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ArcheAge: First Impressions

By the time I reached level 15 in WildStar, I was thoroughly tired of the same old activities.  The combat was great, but what's the point?  I was just running from quest hub to quest hub.  When I purchased a mount, they had the audacity to have it decrease my movement speed: riding one nullifies the speed buffs available to Settlers or Explorers, which means players on foot move faster.  I suppose that it's little wonder I kept rerolling at that level, as a double whammy of those speed buffs becoming less available and mounts providing a poor replacement meant the pace of the entire game began to drag heavily.  Now, considering where I was trying to get was just to the next quest hub, the slow speed of travel is just insult to injury.

By the time I reached level 15 in ArcheAge, the quest line had already given me a free horse that substantially boosted my move speed - the developers weren't worried, their world was large enough that there was plenty of geography to travel.  I had also been given a rowboat, which allowed me to travel out into a vast sea if I wanted to, but a larger ship would be ideal.  I had also been introduced to trade routes, long slow treks for a good payout, and this tied into farming that was every bit as sophisticated as Farmville but without the obnoxious micro-payments.
The zones convey a wonderful sense of space,
while enticing players come along and fill it.

Make no mistake, ArcheAge still had a long line of quests and quest hubs you could do if you wanted to.  Compared to WildStar, the average quest in ArcheAge is overwhelmingly rudimentary, with simple goals and foes idling around fields with little reason or supporting props.  However, as I progressed towards level 20, it became clear that these quests were rudimentary for a reason: they are not the reason players will play this game.

This is because, at heart, ArcheAge is a sandbox game the likes of which we have not seen since Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, although perhaps it is closer to Shadowbane with its end-game PvP feature set and general lack of fauna (as quest monsters are not realistically deployed enough to count).  Scattered even about the starting zones, were the trappings of a virtual world sandbox.  Perhaps foremost is a number of housing zones that are intended to attract players to place houses and farms around.  There are also various resource nodes scattered around, intended to supply players who are interested in crafting, but never are you actually directed by a quest to go get them.  The housing, resources, and player economy are wholly parts of the virtual world sandbox open world approach to the game.

Perhaps the most poignant artifact of the virtual world focus in ArcheAge is the implementation of "labor points."  You earn these for spending time logged in... if you're a subscriber, also for time spent logged out.  Labor points are spent on any task that advances a crafting skill, but includes more than just crafting items: building a house, mining resources, or completing trade runs.  It is an interesting mechanic in that it levels the playing field substantially, allowing people who play all day to produce only as much worthwhile things as subscribers people who can only log in during the evening.   It should also create an interesting player-driven economy because producing things takes more than simply acquiring the materials and mashing the craft button: it now requires the investment of time that labor points represent.

Naval battles?!  Naval battles.
Thus far, I am fairly impressed by ArcheAge.  The virtual world aspects do a lot to make up for the fact that the combat is a step back from WildStar.  I would say that the combat is not quite as good as Rift, which had greater balance and sophistication in its soul trees.  Otherwise, ArcheAge has very much the same system with no class commitment, and this gives it a little more substance than World of Warcraft.  Yet, as I marvel at player-built civilizations and simply enjoy the feel of worldliness enough to actually want to do a slow walk through it moving trade goods, the combat engine strikes me as good enough, a secondary concern.

I am a little concerned that its hardcore endgame activity will involve a lot of world PvP events, and the justice system gives gankers little more than a slap on the wrist.  Yet, if I really wanted to be a total carebear, I could hang around in safe areas of non-PvP continents, mind the farm, and do trade runs all day.  Besides, death does not really carry much of a sting, it's not like I'll lose all my equipment for being ganked.

But then, I've not really allowed myself to run the game into the ground by playing a ton of alternate characters, as I did to poor WildStar.  It would be hard to ruin ArcheAge in the same way, since I can change my character's class assignment in much the same way as in Rift.  Yet, as much as I want to forgive WildStar I think the fundamental fact remains that it is not a virtual world sandbox in the ways ArcheAge is.  I like Carbine Studios, they're good people, but they really should not have made yet another theme park.

ArcheAge's second closed beta event is going on from July 30th to August 4th, 2014.   Of course, the non-disclosure agreement has been dropped, or I would not be blogging about it right now.  The official release date of this game has yet to be announced, but is speculated to be some time in September.  It will be free to play (with micro-payments) on release, but if you want to play on the alpha server, which is available between closed beta events, the cost is a whopping $150 for an "Archeum" level founders pack.

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