Sunday, October 26, 2014

Initial Impressions: Archeage

Whoa. Where did Archeage come from and why did I not know about it? It is has so many things I've wanted from an MMO. Housing? Check and its non-instanced. Territory control? Check. Open world PvP? Check. Boats? Check. Pirates? Check. Beautifully rendered breasts? Discount double check.

I've had a couple weeks now to play around with Archeage and I've determined two things: I'm going to like this game and I'm going to hate this game. It is that sort of love/hate relationship one has with their spouse. On one hand you love the idea of them, but on the other hand there are some details and quirks that are going to drive you crazy which in an odd roundabout way are what seal the deal.

The first item to be noticed is the ! and ?. I am still surprised to this day by this staple that seems to have been set by the behemoth World of Warcraft. Yet, it is intimately familiar to me at this point in my gaming life and I fell right into the rhythm of hopping from quest hub to quest hub. The quest design is basic: go here and kill X rats. In fact, Archeage’s base quests make any quest in the original World of Warcraft look like a masterpiece in comparison. Archeage quests are serviceable, but are uninspired. They serve best as a guide from area to area and as a medium to introduce some game mechanics. Past that the quests are painfully bland. Fortunately I’ve yet to find a quest that takes more than a matter of minutes to clear.

While doing quests it does not take long for a player to run face first into the labor point system of Archeage. Again, the love/hate relationship becomes apparent. In simplest terms the labor point system is a tertiary “mana pool” which allows players to complete actions. At first it seems like the system is limited to crafting and gathering as both require the use of labor points. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that labor points are a means for Archeage to artificially slow down players; specifically those not paying to play.

For a non-subscriber labor points are only regained while actively online. For subscribers, called patrons, labor points refresh while offline as well. Labor points are used for gathering, crafting, and most unfortunately for basic loot acquisition. Enemies drop coin purses which require labor points to open. As a non-subscriber I have hundreds of unopened coin purses. Labor points are a constant reminder that I’m not paying to play the game and are a limiting factor at every turn.

Yet, with all the negatives of the labor point system it is still conceptually brilliant. In fact, I fully applaud the system in regards to crafting. It makes gathering and crafting into a community project. No single player has the labor points to drive an entire industry. Time and number of participants is as important as actual components. Losses incurred on the open seas or in defeat can have actual weight. At a high level I cannot yet verify how the system plays out, but at face value it is promising and something I’d like to see developed further in the MMO sphere.

Another feature that new players run into fairly quickly is the housing system of Archeage. Throughout the world there are plots where players can place houses and gardens. An experienced MMO player will quickly realize these areas for what they are but I suspect newer players to MMO could wander through them without a clue in the world that what they are seeing is completely player driven. I don’t have many details on how the housing system works, but I do know it’s one of my goals playing. From chat channel spam about plots being sold to online arguments about hackers stealing plots it is evident that housing is serious business in Archeage.

Speaking of details; that is one of Archeage’s biggest weaknesses. The game provides the little in explanation in either pop ups or in game feedback systems. Yes, the basics are explained, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked something which cost me precious labor points which had I known would cost me labor points I’d never have clicked on.

There are other things that don’t make much sense. The Auction House is poorly explained and clearly subject to the abuse of bots that can outbid at the last moments of every auction. There are vendors for everything which makes me wonder how weakened the end game economy is in regards to player production. If everything I need can be purchased via a vendor and then grown in my own garden or a public garden somewhere then why would I ever look to the economy to provide me these items.

I’ll be honest that there is A LOT for me to learn about the game. I haven’t even touched PvP. My experience of boating is limited to a single quest. I don’t know why my mount has to gain experience. I see folks rolling around in tractors and at a level I know they are performing trade runs of some sort. I see flashes in the chat log that areas are going to war. I see senior artisans proclaiming their 45,000+ crafting skill level and looking for work. I watch Youtube videos of epic open seas warfare between pirates and non-pirates. I hear there are castle sieges and I see LFG broadcasts for folks going to war. I think I’m part of a certain faction but that’s not really clearly explained during character creation. I have randomly seen “reds” in towns I’ve been to which has resulted in a flood of whooping and hollering.

There appears to be a lot of things I will like in Archeage. I just need to get through the leveling and gearing up and determine how much I can enjoy as a free 2 play member of Archeage society. If I am driven to subscription in order to capitalize on many of the features I want to enjoy then the deal is likely broken. If through my moderate play time I can remain free 2 play then I am likely to stick around and drop a few dollars here and there on transactions.