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ArcheAge Beta Preview: Just Another WoW Clone

by Tim Tarbet

I’m a very critical person. It’s very, very rare that I’ll give my wholehearted approval on something. This goes double for games. I can (and will) even pick out flaws in games that I absolutely adore. I have yet to find an absolutely perfect game. 

So when I say that the ArcheAge beta was the worst game I’ve ever played, you might want to take it with a grain of salt. 

I actually had more trouble finding things that I liked about this game than finding things that I hated. The game is essentially a WoW clone, to the point where it looks like they even copied the map. The whole setting is cliche fantasy. The quests are all fetch and kill quests. The combat is mind numbingly dull. Character progression is slow. The skill system is poorly implemented to the point where it’s nearly meaningless. The in-game interface is poorly organized. The community is absolutely rancid. 

The only things that I can say that I actually liked were the art style and the graphics.

Nearly everything else was absolute crap. 

Starting Out

Creating a new character is one of the few painless things in ArcheAge. You pick from one of four races, the Nuians Americans, the Elves, the Firran Blacks Furries, and the Harani Chinese. 

The differences between these characters are essentially meaningless. No race has any meaningful bonuses, penalties, or special abilities, so it all comes down to if you want to have cat ears or not. For example, the Furries take decreased fall damage, where the elves hold their breaths longer. Not exactly things to get excited about. 

That being said, you can customize your character to look nearly however you want it to. There’re scars, face paint, absurd hair colors, and even old people skin. No, really. You can make your character look 90 years old. This is particularly humorous if you do this with a female character, as the game suffers quite badly from fantasy armor syndrome.

That’s right. Grandma’s rocking the chainmail bikini. 

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Of course, the character customization has it’s drawbacks. For example, the American male has a pedo ‘stache option, freckles and facial hair are apparently mutually exclusive, three quarters of females’ lip choices fall under the ‘lusty wench’ category, the options for customizing a Furry character are almost racist, abounding with corn rows and afros, the female Furry is downright creepy, and the female elf’s impressive bosom will literally try to jump out of her shirt every time you select her. 

Of course, this might be a feature, not a bug, since this happens with literally every pair of breasts in the game that aren’t restricted by plate armor. 

Apparently the world of ArcheAge has an epidemic of rabid boobies.  

Anyway, for better or for worse, ArcheAge has one of the most extensive character customization systems around, at least as far as faces go. I think they even put Skyrim to shame, which is impressive. 

But it’s also meaningless, since the game is from a 3rd person perspective, meaning you spend the entire game looking at your character’s arse instead of their face. 

Once you’re done deciding how your character should look, they have you select one of 6 skill sets, each of which are at once poorly explained and completely stereotypical of fantasy settings. Later on you get to choose two additional skill trees, resulting in your final Class. As with most games that use systems like this, there are some combinations that work better than others, mostly because of overlapping skills and a lack of synergies. It’s the general consensus among the community that the Primeval (archery, shadowplay, sorcery), the Daggerspell (Sorcery, Witchcraft, Shadowplay), and the Darkrunner (Battlerage, Shadowplay, and Auramancy) are the best among the 100 different possible classes. 

Of course, it doesn’t really matter which skill tree you pick, because it only costs 20 silver to change one once you’re in game. While this is good, since it doesn’t lock you into a less viable playstyle, it also makes your choices completely meaningless, since you can completely change your character for a mere 60 silver.

Gameplay

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One of the more interesting things to do In ArchAge

Before I go any farther, I feel like I should disclaim something. 

I hate MMORPGs. 

Not only do they tend to be incredibly dull grindfests that don’t even start to be fun until 80 or 100 hours in, but they are actively addictive Skinner Boxes that have actually killed people

So what I’m about to say may seem a bit strange to those who love genre at large. 

The gameplay is almost a direct rip off from World of Warcraft. 

In other words, it’s fundamentally flawed in almost every way imaginable. 

The game movement scheme is, for one thing, nearly unusable. It takes the worst parts of real time strategy and third person shooter and mashes them together in an unholy union of awfulness. You move your character around with the typical WSAD keys, as you would expect from the perspective, but instead of, you know, having your character move and look relative to your mouse like Mass Effect does, they have your camera and your movement completely unrelated to one another unless you hold down the right mouse button. Not only that, but they make you actually select a target with your cursor. Really? Unless I’m playing a real time strategy game, there is literally neither reason nor excuse to have me select a target with my cursor in the year 2014. It’s clunky, slow, counterintuitive, and provides absolutely no benefit to gameplay whatsoever. 

Not only is it a horrible interface style now, but it was a horrible interface style when WoW came out with it all the way back in 2004. Morrowind, for all of its flaws, had a better movement scheme than WoW does. Hell, Ninja Gaiden, which has one of the worst cameras in the history of gaming, trounces WoW’s movement style without even blinking. 

You might say that I simply don’t understand the needs of a typical MMORPG, and that there’s no possible way that a traditional control scheme could do what an MMORPG needs it to do. 

That’s funny, because the Mass Effect control scheme doesn’t seem to have any trouble with doing exactly what WoW’s control scheme does, and a whole lot more elegantly to boot. 

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Oh, look. All my relevant powers and abilities right at my fingertips. Imagine that.

Frankly, I don’t know what disturbs me more, the fact that an industry giant like Blizzard could come out with control scheme so completely abysmal, or how, for the last ten years, the MMORPG industry has been imitating WoW so blindly that only a handful of MMORPGs have broken away from it. 

Combat

On top of the nearly unusable control scheme, the combat is mind numbingly boring. While this is generally to be expected (at least a little) at the beginning of an RPG, ArcheAge not only takes it to a whole new level, but combat never actually gets more enjoyable. 

Combat consists of getting in attack range of a monster, then holding down a series of hotkeys until it dies. 

Just to give you an idea of exactly how boring it is, I’ll give you a run down on how it goes with a wizard.

Step 1: step (barely) within range of a monster

Step 2: Press 4 (Ice Arrow)

Step 4: Press 6 (Crippling Mire)

Step 5: Hold down 3 (Flamebolt)

Rinse and repeat ad nauseum. 

This would (typically) kill any monster that I engaged before it could hit me more than twice, unless it was some sort of boss creature. Then it would hit me four or five times. Of course, it didn’t really matter, since your health regenerates faster than Master Chief’s shields. Apparently the game designers wanted as little downtime between individual combats as possible.

The fact that monsters stand around like cattle waiting to be slaughtered only makes this worse, if that’s even possible. It robs the game of any sense of urgency, danger, or even legitimacy. Most of the time you simply kill things because someone told you to. You see those elementals that are over there minding their own business? Go kill them. The kobolds? Yeah, them too. Wood nymphs? Come on, do you even need to ask?

The only thing that is even interesting about the combat isn’t even about combat at all. It’s about the visual design. Despite every one of the creatures that you maim, slaughter, murder, and kill are cliched to their very bones, they are all beautifully and lovingly rendered. I haven’t seen such pretty and awe inspiring monsters in a long time. I mean, look at this centaur.

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Yes, it’s a centaur, but it’s a damn pretty one, and all the monsters are like that. The ents are so huge and detailed that they put Lord of the Rings’ Ents to shame, which is saying something.

Quests

Anyway, the quests aren’t much better than the combat. They’re all pretty much ripped directly from WoW. Kill ten of this monster. Deliver this thing. Talk to this person. One of the only things that’s different is where WoW will ask you to retrieve 10 wolf’s teeth and then proceed to swarm you with toothless wolves, ArcheAge will at least drop one example of the item you want from each monster that you kill. 

Sometimes they try and mix it up a bit, though, giving you quests that are only available for short amounts of time. So, instead of just go and kill 10 of this particular thing, it’s go and kill 10 of this particular thing at 2:00 AM. Not only that, but these quests are only available for 10-15 minutes at best, which means that you’ll go off and do other quests so that you’re not wasting any more time, look at the hour, then try and scramble back, only to find that the event has been over for 10 minutes, which means you’re going to have to wait another 12 in game hours before you can even attempt it again. 

The only other difference is that you can overachieve on some quests. For example, when the game tells you to go kill 10 jabberwockies,  you can kill 15 or even 20 of them, depending on how much you want to deplete the local population. The game will recognize this, and when you turn in the quest, you will receive extra experience for your labor. You won’t get any extra money, but at least it’s something right? If you’re willing to sacrifice enough of your time to the soul crushing grind, you can even unlock so called secret quests. The only one I unlocked was when I was down in a pit, killing off the undead. I decided to stay down there for a while because I liked the ambience, and killing undead was a little less arbitrary and meaningless than killing other sorts of monsters, and soon enough I’d lost track of how many I’d killed for this particular quest (the quest counter generally stops counting after you go beyond the minimum). Eventually a secret quest dialogue pops up and tells me that by killing untold swarms of the undead, I’d completed the secret quest for the area. I even got a drab bit of written dialogue from my character to boot. Something along the lines of, “The dead can rest easy now,” or something like that.

I didn’t pay too much attention. 

Anyway, the quest givers are as dry as the quests themselves, and most of the time the dialogue seems to have been written by a five year old. It’s so poorly done that even the game developers expect you to ignore it, giving you an “Accept Quest/Reward” button that’s available whenever you talk to an NPC. Nearly all the quests center around some asinine reason for you to do the legwork of this one NPC. Most of the time those reasons are fairly typical RPG reasons. Those monsters are menacing the city. I need 10 horns. I like to watch meaningless slaughter. Sometimes, though, they try and be a little more edgy, oversimplifying complex contemporary political situations and force feeding them to you. They don’t make you pick sides or even one quest at the expense of another. In fact, you change allegiances so fast it would make Benedict Arnold dizzy. You can, in fact, go and slaughter peace loving monkeys who’re protesting the pollution that the local factory is dumping into the environment, and then go and get a job from their boss with absolutely no repercussions. I would know. I did it. 

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Note: Axe is NOT for splitting wood.

What passes for a story is no better. Story missions tend to be a little more varied. And by little, I mean little. Instead of “Go and kill 10 of these things” it’s “Go to this specific room and kill whatever’s in it.” Yep, that’s a refreshing break from the grind, let me tell you. Not only that, but each and every ‘story’ quest (and I use the term story very, very loosely) you’re assaulted by a long, expository cutscene. Granted, you are able to skip them, and between the terrible voice acting and low budget visuals, it’s almost obvious that the game developers expect you to. But that raises the question, why have a story at all? The people who’re playing the game for the grind aren’t going to pay any attention to it, and it’s so poorly done that people who actually like stories, like me, will only end up being disgusted by it, so why use the money for it at all? Why not pour that money into, say, designing quests that aren’t kill or fetch quests?

The rewards range from simple money to a set of items. Items are, obviously, more valuable, but they don’t tell you who the item is best for, of course, be it a wizard, warrior, or rogue. That would spoil the surprise. So you have to guess which one of the two choices offered to you is going to be better for your character. The best part is that you can’t redo the quest to get the other option, so you’re stuck with whatever you picked, weather or not it goes with your shoes character build. This can be irritating since some of the rewards happen to include set items, items which give a larger bonus if worn together. This means that if you picked the warrior set because you thought the name was cooler they didn’t give you any hint as to what classes the set was intended for, you’ve either got to stick it out and get the rest of that set, and hope that the set bonus is good enough, or switch to the other set for your next reward and get no bonus at all. Luckily, equipment is transitory enough that it doesn’t really matter. Soon enough, you’ll find another quest giver who’s willing to give you another chance at picking something appropriate for your play style. 

Possibly the most irritating part of gameplay is the Labor system. For every 5 minutes you spend in game you gain a point of Labor, which is generally only barely enough. Everything from identifying items to planting seeds to drawing water costs labor. Want to plant a seed? That’ll be five Labor. Water your mount? 2 Labor. Open a coin purse that you found off a random centaur that you killed? One labor, please.

It’s the digital equivalent of being nickeled and dimed to death, and it’s senseless and asinine. There’s no real reason for it, and you can’t even get around it by paying real money for it. If it was confined to simply crafting items and farming, then I could see it as a method for maintaining game balance. The problem is, it’s not. Not only that, but you never have enough. The only thing I ever planted was a “Vita Seed” so that I could grow my mount, and yet, for some strange reason, I only barely had enough to open my coin purses and identify my reward items. How does that serve game balance?

Final Verdict

All in all, this game is almost vomit inducingly bad. I literally had to force myself to get as far as I did. It’s a WoW clone in all the worst ways: the combat is as exciting as watching cereal get soggy, and about half as enjoyable, the dialogue is asinine at best, and nearly all the quests are copy-pasted directly from WoW with virtually no change. It’s full of irritating and pointless mechanics, it has some of the worst fantasy armor syndrome I’ve ever seen, the female characters are mostly eye candy (which is insulting for everyone involved), and it would actually be better if what passes for a story wasn’t there at all. The only thing I can say I actually liked about the entire game was the art and visual design, but even that falls short simply because of how cliched everything is. 

To be frank, ArcheAge is a WoW with a graphics upgrade, and WoW wasn’t that good in the first place. Don’t hold your breath for when the game finally gets out of beta.

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