A lot of MMOs have come and gone over the last decade or so, but Trion Worlds has brought some interesting free-to-play ones to the table. ArcheAge promises to bring a sandbox feel to the MMO world with player driven structures and economy and less rigid progression structures. By and large the early returns are looking positive, with ArcheAge proving to be an attractive game with a lot of promise so far.
With only four races out of the gates, it initially feels like there will be limited offerings, but upon diving into the character creation tools, ArcheAge begins to feel pretty flexible. Then there are a handful of classes to choose from, and once you get into leveling your character, a bunch of different skills begin to unfold, helping to lend the feeling that your character could be a fairly unique creation by the time things are said and done.
Initially ArcheAge just feels familiar. Jumping, movement, quest gathering and on map indicators will be familiar to anyone who has spent time playing games like World of Warcraft or Guildwars. However, once your character advances and moves out of the more refined, introductory levels, there appears to be a very large world at work in ArcheAge, with spanning seas and continents. The 'at sea' aspect is especially fun, and the game is large enough that it feels like I am perpetually on the move. This is great for people who get tired of running fetch quests over the same basic plot of land for four or five hours. New events were continually pushing me onward and outward towards new lands.
Not only does this system keep you advancing through zones effectively, but leveling for experience feels more interesting. I spent years playing World of Warcraft and got very good at chaining together quests so that the game did not feel like I was forced to grind needlessly for hours on end, but it took a lot of careful planning to accomplish. This methodology of leveling seems to come easier to ArcheAge, because I never felt like I was forced to stay in place.
Combat at first glance also feels familiar, with hotkeys mapped to specific timed fighting commands. With the mix of ranged and melee, ArcheAge's combat reminds me a bit more Guildwars 2 than World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV. With my primary character, I almost always start off with a handful of ranged attacks, and then when the enemy moves into melee I start stringing together combination skills. These are a lot of fun to pull off, and finding the best string of commands was more engaging than waiting for my one or two favorite skills to restore from their cool down period. This makes player versus player combat even more rewarding because while enemies tend to be somewhat scripted and predictable, people seldom are.
One nice tough is the arrow at your feet that helps to point you towards your quest target. I cannot tell you how much time I have spent in MMOs trying to figure out just where to go, especially if the target destination is someplace I have never been to before. Just because I have never personally visited California does not mean I have no idea where it is on a map or that from Michigan, I would not know to head a bit south and then very west. Here your character seems to have at least a general idea where to go to complete quests, which is incredibly handy. Unfortunately the arrow can be a bit misleading at times if there is terrain in the way (just following it along without watching the environment can lead to tall walls or dropping chasms at your feet), and in zones where there are different levels above and/or below you, it might be nice if the arrow could indicate that if you are in the right spot, just the wrong height or level.
The visuals are bright, colorful and generally appealing. I found the music to suit the game, but my son was a bit less impressed. He felt the sounds were a bit generic and one of the zones I was visiting at the time was pretty simple - he compared it to trying to play 'Farmville or something'. I generally found that the music fit the zone I was in (at that particular time, I was in fact in a small farming community). Early creatures look a bit more generic, but some of the more adventurous landscapes provide some interesting monsters to do battle with that are more visually impressive.
Since ArcheAge is still in early development, it is hard to say just what the end product will look like for the free players and those that give the game some money (either via backing now, or whatever payment structure shows up in the future). Still, the early adventuring looks really solid and ArcheAge looks like it is trying to do some very original things in the MMO space. It should be interesting to see how it continues to develop.
Preview by Nick