I was lucky enough to be given access to the Korean Closed Beta Test 3 of ArcheAge, which is going on still today and tomorrow, but being in the NA I found myself waking up at three this morning to make sure I was logging in at the right time. XLGames has been making ArcheAge as a labor of love since 2006, and though I’ve barely scratched the surface so far (due to time constraints and that whole “it’s in Korean thing) I’m starting to believe Jake Song’s got another Lineage on his hands. Yes the times have definitely changed since L1 rocked the Asian market and found a considerable following in the US and abroad. But ArcheAge uses the CryEngine well and seems to be a healthy blend of both theme-park MMO questing and sandbox crafting. Now bear in mind that I’ve only tip-toed my way to level five, which is hardly long enough to gauge the full game, and also remember that I was playing the Korean client and faced a significant language barrier. Even so I found ArcheAge to be very familiar and easy to pick up, but containing plenty of depth that I was left wanting an English translation posthaste.
ArcheAge seems like a pretty standard Fantasy setting, with your basic MMO controls. It’s plain to see that the team knows their audience, and doesn’t want to scare them off with something too alien. That said, I found the UI and the controls both responsive and easy to delve into even with the language barrier. Most games that allow click to move controls usually have terrible WASD controls, but I’m pleased to report that it’s not the case here. But let’s back up a bit. Character creation is standard fare, from picking a race (I stuck with the Nuians/Humans because cat people and elves just aren’t my thing) to picking hair, colors, and facial markings. Right now at least there’s no super in-depth character modeling to be done, which is a bit saddening. In beta at least, everyone pretty much looks the same unless you’re one of the few who actually chooses the Heath Ledger as the joker face make-up for your character (I’m not kidding). I suspect a lot of the face options are just placeholders, or I hope so.
The real icing for character creation isn’t in the looks; it’s in the class system. Basically ArcheAge is broken down into ten categories of Abilities. As a player you’ll select three at character creation which will determine what kind of class you are. For an example a standard “Warrior” is composed of the abilities Fight, Adamant, and Will. Meanwhile a Priest would have Will, Romance, and Love. You can pick from pre-determined mixes like this or you can mix any three to create your own unique class. Each set of abilities determines what skills you’ll have access to, so it’s entirely feasible to make a class that’s part warrior, part healer, and part mage. I can’t tell from my few hours of play, but it seems like any combination would be viable, though obviously some would be better suited to certain roles.
Once in-game it becomes immediately apparent that the tried and true quest design of ?’s and !’s is alive and well in ArcheAge. This might turn off some, but I suspect that it was done again with the idea of giving players something familiar that’s proven to work. You’ll collect things, kill things, deliver this and talk to this person. It’s all very standard. But there’s also quests which trigger well animated cinematics, and I’m pretty sad that I don’t understand a lick of Korean because they’re fully voiced. One was pretty cute in that I came upon a child who was climbing a tree far too tall for her. She fell, I talked with her, and was convinced by her cuteness to climb it myself and grab whatever glowing thing she was clamoring for. Another had me conversing with a ghost about his past life and the betrayal that caused him to lose everything. He even pointed his murderer’s face out to me, and guess what I got to do? Kill that SOB for some healthy comeuppance. Not all quests are triggered by talking to NPCs as you might expect. It seems that some come to you just by exploring an area. A little dialog box will pop over your character’s head and you’ll be prompted with a new quest, like thinning a herd of wild animals that may be plaguing a town or something along those lines.
One of the more interesting aspects ArcheAge, if not its biggest selling point, I was only able to barely delve into: the crafting. Basically it looks as though players will be able to truly change the landscape of the world, both by cutting down trees, planting new ones, picking away at rocks, building houses, and even massive ships to sail on the oceans. In this way, it seems like ArcheAge is really blending the traditional quest-based MMO with the free-form player-run worlds we’ve been craving. I wish I could tell you more, but I did little else besides cut down trees and the like. You can read some basics on the game’s official English site. There’s a whole lot of stuff that goes into building houses and the like, and because of a sort of “crafting mana” called Labor Power players will have to work together to accomplish big goals, making crafting a truly social thing. Of course, you could always whore yourself out and ask to be paid for your work, and there’s nothing wrong with that… unless it’s a guildie you should be helping for free.
Then there’s the horses. Very few MMOs give you a horse early on, and even fewer allow you to use it for anything but running places. ArcheAge does both. Your horse has levels, gains new skills, and can be equipped. It also has health, can be used in combat to boot enemies, you can swipe down at people from it and cast spells on its back, and oh yeah… it can die too. But fear not, you just visit a local stable and resurrect the poor beast for a fee. Not enough games give this must attention to mounts, and I’m glad to see that players will be able to become attached to their transportation as well as ride into battle upon them. One other person can even hitch a ride with you on your horse, which is pretty handy at times when you find someone who might have killed theirs and you feel like being a good Samaritan.
There are a few important things that I took away from ArcheAge’s CBT3. The primary one is that I can’t wait for an English release, because I’d really like to see it in action on more familiar terms. But I also now know that the game looks great, runs well (despite heavy latency being so far from the servers), and has a considerable amount of depth to pour into. The world seems massive, and I was very glad to have a horse, and to see that mountains and the like can be climbed often so there are no real artificial barriers to exploration. I was also pleased to see trees fall after I cut them, watch players plant new trees, and see rocks crumble when I mined them.
I think that there will be a few folks who are disappointed by the standard quest-based PvE, but hopefully the crafting and other aspects will shine through. The PvP is still up in the air, as I got nowhere near that part of the game in my short time, but if this game is from the man behind Lineage I expect we’re in for a treat. This doesn’t appear to be your typical Asian MMO which won’t appeal to Western audiences. And while I’m not prepared to call it “The Next Big Thing”, MMORPG fans have ample reason to look forward to this one. I just hope the same level of quality I saw in the first few levels carries on into the whole game.