Trion Worlds is currently running beta tests for the latest MMORPG that they are publishing called Archeage. Even though it is already released in Korea, Archeage is getting tweaked for the North American market towards a free-to-play model that is more akin to Trion Worlds’ other MMORPG Rift. The game seems to be riding the tailcoats of the MMO trend that seeks to recreate the majesty that was Ultima Online by focusing more on the user experience within the community and less on leveling and raids. Sadly, it seems that the Archeage experience from 1 to 10 does not offer anything even close to a modern equivalent of Ultima Online.
Although the graphics look stunning, even on the lowest settings, the main problem I had while playing Archeage is the complete lack of atmosphere. Characters stand around with expressionless faces and the landscape that surrounds them is equally as bland and uninspired. The music pipes in once in a while to remind you that your headphones are working, but otherwise the soundscape is barren. NPCs hardly make any sounds at all, never mind speaking to you, as has become common place with games like Guild Wars 2. This really stood out to me, as even the traditional Zelda approach of having characters speak gibberish while text scrolls on screen would have been better than having quest text pop up next to a mannequin-esque quest giver. In an MMORPG atmosphere is king, as an MMO player is looking to be immersed in a digital world, but Archeage’s early user experience is completely lacking in this regard.
The class system is very interesting, albeit almost carbon-copied from Rift. Each player gets to choose three classes to specialize in early on in the leveling experience. These three classes come together to form the basis for each character and how far a player delves into each class tree shapes how that character plays. In some regards Archeage’s class system could be considered better than Rift’s, as Archeage allows players to select their skills, rather than being able to select passives and being given skills accordingly. By level 10 a player will have enough skills to keep their fingers busy, while also giving them ample opportunity to theory-craft their build and consider how far they will go into each of their classes.
Archeage also helps solve one small problem that MMORPGs have had since the release of World of Warcraft, which is that mounts don’t simply poof into and out of existence. Instead, Archeage treats mounts almost like pets would be in other MMORPGs, as they are summoned and walk alongside the player, have health and can enter combat. Although mounts can still be dismissed into nothingness, Archeage at least attempts to add a bit of realism into that MMO trope.
Combat is just like any other ‘tab-targeting’ MMORPG since 2004. The player targets an opponent and proceeds to press keys to activate skills and abilities aimed towards either themselves, their opponent or the ground around them. While the system isn’t broke, games like Guild Wars 2 and Dragonnest have shaken up the foundations of traditional MMOs with their combat designs. which may have spoiled some of the MMO crowd.
If Guild Wars 2’s personal story development from level 1 kept players interested throughout the entire leveling experience, then Archeage’s early leveling could be considered a step backwards by 15 years. Each NPC quest giver stands as if in a relay race, waiting for the previous one to pass a quest off to a player who will be required to run towards them after slaying an arbitrary amount of crabs, bears or foxes. There is absolutely zero variety in terms of quest design from levels 1 to 10, as each quest involved either talking to someone, slaying something or clicking on some special doodad. I quickly powered through each quest, one after another, before hitting level 10 in approximately an hour or two. It felt more like a job than anything and reminded me not to fondly of my experimental period in my late teens when I tried my best to find a good free-to-play MMORPG back when Runescape was the best one on the market.
If traditional MMORPGs are your style and you don’t mind brainlessly grinding levels on boring mobs for expressionless quest givers, then Archeage has the early game experience for you. That being said, I only played up until level 10, so the game may become a giant pile of golden teddy grams at level 11, but I won’t be bothered to see. My philosophy about MMORPGs is simple; if I’m having fun, I keep playing. If I stop having fun, then I can easily go play another game that will provide that enjoyment for me. As always, however, you should check out the game if you can, as it is free to play and easily accessible, even in its current beta form.