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Review in Progress - The Tree Thief

William Murphy Posted:
Editorials 0

We’ll get to the server queue times, which are absolutely killing my ability to spend enough time playing ArcheAge right now. But first, let me tell you about a moment from my last week of playing in the sandpark, as it’s one of those times in an MMO where you start to see why a game’s special or unique. At first blush, ArcheAge starts off as seeming little more than another WoW clone. If you pick up the game, without having followed it for years like a lot of MMO fans, you’re going to see exclamations and question marks and think, “Really, another one of these?”

But XLGAMES’ decision to mix standard PVE with non-traditional sandbox elements has paid off for me. When I feel like questing and hunting, I can do so. When I feel like crafting, partaking in the war effort across Nuia, or farming my heart out, I can do those things. XLGAMES has long billed ArcheAge as a sandpark, not really a full-on sandbox, and I see why. Its systems and overall designed marry PVE and PVP together, with crafting, and the economy as optional activities. Personally, I think the economy and crafting are essential for full enjoyment of the game, and players coming into AA just looking for a traditional MMO questing and dungeon romp are going to be 100% better-served elsewhere.

In my time since really diving into ArcheAge, what has reached out and pulled me in hasn’t been the traditional tab-combat, the quest-hub PVE, or the decent but still hard-to-care-about narrative.  It’s been the illegal farming, the self-policing political system, and the notion that I can do anything… but I’ll be better off if I work with friends or my guild.  For the first time in a long while, I’m playing an MMO that makes me feel a part of something larger than myself. The story still has me playing the hero, and the NPCs and mobs still contribute to a lifeless feeling world. But then I get wrapped up in factional warfare, Kill on Sight lists, a shared sense of purpose to conquer and protect what belongs to the guild, and of course… hidden tree farming. ArcheAge’s biggest gamble.

Something tells me that the wait-time is off...

You see, anything outside of land you own is fair game for anyone else to come along and mess with. If you plant or drop items in the world, they’re open for anyone to take, destroy, or whatever.  One of the crops that taker up the most space, and also one of the most needed things early on, are trees. Trees become logs, which become lumber which you need a lot of to make the foundations of your first cottage.  You need even more for your large farm and/or thatched farmhouse.  Wood does grow on trees, but you can’t cut down every tree in the world, you can only cut down those planted by others or a sparse few that grow in the wild and are allowed to be cut down. So what people do, because space for private farming is limited, and because public farms are too easy to be interfered with, is try to find little spaces throughout the game’s massive maps which are off the beaten path. Perhaps they even try to find places that can’t easily be ascended or navigated to, in order to plant Yew, Aspen, or other trees with high log yields.  The risk is obvious: if someone else finds your little illegal tree farm they can cut down those trees too when they’re grown. Or worse, they can uproot them before they’re grown, losing you money and letting no one get the logs. Yes, people do this – whether it’s out of ignorance or asshattery, I think the jury’s still out.

Speaking of juries, XLGAMES was smart enough to employ a sort of justice system in ArcheAge, run by the players themselves.  If you dig up or cut down a tree that belongs to someone else in the wild, and that person returns to the scene of the crime they’ll find footprints.  They can then report the crime, and explain what happened, even if they don’t know who did perpetrated the crime. If the “villain” has a high enough notoriety, they can be hauled into the court in their faction’s capitol. Then a jury of their peers will hear out the charges and decide if they’re guilt or not. If they are found guilty, they can be sent to prison for a number of in-game minutes that doesn’t run off when you’re logged out. You can still play, and there’s actually a whole series of things to do in prison (including breaking out and becoming a pirate). 

Marianople is a massive capitol city.

The idea XLGAMES had was that players should be able to interact with each other on more than a simple “let’s quest, or let’s fight” basis. They should be able to effect each other, but not without consequences. If you do enough wrong, you will make a name for yourself on your server, and you will either:

  • a) Have to work off your debt to society and prove you’re not the jerk people think you are or…
  • b) Revel in your jerky nature, and play that role. Become a pirate, sail the seas, and plunder the trade routes.

I’ve known about the jury and crime system in ArcheAge for years now, but it never really sank in until I was planting my own illegal trees in the hopes of farming them to get the wood needed for my cottage faster.  When an unexpected maintenance ruined my plans, and I wasn’t able to login until someone else had chopped my trees down, I was actually mad. Not at the game, but at whoever had done this to me. I reported their crime, and I’m not sure if they’ve ever been sentenced (the game could really use better tracking of this sort of information). But I didn’t stop there, because my egg was fried, I actually uprooted the nearest tree of someone else. I don’t know if that person was the same person who chopped down my trees, but in that moment I didn’t care. I just suspected it was them, so I paid them back in kind. 

I immediately felt like a jerk, and actually sent that person an in-game mail with the silver cost of their seed plus a little extra. This is the equivalent of what someone nice does when they ding your car door with their own. Maybe, if I’m lucky and someday end up on trial, that person will be on the jury and will treat me kindly. Then again, if they really did chop down my trees I’m just a rube with too burdensome a conscience. 

Airships and no loading times? This is madness.

In any case, ArcheAge’s justice system, its farming and crafting, its whole economy, trade routes, PVP, and guild warfare are what I find really interesting.  I’m fed up with the server queue issues on Ollo, but I’m so vested in my time spent there, the guild I’ve joined, and the work I’ve put into gathering materials for my cottage that I don’t want to leave. I’m going to stick things out on Ollo, in the hopes that others will move on to less-crowded servers or stop no-lifing it all day.  That doesn’t change the simple fact that ArcheAge’s server issues are a pain in the ass for both Trion and its players. I’d be willing to bet all of my Archeum dust that Trion’s AA team have been pulling long hours and working through the weekend to try and plot a best course towards righting the issues its population is facing.  But that doesn’t change the fact that ArcheAge’s launch is not going smoothly at all. It’s a good problem to have, your game being wildly popular, but the players’ patience wore thin during head start. If it weren’t for their love of the game and the amount of money Patrons have spent so far, chances are people would be moving on.

I’m going to try and log in first thing tomorrow, when hopefully the queue will just be in the low hundreds. If I’m lucky, server disconnects won’t still be going on, and if crashes do happen hopefully the bypass queue fix will do its job when I log back in. I’m hearing that people are being kicked while camping the character select screen, but the last time I tried to log in on Sunday night I watched an 1100 person queue stay right around that number for over two hours before giving up and working on another game I have to review this week.  I'm not a server architect, so I don't know how to fix this. I'm not going to be an armchair dev and say I have the answers. But I know that all the enjoyment of AA in the world won't keep a gamer's attention forever. These issues need to be sorted quickly, and by next week I really hope I don't have to write much more about them. Not because I don't want to acknowledge them, but because I'd rather be focusing on the positives and negatives of the game itself.

When I get to actually play ArcheAge, I have enormous amounts of fun. It’s not perfect, but it’s engaging in a way that’s unique in the MMO genre. Right now however, Trion and XL are at the risk of becoming victims of their own success. I know there’s no quick and easy magic bullet to fix the server woes, but it sure does make reviewing the game harder when there’s little time to play.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.