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The Virtual World Draw Never Fades

Egads, I'm weak; I actually bought the required founders pack that allows me to play ArcheAge 24/7.  That pack had a $150 price tag attached ($162 after taxes) which is a truly ridiculous amount of money to pay for any game.  However, I rationalized that it only works out to $30 once you deduct the post-release cash shop money ($75 worth) and 3-month subscription ($50 worth), and this is disregarding some other minor frills that come in the package.
I think I passed this realization about a decade ago.
Should it turn out that I am wrong about ArcheAge, and it fails to captivate me for at least 3 months after release, I hope that the cash shop money will be good for other Trion Worlds games.  If it turns out to be a complete loss, then it will be the second largest hunk of change that I ever wasted on an MMORPG.  (The first largest being a $250 lifetime subscription to Star Trek Online that I ended up never playing after release... at least I was supporting a new studio.)

Truth be told, I think ArcheAge probably had me fished in after I participated in closed beta 2.  Much of week following the end of the beta was spent on Twitch streams watching other people play it.  Instead of staving off the urge, watching ArcheAge being played merely fueled my temptation.  Considering I ended up buying it anyway, I sort of regret not doing so sooner... I probably could have saved $15 that was spent resubscribing to WildStar.

The remarkable thing about this is that I'm a repeat MMORPG burnout, I should be done with MMORPGs, and I can see a lot of things wrong with ArcheAge:
  • I knew it was initially developed for a foreign crowd reputed to have a higher tolerance for character progression being a tremendous time sink.  Although Trion Worlds is adjusting the grind to be more friendly with Western audiences, the itemization is currently balanced in such a way that player skill is being trumped by those who have access to hard-to-get items, and I do not believe this will change by release.
  • I also knew that I am not big into hardcore PvP, and that makes up the larger part of the end game.  
  • Most damningly of all, I knew ArcheAge's combat system, the most important game mechanic, was a massive step backwards from the action based combat mechanics to be found in WildStar or even TERA
So why was I willing to overlook all this?
I can overlook a lot of what is wrong with ArcheAge because it does a very import thing that theme park MMORPGs do not: ArcheAge feels worldly.
  • Its geography is made up of nice, big open spaces that do not feel like they're strung together by quest hubs... even though they are.
  • The remaining parts of the zone are largely decked out with in-world housing areas, farming areas, and other such places for players to build their own in-world, non-instanced civilization. You can actually spend most of your game time ignoring the quest hubs, working your farm or trading, and you will gain levels just fine.
  • The very art style of the zones, while spartan in places, nevertheless manages to feel compellingly like you are visiting a world, and not just a theme park.  
  • Crime and punishment is a thing.  The initial sentencing for theft or ganking is not much, a few minutes ranging up to a few hours for major crime sprees.  However, accrued infamy will eventually lead to pirate status, which gets you kicked out of your faction and earns permanent enmity of most of the NPCs in the game. 
  • The vehicular support in ArcheAge is quite advanced.  This includes both a full transportation network (land and sea) as well as player owned mounts, boats, and more.  I have seen boats in the likes of EverQuest and Final Fantasy XI before, but never this kind of support for full naval combat.  Overland, there are cars, airships, and other shared mounts.  You can kick off into your own hang glider at any time, too.  The vehicular support is a little glitchy in places, but probably the most ambitious in any MMORPG I have ever seen.
The developers of ArcheAge really nailed down the soul of what a virtual world sandbox MMORPG is supposed to feel like, even if there are jarring bits of World of Warcraft sticking out of it here and there.
I suppose the lingering threat of being ganked in post-level 30 zones adds a bit to the worldliness as well.  Maybe, before I put down WildStar entirely, I ought to try one of their PvP servers, which are oddly more popular than their PvE servers.  In ArcheAge, there is no choice between PvP and PvE servers, and perhaps this lack of instancing between the two is a necessary part in nailing the virtual world feel.

There's been a few important takeaways here about what makes a virtual world and what goes into my purchase decision, but perhaps the most important takeaway is this: the desire to participate in a truly compelling virtual environment is strong.  Apparently $162-early-access-level strong.  EverQuest NEXT, I'm keeping my eyes on you, as this is something you have a shot at which is actually very easy to screw up, and frankly it's a little disappointing I have to look all the way to South Korea to find something like this.
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