Monthly Archives: September 2014

ArcheAge – initial review

archeage-logoGame Review

This was a long-awaited game by the mmo community.  It was taken over by the previously successful games company Trion, who created the mmorpg Rift.  Initially the game was much anticipated, even by myself, but as Trion hit hard times due to the poor decision to take over another game (Defiance, whose game was very much less successful than the tv series linked with it) which then flopped and led to financial difficulties and mass staff layoffs, their games suffered.  Massively.  As the years went on, and Trion’s game and marketing decisions became worse, I worried for this game a lot.  Knowing from the developers of Trion that they were not going to be changing their marketing strategies, this would impact heavily on ArchAge.  Despite this, I decided to give the game a go, because conjecture does not make fact, and really, I would love there to be more good fantasy mmos out there.

Brief Summary

Good Points Bad Points
1. Good character creation options
2. Nice variety in skill & combat choices
3. Good variety of crafting disciplines
4. Immersive story cutscenes
1. The UI options could be better
2. Goldsellers are a problem
3. Player collision out of combat annoying
4. Pay-wall for basic farming plots and housing

Character Creation

The character creation of the game is actually far more detailed than it initially seems.  What seems to be very limiting is in fact opened up by the ‘details’ button below each of the options, such as eyes, lips etc, which let you customize how your character looks far more.  Overall I was happy with the options available for character creation.

UI

The UI in the game is, it has to be said, not the most streamlined nor sleek looking.  Some attempt has been made to give more options for moving the UI around, but these options are not made that obvious to new players, and I only found out about using shift+left click on items to move them by asking in faction chat.

In some instances there are more than enough options for customization of your gameplay experience, but then there are others that seem to be missing, such as the ability to move your minimap (which always remains see-through), or making things like the chat box and quest box click-through, which can get in the way during combat.

Skills, Talents and Leveling up

The skills in the game are quite varied.  Like in Rift, you have three skillsets that you choose your talents from and create a play-style that suits you.  This is really good, because it brings variety to the game, rather than having ‘the mage build’ that you see in games like World of Warcraft.  While there will undoubtedly be ‘best build’ options out there, the necessity to use them with a system like this is not so great.  There will always be more options for viable builds with this.

What I did find off-putting was that the explanation of leveling up your skills, or choosing them was somewhat sparse.  It gives you skill points and you have to spend them, but some skills are not available until you gain more experience in that skill set type.  Some of these are marked on the skills, but others, like the passive skills are not.  They appear like you should be able to choose them, while you cannot.  It is also a bit difficult to tell which are available and what are not, as it only dims the colour a little.  It is a UI problem rather than a skill problem, but it does impact on how you are able to choose your talents.

Leveling up seems fairly fluid by doing quests.  I cannot comment too much more than that.  I didn’t struggle to level up while doing quests, so for an average casual mmo player there should not be much of an issue.

Crafting

ProfessionListIn addition to combat skills, there are types of crafting skills you can learn as you go along. These increase as you do them, rather than picking one and learning it from a trainer (or so far have not).  These seem to have a bit of a disparity in skill increase, for while I gathered one node of ore, it gave me 10 skill, harvesting potatoes only gave me 2.  The same seemed to be the case for other ones I randomly came across, like Larceny, which increased massively from what I believe was only smashing a couple of boxes, or stone-masonry by crafting one item.

On the other hand there is a great deal of variety of crafting skill types, and while you are limited to a certain number (I believe) unless you pay for more slots, it does seem quite generous.

Pay-walls and Land ownership

One major downside is that Trion have gated certain types of crafts and functions behind the pay-wall.  As part of some of the quests that players will come across at the start of the game are the quests, specifically farming, that teaches the players some of the basics of that craft.  However while placing a small scarecrow garden is part of this quest, and you are given all the materials to do that, you are stopped from doing so by the requirement to be a patron (pay a subscription). The two things that are pay-walled are:

  • Placing farming plots, gardens and housing
  • Sell items on the auction house

They introduced this sort of thing back in Rift to cut down on the gold-sellers using the auction house to sell their botted gains. How useful this will be in ArcheAge though is debatable.

I can see them having pay-walled the farming and housing plots to cut down on all the available land being taken up by bots or afk players since the plots are on the general server space, not in instanced areas.  However, in having done so, it stops new players from exploring how to build a house or garden and whether they will like this.  Considering that housing and farming are a big part of the game (The game’s tagline is “Craft, Claim, Conquer”), stopping new players from exploring these properly until they pay a subscription (and keep paying it), it is a poor move.  I can’t help but think that if they had done an instanced time-limited questline that explored ALL the house-crafting and farming options etc that it would have served them so much better than this.

Capture04

Want to know what this ‘Patron’ thing is? Official wiki says nothing.

The final thing I have to say about the Patron pay-wall is that it isn’t properly explained in-game.  I was confused as to why the items were not functioning since I had all those required, and it took me reading the small print in the tooltip of the item to understand that I needed to be a Patron to place it.  I knew what a Patron was from playing Rift, however other players are likely not to have that.

They have a wiki linked into the game, so I looked in that to at least try to figure out how to get patron status from in-game, and to my astonishment their official wiki page on Patron Status was blank.  You would think that a game that relies on player purchases to keep it running, they would at least make the information available, but apparently not in this case.

Quests

Ah, quests.  I am hesitant to dismiss them so early in the game, but the system seems buggy and poorly thought out.  There are hints of real thought and inspiration there, but the execution is sloppy in my opinion.

Archage_questUI

Having to scroll up just to see the start of quest dialogue as well as using ‘next’ buttons.

For instance, quest text have a ‘next’ button to show the next bit of the dialogue, however if the dialogue on each page exceeds 3 lines you have a scrollbar, and it scrolls to the bottom of the text automatically, so you have to scroll up to the top of the text just to start reading (see screenshot), then scroll down to see the rest of it, before clicking next and doing the same on the next page.  This could be a problem brought over from the translation process, which might have increased the size of the text space needed, and has not been fixed in the UI.

The UI of the quests is also a bit odd, because the quest dialogues go full screen, and yet there is no dialogue sound like you would expect from such a dramatic change in screen, only the borked text.

The hint of some really nice features came first for me when picking up a quest for reading a book.  ‘Why’, I thought, ‘do I need to talk to a cat to read this book, it makes no sense!’.  However it put me into a cut-scene where I started reading the book aloud (with sound) to the cat.  This was really nice, and added some depth and immersion, except that the storytelling didn’t last for more than a brief snippet of the book or story, and indeed even seemed to cut off half way through a sentence without any fading out that one would usually see to denote the movement of time.Capture02

Another good point however is that quests have directional arrows at your feet, as well as quest objectives sometimes having a glowing blue light that helps you find them.  These glowing blue highlights do not show for all quest interactables though, being for inanimate objects, while you rely on the arrows at your feet to lead you to npc targets and enemies.

There are fully voice-overed cut scenes with certain quests as well, which are good.  The illustrations that go along with them are not as nice or as detailed as in other games, but the story that unfolds with them is immersive.

Player Collision

I don’t usually mention this in my reviews, but it really does need mentioning since it has caused a lot of personal annoyance for me when trying to make my way in the world.

Capture05You know how it goes starting a new game, there are lots of players there all trying to get to the same quest npc, and this is no different.  Lots of people congregate to the same npc, some end up in cutscenes for quite a while, others just take longer to read than others, some go afk, but in this game you cannot move into the space of another player.  You get stopped as you would a solid object and you have to go around them to attempt to speak to the npc.  This means that if there are too many people around a quest npc, it is likely you won’t be able to speak to that npc and take, or hand in a quest.

This may have been introduced as the game is trying in some ways to be more roleplay friendly, but it isn’t standard practice in mmos.  Usually in mmos, there is no player collision, out of combat at least, because it is difficult to get to quest npc in high population areas, and it is a great way of trolling other people.  I have no issue with player collision during combat, but outside of combat is just an annoyance, and one that has bothered me a lot.

Combat

I have just been doing some basic combat with the rest of the low level hoards doing the first 15 levels.  Overall I found it to be fair.  The different combat options you get to choose from increase as you level, not only in your initial skill set, but by the addition of two more as you level up.  The difficulty of the enemies stay fairly challenging if you are fighting them at the same level (or perhaps I was just rubbish at it, which is highly possible).  I did find it a little samey at times in terms of dealing with different enemies, but that might be because we are still fairly early in the game.  I didn’t feel any desire to go out of my way to do more than the exact required killing for quest requirements though, so that doesn’t really show a great deal of excitement, but it could just be that I didn’t gel with the character type I chose.

There are some bugs that were evident in combat still, such as enemies becoming immune to all damage when on certain terrain (likely if the game thought they could not get to those attacking them, and thus giving the player an unfair advantage).

Overall though I would say the combat is fairly average early on in the game.  Whether it gets better over time I don’t know, however I can hazard a guess that it probably does, since you will have far more options for combat which will give it more interest.

Bags and Bag space

Bag space in mmos tends to be an issue, but I didn’t find it too bad here, though I expect if I had delved into more crafts, this may well change swiftly.  There are banks where you can deposit things (called Warehouses).  It didn’t pose a massive problem as it did for me in other games such as Elder Scrolls Online.

Economy and Loot

I really cannot comment on the Economy of the game since the Auction House was off-limits to me for selling items.  I also did not manage to get that far into the game to hazard a guess as to what end-of-game economy is like.

As for loot though, the quest rewards up to level 15 at least were useful for the most part.  I expect that trend will continue, from quests at least.

Goldsellers

Sponsored goldseller advert on Facebook

Sponsored goldseller advert on Facebook

Goldsellers are both a problem and annoyance in the game.  Not only are they very, very visible in the game from the very instant you log in for the first time, but they even have sponsored advertising spots on Facebook!

With this sort of advertising, not only by the disreputable seeming adverts within the game, but in places in public view like Facebook, it seems clear that the goldsellers are not going anywhere, and they will remain a massive problem in the game.

 Conclusions

While I am aware that this review has, on the whole, been primarily negative, that has indeed been my overall impression of it.  There were enough annoyances and bugs in the game that it didn’t make me want to level up further to see if it, like some other games, improved with time.  It has its good points, but even for a free-to-play game, I don’t think I could really ignore those annoyances enough to want to play.  The quests were interesting, especially the main story quests that had cut-scenes that increased the immersion, but shoddy UI, bad or non-existent tutorials as well as game dynamics like the player collision just left me eager to turn off the game.   I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this game, even though it is free.  Perhaps in a year or so a lot of these problems will have been fixed, but until that time, I would give the game a wide berth.

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