ArcheAge is going to be a divisive game… just not for the reasons you might think. We spent some time with the first of several closed beta events for Trion’s upcoming North American release of the game, and we’re suitably enamored. But there’s a sneaking suspicion we all have about ArcheAge: we’re afraid that its underlying complexity is going to be hidden by the upfront simplicity of its questing and PVE design. In short, too many people are going to skip this one based on the first couple of hours and Trion needs to work with XLGAMES to make the more open-ended aspects of their game stand out at first glance. As the old adage goes: first impressions are everything.
The footage in the video companion to this article (see below) is from the Alpha server, but the two are neck and neck in terms of game version. Trion recently upgraded the ongoing 24/7 alpha server to patch 1.2, a significantly different experience compared to the version Alpha players had been testing. Our own ArcheAge columnist Mark Wilhelm cataloged those changes and what they mean recently, so I won’t belabor the point here. Plainly put, 1.2 is a much more well-rounded and polished game than the earlier versions. Heck, localized English cinematics were enough to make me jump for joy.
No, what occurred to me during this weekend’s test while watching thousands of new players jump into the game for the first time was this: despite the sheer amount of communication from forums, fansites, social media, Trion, XLGAMES, and media… there are a great many people who have no idea what ArcheAge is all about. And what’s more is that the game’s first dozen or more hours don’t really communicate its depth and breadth of scope either.
You can play ArcheAge like you would play World of Warcraft or games of its ilk… just questing along the path, experiencing the story and killing the mobs. And hey, if you’re down with that more power to you! But chances are that many MMO veterans will tire of that shtick before they ever get their own plot of land, raise their own animal, construct their own frigate, or take part in their first castle siege. They’ll stop caring before they find a treasure map, build a sextant, and hire a guild with a fine ship, scuba gear and plenty of harpoons to go treasure hunting.
You can quest, dungeoneer, and PVP your heart out. Or you can farm, fish, craft, cook, and interior design until you might as well change your name to Martha Stewart. ArcheAge is a rare kind of MMO that doesn’t just shoehorn you into the role of constant adventurer. What’s so funny then is that it tries so hard to offer just that with its main story and questing progression. One can tell that XLGAMES and Trion are working hard localize the game, as its NPCs are constantly dropping hints about crafting, boating, piracy, PVP, housing and farming as you work your way through the game’s first 30 or so levels.
But why on earth would they work so tirelessly to offer the kind of PVE experience MMO gamers can get just about anywhere, while the real bread and butter of the game has nothing to do with the scripted sort of adventure? ArcheAge is triumphant blend of styles, activities, and offers so many different things for its players to do. Why then must its players spend a dozen or more hours plodding through storyline and kill quests to get to the good stuff?
The argument could be made players don’t need to do the quests. No one needs to quest in any game, really. But from moment one after character creation, players are led around the world and introduced to its systems via questing. My point is that what this elongated tutorial story does could be accomplished merely by introducing players to these systems sooner. By the time launch hits, veteran Beta and Alpha players and those who stuck through the questing to see the game’s depth will have the leg up on the gaming populace at large. But I’m not concerned about those players liking the game. Their playing is a foregone conclusion. What I’d like to know is how many players from this beta weekend stuck around long enough to get their first boat, to see how integrated crafting is into the fabric of the game and its economy. How many were put on trial, sent to prison, and broke free? How many accidentally stumbled into the Kraken on the open waters, or fell victim to pirates? How many discovered a small plot of land by the ocean and made their own paradise home?
I’m willing to bet that the number of people who saw the true nature of ArcheAge is very few. And if Trion’s English version of the game is to overcome the obstacles of its Korean counterpart, they should keenly look at how to get the many layers of this cake to the forefront of the player’s palette.