After a hundred-plus hours, lots of olives harvested, lives taken, hearings attended, fish captured, and donkeys ridden we’re ready to put ArcheAge to the final test. Do XLGAMES and Trion Worlds have a winner on their hands? If you were judging by the launch server queues alone, you’d probably think so. But things have cooled, the excitement has waned, and the reality of Jake Song’s game has begun to set in. ArcheAge is a very capable “sandpark” MMORPG, but it also proves that when a game tries to do everything, it never truly excels at anything.
I’m not going to spend this review giving you an overview of what ArcheAge is. Chances are, here at MMORPG.com, you know the story: a sandbox/themepark hybrid from Jake Song, creator of Lineage. Once touted as the second coming of the classic sandbox MMO, it’s quickly become something of a niche game in other territories. Enter Trion Worlds, the western AAA dev tasked with bringing the complex game to the Western market.
For my first review in progress pieces, see the links here, here, here, and here. They’ll give you a good idea of my time spent in AA up until a couple weeks ago when I went on vacation. I’ve since logged an additional 20 hours in the game, spent time with housing, at sea, in court, and taking part in the Hasla grind, and feel confident that I’ve seen enough of what ArcheAge has to offer across several characters and accounts. I’m not here to list the features of the game for you, but rather explain what I feel works in the game, and what I feel does not. Our overview pages and videos give a nice quick read of what AA is all about if you’re looking for more that kind of take.
I reviewed ArcheAge with an Archeum pack provided by Trion, so I never actually spent any of my own money. That said, I watched as my Credits dwindled every time I wanted to extend my labor, or get some gold by selling items from the Cash Shop. I actually think the cash shop is mostly harmless, despite cries of Pay to Win that have plagued the game since before launch. After months of alpha, beta, and now over 100 hours in launch, I can say that I don’t think cash shop customers wind out on top. They may be able to do labor-expending things quicker than free players, but free players can buy Labor Potions rather cheaply on the Auctions, so I think that system is working.
But what troubles me, is that I think ArcheAge could have benefited immensely from having at least one or two servers be for only subscribing “Patron” players. ArcheAge has an option subscription model, and while you can definitely play most of the game without spending a dime, chances are that most free players will never own land outside of a small farm, and they’ll thereby miss out on much of what makes life in Auroria worth living. People don’t play AA for the combat and boring quest design. They play it for the land-ownership, the PVP, and the crafting. All of which is somewhat reserved for paying subscribers.
There is a way to get Patron (subscriber) status without spending real world money. APEX (think EVE PLEX) is sold on the auction house by players to make gold. At $10 per pack, it costs $20 for a player to buy enough APEX to convert to Patron Status (2400 credits). In game, APEX bundles go for a hefty amount, and just to get one month’s worth of patron status to claim and own land is going to take a fairly dedicated player working the auction houses well and running a lot of trade packs.
ArcheAge may bill itself as a Free to Play game, but not at all unlike Wizard101 or Pirate101, it’s more like an unlimited free trial. If you really want the whole game experience, you’re best off becoming a Patron. That said, I’d love it if Trion made a “Subscription Only” server where the cash shop was completely disabled. Trion has to make money to keep the lights on, but I’d have loved to avoid the hassles faced with F2P servers by having the option to play on a subscriber only server.
You’ll likely spend most of your time beyond level 30 running trade packs or questing to the level cap. Beyond that there’s more crafting, more trade packs, a mediocre but serviceable PVP arena, the murder and crime game with the politics and court system, hunting for treasure on the open sea, tending your farm, big sport fishing, and of course grinding for weapons in Hasla. Like I said, there’s a whole lot of stuff to do in this game. You could spend entire days of playtime just decorating your house if you want.
Trade packs and crafting are the big two though. That’s pretty much the game for you if you’re a patron or a free player. You’re going to spend a lot of time, running trade packs from one place to the next, trying to avoid people who want to steal your goods, and finding out just how evil some MMO gamers can be. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, of all the content and systems in ArcheAge, I think my favorite is the idea of trade runs. They can be boring as all hell if you take safe routes, or some of the most harrowing experiences you’ll have when you’re being hunted by rival players. But you want gold, because gold buys things on the AA, things you’ll need to make better items, or decorate your house, or fill your labor points. Everything in AA revolves around the economy and finding a way to make it work for you.
But, like much of life in Auroria, it all boils down to spending inordinate amounts of time on menial tasks. What’s novel at first, quickly becomes a grind. You’ll spend so much time looking at crafting menus or watching your character make thousands of pieces of crafted items. There were entire days of my time with ArcheAge where all I did was plant crops, water them, harvest them, and turn them into things. One of my review in progress pieces was called “Farmville Deluxe” because it’s when I started to realize that a lot about ArcheAge is modeled on the Facebook game mentality. Give players chores to do, and hope they don’t realize they’re not actually having fun.
One of my crowning achievements was building my Clipper. When achievement in MMOs was still something to work for, I often felt rewarded for the time and effort I put towards tasks. Beating epically hard dungeons, or hitting max level used to be a really rewarding feeling. I felt that way when I collected and built my own ship to sail the seas with in ArcheAge. But it’s the act of getting those materials and building the ship that was more boring chore than fun adventure.