I always was under the assumption that most if not all MMORPG enthusiasts were at least aware of ArcheAge and why it was and still is a pretty exceptional game – in my opinion, obviously – in a genre that didn’t see too many great, let alone unique new AAA releases during the past decade and a half, even if they haven’t played it themselves.
Since ArcheAge Unchained was announced I’ve read many posts and comments along the lines of Why should I play this or What’s so special about the game, proving my assumption wrong. Even Bhagpuss, of whom I knew he’d played the game at some point (and found stuff he liked, too), was quite surprised by the hype surrounding this non-P2W re-release.
So today I’ll talk about some of the things that, to me, make the game stand out from the crowd by a mile and then some.
This game’s class/skill system is as close to Star Wars Galaxies’ profession system (pre-NGE) as it gets, and I just love it.
There are twelve independent skill trees. Some are pretty staightforward, like Battlerage, which is all about dealing damage up close and personal, or Sorcery, that lets you sling hurty spells at your opponents. Others are more about buffing, debuffing, CCing, increased mobility and other fun stuff. You freely choose three of those skill trees to make up your final build and class. If my math doesn’t fail me that’s a total of 220 available classes.
Are all of those, like, good? No, of course not. But the amount of classes that are considered to be totally viable for almost any kind of content is still staggering. Some are especially good for PvE, others lean more towards the PvP side of things, but as long as you follow some quite self-explanatory ground rules – like not wanting to be an Archer who’s also a kick-ass mage and can throw in some big heals for good measure – you can make almost anything work under pretty much all circumstances.
Where it gets really complex – and the theorycrafting really fun – is wrapping your head around combos and synergies. That the skill trees are chosen independently doesn’t mean that they don’t interact with each other. A skill from one tree might seem mediocre on its own, but using it right after a certain skill from another tree might result in an added effect like a stun, or the second skill dealing much more damage than it normally would. Knowing about these combos and learning how to utilize them is what makes a class good at what it does.
By the way, you aren’t locked into your chosen class forever. As a matter of fact you can swap skill trees out for a small fee at any time, and a character can have all twelve trees leveled up to the maximum. As long as you also happen to have the right gear for whatever it is you want to do, just be whatever you want to be at any given moment.
Of course one can’t rave about ArcheAge without mentioning this. Many, myself included, usually refer to it as ‘open world housing’, but in reality it’s much more than that. The actual buildings really aren’t the most important part gameplaywise; owning and using a piece of land is what it’s all about, and many of the game’s systems are designed around it.
Unlike EVE or SWG, ArcheAge isn’t a game where absolutely everything has to be crafted by players, but crafted goods are very important nonetheless. Consumables like food, potions and teleport-stones, construction materials for ships, farm carts (you’ll want to own one eventually even if you don’t have a farm) and other gadgets as well as trade goods all need to be made by players. What’s more, the game’s very best gear and gems are also crafted, so if you’re dead set on min-maxing and don’t want to settle for the second best, you have to craft that stuff yourself or pay ungodly sums to those who can do it for you.
For all of this lots of raw materials are needed, and many of those have to be cultivated on a piece of land. This can actually be any piece of land almost anywhere in the game world, but if you do it that way your goods aren’t protected and anyone can pick them up. Hence you want to have your own piece of land.
I won’t go into detail too much, but getting your first little farm is pretty easy once you’ve reached level 30, and finding a spot to place it isn’t all that hard either, despite of what you may have heard. Most folks who are complaining most definitely had the aspiration to claim a big chunk of land at their favourite spot right away, which obviously didn’t (and couldn’t) work out for everyone. Lakisa and I didn’t get exactly what we wanted either, but we have placed three small farms now (the third belongs to my alt), two of them directly adjacent, in the region we wanted, so for the time being we’re absolutely golden.
Right now we’re using these farms to stock up on most basic materials like grain, flowers, cotton and wood. Among other things these can be used to craft food, potions, fabric and lumber, respectively, the latter two of which are in turn needed for cloth armor, ships and houses.
The gameplay itself is probably much akin to Farmville’s, and it’s obviously a matter of taste if you enjoy it or not. Personally, I find it to be very relaxing. And rewarding too – not only can you use or sell the stuff you make, you even get XP for it and thus can level your character and skill trees without questing or killing anything! These kinds of interaction with the game world, and different gameplay-systems being interwoven like that just make the world feel much more real to me.
Now, of course you can play the game without owning land. If all you’re interested in is exploring the world and/or combat, be it PvP or PvE, you can certainly do so and farm all the XP and gear you need by engaging in combat-related activities. You might find yourself a bit strapped for gold though, as you’ll not be producing anything you can sell, and you’ll also have to buy every consumable and other stuff you need from other players. But if you really, really do not want to be Uncle Owen, you don’t have to be.
Next time around I’ll talk about the trade system, the world in general and the sea in particular, and some other bits and pieces that I really like about ArcheAge Unchained.