With XL Games' upcoming "dirty juries" MMO ArcheAge hitting in the next few months (I'll eat my glider if we're not hearing a release date at PAX this week), yours truly got to take a gander at the fourth closed beta this weekend titled "Conflict and Conquest".
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Considering the characters in closed beta will not be retained for launch, I decided to take a little sample of all starting zones, creating a character with a different skillset for each. The four races are the human-like goddess worshipers Nuian, the lyrical Elves, the feline Firran and the portal-using Harani. Two characters I made, and my wife who also got in on the closed beta made three. Keep reading for a run-down of our experiences.
Rannih the Harani
After fiddling around in the character creator a bit, I entered the continent of Haranya, home of the Harani and Firran. Utilizing the deadly skillset Shadowplay, I created a dark assassin type who, uh... did melee and ranged attacks. This junk character was mostly me trying to get a feel for the general UI and controls of the game, so my experiences with her shouldn't be taken too seriously.
I did come across a Cronenbergian monstrosity of a glitching donkey spasming in the sand, probably begging for death, so my experiences among the Harani survivors were not entirely lost.
Although my play-experience with Rannih didn't amount to much, I did already notice some things I hope will be fixed for launch, but I fear will not.
I'm aware I logged in at the starting time of closed beta for a highly anticipated MMO, so the starting area was going to be crowded as hell and the experience would not be representative for an average post-launch game day, but boy howdy, had I forgotten about kill-tagging! My first few hours ever in ArcheAge made me think Guild Wars 2 had ruined me for MMOs for good, with its system of shared XP divided in tiers for anyone who contributes to any in-game action. Oh, what torment to actually have to go kill 3 things that you had to tag and murder all on your own in an area where a bunch of underwear-clad meat puppets (starting gear = hotpants, basically) are all trying to do the same thing!
Design-wise, the Harani starting zone does not inspire. They are described as jungle people, but you start off in a pretty boring desert, later switched up with some equally boring canyons. The mobs you initially encounter being boars and slugs... More like BORES and SHRUGS, amirite?
I played Rannih up to level 8, so not far enough to actually combine three skillsets into a class (I went with Shadowplay and Archery) - one of those original features that was actually making me look forward to Archeage in the first place.
Janissa the Nuian
Janissa was the start of a tank build, with Battlerage as a primary and Defense as the support skillset. It was also the start of my being less overwhelmed with the game as a whole, and paying a bit more attention to specifics. The game itself isn't really to be blamed for that one, as the tutorial is clear and pops up when you need it. I never truly felt like I was lost or in need of help but unable to turn anywhere.
Something small that definitely could use fixing post-beta that probably affected a lot of players: many standard French and Belgian keyboards have the AZERTY lay-out. PC gamers from the region will know that old familiar woe: boot up a game and immediately dive into the keyboard bindings subsection of the settings to get your controls right with a WASD (or ZQSD) configuration. Even though they were characters on the same server from the same account, I had to adjust key bindings twice. C'mon XL! It's pretty likely I want the same controls for all my toons!
Here's another thing I missed but seems like too fundamental a thing to fix after beta: a physical double-tap of the movement keys resulting in a dodge of enemy attacks. Again a result of being spoiled by Guild Wars 2, but hey, game development does not happen in a vacuum. With Janissa I was a bit more thorough in accepting quests from quest-givers, which resulted in my owning a mount at level 7. I quit playing right when I was given my first ship, a rowboat which I could only steer forwards and backwards. Inquiring in chat, I found out you need two people manning it to actually turn. This could be wrong information, but I certainly did not find a way to do it by myself.
In a way, I wanna say that's bad, but on the other hand... it's also very friggin' hilarious: "LF guy who'll row a boat with me to that tiny island to go kill that guy".
Since you are required to be level 30 to do so, I wasn't able to sit in on a jury - one of the game's most vaunted features. I have to admit, though, I was already laughing out loud at my screen just from reading some of the shenanigans going on the Trial chat (visible with special prefixes in Faction chat). I'll forever in my gaming life remember the lines "Mother****er stole my turmeric! I waited five hours for that s***!". Now that's some emergent gameplay!
Another interesting mechanic are Labor Points, which the game grants at specific intervals simply by being logged in. "Unpacking" looted objects costs LP, as well as gathering resources. It's interesting because it makes you choose what to spend LP on. You wanna be a gatherer, a crafter, or a robber? This game really wants to drive a wedge between people on different sides of the law! I'm curious to see how this goes on in later gameplay.
For some other random observations: I quite liked the music, and the cinematic interludes where your toon's main story is told as the camera pans over stylized paintings telling it are nice - though a little reminiscent of that other MMO that has probably had a few too many mentions in this beta report already.
Upon discussing the game with my wife (who'd made a Nuian, an Elf and a Firran), we also came to the conclusion that the races felt fairly generic. I kind of know what each of them is about from the narrated cutscenes and the official game site descriptions, but a lot of quests seemed pretty interchangeable among the four races. There's of course a limited amount of quest types any MMO can have, but there was surprisingly little character in these. Age of Conan's starting pirate town of Tortage, the Shire, Ironforge, Rata Sum - all these MMO locations tell a tale of their own, and ArcheAge's starting zones unfortunately do not. Immersion is a player-driven affair for this game.
For a completely free-to-play experience (you can always buy three different tiers of Founders Packs, or become a subscribing member after launch), ArcheAge certainly isn't a bad choice. I never ran up against any paywalls in game - though those may pop up at later levels, of course. The game's "Find out for yourself, scum!" attitude and player-instigated conflict (all with tongue firmly in cheek, as I had noticed, at least) mark it as an MMO different enough to stand out from the crowd.
We'll be keeping an eye on this one.
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