To be completely honest with you, I had pretty much no idea what to expect going into ArcheAge free to play. I’ve had bare little contact with players of the game and only the one meeting with the folks behind it at PAX East but otherwise, I really am a blank slate about this one. Still, seeing as the MMO is in the midst of its third-year celebration, I figured now would be as good a time as any to fill my head with what ArcheAge is all about.
Like I said before, ArcheAge has been going on for three years now. It’s a sandbox MMO, but much like Black Desert Online, a lot of the more sandboxy features appear to be hidden behind the standard PvE themepark leveling path. Which frankly, is fine by me. The last thing I needed was to be slaughtered for the crime of logging in.
The game presents itself remarkably well, with all of the panache one would expect from the finer Asian-styled MMOs and a game running on the CryEngine. What really impressed me the most was the game’s world-building from the very start. About 2 thirds of the races had their own little vignette detailing their history up to the starting point of the game, and the stories told in those vignettes were pretty remarkable.
I was particularly taken with how ArcheAge spun the Elf race: we don’t have the ethereal stewards of nature here, but a race of people whose long memory of an old betrayal has caused them to become a war-like civilization in the hopes of slaying the betrayer of their former king. It’s pretty compelling stuff, in my opinion.
Beyond the world and racial stories, however, what we have here is pretty run-of-the-mill. Combat is multi-button hotbar tab-target with a lineup of skills that can combo into each other, while questing in the early going has you heading to exclamation marks, going to the directed area, doing the things, then turning in. Pretty vanilla stuff.
One of the most interesting parts of the game is how classes work. You’re offered a starting class with the usual archetypes, but at levels 5 and 10, you get to add on additional disciplines to form your own custom class. Even better, if you decide you don’t like the combination you’ve come up with, you can head to an NPC and have it switched out for a generally meager cost, at least in the beginning.
I started off my Elf life as the warrior-like Battlerage, but tying it together with the Defensive discipline and Occultism discipline crafted a pretty neat character that let me buff up as well as lash out with some nice AoE skills. The freedom in ArcheAge’s class system is definitely top-notch.
This sense of openness kind of leads me to my bigger criticism about the initial experience of ArcheAge as a new arrival. As much as I like not being fussed by potential gankers as I played, I was sort of hoping some more of the sandbox stuff would shine through. Again, I understand why it doesn’t and I support the decision, it just would have been nice if there was just a wee bit less hand-holding at the interim.
Despite this, ArcheAge is a fine enough fantasy MMO gaming experience. I didn’t find myself completely enraptured, but I also didn’t really find anything about the world terrible either. It’s completely inoffensive MMO gaming, for better or worse.
That said, it’s all about how much of that MMO gaming is available as a free arrival, which is what I’ll get into next. As always, I’ve broken up my experience in four different categories: Account Limitations, Store Interruption, Store Offerings, and Store Reliance. I then grant each category a grade of Minimal, Acceptable, and Oppressive with explanations on why I came to those ratings. Finally, I’ll offer up a summary of my thoughts on ArcheAge as a newly-minted free player.
Account Limitations: Acceptable
What are Account Limitations? Anything that locks content away from you, from character or class choices to hotbars, access to dungeons or end game. These are things that flag you as one of the “freeloaders” and restricts your play.
In my experience, ArcheAge doesn’t limit you in the areas it matters most: general gameplay. The world, the story, and all of that tasty custom class creation is completely available to you without paying a dime. Further, the game does a pretty good job of handing you plenty of free consumables to help you along. You even get a free mount in what was probably the single most adorable series of quests I’d ever done.
The biggest wrinkles to free arrivals are related to Labor Points and to Housing. Labor Points are a form of currency that builds over time and lets you perform the game’s crafting-related activities. Free players earn 5 Points every 5 minutes, but only while they’re online, while Patrons get 10 Points every 5 minutes whether they’re online or not. As someone who wasn’t terribly intrigued by ArcheAge’s crafting, I wasn’t completely upset by the system, though whether that hamstrings me for later sandbox gaming isn’t immediately clear.
As far as housing is concerned, that’s another feature available only to Patrons, though the Patron status can be earned through purchasing a sub or using in-game gold to buy APEX – an item that can be cashed in for Credits, which can then be used to buy Patron status, though you will need two APEX to have enough Credits to do so. Again, housing wasn’t something I was terribly invested in, but that most definitely is a personal preference matter and so I wanted to make note of it for those who find value in those features.
In short, I wasn’t really chafed by those limitations, but others might be. If you just want to play the game, though, you’re free and clear. If you’re looking to set roots or become a great crafter, you might be a bit limited here.
Store Interruption: Minimal
Store Interruption is based on how frequently you’re reminded of the in-game store during play. This either occurs through pop-up reminders that dominate your screen or buttons that redirect you to items offered in the store.
There are a couple of buttons alerting you to becoming a Patron or aiming you towards the game’s store but otherwise, interruptions and redirects in Archeage were barely there. I wasn’t shoved in the store’s direction during character creation, there wasn’t a quest line that made me open up the in-game store browser; it was all tucked away yet noticeable enough if I wanted to browse.
Store Offerings: Acceptable
The Store Offerings section is a quick look at what the store has to offer. From the selection to the variety of items, this is your at-a-glance idea of whether the store is interesting and if prices seem to be fair.
Nothing really much to write home about here, either. While I would have liked to see more interesting costume pieces and mounts and a LOT fewer consumables, the ArcheAge store was reasonable enough. What’s nice is that at least a couple of store items can be bought with currency gained through regular play. Not a great many of them, but it was a nice little touch.
Store Reliance: Acceptable
This is an overall score of whether a game enters the “pay-to-win” realm with its offerings. Does the in-game store have an abundance of boosts? Does the leveling curve feel like you need to buy pots in order to progress? That’s what Store Reliance measures.
Again, there are a whole lot of consumables and potions and similar boosts, but for the gaming experience I was going for, I wasn’t really pressured into using them. As a matter of fact, my XP gaining was so smooth that I didn’t even realize I had been granted some free XP potions until many hours later.
I repeat, though, that’s because I was playing ArcheAge simply to play the game. If you’re perhaps a more crafting-minded person, then the dependence on Labor Points and the long wait for those to regenerate without Patron status might chafe.
I’m pretty sure I’m not going to boot up ArcheAge again, but that’s more owing to generally being unimpressed with the gameplay rather than angered by its free-to-play model. As a free MMO, the greater bulk of Erenor is available and it’s a solid, competent romp in the process. Don’t expect miracles, but don’t expect to be crushed by store pressure either.Related: ArcheAge, Column, F2P Kingdom, Free to play, MMORPG, Sandbox MMO, Trion Worlds