Saturday, January 31, 2015

Review: ArcheAge

MMOs have been in a weird spot for a while now. It's not that there haven't been any good ones, plenty of releases in the last few years have had good ideas, but none of them had the longevity an MMO requires, at least not for me or anyone I know. That's where ArcheAge shines. It's a classic sandbox, mixed with a themepark, using the Crytek engine, with some great production value to boot.

The game's setting is a classic fantasy setting, with some twists. It starts as any MMO does. You get your bearings, you kill 5 of this and 10 of that, and you move on. But soon you're getting quests with jetpacks, bouncing from enemy to enemy; then you're raising your mount from a cub to a full grown adult. A lot of this is compressed to keep you moving, it's a great pace and you're never in any single area for very long before moving to the next zone. This is one of the games greatest strengths. There is so much to see that the game constantly has you pushing into new areas, fighting new enemies, and giving you new things to try.

You get your mount early into the game along with a neat, albeit corny, little mini-game-ish thing. You're also given a glider, which is probably one of the freshist, most notable items in the game. The glider really does set the game apart and makes you feel like you can go anywhere. You see the game from an entirely new perspective and it feels amazing. Some of the areas are absolutely gorgeous, most notably the water areas (thanks to the crytek engine), and gliding through them is awe-inspiring. There's a section early on where you fight your way to the top of a mining quarry and fly down on your glider, it's easiest one of the coolest moments I've had in an MMO in years. There are also no load times in the game, you can walk from one end to the other, hitting only small "chuck loads" at certain break points, which makes travel (especially by glider) feel extremely fluid.

The classes and skills work similar to Trion's (though, in this case, Trion is the publisher) other game Rift.I'm sure other games have done this before, but it's not something that has clicked for me, not even in Rift. You chose a class at the start of the game, but that is only a base, a building block, to your own specialized class. As you level up you pick a new skill tree, up to three. As you pick each tree, it names your class something new and you can change your class sets at any time by going to a healer.

The combinations are pretty wild and none of them seem like you can go wrong. In one PVP match a "warrior", for lack of a better term, used a leap ability to close in on me. Being a healer (and severely under-geared), I didn't stand a chance. After he cleaned me up, he back-flipped away with one of his abilities, then, at the height of his back-flip, he used a teleport to get even further away. He was able to close the gap and get out of the fight all within about 10 seconds. Even though I had died, I really respected his skill and the diverse class trees he had to take to get that set of skills to work in harmony. It actually caused me to start looking into other trees and it's been a lot of fun to experiment with.

The quest design is often, but not always, the same quests you've seen in everyone MMO for years. The is one of the few cons I have with the game. At the start you're blasting through areas so quickly you likely won't have issues with any "kill x amount of enemies" quests. The areas and design of the architecture help alleviate this to a pretty large degree, but there's no getting away from the fact that it's sometimes a grind. One of the best features of help with the quest fatigue is the ability to turn in quests early, for slightly less experience or subsequent reward, or you can "overachieve" the quests by doing more than the required. It's a small nuance, but it really does help when you're getting bored of an area. It's something I haven't seen in an MMO before, but I have to imagine it existed somewhere else previously.

That leads to one of the nicer parts of the game, the little things. MMOs are, by design, massive beasts that have to be all things to all people. This often leads to big design choices while skipping over the smaller things. The game handles the small things superbly and the production really shines in these areas. It's often silly things that most wouldn't notice, like your character continuing their "/dance" animation when you start walking, and the animation actually changing, making you look like someone out of the Thriller music video. The spells you cast have real flare to them, sparks come off the fire, the ice breaks away on an ice bolt, it looks fantastic. There's lots of small things like this and they all add real personality to the game making it feel like much more believable.

This is all to say nothing of the housing, boating, farming, and trade-pack running (the act of delivering trade goods between city-states or even continents). Housing is in real-time, no loading. The houses are located in pre-set areas and can be built any place you find free space within that area, no parking lot building here. Larger houses have their own "neighborhoods" and aim to keep areas looking similar in scope. Farms work the same way, while they are only allowed in the "small" house areas.

Boats in Arche Age are a beast all their own. Some have harpoons, some cannons (or 20), and some are two-story luxury boats with no defense but instead have a sweet jukebox playing music to dance to (this would be the appropriate time for the walking dance animation). You are given a small rowboat for free to experience the water, but this boat is not meant for the open sea and soon you'll be looking to upgrade and start fighting sea creatures and/or becoming a pirate and attacking other vessels. On one occasion a group of friends and I were carrying cargo across the ocean only to be attacked, killed, and our packs stolen from us. We spawned back a few miles away at the healer, jumped on our boat and were out for vengeance, killing every enemy ship we saw, jumping on gliders and acting as human UAVs. It was really something else and I had an absolute blast.

All of this adds up to some massive fun and a very tangible feeling that things you're doing have influence and feel rewarding. Not everyone wants another MMO these days, and for good reason, the past 10 years have been about chasing the giant that was WoW.

Arche Age is a game that adds enough of its own ideas and personality to carry it very far and leads to a solid MMO experience unlike anything I've played in a very long time. If you've got the time, given it an honest try, it won't let you down... did I mention it's free?

Written by: Xeirus (my brother)

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