ArcheAge has managed to scratch an itch that’s been ignored for over three years. It's a pirate-fantasy MMO with a sandbox playground between two warring factions; three if you count the pirates. It was the likes of the sorely missed Star Wars Galaxies and the original Everquest (back when it launched) that have ever made me feel truly alive inside an MMO, and ArcheAge has invoked a lot of nostalgia. Everything you do inside ArcheAge requires some level of interaction with another player, whether that’s passive or active.
Every action a player performs is felt by hundreds of others, from the humble crafters to the infamous pirates. This is EVE Online but with actual ships. That’s not to say it doesn’t have some less favourable traits. Some systems - like the player ran trial - feel a bit half-baked. And the notorious Korean love for plain old grinding - namely with questing - rears its ugly head every now and again.
But it gives you enough options, enough different opportunities, that these issues take a backseat to what really matters: it’s organic.
I’ve played a lot of ArcheAge over the past two weeks; it’s probably the most I’ve written about any game for PCGamesN. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know I’ve had a review in progress going since the launch of head start. If you want read up on my journey from level one to the endgame, I’ve listed the contents below to preface this review.
- Levels 1-10: launch issues, character creation and initial questing
- Levels 10-20: farming, trade runs and dungeons
- Levels 20-30: sailing a clipper, getting arrested and housing
- Levels 30-34: queues, servers and what Trion are doing about it
- Levels 34-45: inter-continental trade runs, combat and PVP
- Levels 45-50: exploring the end-game and beyond
Character creation is detailed, as long as you’re only counting the face. I’ve seen convincing replications of just about any fictional and non-fictional celebrity inside the game, so you’ll be free to make whoever you like. Just don’t expect to change things such as body size and height - that sort of customisation is just missing, bizarrely.
You can pick from four total races, split between two warring factions. The west faction hosts the Nuian, who are your typical staple humans. Elves are the familiar pointy-eared folk with an affinity for trees. On the east faction you have the Harani who are humans of more oriental lineage, and finally the Firran, who are beast like humanoids - think like a cross between rabbits and cats. They all come with racial traits, but they’re so miniscule that they hold barely any weight when it comes to choosing a race.
The class system is one that promotes diversity while retaining some relative simplicity. There are ten different skillsets, all featuring a slew of abilities and passives. You can combine three of these together to form a single class. Maths says that you’re provided with 120 different combinations, all offering some different from the last. You can switch around your chosen abilities on the fly for a small fee, or go and see an NPC to switch out a skillset in its entirety. They do however retain their own experience level, much like that of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, so you’ll need to level them up independently. At the end of the day though, the more freedom the better.
The immediate getgo of ArcheAge can be a bit misleading. You’re greeted with the norm, unimaginative quest objectives that MMOs often fall back on: kill X, gather Y then report to Z. This, coupled with a standard tab-targetting system leaves a lot to be desired when you’re used to things like Guild Wars 2’s events, or TERA’s more fluid reticule targeting.
ArcheAge lets you choose the level of commitment you want to invest into any one quest. You can complete it early, or even overachieve it and get bonus loot/xp. It’s almost like it understands how boring its questing really is; I can’t work out if that’s just lazy remedy, but it’s certainly a welcome option to have. The main story quests serve as good a purpose as to provide some backstory on the world, but nothing more. Before long I found myself not caring at all for it, instead focusing on something much more prevalent: the players.
Dean Hall - creator of zombie survival shooter DayZ - coined his own “Hall’s Law”, which describes what’s special about ArcheAge quite nicely:
“All other things being equal, a random interaction between human players will always be more compelling than one that is scripted”
ArcheAge’s lifeblood is in these everyday interactions with other players: the game requires it. I’m not talking about the odd trade here and there, or grouping together to take on a dungeon - it goes much, much deeper than that. Over 99% of the everyday items players use are only sourced from other players; you won’t even find health and mana regen consumable from merchants, instead having to find a player with good cooking/alchemist skills.
Responsible for this is the farming, gathering and crafting within ArcheAge. There’s nearly two dozen different vocations, ranging from weaponcrafting, animal husbandry and even larceny. You can find the materials you need from natural resources, growing it yourself on your farm, and even stealing it from other players; there are no hard rules in ArcheAge, even scamming is allowed.
Unless you use public farms, then you’re going to need your own plot of land to use protected farms and build your own house. Land is a finite resource in ArcheAge, and it’s only available to those who are considered a subscriber. Although this game is marketed as a free to play game, the disparities between someone who has a sub are quite noticeable, at least during the early levels.
Every player is bound by the use of Labour - a resource that is regenerated over time and spent in the majority of tasks you perform. Because ArcheAge lacks any natural timegates such as crafting cooldowns, instance lockouts or level based restrictions, this is needed to stop players from obtaining the best stuff in the game too quickly. As a F2P player, this may at first limit you on how much you can accomplish in any one day, as you only regen this labour while you're logged in. Subscribers on the other hand regen at the same rate while offline, and double that while logged in.
But as you progress through the game, and making gold becomes easier, these worries do get drowned out. You’ll be able to buy potions that restore huge chunks of labour from the player market - albeit with a 12 hour cooldown - and further down the line even be able to afford APEX: ArcheAge’s version of in-game in-game time cards. These are bought by players for real money, then can be sold to other players in-game. Two can be used to give you a month’s worth of patron time, and from the prices I’ve seen on my server, it’s affordable.
The cash shop is largely filled with convenience items too. There’s a single chest which is more of a gamble when it comes to getting anything of value from it, but gold is so easy and more importantly enjoyable to earn in ArcheAge I don’t know why anyone would bother plundering real money for the sole reason of gaining masses amounts of gold.
Earning that gold can be done in a multitude of ways. You could supply adventurers with your crafted wares, hunt around the world for rare treasure, run trade packs or even plunder them. One day I decided I wanted to go and steal someones trees to finish my house. I did, but I got caught doing it, and promptly sent to jail.
Make no mistake, there are repercussions for committing crime in ArcheAge. Do enough bad deeds and you’ll be marked as a wanted player, and quickly escorted to trial upon your next PVP death. It’s a fun system, where you get to plead your case to a jury comprising of real players - even an audience of the same. But it kind of falls apart when you realise there’s no incentive for finding a player “not guilty”. The best you can do is put on an entertaining show with some silly excuse as to why you stole 48 chickens and hope they’re merciful.
Otherwise, it’s off to jail. When you’re sent to jail you’ll be forced to live out your sentence in real time. You can break out, but the sentenced duration will remain with you as a debuff preventing you from doing pretty much anything. I’ve been in jail for a little over ten minutes, but I’ve seen some less savoury folk get sentences to hours, and sometimes days at a time. These guys are usually pirates: players who’ve committed so much crime their own faction has renounced them, forcing them to take refuge with other pirate players in the sea.
The sea in ArcheAge is arguably one of my favourite things. First, it looks gorgeous: the game uses CryEngine for its graphics, utilizing DirectX 11 and multithreaded CPUs. For the time being, there are some little technical hiccups here and there with memory leaks and texture bugs, but it’s rare enough not to be a constant nuisance. Cranked to the max though, this is by far the most beautiful MMO I’ve played.
Right, yes, the sea. It’s huge. To sail from east to west in the fastest ship in the game can take anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour depending on if you run into any dangers such as storms, whirlpools, sea creatures or pirates. There’s even a legendary Kraken that dwells in the northern ocean that takes an entire raid of 40+ players and ten galleon sized ships, cannons blazing, to even scratch it. Deep under the ocean you can find shipwrecks filled with delicious bounty; the hardest of which requires diving gear to reach. I’ve spent hours at a time with some friends on the ocean floor.
ArcheAge is definitely a more PVP centric MMO, but don’t let that put you off. While there’s dungeons and world bosses to conquer, it’s at its best when your pastimes include doing something with, or to other players - whether it’s something honourable or infamous.
You can be that humble farmer, grow crops, raise livestock and take your produce to market.
You can take that produce and craft it into the most valuable of goods, selling it to the highest bidder.
You can be a master of coin, buying and selling items and resources to other players.
You can take your trusty donkey complete trade runs with valuable packs of delicacies, opting for those venturing into dangerous lands for promise of more coin.
You can stalk and hunt those very haulers on both land and sea, ambushing them and plundering for all that their worth, be it your own faction or the enemies.
You can offer protection against those very players, acting as a bodyguard to those who can’t protect themselves.
Hell, you can even take out a small rowing boat into the middle of the sea and sit there, fishing rod and banjo in hand, and catch your afternoon tea.
The point is that there’s endless hours of enjoyment in ArcheAge for just about anyone. If you can stomach a slightly stale questing experience, and get your head around the quite innocent labour system, it’s an MMO with near endless potential for player driven, organic content. And to be quite honest, it’s the closest thing to a true fantasy sandbox experience on the market, and will be for a good time yet.