Friday, 29 August 2014

Whiskey Beta Reviews: An Ode To ArcheAge ft. Teriven

Platform: PC
Release Date: Who knows? This info is completely absent.
Developer: XL Games/Trion Worlds
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Where to get it: Official Website
Price: £36.99 (cheapest founders pack)

Oh ArcheAge, how much I was looking forward to playing you. How I worried about your future being compromised based on Trion's previous games and wanted to believe the grand promises and positive noises from early players. How I drooled over the beautiful trailers and stylish artwork plastered all over the website.
Regular readers already know where I'm going; it's shit. It's horrible and I'm going to rip into it like a fat werewolf with a burrito.

With MMOs being such a large genre, I opted to ask a friend who got way more time with the game than I did as many questions as popped into my head based off of my own review so that he could give counterpoints and a different opinion. The mini-interview thing is posted after my score at the bottom. Enjoy!

I could honestly just post the giant list of notes I have about my time spent with the game but this time I'm going to cherry-pick the key points and expound on just why this is so bad, there'll be some repetition but isn't that so fitting for an MMO review?

So you hop in game, get your furry cat woman character rolled up (you're not kidding anyone, everyone rolls a cat woman first) and decide to be whatever class takes your fancy. You start hitting buttons and the horrifically bad input lag becomes apparent; I'd like to believe that it's simply due to the beta servers all being located in the US and heavily populated at the time I played but it didn't entirely feel like the latency was the culprit.
Similar, and compounding on this issue is the slight pause at the end of combat where you're not allowed to engage another target. It's an unnecessary pause that leads to kill stealing from other nearby players and outright frustration when you pull a second mob half a second after killing your original, leaving you vulnerable to the first attack with no way to fight back. It feels like losing an initiative roll without the comfort of seeing lady luck give you the finger via a die roll.
The next topic doesn't fall far from the tree either; during my time with the game there was huge queues for quest mobs and items. It felt more like waiting for some inconsiderate git to move their trolley in the supermarket so you can get at the cheese.
This particular issue really came to a head when, literally 10 minutes in, I got a quest to kill a named mob down the one-way starter road. I arrived at the mobs assigned patch of grass that's... evil? I guess? Instead of a nice spread-out grouping of regular mobs and a boss lurking at the middle of the area like you might see in World Of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2 I was greeted by about thirty players all clustered around a five meter wide spawn circle that periodically had a mob pop up only to be insta squished like some kind of boring whack-a-mole machine.
Lets be clear here, I waited around for almost 20 minutes trying to get the first hit on the named mob so I could claim the kill but the constant slew of new players hitting the same roadblock meant the crowd just kept growing and the kill kept getting harder and harder to claim and at about the 20 minute mark I simply gave up and decided I'd never play this particular character again, my experience of the Firran area was forever sullied, and by extent that faction, the class I chose and the game in general.

However, I was determined to like the game still and decided to jump to the opposite side of the game and roll up a human character on the other faction. I chose to sling spells instead of arrows and ended up spawning with a bow and a fireball spell that made me hold the button to cast a combo of it, something that wasn't conveyed through an icon (ala GW2 having a circle around the hotkey number) or even a clear text description and it took me fully ten minutes to work out why my spell wasn't behaving the same way every time I cast it.
Once I got past this I decided to pick up a quest; kill x amount of y innocent creature because they're conveniently nearby. So I can see other players slaughtering fluffy creatures nearby and head over to be greeted by the game throwing up a big warning saying "Nope! This is a protected area. No stabbing things." when half a dozen players three feet away were happily gutting woodland creatures.
Finally overcoming this hurdle, by wandering off, I managed to complete the quest and was hungry for another. Spying a floating quest marker nearby I rushed over to find a crowd of other eager players all clustered around and hit my second real roadblock - character collision. Both players and NPCs are solid objects that can't be passed through which led to a group of players who had got next to the NPC and picked up their quest or were still listening to the dialogue while more players had clustered in behind and around them and were also picking up the quest while a dozen other players also clustered around which meant that those who had picked up the quest couldn't get out and those who wanted it weren't willing to back off so room could be made resulting in a digital-human traffic jam of sheer stupidity.
Not just stupidity of the players either. Stupidity of the designers too - this was an issue that was solved by MMOs a decade ago and the solution is simply turning off the player/NPC collision. It takes load off the server and clients and alleviates issues like the aforementioned traffic jam at quest givers and important NPC vendors such as auction houses.
Turning off collision also reduces the opportunities for trolling, as it stands now single players can block doors (also something that stopped me from being able to complete another quest later) and groups of players can block important NPCs or items and I can really see guilds pulling Goonswarm like bullshit such as blocking off entire cities or regions just because they can. The developers seem to have had a gigantic blind spot for just how much something as simple as collision can be abused.

The screen space is far too cluttered too. I shouldn't feel like I'm peeking through a letterbox when playing at 1080p on a screen that fills half a wall. This is partly the fault of the default UI layout, action bars at the bottom of the screen are stacked on top of each other and the mini-map takes up almost a quarter of the screen and overlaps with the quest log making neither of them easy to use.
I feel like I'm kicking a puppy here but the mini map is also terrible. It's comprised of lines and dots like some kind of budget A-Z Of Fantasyland. It provides inaccurate information about where to go like a TomTom passing a river and only having the roads shown as big chunky white lines means that looking for a cave or some other important landmark is an exercise in trial an error in areas you're not familiar with.
Getting into a city turns the quest tracker and mini-map into digital pea-soup with stairways that double back on themselves being seemingly incompatible with the low-fi map making finding the bloke you're supposed to bring the macguffin to the equivalent of getting lost in the mall as a kid.

These small issues are made all the more glaring by the blatant lazy-asshole-ness of quest givers. My previous time in the Firran area had not one but two quest givers give me the task of picking up doohickeys behind the tents they were standing beside, actually saying "get the thing from behind my tent" in the quest explanation. One NPC was even sitting on a goddamn chair in the middle of the road while telling me to walk through an empty house like I was house-shopping for the three little pigs.
Quests that any rational person couldn't give half a stale shit about are the bread and butter of MMOs but ArcheAge really takes the cake in rubbing it in your face. Every NPC's dialogue could be replaced with "Who's a sad bastard? You going to waste your time? Yeah you are, go pick up that thing two feet away. Dance monkey!" and it still wouldn't be any less insulting.
Maybe there's an overarching story or complex region spanning or dungeon delving quests that I didn't get to but there's no incentive to want to get there. Continuing playing is like admitting defeat, you're giving up your free time and doing crap just because a pretend person tells you to and not because you're after experience or gold.
It's an almost intangible difference but when a jerkoff guard in Azeroth tells you to kill a bunch of gargling fish folk you know it's bullshit but it's just on the right side of believable bullshit that you can swallow your pride and exchange some mathematical shin-kicking with trout people and enjoy the reward. The world is large and dangerous and you can believe that the guard doesn't want to, or can't wander into the giant spider and fishy smelling forest but you can because you're the big bad adventurer.
ArcheAge completely misses that mark, you're not hunting cultists hiding in a cave in the newbie zone you're picking fucking mushrooms behind some cat person's tent and touring real estate that isn't even for sale. It's not world building, it's not fluff or lore and it's most definitely not enjoyable. It's busywork bullshit and it's evident that the developers didn't even bother having a single meeting to try and improve the questing aspect, they just slapped in the most banal, mind-numbing bullshit they could think of. It's like they watched the ending to Monkey Island 2 and thought the chore suggestions were too exciting.

Similarly uninspired are your skill selections; throw a fireball, shoot a poison arrow, shoot a stunning arrow, kick, pommel strike. So on and so forth. I understand that there's only so much a developer can do with a typical sword and sorcery skill set but if the writers of Dungeons & Dragons can still be inventing new spells and classes after 40 years it shouldn't be too hard to find new ways for the mage to shoot sparkly stuff.
Like Rift before it, ArcheAge has the player choose multiple classes as they level up, getting a choice every handful of levels until you hit the maximum of three. In theory it should make every player unique but like almost every other chunk of shared digital entertainment it just means that players will quickly look through the meagre selection of skills for each class and either buy them all or, more likely work out the optimal handful of builds that will likely be necessary for high level play and just stick to those, leaving out anyone who was too naive to read a levelling guide.
Of course, this is all conjecture based on previous experiences with the genre and game mechanics.

Now we've given up on questing, classes and diversity, what's left? Money. I'm going to buy a new pointy stick to wave at the innocent creatures so I can kill them faster but I can't afford it, even if I check between the couch cushions so it's time to pop open the inventory and see what I can chuck at the vendor.
Bits of fluff, check. Sword I got from a rabbit, check. Wing of bat, eye of newt and... farmer's bag? Now you're just fucking insulting me ArcheAge. Yep, the "farmer's bag" is just a bag that makes you click on it to get a handful of coins and even worse it costs another kind of currency to open called Labor.
Labor is provided based on the time you're logged in, giving you 5 Labor every 5 minutes of play. It only costs one to open one of these bags so shouldn't be a problem right? I've only got... 20 of them. I've not found any other use for the Labor at the moment so I decide to spend it all to unlock my bags to buy a bigger stick with more numbers on it.
I'm feeling confident, it's back to questing for me! I'm going to conquer the world and solve all the problems of these lazy villagers and bring about world peace and global nuclear disarmament! Or I'm going to read a book to a cat that looks like a dry turd. That's not an exaggeration, I got a quest at level 7 to read a fucking storybook to a cat. Not a cat person, not some hyper intelligent magical cat, just a regular goddamn tabby cat that was sitting at the side of the road in a ramshackle quest hub that looked more like a half set-up fair or circus than town.
Is it not humiliating enough that the NPCs can't be bothered to walk around their tent, or want you to walk across the street to talk to a guy within earshot to get something else to do? Do we really need to pretend read a pretend book to a pretend cat? Those aren't rhetorical questions, I really do want to know just what was going through the developers heads when they gave you a serious quest to read a book to a fucking cat. It's not even tongue in cheek or played for laughs or anything, it's completely sincere and completely humiliating and baffling in equal parts.
I should have stopped here but I was still determined to find something to like and maybe the game had just worn me down enough that I was willing to gargle its toilet water at this point.

In the interest of not beating this dead horse to a pulp I'm going to just briefly touch on a couple more. Hell, I'll even start by just showing my notes for a quest I got five minutes later;
"Deliver the Elk calf" quest, got a fucking basket with a motherfucking blue baby deer in it on my back.
Quest to raise a deer, have to amuse it, feed it, water it and then the talk interact comes up and my character starts dancing. Thought I was playing an MMO not a fucking tamagotchi. On the up-side, I got an elk to ride, woo freakin' hoo.
Yeah, that's my unfiltered thoughts typed up while I was doing the quest. There was no immersion, no suspension of disbelief. It was a fucking blue deer in a basket on my back that I later danced at unwillingly.
Five minutes later again and I'm freeing a prisoner from a cage, the door's already open so this guy is already a moron so I step in to talk to him and realise I've been had. The prisoner goes skipping off into the woods a free man and the door slams shut trapping my character in the cage to take his place until someone else comes along to free me. It's not meant to be that way, I've not become an NPC but the interaction distance on the NPC is so short that you have to step into the trap to complete the quest. If you're not fast enough getting out or don't know the door can close you get fucked out of 10 minutes of your life until another player happens by to trigger the quest and let you out while you feel like an utter twat.
ArcheAge feels like a long chain of repeating "oh god where did my life go so wrong" moments. These moments aren't rare to gaming, especially MMOs where almost every single player has had that sudden realisation of wasted time hundreds of hours in when stabbing their thirty-thousandth giant rat but ArcheAge has those moments constantly, almost every quest and every interaction flicks that little switch in your mind that shines the bright light on that imaginary alarm clock meant to trigger your mid-life crisis.

Overall many of these issues are built onto the uninspired MMO standard of shin-kicking number exchanges, cooldown timers and this is yet another issue that was solved, albeit fairly recently. MMO combat doesn't have to be boring, Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar have proven this and to a lesser extent so did Tera.
ArcheAge didn't have to be a bad game, the developers obviously have lofty ideals and are capable of making a decent game because they've done it before. However ArcheAge is mediocre, uninspired and just plain behind the times at best. At worst it's the MMO equivalent of the Nazi foetus from South Park.
It's not broken, technically, and that's probably the only redeeming feature that comes to mind. It's not even so bad it's good or tongue in cheek like Progression Quest. For the simple fact that it managed to at least work without any game stopping bugs I'll give it a point, and one more for the fact that the developers had to have taken a sizable amount of time squeezing this turd out.

I hope it splashed their ass.

Score: ArcheAge made baby Thrall cry 2 out of 10 times.

And now for the bit where Teriven gives a few answers to inane questions. All emphasis are his;

How long, roughly have you spent with ArcheAge?
I've roughly got about....30-40 hours of gameplay from ArcheAge. Unfortunately, things have come up, getting in the way of my play, so I've not been able to play as much as I've wanted.

Any favourite class/race combo? What's great about the race/class?
I've not switched classes much, but the wonderful thing about ArcheAge is you're not restricted to the classes you first pick. You can drag and drop classes whenever you're near a shrine of Nui by talking to the priestess. Sure, you won't be as strong as your main classes straight away, but it's expected, you have to level those classes up just like you did the first classes you picked.

Do the later quests pick up past the first few hours worth of bad ones? Does the game ever get exciting or have dungeons that need special tactics?
I unfortunately only got to level 22-24, because of time restraints, but they do get better. As far as for the Nuian's, they become a lot more involved and actually give you some reasons to hate some of the big-bads that you run into.

Do you have a favourite quest and what's in it?
My favorite quest you get from a little kid to be petty to the towns mayor. He's been taking from the farmers and townspeople to grow his flowers, causing the town to begin to become decrepit. The little kid gives you boar bait, and bird seed. You place the boar bait in his flowers, while climbing onto his house and placing the birdseed atop his house. Watching the birds turn his house white and the boars destroy his plants inspired a moment of "Go! My minions! Seek and destroy!" It was fun.

Did you get to try the gliders and if so how good are they?
From about level 10 you get your first glider. It's a dinky little thing but it helps. As soon as you get it, you can upgrade it once, into a slightly better glider. After that, you get an upgrade every 5 levels til 20, that you have to craft with Labor points. Little expensive with them but it's well worth it. I had gotten the third best glider at the time and it is so very worth it. I was going to hopefully get with a guild later on and take down the Kraken, the ultimate world boss, to get his glider. It's a beautiful glider, that you can literally fly forever with it.

Did any enemies stand out as inventive, interesting or new?
Hmmm. Well. I've only gotten to level 23ish, so I've not had a full play of the game. But two enemies that have stood out to me, are The Kraken, and a level 30 worldboss dragon that you can ACTUALLY CATCH AND TAME as your pet. All the world bosses, except for The Kraken, can be captured and tamed to become battle pets for you.

Are there any areas in the game that are more interesting/inventive than the starting zones? Any really stand-out examples?
There are. I think at higher levels you get to a zone that literally is the Nuian's hell. I don't remember the name, but there was an army that drove the Nuian's to their current residency, causing Nui, their goddess to "sacrifice" a large army of Nuian's to stay behind and be eternal guards to the portal from the Nuian's hell to the Nuian's new homeland.

Are there ever any more uses for the Labor resource than opening money bags?
Labor is used for a FUCKTON of things. Farming, crafting, building your home, building the farm, raising your pets. It's used for just about everything that's not fighting and sailing.

If you have to say something bad about the game, for example the turd-cat, what would it be?
Eh.... I've got a feeling that the open World PVP is going to be a massive problem later on, once the game gets released.

Did you get to try the player housing/economy system? Was it any good?
The player housing, unfortunately limited to subbed players. They're the only ones that can own land. Though, they do limit this limitation, by allowing you to build on guild and friend's land with their permission. There's also PUBLIC land that anyone can build on, but it's limited in space so it's first come first served.

If you could have the developers change one thing what would it be?
Hmmm. That would be... The Labor Limitations. Opening those money bags are the ONLY way you get money drops from what I've seen. And they become more expensive as you level. At my level, the bags cost 3 labor to open up. Meaning it tears through my labor to open them. I'd like them to remove the labor cost for opening those bags, since it limits what else you can do, unless you're a subscriber.

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