One of the privileges of checking out an overseas game in its early stages of localization is the potential to view a highly polished gameplay experience, with the wide-eyed wonder that comes along with not knowing quite how anything works. This experience pretty much sums up Bill’s and my previews of ArcheAge, the upcoming sandbox MMORPG from Trion Worlds and XLGames, at Games Developers Conference this past week.
If you don’t know anything about ArcheAge, do yourself a solid and head over to Bill’s preview, which gives an overview of a host of the game’s features, which were presented to us in English for the very first time at GDC. As Bill mentions in it, Victoria, Scott, and Evan were kind enough to appease our whimsy and answer all sorts of intricate questions regarding ArcheAge’s gameplay systems, and we came away from the preview reeling from the potential breadth and depth offered by their game.
Starting with classes, there’s a huge amount of variety available in how you want your class to perform in combat. You can mix and match three of the ten classes at any time, with the opportunity to take advantage of cross-class synergies. As you level up your character classes, you’ll unlock more skills particular to those classes, all the way to the level cap of 50. When you reach the cap, you can decide to swap in three heretofore untouched classes, giving yourself an entire new gameplay experience. You’ll still retain the skill points earned through the process of leveling, and can toss them into your new classes’ passive abilities to make you a viable force even amongst mobs of your current level, but will have to unlock the full set of active abilities through playing.
The crafting skills in ArcheAge likewise sport a large amount of variety and synergy. You’ll have fifteen professions to choose from, and all of them will be open for you to try out from the get-go. The ethos behind crafting in the game is that quite like IRL, you should be able to dabble in anything, but will want to specialize in a few specific trades over time. You can, for example, try your hand at the Commerce crafting skill, which allows you to create special packs and trade them with other players on other continents for cash money, dollar dollar bill. You could also try out the Composition skill to create your music, or increase your animal Husbandry skills to raise a fledgling little creature into a powerful mount for you to ride into battle.
And ride into battle you will, as your mounts will gain experience as you use them and fight alongside (or on!) them. They’ll unlock more abilities as they level up, and you can even get two-person mounts. Because that’s a thing!
In the midst of looking at a number of stunningly beautiful locales and discussing various gameplay systems in ArcheAge, we kept returning to one feature that piqued our interest: the process of becoming a pirate. Here’s how it works: you have a Larceny skill that increases as you do dastardly deeds, like killing players from your faction. Once your Larceny skill reaches a significant level, you’ll be summoned to a trial, where other players will become the jury. They could decide to let you off easy if you’re known for being a Robin Hood type, or they could sentence you to jail, and it’s off to the stocks for you. Jail has its own system of gameplay, where you can play soccer (right?!), collect exclusive items that are only available in that location, try to break out, and so forth. If you keep following your misguided ways, you can get kicked out of your faction completely, whereupon all NPCs will be instructed to kill you on sight, and you’ll have to take refuge on a tiny island and resort to piracy to make your way in the world. There is a road to redemption, but we hear that it’s a slow and involved process.
If building stuff is the kind of thing that you’re looking for in an MMO sandbox, then ArcheAge promises to deliver your favorite activity in spades. From a little sea shanty with customizable underwater reefs to schooners, submarines, and larger ships that have tactical stations, there’s a whole host of buildings and vehicles that you can construct. There are even undeniably awesome weaponize hangliders available - unconfirmed if you can construct these, but they’re still cool - that you can fly around on and with which you can pew pew other players. In our preview, we got to see a number of different ships and houses, and the potential for customization with each is staggering.
Staggering also is the scale of player-created castles in ArcheAge, alongside the inevitable sieges that will ensue. Your castles will be constructed around a piece of Archeum, a type of magic source, which acts as a sort of flag in the CtF paradigm. All of the walls and turrets of your castle are constructed of modular parts that lend themselves to customization, and you can build houses within your protected demesne on ArcheAge’s designated open-world PvP continent. You’ll receive all taxes gathered from your land, as well as a portion of what players receive as loot from fighting others in your area. Plus, you’ll earn a special type of currency called “Lord’s Coins,” which will allow you to purchase special outfits for your character and gear for your mounts.
Once a week, an item will go up on the game’s auction house that will allow a rival player to lay siege to your castle if purchased. A 100v100 melee will ensue, with the winner of the siege being allowed to keep whatever’s left of your castle. You can hire AI mercenaries to help you turn the tide of battle, and while the game is not based on full PvP loot, you’ll still drop a trade pack if you were holding one and another player takes you out.
In case the sandboxy-ness of ArcheAge’s game systems intimidate you, there’s a whole theme-park-style quest experience that will introduce you to most everything in the game. Through questing, you’ll get your first mount, rowboat, and so on, but you’ll have to work for the higher-echelon items. There have also been recent tweaks to the quest system that will allow you to over- or under-achieve while attempting quest objectives. Don’t feel like collecting ten quest items? Or want to grab even more than what’s been asked of you? No problem. There will be some wiggle room for you to gain more or less experience from quests based on how much or how little you want to do.
As a product, ArcheAge is in an interesting place at the present moment, where it has the potential to provide a hugely promising sandbox gameplay experience, provided that it delivers on the features that we were privy to in our preview. My biggest concern leading up to the preview was based in the experience that with many games that have been developed overseas and published in local markets, there often is a missing element of cultural translation that should go hand-in-hand with language translation. Our hosts from Trion assured me that they have a team dedicate to rewrite everything from the Korean version of the game contextually expressly for that cultural translation. They explained that their localization team can even change the story or text substantially for, say, a quest that already has placeholder animations and pacing, if it seems like a different narrative would make more sense for a Western audience.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that ArcheAge totally stole the show for me at GDC, but I must also express that I’m still cautiously optimistic about it because we haven’t yet gotten our hands on a playable demo to figure out how all of the systems work together, in English. I will say, though, that when the game comes out, you’ll be able to find me running a mercenary guild that will lend its swords to the highest bidder in castle sieges.
Som Pourfarzaneh / Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.