ArcheAge is a silly name, and also a new MMO from the creator of the Lineage series. It's free to play - and from my experience of the first few hours, that's actually very free - and it's available from Trion if you go through the joy of installing their new Glyph shop-cum-game launcher. I've spent today playing it, and try to fathom why I've enjoyed myself despite everything, below.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time with Korean MMOs. I’ve experienced the worst of them – games as ghastly as RF Online and ArchLord. Although even the best, the Maple Stories and Aions, I’ve usually bounced off. The emphasis on grind, and the need for dedication to their causes, fails to grab me. ArcheAge, from the creator of Lineage, seems to step away from the worst of this. But it’s all replaced with crushing familiarity.
Boy, it sure is an MMO.
You pick your race, and thus starting area, and then choose a class. Tweak your face, get dumped in the same starting area as every other MMO ever, and forced to learn how to play an MMO yet again. I chose Firran, because they’re cat-people, and was immediately told I was about to come of age, and must pass a series of tests and blah blah oh god is this what we want?
Mother Tutorial snaps her instructions at you as you progress, half the time forgetting to say the first half of her sentences, or worse, saying two things at the same time. You run off killing five of this, or picking five of those, and then run back. It’s an MMO. It’s the MMOiest of MMOs.
So off I went on my trials, asked to go help a fellow trialee who was in some sort of trouble. I helped him, which apparently caused me to get into some manner of trouble, and I was told I should either complete the trials, or flee to clear my name. I did neither, but clicked on a glowy rock to see what it was, found myself teleported somewhere entirely different, and my trial quests vanished. Oh good.
Except, maybe not? After a bunch of randoms telling me to tell someone else a thing about a previously-unmentioned battle that I’m apparently supposed to care about, and to kill eight of those new enemies on my way, now I’m attempting to appease for my crime (killing a mob that I was told to kill). And oh my goodness, you’re never going to guess what! It turns out I’m some sort of chosen one! After queuing up to make a ghost man-cat appear repeatedly above an alter, another man-cat exclaimed his astonishment that he should have appeared after all this time (10 seconds?), and said I must be a truly rare warrior man-cat. Like, presumably, the other seven people currently stood around him.
Then you’re tethered to that endlessly rolling cart, dragged along its paths by quest after quest after quest, each only ever asking you to talk to someone, pick some stuff up, or kill some stuff. And killing some stuff is, too, as MMOey as it gets.
Attack styles are assigned to number keys, press them in your preferred order, repeat. There’s no call for tactics, or the more fluid, dodge-based antics that last year’s modern takes on the genre introduced. It’s just a case of firing off your skills, occasionally adapting to the addition of the scant choice for a new one as you level up.
Despite having been out in South Korea since January 2013, a year and a half’s localisation for the Western release hasn’t seen fit to include any recorded dialogue beyond a patronising tutorial voiceover and the madly interrupting ‘cutscenes’ (static images over which mythos is barbled). Conversations, of which there are many, are read in silence, while barks from shopkeepers and the like remain in what I guess is Korean. (Although I do want to give credit to one line. Approaching someone who’s surrounded by evil skellingtons, I’m met with, “Finally, someone who still has their skin on.”)
And yet – bloody hell, damn it all – I’m enjoying myself.
It’s slick. It’s so damned slick, despite looking, feeling, and playing like it’s from at least five years ago. This is the CryEngine at its least inspiring, and things blip and crackle in and out of existence, much is glitchy, and the environments are vast stretches of barren uniformity. But one quest leads to the next and that cart keeps dragging me forward. Side-quests, sort of, co-exist – they’re identical to the main quest, and they too take place on the same inexorable path you’re dragged along, and they too keep me clicking and playing and somehow not caring that this is the same thing I’ve done so many times before in so many MMOs.
It’s unquestionably clumsy, and quite what’s going on is lost in the mix of banal quest dialogue needlessly delivered one unspoken sentence at a time, and the infuriatingly interrupting non-cut-scenes, in which out-of-context lore is gabbled at you in a voice that sounds like it’s advertising anti-aging creams. God, there’s so much lore in here, and indeed so many gods. Half-arsed fantasy religions that are indistinguishable from every other half-arsed fantasy religion you’ve ignored in a game, blurted endlessly because it sounds mystical. A plot would be nice.
Oddly, the game’s free, and so far I’ve not experienced anything that wants to charge me money, nor that suggests it’s going to in the future. I’m sure it must, because I doubt this is an act of altruism on the part of Trion Worlds, but in 12 levels it’s not even suggested the notion of wanting my cash. That’s worth relishing.
But in the first day of playing, over the first 12 levels, not a single original thing happens. Perhaps being given a mount already, and its not costing either in-game or real-life money is novel, but it remains a mount that lets you move ever-so slightly faster. (Albeit one given to you by taking part in some non-mini-game of raising a cute little cub into a huge beast by, er, feeding it for five minutes.)
So why do I feel like carrying on? It’s that slickness. That ever-flowing tumble from one thing to the next. If you uninstalled it from my machine and told me I could never play again, I doubt I’d even react. But because you haven’t, I’m going to end up playing some more. Which is ridiculous. There’s no story worth hearing, there’s no immediate hook that makes this different from anything else, and nothing special about the combat or the questing to make me care.
But clickity-clickity-click, on I go.