It’s been a couple of weeks since part 1 of our review in progress and ArcheAge Unchained is still steeped in drama. As I mentioned previously, the drama of pre-launch through the first few days after release centered around name reservation and server capacity. Queues were horrible (though not totally unexpected) and tempers were running high as players were unable to create characters on their server of choice. Since then, Gamigo has opened up more servers and the queues have shrunk down to manageable levels on all but the most popular servers. They even announced they were working on a solution for players who want to migrate their character to a different server or reclaim a Chainbreaker pack used on the wrong character. Don’t think for a second that means the drama has ended. If anything, it has gotten worse.
The drama has shifted to the ArchePass. Meant to be AAUs version of a seasonal battle pass, players quickly found ways to manipulate the system in ways Gamigo never expected nor intended. The result was players quickly earning hundreds or thousands of gold and labor. Compounded by the fact many players were still having difficulties logging in, this huge disparity in wealth has led players to claim the economies on affected servers to be irrevocably broken.
Gamigo pushed out a hotfix to limit the amount of gold one could earn from the main exploit, but it didn’t end there. To prove they were taking the zero-tolerance approach to cheating, Gamigo acted quickly by unleashing the banhammer on over 200 accounts. This only added fuel to the fire when many of those accounts were reinstated just a couple of hours later. Since that time, players found new ways to game the system and Gamigo has currently shut off the ArchePass until they are able to work through the issues. The damage has already been done, though, and this chapter in ArcheAge Unchained’s history is far from over.
Like the newb I am, these events pretty much passed me by. I was still running through the low and mid-levels while all this was happening, and any player who had hit level 50+ had already outclassed me, exploit or no. I can respect how more hardcore players are taking this in a more personal manner, and anyone sitting on the fence about whether or not to give AAU a try should take all of this into account.
So enough about the drama, let’s get back to the gameplay.
Playing In The Sand
As I mentioned back in part 1 of my review, the first 29 levels or so are pretty straightforward – run the green quests and pick up your mount, rowboat, and glider. The early levels were akin to being a 13-year-old holding a pail and shovel and looking at a sandbox – I had done it all before and felt I was ready for more. When I finally hit level 30 I knew I was supposed to be getting to the sandboxy portion of the game and was excited to see what ArcheAge Unchained had to offer for the mid-game levels.
What AAU delivered was a little overwhelming at times. I was the 13-year-old from above but my little sandbox was replaced with a giant beach and I was handed the keys to a bulldozer, backhoe, and a dump truck and told to have fun. To top it all off, as I worked my way through the world every once in a while a group of bullies would randomly swoop in and kick my butt.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time as I went from level 30 to 50. On the contrary, it was a grand adventure that I haven’t seen in an MMO for quite a long time. Some of the lessons were tougher than others and I still have a lot to learn, but let’s dig into some of the gameplay I experienced along the way.
Before we go over anything else we need to talk about labor. If you have ever complained that it isn’t fair “no lifers” get to play 8+ hours a day while you have real-life commitments that hold you back from being in the top 1% of your server, then labor is just what you’ve been looking for to level the playing field. Each character has a labor pool of 5000 points. Every task in AAU that generates money has a labor cost associated with it. Want to cut down a tree or mine some ore? It’ll cost you labor. Need to craft that iron ore into ingots? Pony up the labor and they’re yours. Want to kill mobs for loot? No problem, but be ready to spend labor to open the coin purse or identify the armor the mob dropped. All players will regain labor at the same rate. Even when you’re offline labor continues to replenish. There are a few ways to earn extra labor (none of which are P2W), but generally speaking, labor puts a constraint on how much money you can make each day.
Questing – Exclamation Marks Everywhere
One of my favorite things to do is quest. I know it’s one of the most mindless game mechanics but I find it VERY hard to pass by an exclamation mark without stopping to see what menial task an NPC will offer up. Even if you don’t like questing when you hit level 30 you’ll have to start doing side (yellow) quests if you plan on reaching Auroria (the level 50+ continent) anywhere near the 50 mark. Basic quests aren’t the only way to earn xp but completing every quest as you roll through a zone will fill big chunks of your level bar.
Dungeons And Open World Bosses
Just like every other piece of PVE content ArcheAge puts in front of you, dungeons are pretty much run of the mill MMORPG. Get ready to clear trash mobs as you work your way through two or three bosses with all too familiar mechanics. Each dungeon has a regular version to run as you level up, and a ‘greater’ version available for those high enough level to survive them.
Open world bosses add a little more for large groups to engage in. Players can group up into raids of 50 and head out to kill these behemoths. To add even more danger to the situation, all of these bosses are located in contested territory. A lot of these are run on a daily cycle, so many groups will sue for peace while taking these beasts down, but an unruly group can always add a little excitement into the mix.
PVP – Kill Or Be Killed
Seeing as how ArcheAge Unchained is PVP focused it’s no surprise Gamigo has pulled out all the stops. Friendly duels, arena battles, and open-world PVP are all on tap. The starting areas are free from PVP, but most of the world is contested land where player-killing goes unchecked. There is a game mechanic in place to give all players the chance to roam the world in peace though. Each zone can enter a time of peace. During this limited-time PVP is not allowed. Once the grace period is over, the zone enters a danger period. At the beginning of this period, player-killing is allowed but rewards are reduced. Over time the threat level will increase as more PVP activity pushes the zone towards all at war. Once a zone finally goes to war, it’s all-out fighting. High-level raiding parties from the opposing faction will often sweep through the area looking for easy kills and loads of honor (a form of currency earned for completing tasks for your faction and killing the opposing faction’s players). With multiple areas to quest and gather in, a peaceful player can often avoid the bloodbath of war by simply moving to another area that is still at peace.
Crafting And Trade
If you are the type of crafter that likes mini-games to add some life to crafting, you’re going to be disappointed with crafting in AAU. Crafting here is the traditional style where you pick a recipe, press the button, watch your progress bar fill, and presto, your item is added to your inventory. The crafting is deep, with 22 proficiencies spread across harvesting, crafting, and a special category (housing, commerce, etc) to specialize in. You are able to attain up to eleven ranks in a single proficiency but can only rank up a maximum of seven proficiencies. You won’t be able to do it all yourself, meaning you must rely on others to fill in the gaps.
Where AAU really shines is not only in the sheer amount of crafting available but also the multiple ways to capitalize off your finished product. Going beyond the typical choices thrown at you (sell it on the auction house or use it to craft gear), ArcheAge Unchained gives you the option of creating a trade pack and then moving it between commerce centers for larger profits. Be wary though, you’re going to be slow and there’s always someone willing to kill you for the easy gold.
If nothing else, you will want to run the Blue Salt quests at least until you get your first free 8×8 farm. Once you do (or don’t if you want to waste your gold) you can plop it down in one of the housing areas and start planting crops. You can even grow livestock if that’s your thing. If you plan on building a house, the first thing you’ll want to do is grow some trees that will be harvested for logs.
You don’t have to grow your items on a farm but anything you place there is protected from the filthy thieves that run rampant in the game (I know because I am one of them). There are public farms scattered around that you can use as well, but you are limited to just five items at a time and if you wait too long anything planted there becomes fair game for other players. If you want to take the risk, you are welcome to plant trees and crops out in the open world (called illegal farming), but anyone coming across your goods can uproot them at any time.
When I stumbled upon the Mirage Isle portal I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I knew it was the place to go to purchase my first housing blueprint, but I wasn’t prepared for the wonderful world of shopping I was about to experience. There aren’t just vendors sitting in a row waiting for you to click on them. No, Mirage Isle has pre-built models for you to check out. Once you find the one you want, just click on the small version in the front yard and the blueprint is yours.
There are all other sorts of items to spend your gilda on here as well. Upgrades to your glider are available, and down on the docks are all of the ships you have dreamed about building. If you can spend gilda on it, you’ll find it in Mirage Isle. It’s quite splendiferous.
I still haven’t set foot on a boat, and when writing a review I usually steer clear of any content I haven’t personally experienced, but I am going to break that rule this time to touch on the naval content in ArcheAge Unchained. For those brave (and rich) enough, there is plenty of loots to be found on the open seas. For a casual, hopefully peaceful, day on the water you can grab a fishing boat and try your luck at landing a big catch or go treasure hunting for salvage on the bottom of the sea. Merchants have a ship capable of carrying multiple cargo loads (similar to the overland trade packs) from continent to continent, and anyone interested in a little more violence can grab one of the warships. Just like on land, there are world bosses to conquer on the open seas and I have heard rumors of a giant Kraken in store for any group capable of bringing multiple galleons to battle. And if regular faction fighting isn’t enough, the pirate life is available to those wishing to go down that dark path.
It’s been nearly three weeks since ArcheAge Unchained launched and it’s been quite a ride so far. Even with the issues that have many players up in arms, I have had a good time, as have several of the staff here at Gamespace. I just recently reached level 50 and unlocked all my base Hiram (end game) gear but have barely started to rank it up. I have started participating in daily reset raids (groups of players teaming up to steamroll the daily quests), and still, have a little while before I reach level 55 and start working on my Ancestral levels. All of that doesn’t even include trying to rank up my crafting and possibly even get some time in on a boat.
I always heard that ArcheAge was a big PVP gankfest with a ton of grinding, and my time in ArcheAge Unchained is starting to mirror that. AAU is truly a sandbox to play in. Some players will always take the min-max approach and only worry about pushing their way up the leaderboards, and AAU offers plenty of that life. But it also gives more casual players a world to do as they please. There is always the threat of PVP, but the peace/war cycle that zones rotate through means that even someone looking for a peaceful existence can work around most of the fighting. In the end, ArcheAge Unchained throws everything you could think of finding in an MMORPG onto the table. You won’t find a lot of innovation, but there is plenty of solid gameplay to keep you playing for as long as you like.