ArcheAge: A new world to conquer

If only ArcheAge Unchained had the foresight to release LAST week, when I actually had time to sit down and play. This week? This week has been nonstop work and cleaning (we are throwing a Halloween party for the kids on Saturday) and generally feeling exhausted. That makes it tough when you want to sit down to try out this new game that you’ve basically never played but your body is screaming at you “SLEEP ALREADY!”

So it was probably a good thing that Unchained’s first night featured a lot of queues and a server that didn’t even go online until much later in the evening. I made a character — Sypsonia — and left her twiddling her fingers on the character select screen while I lumbered off to bed.

Also, the above image that happened in a slowly-loading character creation screen did very little to help me sleep soundly that night. The eyeballs. The eyeballs will haunt me forever.

Hey queues! I remember these things. They are a good excuse to watch an episode of something and surf TV Tropes on important fact finding missions.

Finally on Wednesday night, I got an hour and a half to play. The game was really packed and hopping, of course, but I was quickly relieved due to three things:

  1. ArcheAge has a very traditional — and familiar — MMO user interface and control scheme, so at least I was starting from what I knew.
  2. I never really had to fight with other players for mobs or quest objectives. The respawn rates were quick and everything was nicely spread out in the newbie zone.
  3. I found a pretty cool guild almost right off the bat named Ink. Started by an artist, of course. They were instrumental in answering a barrage of questions from me and other AA newbies.

It also helped that I’ve really fallen in love with the look of my character. I went with heavier makeup on Sypsonia than I normally do on MMO characters, just a touch of goth, and I really like it. I also threw a costume on her at an early opportunity so she didn’t look like a poor newbie. Now she looks like what I imagine Syl does when she goes on adventures.

The cutscenes labored to tell a story here, but that was probably the weakest part of that opening night. Sometimes I heard English, sometimes Korean, and everything happened in weird little story fragments. Plus, a bug kept the game from displaying my character’s name in dialogue, instead listing me as PLAYER_NPC_01 or somesuch.

I was told by my guildies that class experimentation is one of the more fun parts of the game, so I just started to mix-and-match what I thought looked interesting. I’m going with a spellcaster who also has some bardic skills to see how that flows. The magic effects have a nice zing to them, and I was one-shotting stuff all over the intro areas.

One thing I did have to learn — I haven’t done a lot of research on the game, I really should — was how labor works. It’s a little odd, since it’s used for harvesting, crafting, opening loot bags, and who knows what else, but I kind of like how it keeps trickling in and encourages other activities when the labor pool is depleted.

For an hour-and-a-half, I felt like I accomplished a lot. I moved through a few quest hubs, I farmed mobs for a while, I got up to level 7, I started my mount quest (weird looking things, those), I got a second combat skillset, I found a guild, I claimed my founder’s package, and I explored the UI and options.

Next up for me is to buckle down and do some proper research on what I should be doing as a beginner. I really do want a house in the game some day, and I’m sure everyone’s going to be blitzing ahead of me to get theirs, but I’ll just proceed on the assumption that there will be at least one little plot of land that has my name written on it.

Did ArcheAge just undo its greatest weakness?

Once upon a time, it seemed as though ArcheAge was going to be the Next Great Coming of the MMO Sandbox. People were salivating and jittering with excitement over the import of this already-proven fantasy title from Korea, especially those who wanted a fuller and more flexible gaming experience. It’s hard to remember this, but for a good couple of years there, ArcheAge was mentioned in hushed tones of reverence as the savior of MMORPGs.

And then it arrived, and while it had the content, it also came with an absolutely horrible business model that greatly segregated the community between subscribers and free players. Trion’s handling of ArcheAge went downhill from there, with horrible decisions and PR blunders coming left and right. The community as a whole became a shouty, frothy mass of humanity and sane people left the game in droves. It became a textbook example of how a bad business model could make a good game terrible.

Last week, new owner Gamigo announced that it was going to try to undo at least some of the big mistakes that ArcheAge experienced in the past by launching a new server type that will be a buy-to-play model with no pay-to-win cash shop or subscription options. Now, I am not as knowledgeable with AA to speak with any great authority on whether or not this will solve the game’s woes and restore its reputation — in fact, I have a feeling that the community will gnash its teeth about this and never allow any chance of redemption.

But for me? It might be a game changer. It might actually make me want to try this game out, especially now that the energy mechanic is normalized and housing is available to all. There’s still PvP and limited housing and other issues… but this has always seemed like a game world worth exploring. I guess it really depends on the price point of the game and any further revelations of this model.

It’s kind of like that scene from Arrested Development, where the Bluth Company is upgraded from a “sell” to a “don’t buy” on a stock advice show and everyone in the family goes nuts over not being the absolute worst any more. “Don’t buy! Don’t buy!” It’s a step up for ArcheAge, at least, and probably a wise move from Gamigo to try to undo some of the damage caused to what is, from all reports, a flexible and captivating game.

What do you think? Is this too little, too late, or did this announcement get you to reconsider ArcheAge as a future play?

ArcheAge: Tutorial blues

ScreenShot0001One of my gradual goals with this new computer is to load up my MMO-designated SSD drive with several titles to play as my whim dictates. A sample platter of online games, as it were. I don’t want to get so stuck into a rut of titles that I never take breaks to see what else is out there.

So far I loaded Anarchy Online and ArcheAge (am I doing this alphabetically? I do not know). The latter’s been on my list to try out for a good while now, especially now that we’re far past the post-launch drama. Of course, AA never seems to be too far from dramaville, but oh well. I want to see what everyone was raving about eight months ago.

I rolled up a magic-user named Syppi and jumped with both feet into the tutorial. Well, I say “tutorial,” but it really was only that in the loosest sense of the term. What it actually was was a parent who says they’re going to let their kid play, but only does so for about two seconds before grabbing the controller back because they don’t think the kid can handle it.

Seriously, this was the worst tutorial I’ve played in a long time. It kept repeating a pattern:

  • Give me an incredibly simple objective, usually directed with flashing arrows, that could be finished with a single button press.
  • Then the game took over for another three-minute cutscene in which my character fought, flew, talked, and did generally heroic things.
  • Another objective accomplished within a few seconds!
  • Another three-minute cutscene!

This went on for 30 flipping minutes. It didn’t help that often the character meshes didn’t pop in, leaving characters with blank faces and bodies, nor that the voice acting was… lackluster, to put it as nicely as possible.

Maybe there was a way to skip all of that and just play? But by the time I was dumped into the game proper, I about had it for the night. A crash to desktop a minute later seemed to be an omen to play something else.

On the plus side, yes, it’s a pretty game with some nice armor designs, and I still want to dig into it. But as a teaching and interactive experience, the tutorial fails at being engaging and entertaining.

ArcheAge PR speak

“In ArcheAge, we are now seeing an increase over time in our player base, but many players, old and new, have requested a way to bring together more players on each server.”

~ From the “official server evolution” FAQ

Guys! People! We didn’t want to merge — and we are NOT merging, just “evolving” here — but you all demanded it! It’s your fault! We have more people, so why wouldn’t we merge and take away your hard-earned housing plots? This makes sense!

Picture of the Day: Silliest mount ever

rabbitmountsI’ve seen a lot — a LOT — of silly and bizarre mounts in MMOs, most of which I can excuse under the pretense of “fantasy” and “fun.” But this one… whew. I’m sorry, I hit a mental speed bump when I saw it and crashed to a halt.

Is this the worst and/or silliest mount ever designed? A giant rabbit?

A few problems here:

  1. Rabbits are prey creatures that are prone to flight and/or freezing in fear when confronted with any predator, which fantasy worlds have in abundance.
  2. Does the rabbit walk/run, which it isn’t designed to do? Or does it hop incessantly, causing extreme motion sickness and whiplash for the rider?
  3. Does the presence of a shirt and hat denote some sort of sentient intelligence going on here, in which case I have to wonder why this smart hare is allowing someone to ride on its back? Or is it just the owner dressing up its pet like a grandma does to her little shivering rat-dogs?
  4. What accounts for the rabbit gigantism in ArcheAge and why doesn’t the entire population eat rabbit stew every night as a result?

ArcheAge: We don’t serve your kind in here!

aaThere’s no doubt that the ArcheAge beta is some kind of popular right now, and I have no reason to think that the launch won’t be a big event.  Whether or not I’ll be playing is still up for debate, however, as it’s dependant on two factors: If free players will be able to obtain housing (last I heard Trion was talking about this) and if the studio will create a PvE-only server.

Because frankly I do not want to roll on one of the current servers.  The community is downright toxic from many reports that I’ve been hearing, and I think that the griefing potential of PvP activities is contributing greatly to that.  The downside to sandboxes: there are just so many more ways you can screw with other players than kill them in mindless combat.  In alpha — where you had to pay $150 to get in, I might remind you — there have been stories of jerks trying to outdo each other and chat channels that must be moderated by Satan, or at least Jerry Springer.

I don’t want to be a part of that.  If I’m going to play the game, I want to be able to explore the entire world without worry that someone would think it was funny to sink my trade ship an hour into a journey.  So I went on the official forums (I know, I broke Syp Rule #1) to see if there was any movement for a PvE server.  What I found was pretty illuminating in regard to the current ArcheAge culture as a whole.

You would think that a request for a PvE server would be met with a reasonable “why not?” from the community, but nope.  There’s sheer hostility and panicked entreaties for the studio to do no such thing.  It would ruin the spirit of the game!  It’s not how ArcheAge is meant to be played!  Don’t cater to those stupid carebears, we don’t want their kind in here — or if we do, they should be fair game!

“Let the people who like the pvp play on a pvp server and the people who like pve enjoy the immersive world of Archeage peacefully,” the original poster said.

The responses?

  • “In my opinion, ‘PVE server’ goes against everything that AA stands for.”
  • “I am sure you can enjoy the game without actually PvPing as well. However, you’ll just have to be very careful and cautious. But hey, if you are in dire need of protection and don’t fancy fighting players yourself, you can always hire someone to protect you!”
  • “Just hope not, the game is all about PvP, so Carebaears just don’t join ArcheAge”
  • “PvP is integral part of the game and removing it makes the game pointless.”
  • “TRION already knows it has a niche player base and will likely not deviate from PvP, which is what the majority wants.”
  • “We need people who do not want to play on a PVP server on a PVP server, that way the ‘good guys’ will have someone to protect.”
  • “If you’re in a sandbox, you should damn well be able to kick down sand castles in every area, rather than be unable to in certain areas.”
  • “However, the core of the game is designed with the threat of PVP in mind. Without that element, you will be playing a broken game and you will end up getting bored of it very fast.”
  • “They won’t create PVE servers even it that could give them 1000% more revenue because they don’t want the game to have PVE servers. Believe me when i say, if you hate your gameplay being interrupted by gankers, then don’t bother with this or any game that was created with PVP as its essence.”
  • “It’s frustrating to be doing trade runs to get ganked by 5 higher level people. I can understand that. But it’s what this game is practically built on. The PvE aspect of the game isn’t very strong. “

It keeps going with all kinds of conflicting logic.  I love the “we need you carebears to protect!” line because when have you ever seen “heroic” players defend those just trying to play the game they want?  I’ll be ganked by both groups, morelike.

What I get from the anti-PvE crowd is that they are definitely threatened by the notion of a PvE server because that will take the gankees away from them.  I mean, if your PvP server is so wonderful and contains the full ArcheAge experience, wouldn’t people WANT to play on it if given the choice?  No, you know that they’ll choose to cut PvP out of their sandbox experience as when Trammel went live for Ultima Online.  Having a PvE server isn’t threatening unless you know that it will be more popular and suck sheep away from your hunting grounds.  I think these posters know that and fear it.

“Sandbox” doesn’t have to mean “always containing the threat of PvP.”  If you like player conflict, it’s cool, and I am all for you having a place to do it.  But I’d love to play in a sandbox world that doesn’t have it.  So I’m holding out hope that Trion will evaluate the beta culture and create a server for PvErs.  At least in my case, it will be a major deciding factor whether or not I’ll play, and I’m OK with saying that.

ArcheAge is starting to win me over

Yes, you can play soccer in prison.  This blows my mind for some reason.
Yes, you can play soccer in prison. This blows my mind for some reason.

At this point in my life, I do not need to hear, read, or see anything more about ArcheAge.  It does not help that I work at Massively and am sometimes required to write about this upcoming Korean sandbox import, but I do my best by plugging my ears and going “LALALALA!” while I type.

The thing is, this game was barely on my radar for years since I first heard about it.  “Sandbox” and “Korean” aren’t catalysts for my interest, although they’re not repellant either.  I just figured, fine, it’ll be another Age of Wushu or TERA or whathaveyou, and I will live in peace with it being played by other people and me playing what I want.

But slowly and steadily ArcheAge has gone from the fringes of my attention to a fast-pass into the center.  I keep reading articles and seeing videos that make me go, “Yeah, dang, that is cool!”  I think what I’m realizing is the major selling point of ArcheAge is that there is such a wide breadth of activities to do that it’s much more like a living world than MMOs that claim to have a living world.  Yesterday I was salivating over a ship video where they were showing all of the different types you can craft and use, and even something small like the realistic bobbing of the ocean waves (and your character/ship on them) resonated strongly with me.  I want to rowboat my way down a coastline, darn it.

And the mix-and-match class setup?  Housing and farming and all that jazz?  Honestly, the only thing that’s repelling me at this point is that you can’t own a house as a free-to-play gamer (you can “share” one with a subscriber), which sucks.  I didn’t expect that limitation from Trion, since RIFT has an incredibly generous F2P setup that includes housing.

So ArcheAge definitely moved up to a “must play” status for me, especially now that we know it’s coming this year.  The founder’s packs?  I think they’re really overpriced, although perceived value depends on the player and specific interest.  I’d be all about the head start if F2P players could use it to get in and grab a house, but… nope.  And this game will really need to be something else for me to sub up.  Otherwise, I can live without dropping $150 on a virtual product that’s selling alpha and beta access.