Today, ArcheAge launches its newest expansion, Erenor Eternal and the devs were kind enough to walk me through with a look at all the new toys you can expect in your sandbox, either to build your castles with, or to flatten those of others. Before we begin, I'd like to thank Yafine Lee and the team for giving this presentation and answering our questions.
Eternal in Name, Well in Intention
Among the many things in online gaming one can get attached to, "version numbers" is certainly not something that you might hear very often when asking a group of MMO connoisseurs. However, "3.5" is probably the most magical among this generation of RPG enthusiasts thanks to the relatively long endurance of that particular version of D&D. As such, Erenor Eternal raises the stakes with the version numbering, at least to a certain demographic.
If you have any interest in ArcheAge and what's in store, you're probably aware of the main features of this expansion already. If not, here's our Preview. Thanks to a guided tour from the developers, this space will instead be dedicated to a more in-depth look at what the expansion has in store.
What Erenor Eternal is Doing
When asked about the general content of the expansion, the devs told me that after a cycle of expansions dedicated to social features like fort conquering and nation building, they are now aiming to improve upon the existing systems. The goal is to increase their user friendliness and decrease frustration potential, leading to an overall rise in feature popularity.
Case in point: the crafting system. Many a curse has been uttered over the random nature of the old ways, where each time you pressed the button to make the magic happen, you essentially cast the dice to see what you got. One out of four times, you would rejoice. The other three times, you'd roll one of the non-upgradeable versions, give off a frustrated sigh and start anew. Add a few tiers to get to the end of the tree of chance-and-tears, and you quickly realize it takes a lot of attempts to get where you want. On average.
There will be no more of this in Erenor Eternal. You can pick the result of your work freely, and each one is upgradeable through all tiers. In short, no more RNG when crafting and all 4 variations of a given crafted piece of armor are viable, allowing for more customization in your stats. If you look up "Quality of Life improvement" in the dictionary next year, chances are it'll state "See: ArcheAge 3.5 crafting system changes."
Travel the Trade
The fight to reduce player frustration becomes less clear cut when dealing with anything related to PvP, of course. Ever more so in a system that defines the roles of hunter and hunted as clearly as the trade system in ArcheAge, which basically has someone strap a giant "kick me and steal my stuff" sign on their backs and run around a PvP friendly world, slowed by the weight of their choice. In order to make the system more usable for all stages of your ArcheAge experience, the developers have changed the life cycle of a kick me sign and split it up into three phases: the "Trade Pack", the "Cargo" and the "Signed cargo".
The "Trade Pack" stage is fairly straightforward: craft stuff, bundle it into a pack, piggyback it (or cart it) around your safe home continent until you arrive at a drop-off, and cash your cheque. New in this is that the drop off point is now called a "Trade Tower" and they exist in strategic locations. Specifically, ports.
She certainly looks unsinkable
To the Seas
The "Cargo" stage stuffs our trade pack into a container ready to be loaded onto sea-faring vessels for the grand voyage across the oceans. At this stage, the cargo container gets a timer attached and the faster it is delivered, the more of a profit can be turned from it. Likewise, the further it goes, the more you make. So far, nothing new. Likewise, the danger of pirating individuals skulking the waters is also nothing new and, with the new streamlining of the system that funnels traders across certain routes, certainly won't become less of a phenomenon.
There is an option, however, if you prefer to live longer but prosper less, and that is merchant ships. You can buy protection on these while you bring your cargo from A to B, however, there are catches; it costs money and you can only transport one unit of cargo at a time, which certainly impacts your profit margins. Still, there's a safe option now, which is good because it caters to a certain demographic of players and ensures that at least some cargo will make it across to the final stage.
Once the cargo has been moved to a trade tower across the ocean it becomes "Signed Cargo". This looks a lot like other cargos only this one nets you charcoal stabilizer when you turn it in which you can then use on your RNG-free crafting endeavors. It all comes around. The intention behind these changes is to reduce confusion about the trade system, streamline it, and make it more appealing to a broader audience of players. It's a promising system, but it's going to be interesting to see how highwayman piracy develops when trade routes become more predictable.
PvP on the Grand Stage
[caption id="attachment_77930" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Group Hunting, best hunting[/caption]
If you're looking for PvP venues other than pirating or being pirated on the open ocean, two new zones were added which facilitate outdoor player combat, though with a few new nuances that will mix up your experience a bit. For one, the zones tipping from carefree, rewardless 'conflict' to the more "srsfaced" war state depends on player actions. Thus, crafty guilds will gather their fellows and ride forth to slay many mobs and tilt the scales, enabling rewards.
Speaking of rewards, the battlegrounds are a bit PvE-centric in that progress is achieved by slaying specific mobs once the war is active. However, it's certainly a lot harder to do that when people keep coming in and trying to gank you for your troubles. Completing the battleground objectives rewards crafting materials, while participating in PvP kills grants honor. Thus, if you're lucky enough not to encounter any enemy players as you grind through the mobs, you'll get all the crafting stuff, but no badges to show your PvP accolades. Which, honestly, sounds fair.
Putting the Eternal into Erenor
The list of features doesn't end here, of course. The Regrade system is getting additional tweaks and updates, and an additional tier, "Eternal", which adds new content for veteran players in this direction, as well. When upgrading an item, pouring in the resources, and milling over the numbers of chances to succeed, fail, and destroy the item (and your hopes), the game now tells you exactly what percentage of chances you're working with. This once again is aimed to reduce frustration and enhance usability while still keeping enough RNG in there to keep things exciting, and potentially even more frustrating when your 1% chance to destroy the item you're working on gets through. Still, you knew what you were getting into, so once again the overall objective of the developers was achieved.
Furthermore, the Ancestral skill system is unlocked in Erenor Eternal. With this, players will be able to modify existing skills to change the way they work, the area of effect they have, and other changes to their tastes or to complement their specific build. Veterans of gaming will find that the system resembles the Rune System in Diablo 3, which is a fair comparison. In ArcheAge: Erenor Eternal, only a handful of skills will be available for modifications. As time passes, the developers intend to add these variations to all existing skills in the game, leading to about a bazillion possible skillsets.
But I Want Free Stuff
Yes, you're getting some. If you've played ArcheAge before today, you're eligible to get a cosmetic set in the appearance of your favorite prophet-who-polymorphs, Lucius! It's rather sweet looking and is sure to stay in style, as I hear the raven feathers & hood are the go-to look for anyone giving ominous predictions about the future, and that job never goes out of fashion.
Also, and maybe more to the point, you get a set of gear that brings you up to the item average of 3.5 - 4k, which will help you get back on track with your adventures and allows you to check out the new expansion upon first logging in. Additionally, a daily unlock will keep filling your bags with new goodies for the first 15 days of the expansion, including more cosmetics, carts, and all kinds of stuff.
ArcheAge: Erenor Eternal does a fine job in what it strikes out to do: make the game better, iterate on existing systems, and bring new goals and ways to get there to players. It also aims to bring back players who might have left over one frustration or other, imagine it as an olive branch of sorts.
One concern about the deviation from RNG in core mechanics for a more steady, predictable system is the much debated 'removal of reward' moments that other MMOs have seen, and how much that will do for longtime playability and excitement is yet to be determined. However, there's a right measure for everything, and if the devs stay on the ball they are well positioned to find it for their evolving sandbox game.