Getting Past the Grind
ArcheAge is most definitely a sandbox-flavored MMO. The seas and roads are alive with trade caravans transporting packs of local specialties. Players raid unprotected farms while pirates kill time and each other on Freedich Island. Guilds have claimed land, hastily constructed castles and declared war on one another. Most importantly, crafted gear reigns supreme. For some MMO fans, none of that matters. No amount of open-world interactions can prevent ArcheAge from becoming the target of "Korean grinder" criticism. It’s true, XLGAMES is a South Korean game studio, but there’s a catch.
Quite a few MMOs developed in South Korea and published in Europe or North America have been lacking in content. "Grindy" is the common term, but what that means depends on who you ask. Grind could refer to a lack of quest variety or the absence of quests entirely. It could mean an excessive reliance on basic mob hunting for experience and equipment or a logarithmic experience curve. Those were all certainly problems for Korean MMOs developed in the 90's and early 00's. Games like MapleStory, Priston Tale and MU Online all suffered in foreign markets because they were designed to be played in a specific setting. Korean gamers often play MMOs in PC cafes, surrounded by their friends and guildmates. Grinding is a lot more enjoyable when you're all drinking and commiserating about college entrance exams in the same room.
Eventually South Korean game studios and publishers realized that foreign markets like China, Russia, Europe and North America were the key to continued growth. Every market had a unique set of MMO fans, each with their own priorities and expectations. Sometime in the late 00's creative teams at companies like NCsoft, Webzen and Nexon began planning the MMOs that we've seen released over the last couple years. The result of this shakeup were games that pushed the boundaries of MMOs. Games like ArcheAge.
In ArcheAge, from the moment you drop into the world you're free to ignore all quests and mobs. You can run off in any direction and nobody will stop you. You can gather from every resource node you see and craft anything you have the materials for. Both actions will net you serious amounts of experience points and cash. Admittedly, avoiding quests and the money and experience you'll gain from them could put you behind most of the pack when it comes to hitting max level. ArcheAge doesn't seem to be designed for people to ignore entire swaths of content. Players will want to do at least the main storyline quests, which end around level 30 and lead you from quest hub to quest hub through the first five or six safe zones. That could become a little repetitive, but the quest rewards and scenery porn make the ride worth it (if your PC can handle higher settings).
Personally speaking, on my main character I've gained more levels than I care to admit via crafting and gathering. I hit level 50 in an area full of level 35/40 quests. I've hardly bothered to quest since hitting 50, mainly spending my time crafting, fishing, doing trade runs and praying for miracles in the arena. I'm having a good time ignoring pretty much all PvE content in ArcheAge, including instances. There’s only two items I recommend all new players acquire before abandoning quests entirely: your small scarecrow farm and a mount. You can pick up the scarecrow farm at level 1 and the mount quest at level 5 or 6.
Is ArcheAge a typical "Korean" MMO? Only if you want it to be. You can spend eight hours grinding mobs for rare drops or you can spend those same eight hours preventing a zerg guild from killing world bosses. The choices you make determine the kind of game you’re playing. That’s how ArcheAge works.
Mark Wilhelm / Mark is a fansite operator and community manager. He infrequently tweets from @mark_wilhelm.