I picked up Archeage (by which I mean, hit “install” on the Steam client) the other day because it came up in conversation. I’d picked it up originally when it launched in the US and quit within fifteen seconds when I realized the game lacked an inverted Y mouse setting. Couldn’t play it, wasn’t going to go to the effort of hacking in some kind of fix, done with the game. Easy.
I loaded it up recently, mostly to check to see if they’d added that feature. A Google search suggested they had, so I booted it up, patched, and hopped in. To my very great surprise, I’m having a surprising amount of fun with it, enough so that I want to put the brakes on playing until I have a chance to run around with Kodra and Thalen.
There’s a nasty catch-22 I’ve noticed in MMOs over the past few years. The bar for content and systemic density is so high right now, and people so invested in their existing MMOs (or not playing any at all), that there’s essentially no hope for a new MMO to compete at the same level as existing games when it’s released. On day one, before there’s been any chance for anyone to hit the servers, for kinks and bugs to be worked out, and so on, most MMOs are pretty rocky. Our standards for “acceptable” rockiness have changed over the years, but so has our expectation for a new entry into the genre as well as the skill of the teams creating them. Put simply, we no longer have MMOs that brick your motherboard on day one, but we’re also no longer willing to tolerate that sort of thing, nor would that sort of thing happen in a modern MMO team.
I say all of this to say that, like a good steak, an MMO isn’t quite finished the moment it leaves the pan. It cooks a little bit more after release, and it’s that little bit of extra that turns an okay game into an excellent one. A year after its release, Elder Scrolls Online is getting rave reviews– all of the changes, fixes, and additions in the game have brought people back, not to mention a shift to free-to-play which, far from the herald of doom the internet pundit crowd likes to crow about, is often a new lease on life for an MMO that has stabilized.
So, Archeage. I hopped in, and after confirming that yes, I can in fact turn on inverted Y and actually play the game, I started running around. A few things stood out to me very quickly:
— This game is built like FFXIV; I can master every class, I just can’t use them all at once.
— There’s a pseudo-deckbuilding component, like Rift, in which I combine various classes to form a custom build. Presumably some of these are better than others, but there’s a lot of potential room for experimentation, and it’s easy to move them around.
— The visuals are impressive and not overwrought, especially the animations.
— There is an absolutely insane level of content density, from random interactable activities to hidden quests to standard quests that I can overachieve in, to detailed story quests, to fully integrated climbing and boating systems… all of which I’m not only allowed to do, but the game encourages me to do very early on.
I like the idea of mastering every class, provided there’s some tangible benefit to me doing so. It’s something that’s stopped me from playing all of the classes up to max level in FFXIV– not just the time involved, but that I already have my favorite classes to play, which fit any role I might want to fill, and there’s very little I would get from leveling up another class. The only thing that gets me really excited about leveling a new class in FFXIV is if it has some really fun gameplay elements or suits a theme I like a lot. I leveled Ninja, and I’ll likely level Dark Knight as a replacement for my Paladin. In Archeage, my “build” is comprised of three classes, so there’s a lot of benefit to me having focused on a few and slowly increasing my repertoire to be more flexible and be able to create more builds. I’ll need to spend more time with it, but at least what I’ve seen is promising. At some point I’ll sit down and start theorycrafting good, functional builds, but I want a better handle on how the game feels before I do so. It feels a lot less contrived and unwieldy than Rift, which is a very good thing in my book. I loved the concept in that game, but not the execution.
The animations are really impressive, and I find them a lot of fun. I have never enjoyed warrior-style classes, because I feel bulky and inelegant, wielding a huge weapon with brute force and no finesse. I’m currently playing a warrior in Archeage, because the dual wielding style is graceful and feels powerful, even though the two-handed weapon animations feel brute-force-focused and smashy. At least as far as I’ve gotten, the game feels like it’s going to let me play the skillful swordsman type of character that I’ve always enjoyed but rarely gotten to play, substituting speed and finesse for brute force, and actually making it feel that way in the character animations. When I hit a mob with a warrior ability, I FEEL it, and that’s incredibly satisfying to me.
I’ve played through the first ten levels of the game thus far, and it’s striking to me how much there seems to be to do. There are entire systems that the game hasn’t introduced to me yet but that I can see portions of as I play. There’s a currency that accrues over time spent in game that I use to access my loot drops, which is a clever system for a variety of reasons but also ties in with crafting and gathering, as far as I can tell. The game is very open, and while I’ve spent a bunch of time simply following the main quests, every time I venture off the beaten path I find something at least somewhat interesting. The game seems tuned to give you key systems early on, then expand them as time goes on. I’ve raised my own horse and can ride around mounted now, but my horse has levels and can get attacked by enemies– I have a follower who benefits from watching me fight but is a potential liability. It’s an interesting trade-off that adds just a bit of interesting flow to gameplay.
Right now I’ve gone the path of the fast, agile swordsman, taking Warrior, Rogue, and a secondary skillset called Auramancy, which seems to be focused on resistances and shedding debuffs but importantly includes a Blink-style teleport spell, one of my favorite tools in any MMO. We’ll see if the content density continues to be compelling, but I get the impression the game hasn’t finished showing me what it’s got to offer.
It may be a bit before I continue updating, but I’ll continue talking about Archeage as long as I continue playing it. I’ve already made it past the point where a lot of people quit in disgust due to the initially toxic community, but a year on, things seem to have settled down. The odds that I’ll be able to ever have my own property seem slim, because space for that sort of thing seems to be in short supply, but we’ll see if that’s something I care about.
Source: Digital Initiative
Tam Tries: Archeage (levels 1-10)