomes free game for anyone to steal. You'll quickly realize that a small farm isn't much at all, and in the current state of alpha, even finding a spot for it may prove challenging. Farms, houses and guild castles are non-instanced and already now, cartels have risen that occupy big plots of land and sell it onwards for good sums of money.
Goods are mostly handled in the classic take-one-space-of-inventory-way that you may know from WoW and other games. Yet, once you start building ships and structures, or wish to trade goods with foreign traders for valuable currency, you need to turn them all into a trade-package. This is a huge pack your character can carry around that will severely impede your movement speed, unless you have means of transportation, such as a carriage, a ship or even a humble mule. Often you will need to transport the pack from the crafting bench all the way to the construction site or trader, and all during that time you're a high-valued sitting duck. Pirates and the opposite faction (hell, even your own faction at times) will want to jump you, kill you and steal your packs. Packs that are often the result of long real life hours of dedicated work, all gone within seconds.

Once you get it going and construct your first ship, the game is a bit more forgiving that its bloodthirsty brother EVE – As some may know, if your ship gets blasted into bits in EVE, it's pretty much gone from there. While ships and be damaged and even stolen in Archeage, you'll always have them back and can repair them up in 10 minutes or so. Your house and farms can't, to my knowledge, be destroyed either, unless you neglect to pay the weekly taxation.

A pirate's life for me
I have little to no experience about becoming a pirate, but from what I've seen it's kind of interesting too. In general, you earn infamy for doing mean things. Stealing from farms, killing your own faction and waylay traders. As you reach a certain threshold, you will be voted outlaw and other players who have earned the right to be bounty hunters can take you down and bring you to justice. This results in a global trial channel, in which people can sign up for jury duty and pass sentence to these people. If found guilty, they'll be going to prison where they will serve their time or perhaps even escape. Sounds interesting, right? It is, except for the issue that the highest sentence I've seen passed is around 80 minutes. Often it's around 10-12 minutes where people just can't leave their cell and it kind of deflates the whole point.

It all takes class...
So far I'm level 25 only, so please take these general impressions for what they are. The class system in Archeage is a bit different, in that it contains a small handful of specializations, such as a Battlerager (warrior) or Sorcery (...well, yeah) and as you hit level 5 and 10 you chose two additional classes to the one you started out with. As you level up you also gain XP in the various classes you have chosen and spend skill points sort of like you do in talent trees. A lot of these are, not surprisingly, PvP oriented and already there is a solid handful of “Top 10 builds” with the usual emerging “Must include” abilities favored by almost all players. That is likely to be expected at this early stage in the game.

Going on a quest!
There are a few things you'll need to know about the current state of questing in Archeage. First and foremost, while all the menus have been translated into English as well as the quest text, the spoken language in the game and the cut-scenes have not. That means; unless you're fluent in Korean you likely will get very little out of the progressing story for your character. I did my best, initially, to try and make a narrative with what I had, but it didn't take long before I threw the towel. Especially because most of the quests are dull, uninspiring and very unimaginative. Don't expect the reinvention of the genre in this regard. You're provided with kill-quests, fetching, gathering and the entirety of the usual song and dance you've come to know in the MMO's. I never had the sense of any bigger story unroll and blindly accepted everything Manga-land asked of me, but to be honest I had the same feeling when I quested in Mists of Pandaria. I have a hard time giving a damn about that stuff.

Room for enthusiasm...and concern
I've had a brilliant time so far in Archeage, let me make that clear. Is it worth the 150$? A cautious yes, but I believe you have to be hooked on the concept. You need to love the grind, the long walk, the defiance and challenges that will inevitably strike you. Naval battles on the high seas, dueling with pirates and massive trade caravans are all part of the end result; the huge impact of the comet. But remember that comet has spent a very long time getting there in the first place. So if you aren't up for the challenge and burn out easily on such tasks, Archeage is definitely not for you. Even I have my doubt whether I'll manage to keep up with the game, once I see my packs of lumber and stone disappear with some snotty, little fat kid who's had a bad day at school. And on the other hand, that also serves at the appeal. The feeling of anarchy and dominance, that for once there isn't a caring, loving system holding its hand under you in case you fall – if you want something you take it and live with the consequences.

It is my impression that there is a lot of potential in Archeage, but just as it relies on the investment of the average player, it also sets itself up for gruesome failure that only time will show. As of now, the player base is very limited due to the outrageous price for entry. And even now we see a severe lack of space for farms and houses – something that people believe will be easier once there is more than one server. But then, on the other hand, the game will also go public at that time, and I'm kind of cautious about the results.

It's also another study in the field “What looks good on paper meets the internet”. For example, the developers have clearly tried to bring variety to what you can plant and care for at your farm. Different trees, seeds and animals ranging from geese to cows to turkeys. Only thing is that people quickly optimize the best results, meaning you can suddenly see long streaks of farms that have nothing more than white aspen trees and endless sights of goats because they're currently the bast farming method. Another example involves the bounty system, where someone will go criminal, let his friends kill him and share the bounty afterward.

While initially not a problem, I can wonder about the future economy of the game in the sense that structures and ships aren't permanently destroyed, like in EVE. Instead, you can bring them back for a reasonable sum and MUCH quicker than buying a new one. I can't help but speculate whether this is a good idea in the long run, and whether we'll see a ruined economy after the game has been out for some time?

I'll definitely keep on with Archeage, not only because I've thrown in that much money. I genuinely believe it to be a very potential game with a lot of room for further improvement. As of now, we're only seeing the alpha and some quite important things have changed already since I began. Again, only time will tell whether these changes will work out for the better once the game hits Beta and all characters wiped. Things such as forcing us to run trademissions on the enemy continent is a great idea, but the notion of daily quests is something I could really, really do without. Likely because I've grown so tired of pandas with blue exclamation marks above their heads...

I wouldn't say you should storm out and hurl 150 bucks after this game, but if you're like me and been sitting on the fence for so long, I hope I have inspired you to at least give it a decent thought and try. I'll say this game, if tweaked a bit more than it already is, and the right player base, could become a really big thing and a contender in a niche that has pretty much been dominated by EVE for several years.

I'll be back with further thoughts as I hit level 50!