It’s been over a month since I started playing ArcheAge, and in that time I’ve experienced much, but not all, of what the game has to offer in some capacity. I’ve been captured in its beautiful land of near endless possibilities, and I remain a happy denizen of the virtual world. This isn’t simply a symptom of a financial Stockholm Syndrome brought on by the alpha’s hefty buy-in; no, it’s the features and gameplay themselves that have given me a home I wish to stay in for some time to come.

It should be disclosed that as a ‘why I play’ style article, this piece comes in only one shade: rose-colored. This type of article is not meant to be critical, so it won’t be. As with any product, ArcheAge is not a perfect fit for everyone’s demands, so while I do find it to be a damn good game, I will be addressing some of the game’s shortcomings and my personal concerns in a follow-up post in the very near future. Readers looking to get a more complete picture of the game should read both of these articles.

Choosing where to begin is incredibly difficult, as I could easily ramble for thousands and thousands of words about the individual features of ArcheAge that draw me in. That would be missing the point though, because it isn’t those individual features that draw me in, it’s what they create when combined together – a living, breathing virtual world. For example:

Instant travel is limited, requiring a crafted reagent to open a portal that can be used by other people.
Dailies focus on travel – not combat, sending you through several different zones to grow animals, plant flowers, and gather gunpowder with no combat required.
Farms and houses can be placed in non-instanced world-space, bringing you back to your own little corner of land.
Trade packs require players to transport goods for trading or construction slowly through the world.
Trade packs are incompatible with portals, so players must use the game’s public transportation or player ships to get around quickly.
Trade packs dropping on death gets pirates out in the world looking for traders.
When zones go to war, honor rewards are increased, bringing players of all levels back to PvP for the duration (and they go to a PvP-free peace time for people trying to level right after).
ArcheAge – Marionople Trading at Night
Putting a bright “kill me” flag on the trade-packs also helps. At least the boat lamps can be turned off.

Through this combination of features, you have a system where the game world is teeming with players of all levels, and better yet, are doing it for their own benefit and not as a tedious exercise in travel (though I generally support those as well). I go back to the low level zones constantly, either for my dailies, to harvest my farm, to craft and transport a trade-pack, or to help a guildmate doing the same. ArcheAge isn’t a game where you sit in town or only linger around a select few high level zones, no – the entire world is your play-space, every single time you log in.

Moving naturally through a seamless, load screen-free world also helps to ground you in the world with a sense of place. When I’m in Dewstone, I know exactly where I am in the world. To the East is the Feuille sound, where I can take my clipper to quickly travel around the edge of the continent. To the west lie the mountains which I can climb Skyrim-style to glide off into the next zone, White Arden. To the north are the starter zones, and to the south the bustling city of Marionople. I know the roads, where the carriages stop, and which cities have airships. Travelling through ArcheAge‘s world feels real, and it’s largely in part because you don’t usually just jump through a portal to do it.

Beyond travel incentives, the game world comes alive with an amazing amount of interactability. See a chair? You can sit on it. See a light? Odds are you can turn it off. There are limitations, of course. You can’t just massacre an entire forest of trees, as appealing as the idea becomes when you suddenly need lumber. Even with those reasonable limitations though, the game’s non-destructive interactive offerings are a fantastic addition to its already immersive world.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

As mentioned in my previous article, The Errant Logbook: Adventure on ArcheAge’s High Seas, ArcheAge organically encourages cooperative gameplay in a variety of ways, from the sheer danger inherent in a trade run to the high costs of creating the more expensive ships and houses. The reason you join a guild in ArcheAge is surprisingly intuitive; because you want to play the game with other people. It’s not because the game bribed you with bonus experience, increased mount speed, or something similarly gimmicky – no, you do it because there’s an organic benefit for everyone to play with others, something mainstream MMOs have been missing for a long time. ArcheAge really isn’t an MMO for solo players, and for me, that’s high praise.

Diplomatic Community

Joining a guild isn’t all benefits though. No, ArcheAge is an open PvP game where same-faction PvP is possible; joining a guild doesn’t just get you allies, but often enemies as well.

ArcheAge – Blackthorne Galleon
These are nice people. Don’t do bad things to these people.

Take Obscene as an example. Obscene is currently a western faction guild infamous for same-faction killing and piracy (I believe they are currently working on switching to pirate faction). If you have an Obscene guild flag, that means that a better part of the server is going to be gunning to kill you, even on the same faction. Now I don’t begrudge the guild at all, so don’t take this as me attempting to shame them in any way. I love killing gankers, because I find it to be a very rewarding style of PvP. Now I consider myself to be a realistic person, and the fact of the matter is that my playstyle simply wouldn’t be possible without people like Obscene. Them and their allies playing the game the way they enjoy it makes it possible for me and mine to do the same. The game needs ‘bad guys’ for the ‘good guys’ to exist, and in ArcheAge, the game systems allow enough freedom for such people to actually exist.

This organic system of diplomacy leads to a far more meaningful PvP than one found where your entire PvP experience is dictated by alliances chosen with a single click at character creation. Ninja dungeon loot from enough people? Routinely kill lowbies? Grief and troll constantly? Do it long enough and you’re gonna have a lot of people trying to ruin your day, and the day of everyone who shares your guild tag.

The Accessible Sandbox

While ArcheAge is an open-world PvP sandbox, its cleverly designed systems do require that you essentially opt-in to any risk that may come from someone attempting to ruin your day. Sure you can lose time if you get killed, but that’s really nothing at all to worry about. The high risk only comes when you’re attempting something with a high reward, like running trade-packs through war-zones or sport fishing. Those that want a high-risk play style can seek one out and be rewarded for it, but players extremely averse to risk will be able to avoid it almost all of the time.

ArcheAge – Sail Boat
It’s pretty, but that guy in the sunset is probably going to murder you.

This is really the core of ArcheAge‘s design philosophy: take what makes a hardcore sandbox great, and work with it to make it something that more people will be able to get into. Where games like EVE, Firefall, and Darkfall are known for being relatively directionless, ArcheAge greets its players with the familiar quest grind seen in most themepark MMOs, and uses them to guide players towards its sandbox offerings. It has a global auction house and no PvP looting, but it uses its trading system to simulate a local economy while bringing high-risk PvP to the game for those that want it. It will never have the risk we knew in EVE or Darkfall, but it does a good job of providing something to lose that’s just meaningful enough to get the adrenaline flowing. Even the game’s factions, initially determined by your race, are fluid as same-faction PK is allowed, criminals are exiled to the pirate faction, and custom faction can be created in the late game. While dungeons (and later raids) do exist, the best gear continues to be that created by the game’s crafters. ArcheAge aims to bring the sandbox to a new audience with a diverse and accessible sandpark that should satisfy the needs of veteran sandbox players and more sheltered themepark denizens alike.

Closing Thoughts

Well, that’s why I play ArcheAge, but they aren’t the only reasons to play by any means. There is an astronomical amount of content in this game, from the expected activities, like world PvP and dungeons, to the more unexpected, like hunting for sunken treasure or becoming a dairy farmer. For me what takes the cake is the world that content is set in.

ArcheAge has that certain je ne sais quoi from the MMOs of old, and brings with it a lot of the game systems I haven’t seen since I was first hooked on MMOs to begin with. Its world feels real and its community plays an important role in shaping your gameplay experience; all in all, ArcheAge is a welcome break from the monotony of themepark WoW clones that play like glorified lobby games, and I’m thrilled to find a game that feels like a virtual world again.

ArcheAge – Gliding
You know the way this image was obviously designed to feel like you’re being sucked in? Funnily enough, playing the game feels the same way.

ArcheAge is a damn good game, but as you would expect, it’s hardly a perfect one. Next up I’ll tackle the game’s shortcomings and my concerns for its future, here on The Errant Penman.