Does it live up to the hype? As with most other games, the answer is no. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s just not my thing.
tl;dr summary: This is a Korean grinder with an interesting economy mechanic – if you’re a paying “patron”. Otherwise, it’s just a Korean grinder. If you have the time and money to burn, you might be sucked in after level 30, if you like grinding.
The gameplay is generic hotkey mashing, with the combo system giving it a little kick, but not enough to make it engaging. The idea of mixing three different classes from a pool of ten options for a total of 120 combinations is an exciting idea, but the execution proves a little lacking. The math of the stats seems to contradict the promises of the class system. The concept begs for interesting hybrids, with skills from different trees complimenting each other, the reality is that sticking with a single stat focus is more effective. Strength for melee, agility for ranged, and intelligence for magic. Gear is usually designed for only one of these, granting bonuses for equipping an entire matching set.
The grind! This made the game feel tedious. There were far too many “kill ten rats” or “collect ten bear butts” type quests to keep me engaged. This might be different for the paid “patron” players, who have plenty of crafting and trade to occupy them, but I can only report on my experience. I rarely stop reading the text boxes for quests, but here I did. Eventually, scouting out places to plant unsanctioned farms and checking to see if they were raided became more exciting and engaging than doing any of the quests or fighting any of the enemies. Skill points were slow to come by, making the progression feel even slower. I saw many remarks in the chat window to other frustrated players assuring that everything gets better after level 30. The problem is that getting there is a drag and the only real difference is how many buttons there are to mash.
Archeage is touted by fans as a sandbox game, but it has some very strong themepark features within it. The most annoying of which was waiting for my turn to kill a boss after it respawns. That’s right. I waited in line in a game when I could have been doing something else with my life. A couple other nuisances include the first tagger gets the credit for the kill, and group loot rolling. This is standard MMO fare, but I’ve been spoiled by City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2. There were plenty of instances where I cleared out a mob, aimed for the boss, and then snarled obscenities at the monitor when an incoming player tagged it before I did.
Crafting seems to be a reward for subscriber patrons, since they are the only ones who can own and build farms and homes. They also get a bonus to the account-wide pool of labor points. These points aren’t only used in crafting, but also in identifying the gear you get from quests and opening the coin purses dropped by defeated enemies.
Everyone can get mounts and the starter mounts are obtained very early in the game. They can even be equipped with their own gear, which was nice to see. The mounts also level up as you ride them or they accompany you. My personal favorite mount was the Elven elk with their leafy branch antlers. The Harani mount had me scratching my head trying to figure out if it was supposed to be some sort of magical construct or an living creature. It was still an interesting design. The gliders were also fun and it was nice to be able to fly in an MMO again.
Character models cleave close to Korean beauty ideals, no matter the race chosen. This is most apparent in the female models. This is a Korean game, so I suppose that is to be expected. However, the jiggle physics could be a Jello advertisement. I was seeing comments every half-hour in the chat about it. The character creator is not as robust as it looks, with very little range on most of the sliders. All of the customization options are for the face, which you will rarely see. With such attention paid to facial sliders, I expected to see the character in dialogue scenes, akin to the method used in Guild Wars 2. However, this is not the case. To me, it seems that body sliders would have done far more to distinguish characters from one another. After all, I spend most of my game time looking at my character’s backside, not the face in a close up. Weirdly, the character animations are rather stiff in comparison to the very fluid boob jiggle. How much time did the original developers spend on breast bounce at the expense of other movement? The female models also had really odd posture with arched backs to jut out their breasts and butts. Hawkeye Initiative, anyone?
The character stories are divided by race and seem tacked on. There are far too many messenger and bearbutt quests between story points for every race, slowing down the narrative, rather than feeding into it. Like I mentioned earlier, I started skipping through the text boxes, which is rare for me. I liked the Harani story over the others, but it was a passable story, not an exceptional one. The Nuian story grated on me, laden with Chosen One tropes and hallucinogenic rocks. I lost interest in it very quickly and switched that character over the Elven race.
I can already see that the community will be split between the subscribing “patrons” and the free-to-players. Only the patrons can own land for farms and homes, giving them a massive advantage in crafting. The free-to-players are little more than customers for the patrons’ crafting endeavors and fodder for PvP. In the chat window, I saw some crowing over destroying a free-to-player’s “illegal” farm. It doesn’t take much imagination to see some players taking the role of enforcer upon themselves and searching out the hidden farms to destroy them. In the beginning zone chat, I saw players being helpful and answering questions to newcomers, which was encouraging. However, I also saw other players berating the noobs for “asking stupid questions.” Typical MMO stuff, really, but the split between patrons and f2ps was already apparent.
While I was excited at the concept of Archeage, the reality of its execution left me a little cold. While others may shout from the rooftops about it being the Best MMO Ever, I’ll say that it’s a passable game. Standard fare, if a little archaic, tacked onto a farming and trade mechanic. I still see a lot of potential, but core combat mechanics are rarely ever changed in a game. I’m glad I tried it, but it left me yearning for other games.