Preview: ArcheAge

ArcheAge is a sandbox MMORPG by XL Games, a game developer company based in South Korea. Though the game has been out in the Eastern regions for almost a year and a half now, Trion Worlds (developers and publishers of Rift, another MMO) have begun to publicize and localize the game for the Western audience. The game is currently in closed beta, but many of the features in the game are available and open to players. The game begins with a pretty cinematic detailing the events leading up to the advent of the game, afterwards you’ll jump straight into making a character. The four currently available races are split into two different sides, the Nuian Alliance and the Haranya Alliance. While the race selections were quite vanilla, with elves, an animal/cat-like race, and humans, the character creation is anything but; you could easily spend a good 10-15 minutes customizing the smallest detail of your character’s face. If you’re meticulous and enjoy creating a character like me, then you’ll likely enjoy this. Otherwise, some may elect to pick one of the preset designs with some minor tweaks.

One of the interesting parts of ArcheAge is that their class system is a little unorthodox. Instead of choosing a set ‘class’ for your character, you select up to three different skillsets that your character can master in instead. There are choices like Battlerage, which is a standard warrior-type set, sorcery, archery, and many others, with a total of ten different skillsets in the game. The coolest bit about this is that you can mix and match these skillsets to find a play-style that fits yours. It’s always interesting to see what a shadowy sorcerer proficient in witchcraft can pull off. There are a total of 120 different combinations in the game, but you can eventually select and learn all skills on a single character, making it convenient to try out different builds.

After choosing a path and finishing my character creation, I was treated to a cinematic that details the backgrounds of the Nuians, which is the race I chose to play as. As I continued to play more and more, I noticed that ArcheAge was a game that put much emphasis and focus into the story and lore of the world. Thankfully, nothing was all that hard to follow and I had an enjoyable time sitting back and enjoying the storytelling in between my adventuring.

The user interface of ArcheAge is simple and has a minimalist feel to it, there aren’t really any unnecessary elements on the HUD, and the essential ones do not have much of an impact on the screen. I did think the minimap was a little too big, but fortunately you can also choose to scale that down to a much more manageable size.

Combat in the game takes the guise of traditional ‘tab-targeting’, akin to World of Warcraft and Rift. However, the animations were very crisp and satisfying to watch as I slashed at my target with a variety of different skills. There are also no immediate weapon restrictions, so you are free to use any kind of weapon as long as it synergizes with your skills; be it a sword and board, dual-wielding or two handed weapons. Animations also update and reflect the weapon you are carrying, which is a nice touch. The game also adds the options of vehicular and mounted combat, spicing things up as I rode into battle upon my steed, skewering foes left and right.

The tutorial section of the game is pretty standard for MMOs, with quest givers having you run around areas to slay, gather, or deliver for experience and material rewards. Once you hit around level 5, you’ll unlock your second skillset, giving you a taste of your potential power to come. Later on, they’ll teach you how to raise and ride your own mount, granting you a much faster way to travel across the lands. Pets actually have their own experience bar as well, using them more often will increase their speed and give them other special abilities.

Earlier I stated that ArcheAge is a sandbox MMO. The developers at XL Games really wanted to push the fact that you can be whatever you want, and can choose to grow, build, or trade anything. The first of these is farming. Anyone can buy some seeds, till the land and water a plant to harvest its bounty, but if you really want invest in it, you’ll need to find some public free farmland that will protect your crops from thieves, or pay for a lot that allows you to plant freely inside. These all have upkeep costs that must be paid for at appropriate times, lest you run the risk of losing your land titles, but diligent players can easily turn a profit from selling the goods you produce.

The crafting system is also quite vast; you can choose to craft anything from the typical weapons and armors that an adventurer would need, to furniture in a house, ships, and even vehicles. As you craft recipes from a certain trade, you’ll gain proficiency and be able to craft more within that trade. If you can secure enough lumber, you can even construct your own house within the world.

If you’re looking for an effective way to make money, look no further than to run a trade route. By buying and producing the ‘specialties’ of a certain region, (for example, jam that can only be produced in a specific area), you can place them in a trade pack and bring them to other regions of the world to make a tidy profit. You’ll most likely want to make use of the multiple venues of transportation, such as a donkey courier, airships, portals, or galleons. Trading also carries its own risk of danger however, as you will be open to attack in neutral zones and others may look to steal your trade pack.

Even with these activities, ArcheAge carries a multitude of different features I haven’t even touched on; a judicial crime and punishment system, naval combat, and a Land of Origins feature that allows guilds, organizations, or even a small group of companions to claim land and build a castle for themselves, which is sure to offer a frenzied PvP battleground.

None of these elements are hampered by ugly aesthetics and outdated graphics. The character models, textures and animations are all smooth and pleasing to look at, while the level design is thoughtful and gives a sense of the environment and world of ArcheAge. The music fit the theme of the game and was pleasing to listen to, from the cinematic cues to the battle song, I did not have a quip about how a track did not fit the scene.

When I think of sandbox MMORPG, the first thing that comes to my head is EVE Online. While it’s a fantastic game and unique experience, the game is daunting for newcomers who simply have no idea on how to dip their feet into the world. XL Games’ ArcheAge offers a sandbox experience but also has a structured foundation, easing new players into the experience while giving them the information and tools in order to set out and make their mark on the world. Within this world, you have the power to choose to be an adventurer, a wandering tradesman, a crafter, a farmer, a soldier in your guilds’ rank, or even the lord of a prestigious castle. ArcheAge is slated for a 2014 release, and will be free to play with a cash shop. You can sign up for the beta on their official website, or purchase one of their founder packs for instant access to their alpha.

Though it remains to be seen if Trion can successfully popularize this game in the Western hemisphere, what is evident now is that ArcheAge is shaping up to be a fantastic game that ventures into a realm other MMOs dare to cross.