In terms of scope and sheer complexity, there are few games capable of rivalling ArcheAge. XL Games’ colossal sandbox is at the center of a powerful love and hate relationship with many players, one that invariably ended in painful break-ups and “it’s not me, it’s you” declarations. For years, ArcheAge remained as the MMORPG that could have crushed the competition, but Trion Worlds failed to find that sweet spot where players could enjoy the game without being hindered by aggressive free-to-play monetization practices.
Many games go from premium to free-to-play, but the opposite is something that is seldom seen. ArcheAge Unchained is that rare beast, a game that is now asking for money upfront, with promises that it has changed, learned its lesson, and things will now be wonderful for the two of you. Meanwhile, the free-to-play ArcheAge Legacy servers keep going as usual, creating an unexpected duality that has probably raised many doubts for some players.
The principle behind ArcheAge Unchained makes perfect sense – this is the MMORPG that many players wanted, but fair. Any true connoisseur knows that the design, freedom, and unabashed amount of content in ArcheAge is more than enough to justify spending some cash, if promises aren’t broken and hearts aren’t once again shattered into a million pieces. Should you be making up with ArcheAge?
ArcheAge Unchained Review | Get in Line
During launch week, a sneaking suspicion crept in; waiting for over one hour in mind-numbing queues reminded me that I should take that time to do some work, while cursing Gamigo’s profound underestimation of the initial number of players. This isn’t exactly the best first impression, especially for a game that needs to make the most of its second – and most certainly final – chance. In the meantime, a new server has opened, and queue times are now lower or non-existent, but this contributed to a troublesome launch.
ArcheAge Unchained also has some bugs that probably shouldn’t be in the game right now. One of the oddest situations happened with the Warborn class, flung into the air every few minutes as if an imaginary colossus had punched it with the strength of a thousand hammers. A class change was inevitably required, cutting short the ambitions and grandiose dreams that I had for my Warborn sorceress.
I swiftly decided to try the new Swiftblade skillset (pun intended). This is a fast melee class with stealth moves and teleports, and one that is difficult to master and most suited for ArcheAge experts. Suffice to say, this wasn’t entirely to my liking, as I prefer ranged classes and kiting mobs, but I can see the advantage in choosing the Swiftblade. The choice was finally made: the classic and versatile Elf archer. However, the truth is that ArcheAge Unchained offers over 200 classes, so you’ll have to tread carefully so that you get the build that suits your playstyle.
One of the key differences between ArcheAge Unchained and the Legacy servers is the introduction of the ArchePass. Premium currency APEX is thankfully thrown out of the window, and in comes the ArchePass, with promises of cosmetic rewards in basic and premium tracks. While a new feature in the game, it is basically a Battle Pass such as the ones that you are used to see in Apex Legends or Dota Underlords, to name just a few. Executive Producer Merv Lee Kwai discussed the feature in some detail in our exclusive interview, emphasizing the three simultaneous ArchePasses and how it would only reward players with cool cosmetics.
However, part of the community discovered an exploit and became obsessed with it. Instead of playing the game as intended, some players decided to abuse the world boss missions and farm large amounts of gold, leading to some bans. At the time of writing, the ArchePass system appears to have been removed entirely, probably because it was breaking the flimsy balance of a game that is already a substantial challenge to keep in a stable condition.
On the other hand, the labor system was enhanced to provide a fairer gaming environment. It regenerates at the same pace both online and offline, and you can’t buy your way to more labor points, instead rewarding your skills in a certain area but never limiting you from doing something else. Further changes stop players from taking advantage of the labor system by using multiple alts, since labor will be shared across all characters on the same account. This is a genuine improvement and something that many players were asking for quite a while.
ArcheAge Unchained Review | World at War
One of the key features in ArcheAge Unchained is the housing system. While it’s not crucial to have a house, it is of utmost importance for the development of your character and the trading aspect. The land claim was unlocked a few days after launch, but the major guilds wasted no time and claimed most spots of land left and right. It’s just a wild guess, but finding an unclaimed spot of land to build your farm right now is probably a daunting prospect, if not an impossible task. This is an aspect that can make or break the game for any player willing to invest his time and effort, but coming up with a rational response capable of pleasing everyone in this area is a rough challenge.
The housing predicaments lead us into a piercing conclusion that is both suited for Unchained and Legacy: ArcheAge isn’t a PvE-friendly game. If you like to take your time to explore the land, complete quests, and generally have fun exploring, you’re in for some punishment and frequent ganking at the hands of merciless guilds and ruthless high-level players. ArcheAge has an interesting territory system where factions fight for dominance, creating a flow that keeps the world in permanent change, with peace periods and callous periods of war. Joining a guild will get you the priceless support that you need to traverse certain areas unscathed; doing it alone will often punish you with death and no hope whatsoever of reaching your destination.
Until level 30, your adventure goes smoothly, and you grow in many ways during several hours. You raise a trustworthy mount and get a wolf pup to aid you in combat. Unlocking active and passive skills and experimenting with the different skillsets is a rewarding experience, as you discover effective combos and how to approach the mobs in different ways.
But suddenly, you become an enticing target for every bloodthirsty player, as PvP shows its dominant face, telling you to shape up or ship out. ArcheAge has such a complex trade system where guilds play a vital role, that this is a dream come true for anyone who loves PvP and can put in the energy and hours that this requires. As a player that favors PvE, I struggled to find my footing, but I can appreciate the potential in ArcheAge Unchained.
The disadvantage is that the sandbox aspect is downplayed in favor of a massive grind that subverts the game’s good intentions. Other tasks and missions become trivial in the face of greater rewards provided by the daily quests and the ArchePass system, which hopefully will return in better shape and absolutely exploit-proof. This is a game for PvP, for guilds to battle over territory supremacy.
How can you rate for innovation a relaunch of a game originally released in the west in 2013? It’s very simple: you compare it with the current state of MMOs and what the competition has to offer. Open world sandbox MMORPGs are a dying breed, with very few rivals worthy of the label. Besides Black Desert Online, it’s hard to find other similar-themed games that are genuine sandboxes where you are free to do as you please.
Significant touches such as the trial system contribute to a game that may look like many others, but has some clever features fueling its core experience. That is why ArcheAge still feels like a fresh experience after all these years.
ArcheAge Unchained is a pure MMO, with many players combining forces for a common goal, which is pretty much destroying the opposing guilds. Its main draw is the competitive faction PvP and it shines in that regard. Aion does a similar thing within its world but without any sort of sandbox wrappings.
Strutting across this world on your own is useless and against nature. ArcheAge is a hardcore MMORPG where there is no place for lone wolves or ill-informed players – they will be nothing more than easy prey for the large hunting parties. Black Desert Online is a much solo-friendly MMO in case you are looking for something like that.
Graphics / Sound: 7.5/10
The launch of ArcheAge Unchained coincided with the new Shadows Revealed update, which arrived on the Legacy servers as well. This brought a host of graphical upgrades to some locations, better combat effects, houses went through a visual redesign, and the Elf class was revamped, among other things, significantly improving these aspects… in theory. Technically, most changes aren’t easy to spot, but that is probably a concealed compliment.
While Black Desert Online is on its own league visually speaking and Final Fantasy 14 is giving chase, ArcheAge remains a solid and pleasant-looking game. The classes are detailed and diverse, and the environments are expansive but could do with added points of interest. The major cities are vast and enthralling, although most of the interiors are empty geometrical spaces that could do with some serious decoration to make them feel livelier.
The soundtrack tries to strike a balance between frantic war tunes and soothing melodies, and it’s the latter that deserves the most praise. As for the sound effects, what stands out is the heavy clank that hits hard every time you deliver a quest – this is the one that occasionally comes to me in my sleep, for no reason whatsoever.
Value for Money: 7/10
A couple of weeks after launch, there is so much going on behind the scenes that it’s hard to accurately say if ArcheAge Unchained is worth the asking price. There have been obvious improvements and changes in the right direction, but there are a few hindrances dragging the experience down and preventing it from getting a heartfelt endorsement.
The vision is clearly there and a noticeable care for the future of the game is irrefutable; there is no subscription to worry about, the balance-breaking items seem to be gone, and the labor system isn’t the problem that it was (or is) in the Legacy servers. However, some things like the ArchePass need fixing before the experience can be deemed safe enough. You’ll get your money’s worth right now if you like your in-depth PvP gameplay, but the best is – hopefully – yet to come.
Gamigo managed to fix a few things for ArcheAge Unchained but broke a few others in the process. The troubled launch didn’t do it any favors, with exasperating queues, but the added drama of the ArchePass exploit was something that could and should have been entirely avoided.
Without these worrisome missteps, ArcheAge Unchained could have been the game that fans of in-depth open world PvP sandbox MMORPGs were waiting for. There is sizable value to ArcheAge, and the undeniably appealing and complex systems are almost one of a kind – it’s hard to find anything quite like it. For all its cliched fetch and kill quests, there is a wealthy dose of originality and underlying quality that remains almost unrivalled.
ArcheAge Unchained is a strangely niche game that seems to have a widespread appeal, as bizarre as that may sound. Now all that it needs is some urgent bug-squashing and an enduring commitment from the developers to finally achieve the definite version of their unique MMORPG.
One-of-a-kind open world sandbox MMORPG
Labor system substantially improved
New Swiftblade skillset
Impressive PvP battles
Ingenious trial system
Flawed and exploit-prone ArchePass
Land rush is once again troublesome
Not PvE friendly