Once we'd finished with character creation, the Trion peeps jacked us up to level 60 and filled our inventories with tasty goodies. Among the sexy schwag, I was immediately smitten with two things: gliders and mount armor. Gliders are mounts (of a sort) that look something like Steampunk kites. They're not the kind of thing with which you'd travel long distances cross-country, but jumping off a high mountain peak with one of them is an unforgettable experience. Even better, you can use your guns while gliding to strafe ground targets. Seriously, my little Occultist was just about ready to give up questing and become a full-time adrenaline junkie. (The only issue with gliding is that when you're doing it, the camera points right at your character's crotch. To me, not a good thing.)
I could have spent the whole time finding things to glide off of, but Trion next supplied me with some incredible horse armor and a noble steed to put it on. Mounts in ArcheAge gain experience and levels just like you do, which is already cool. Add to that the fact that you can collect different armor pieces for mounts and I, for one, am hooked. (I also love that two people can ride the same mount. I predict this feature will become part of many in-game weddings.)
These things all up ArcheAge's attractiveness quotient in a big way, as does the fact that you can climb things (trees, poles, the rigging on the side of ships). The biggest thing for me though, is that you can wear costumes and armor at the same time. During the event, Trion gave my Nuian a special fancy ball outfit, complete with long, frilly dress and elaborate hat. I was shocked to see that upon donning it, my armor stayed in place. This might not be a big thing for some people, but I totally loved that my character could ride around being heroic in a fancy ball gown without risking her neck. Also, the pirate-y look of the dress helped make our next experience all the more fun.
We were ported to a beach where several of us took our ships out of our pockets (belief here must needs be suspended) and tossed them into the harbor. Choosing to be a crew member instead of a captain, I swam out to one that looked a bit like a Chinese junk, and climbed the rigging to the deck like an old sea dog. The idea (we were told) was to sail the Sunspeck Sea until we roused the legendary Kraken. I took up position at the cannon and practiced my aim as the captain steered round and round a solitary island. The Kraken failed to appear, so I sat on the plank (as in “walk the”) and watched the waves go by. We did that for another half hour or so, and don't know what we did wrong, but damn if that Kraken never showed up.
In lieu of a giant sea monster to shoot at, some of our group staged a cannon battle among ships. Having had my fill of ships for the time being, I dove off the side and swim to the island. I'd hoped for dangerous natives or undead pirates, and was disappointed at the lack of buzz in that area. Still, it gave me time to check out other features of ArcheAge.
Poking through the game's menus, I was aghast at the number of different skills and activities they offered. There are six languages in the game, and one menu showed your character's proficiency in each. I'm not sure how you learn them or whether knowing them affects your interactions with others in the game, but it's an interesting idea. And speaking of proficiencies, there are 21 of them in ArcheAge—anything from Masonry to Husbandry, Printing to Larceny. This is the aspect of the game that interests me most, and Trion told me that it's possible to avoid combat entirely, and spend all your game time as a farmer, manufacturer or business person. You can also spend countless hours creating your own castle keep and surrounding settlements, as I was next to observe.
I next ported to a small village surrounding a high stone wall, at the center of which were tall stone towers. Modest stone huts stood near fields planted with all manner of produce. There were mail-carrying owls, and wells, and one hut's lawn sported a collection of baby polar bears. I went inside the keep and was impressed with its main courtyard and high battlements, but was even more impressed when Trion said the entire area was player-built. Players had gathered the resources, built the structures, planted the fields, and worked in cooperation to create their own medieval community.
What blew my mind even more than the players' collective achievement was when Trion said the castle could be besieged by other players and taken away! Every three weeks players can declare siege on one another's castles, an alarming (but realistic) mechanic that will no doubt encourage players not only to work together, but to form strong communal bonds.
Having toured the castle and its rural environs, I ended in the city of Marianople. There, I took a quest from an odd young girl to craft a bundle of stuffed animals and did a circuit of the city's tall, Tudor-style stone buildings in the Steampunk version of a monorail. I would have enjoyed seeing what the crafting mission entailed, but alas, my time in the city was cut short.
After the Trion event, I joined the ArcheAge beta, created a new character (a Haran Occultist) and started the game where I should have—from the beginning. From the hours I spent in the beta, my impression is of a disconnect between it and the ArcheAge I saw at Trion's offices. ArcheAge's tagline, which appears on every loading screen is, “Craft, Claim, Conquer.” The order in which those terms appear would suggest that there's a lot more to the game than just running around killing things and what was on display during the event definitely confirms it. What's worrisome is how combat-oriented ArcheAge seems at first glance.
Our own Bill Murphy recently wrote about Archeage in his insightful piece, Why You Questing, Bro? In it, he voices concerns that gamers might not stay with with the game long enough to see its complexity, thanks to its simplistic PvE design. I second that concern. Having played through the first 16 levels in the last few days, I've been struck by the prevalence of the hero's journey, and the seeming de-emphasis on non-combat activities, things like the game's Composition mechanic which allows you to write and play your own music. If Trion and developer XL Games waits too long to reveal these great things, will anyone find out they're there? I don't know what the answer is, but Trion better find a way to show its cards far earlier, or risk ArcheAge being horribly misunderstood.