I’ve been drooling to try ArcheAge* since watching trailers and gameplay videos. Player-driven economy! Farms and vocations! Epic sea battles! So, imagine my dismay when I discovered four invitations to ArcheAge closed beta events under my oft-ignored Gmail Promotion tab … and the most recent one was scheduled to end 18 hours after I found the mail. Many obscenities were muttered and I installed as quickly as my connection could manage.
Since things like sleep (I’m not inclined to pull all-nighters often anymore), meals, yoga, and social interactions with my loved ones ate into my precious gaming time, I really didn’t get much time in-world. I won’t be able to speak to mid or late game dynamics or group play, so I’ll focus on my first impressions in levels 1-10.
The initial avatar creation is fairly nice. Nothing below the head can be altered and you can’t tweak fine details, but there are a reasonable variety of hairstyles, colors, facial features, and eye makeup to choose from. The game gets two thumbs up from me for including age line options that go from childlike to quite wizened. There are a nice assortment of scars, wounds, and other facial markings, but what impressed me was the ability to change the angle and location of those marks. So, my character Sophie got a shaved eyebrow, black eye, and healing wound on the left side of her face.
Interface and movement
The tutorial levels introduce the interface, but as in any game, the best way to learn the UI is to click everything. I found the UI intuitive and it was easy to find what I needed. It reminded me of PWI’s interface, and the avatar creation was reminiscent of PWI as well. For me, the movement controls were sticky and awkward, though they use the same setup as other games I play. Getting my avatar or mount to turn corners felt like trying to draw a circle on an Etch-a-Sketch.
Low level gameplay
I’ve played Asian MMORPGs off and on for years but these were the most painful low levels I’ve ever had. My avatar died four times, usually fighting quest mobs that seemed overpowered or too quick for my level. I hated the experience of talking with quest NPCs even more. Once you click to talk with them, a full-screen dialogue with a toon of the NPC appears, completely removing you from the action of the game. And the cut scenes… oh, the endless cut scenes! I try to absorb the lore of a game the first time I play it, but the cut scene and NPC chat ratio to actual game time is unbalanced in the early levels. Plus, many abilities are tied to how many available Labor Points you have. These generate over time or are part of the reward after a kill (and possibly in other ways). In the early levels I often didn’t have enough Labor Points to do what I wanted to, whether it be planting a rubber tree sapling or identifying the details of a new sword.
I only got the beginner mount for my chosen race, a “leomorph”, but he’s pretty cool. ArcheAge has riding mounts and wheeled vehicles, boats and ships, and flying machines. I wish I could have tried more.
I can play TERA on maximum graphic settings and run Second Life on Ultra — my desktop computer and my graphics card aren’t outdated. ArcheAge crashed my system twice before I turned down the graphics and once afterward. I wasn’t greatly impressed by the graphic quality before or after lowering them. The initial area for the race I chose is dusty and desert-like and many textures on clothing and in the environment looked flat, though the towns were nice.
One of the unusual things about ArcheAge is the way that you choose a class. You choose one skillset when you start, add another after a few levels, and then choose a third at level 10. Then, you are told what your class is called, based on the skills you’ve chosen, and you can change paths at any time. My choices dubbed me a Caretaker. Well, great. Let me farm and raise livestock and craft, and stop making me wander around killing things. In National chat when people were looking for groups, they were still asking for the basic classes such as healer and DPS (damage per second; team players that help kill bosses faster). It made me wonder what the game would be like for those who chose to build a class outside of the usual silos.
Crafting, farming, housing
I barely got to start exploring this. I had gathered a lot of seeds and plants, but I didn’t have time to plant them at a public farm and wait for a harvest. I did a little metalworking and alchemy. There seems to be a large variety of plants that can be gathered or farmed, and I would have liked to do more with that than killing giant poisonous scorpions or reanimated skeletons. It’s a matter of gameplay choice. Others probably love the fighting system and are bored when they have to gather or craft, but I was hoping to take a non-warrior path.
In the middle of one cut scene, an outlaw leader lecturing to his band of brigands declared that they do not rob honest merchants and that they do not rape. I did a physical double-take. The mention of sexual violence was unnecessary and made me suddenly, uncomfortably, aware of being female. Perhaps, “we don’t harm the innocent” would have been a better choice. Also, it’s unclear to me what advantages subscribing players will have over casual players. In this beta, one of the oddities was that paying players had no obscenity filter in chat. So, you can pay to say “fuck” in National chat? That’s really a stupid perk.
I was disappointed. Sure, most games are lousy in the early levels, but I found basic mechanics to be awkward and annoying. I was enthusiastic about the range of plants I was collecting and that suggested that I might like the game later on, but I don’t know how much of a slog — interrupted by frequent deaths — it would take to get there. Even if the game didn’t crash my system, I’m not sure if I’d play it again. I’ll keep my eyes open for future beta announcements and consider it.
*ArcheAge was released last year in Korea. This is a beta for the English localized version.