17th August 2014
"Asian Fantasy MMOs oh how I love thee!"
In coming to review ArcheAge I should state this upfront: I love Asian PvP MMOs. My first experience with them was Guild Wars and then I really fell in love with AION and despite NCsoft's poor handling of them I was still attached to the beautiful graphics; the character customisation and the feeling of accomplishment over western MMOs which tend to be "easy mode" for leveling. For me it kinda seemed pointless to have a leveling campaign if you could get from level 1 to max level in a couple of days.
ArcheAge however is a blend of traditional Asian PvP MMOs and the new sandpark style MMOS being released at the moment including EverQuest Next and Age of Wushu. And there is quite a lot to play with in this eastern wonderland, from traditional crafting, farming and player housing (non-instanced which is a bonus)through to flying machines, cars, submarines and full on naval combat. The fun pretty much starts as soon as you make a character; as after picking a race and drilling down through all the (granted eastern influenced) looks and character customisation you find yourself at the choice of your initial class. Sounds normal to any MMO right? Well in this case no and for two reasons.
Firstly you will eventually add two other classes to your character as you level; with an initial 10 skill sets this leads to a potential 120 different which is one of the largest number of classes I've seen in an MMO. More importantly however; your classes are not permanent. Don't like how your occultism is working for you? Change it for Shadowplay. Need some more buff capability to go with your Vitalism? Swap out your Archery for Songcraft. You can even switch back and not lose any progress; making it possible for you to learn all 10 specialisations to max level on one character.
Now the combat system isn't a new standard in MMO gaming being somewhat of a hybrid hotkey/archive moment system although it does seem to lack any dodge mechanic which for us non-NA high ping players is probably a bit of a godsend to be honest as they never seem to work as you want them under high ping conditions. However if you are coming to play ArcheAge it isn't the combat that is going to keep you entertained for hours on end, it is all about the crafting and exploration. Want a horse, go buy a foal and raise it. Want a boat? Find blueprints, make a dry dock and build one. House? Farm? Car? Castle? Guilder? All of these are craftable options and each of them also bring something new to the game-play. Horses let you travel faster along with cars and gliders. Houses give you additional storage. Farms let you cultivate animals and crops etc. You can then share a lot of these options with others in various ways.
In fact there is so much game outside of the standard leveling system you can often find yourself lost for an entire weekend doing the additional content and still at the same level you started by the end of it. It can get quite overwhelming especially for completionists. With the closed beta still in progress it is going to be hard to see if this will suit everyone but one thing is for certain; it will certainly peak the interests of those looking for a change.
All this may sound a bit of an endless chore; you won't care too much with your surroundings. ArcheAge uses CryEngine 3; having upgraded back in 2011. Wait? What do I mean back in 2011 - isn't this a new game? That is one of the other things about a westernised Asian MMO; quite often they have been out and running for a number of years and ArcheAge is no exception having been released in Korea for close to 4 years now. So all the usual issues with balance and stabilisation are a non-issue with a mature and still very up to date engine.
I glossed over the combat system but it has to be said given it does lack a sense of impact or real focus damage you get in other games. Combined with some clipping you often end up just spamming the same keys and hoping that your standard train does what you want it to so you can move onto the next mob. This wouldn't be so bad if you could get XP by doing something else and you sort of can with all the crafting and gathering but it pales in comparison to combat XP.
Unfortunately like any Asian MMO it does tend to overdo the whole cutesy panties-clad females with jiggle physics. Whilst there is a slow trend in Western MMOs to move away from this style of women in-game; they are going to be here for the foreseeable future if you like the Asian PvP MMOs. As such most of these MMOs tend to carry a similar stigma to being an ecchi manga fan. This really isn't helped by some of the female character sounds during combat which I swear would be better suited to a Japanese school girl tentacle hentai.
Despite the lackluster combat and the "fan service" stereotypes I still love the game. Especially when I took my first flight over the ocean in a glider to catch up with fellow guides as they charged off to pirate the seas and manages to drop my wings and land on a boat and just join in the fun. With the beautiful Crytek engine making the water sparkle and the sun glittering off the waves I immediately fell in love with the game; especially when you take a bunch of your mates along for the ride with you.