Tuesday, 21 October 2014

A Trip To The Islands : EQ2

A few weeks ago, in the comments following his post on "EverQuest II Lore in a Minute", Wilhelm drew my attention to the existence of a White Wolf tabletop RPG featuring EQ2. I've been slowly picking up the various White Wolf books for the original Everquest but I had no idea there had ever been an attempt to expand the franchise offline to include the second iteration of Norrath.

The original series must have performed well enough, off the back of the success of what was generally reckoned at the time to be the most successful western MMORPG.  Fifteen titles were published in all. By the time White Wolf got around to EQ2, however, Blizzard had snatched SOE's crown and no-one was interested any more, assuming they ever were.

Given that all this happened little more than a decade ago it's harder than you might imagine to dig up exact details of what was published. White Wolf merged with CCP Games (yes, that CCP) in 2006 and all mention of Everquest has since vanished from the official record. A search at White Wolf's Digital Publishing and Print on Demand partners DriveThruRPG comes up similarly blank. Even the White Wolf Wiki can offer no more than a stub that baldly acknowledges the series' existence and no more. It's left to the Dungeons&Dragons wiki, of all places, to offer a complete and definitive list.

I was vaguely aware of these books when they were new but back then I believed I already had all the EQ I could ever use, right there on my 15" CRT monitor, so I didn't pay much attention. Over the years my complacency began to erode as various MMOs slipped into comas or shuffled willingly or otherwise towards the sunset. It began to occur to me that, while I might be willing to play Everquest on and off for the rest of my life, eventually that might not be an option and not just because I would no longer have the strength to click a mouse.

The path to purchase was crooked. I'd been writing about the desecration of Freeport in Everquest and speculating on the prospect of a similar revamp in EQ2. While researching that piece I was reminded of the time-locked Mac version of Everquest, with its one server, Al`Kabor, where it was forever Planes of Power and never Gates of Discord (like the White Witch in reverse).

It occurred to me that the Mac players must still have the old version of Freeport, which led me to check the price of second-hand Apple Macs (prohibitive) and the feasibility of PC/Mac emulators (too fiddly). By the time I'd found something that looked like it might be manageable SOE announced they were finally closing the door on 2004 and sunsetting EQMac.

It wasn't time wasted, however, because along the way I noticed the White Wolf Sourcebook for Freeport on Amazon. I bought that and it turned out to be very good indeed. I learned more about Freeport, the disparate and disturbing people who lived there and the tangled skein of alliances and enmities that fill their every thought than I had ever suspected existed in all my years actually playing the damn video game.

From there I went on to buy half a dozen more of the White Wolf game books, scenarios and sourcebooks, picking up the odd copies that appear at reasonable prices among the overoptimistic dealers on Amazon Marketplace. In time I hope to complete the set, although my enthusiasm for individual titles varies. An entire book dedicated to examining The Temple of Solusek Ro in nit-picking detail is not an enticing prospect and of all the choices they could have made, Dagnor's Cauldron strikes me as idisosyncratic to say the least. especially when you consider all the places they didn't do.

I don't imagine I'll ever use the books to for their intended purpose. Y'know, to play an actual game. Although, given the tools available for playing on a virtual tabletop online, the bloggers that are already using them, and the endless complaints of ex-EQ players that they'd love nothing better than to play Classic EQ like in the good old days, maybe a session or two sometime's not entirely out of the question. Just so long as I don't have to GM or set up the table.

For now I'm just reading. Its very interesting how effectively that fires up the nostalgia factor. More so than playing the games themselves, which, since I have played them near enough continuously, seem far more like current affairs than history. Now I have the Freeport book I can even face that abomination on the coast of Antonica with something approaching equanimity, knowing I can go to the real town with White Wolf's time machine whenever I fancy.

The EQ2 Player's Guide is, as you might expect, light on lore and heavy on rules on how to Sense Motive (P172) or use a Magnifying Glass (P212). Even so, there are sixty pages on the history and culture of The Shattered Lands, The New Lands and The Isles Of Refuge.

The last of those three chapters is of particular interest because the Isles of Refuge, set in what we now must learn to call The Shabby Sea, feature heavily in the upcoming Altar of Malice expansion. To confuse matters thoroughly, the bizarrely-named Shabby Sea breaks down into two sub-seas, Tranquil and Phantom. The Tranquil islands so far announced are the Isle of Refuge itself, Deathweave Isle, and the Pygmie-and-dinosaur-inhabited Island of Dichen, at least two of which don't sound all that tranquil to me. The sea-next-door, The Phantom Sea, offers Kithicor, the Far Seas Trading Company’s home base Highhold, and Grimshales, an island made from a shard of Luclin.

If we take the White Wolf source as canon then that's just the tip of the iceberg. (Bad analogy). The map at the top of this post shows around thirty islands with almost a dozen of them named. All the named isles are examined in detail in the book. Six of them get entries several pages in length.

I confess to having being largely unaware of the existence of almost of all of these islands. I can't recall if they were mentioned in game back in the first or second iteration of the tutorial, both of which I played through several times. I only remember the later, streamlined version with any great clarity. It's evident, nonetheless, that whether we as players were aware of it or not at the time, the waters and islands we are now so close to discovering and exploring for ourselves were there all along, both in the imaginations of the designers and in the design documents they were using.

I was already invested in the upcoming expansion. For years I've wanted to find out what the Far Seas Traders were up to. I've never trusted them. Now I'm doubly intrigued. When the expansion launches on November 11th for All Access members and November 28th for the masses, I'll be out there with my telescope, scanning the horizon for signs of islands yet unknown.


Monday, 20 October 2014

It's The Little Things : GW2

Looking back across the year GW2 has seen a lot of changes. Living through this stuff month by
month, day by day, it's easy to forget just how often the boundaries shift. From Megaservers and fixed timers to the Wardrobe and a Trading Post that (almost) works, so much has happened that it scarcely feels like the same game we were all playing this time last year, let alone the one we began with way back in 2012.

It's the way of MMOs. Some change fast, some more smoothly, but unless population and popularity drop far enough for the mothballs to come out (and no-one likes to smell of camphor) they all do change.

The Nosy Gamer today posted a transcript and commentary of an address given by CCP Seagull at the EVE event taking place in Las Vegas, the gist of which appears to be "change is coming, like it or not (but don't worry, you'll like it"). Perhaps the most interesting thing about the speech, at least for someone like me who has never played EVE Online and most likely never will, is CCP Seagull's assertion that "we need to make more changes where we can't predict what's going to happen". 

Forgive my cynicism, if that's what it is, but isn't that all changes in every MMO ever? Fifteen years of experience is more than enough to convince me that most Devs can't predict what's going to happen when they bring a server back up from routine maintenance, let alone the day after they release a major update.

Still, letting that ride for a moment, the idea of intentionally changing the game-world in ways whose outcome is  unknowable is rather attractive. It's enticing to imagine logging in to a world where wikis no longer work and veterans feel at sea like newbies.

Then again there's the NGE and Monoclegate to consider. Those, like countless other less-celebrated PR disasters, amply remind us that one person's unpredictable outcome is another's blindingly obvious inevitability. What, you really didn't see that one coming? Oh, apparently you didn't...

All of which lengthy and ponderous pontificating on the interface between possible and probable brings me to my tiny princess. Of all the year's changes I'd be hard-pressed to think of one that's had more impact on my enjoyment of the game than the March of the Minis and I certainly didn't see that one coming.

Prior to the most recent Feature Pack, if you wanted to run around with a Mini in tow you had to have a separate, individual copy of said Mini in the inventory of each character who might want to call on it. You had to open your bags and click the icon to summon the Mini and you had to keep your minis in a "Safe" bag to prevent them being whisked away to the Vault every time you used GW2's handy "Deposit All Materials" button. On top of all that nonsense Minis couldn't leave the map on which you spawned them so you had to go through the whole rigmarole every time you went anywhere.

Eyes without a face. Wait, what eyes?
Unsurprisingly, about the only place you ever saw Minis in numbers was Old Lion's Arch, back in those halcyon days when, as though in some glorious Edwardian summer, now lost, people would stand around for hours on a single map just passing the time of day and admiring each others' frocks. Thanks to Scarlet, those days are over, but to no-one's greater surprise than my own I find I'd willingly trade the chatter and bustle of Old L.A. for our new, go-ahead, go anywhere Minis. (Although, come to think of it, wasn't there supposed to be some kind of reconstruction project? Whatever happened to that?)

It's not as though I even collect minis. The Miniature tab in the Wardrobe tells me there are 270 of them. On my senior account I have just two: Evon Gnashblade and Princess Doll.

The best ones, in other words.

Evon is best because, well, he's Evon. Why didn't they listen to him? He was the favorite! And Princess Doll (Pwincess to me - don't judge!), she's best because she's full-on crazy.

Pwincess has no face. In extreme close-up you can see her blank sackcloth weave. Even so, featureless, she has more personality than any ten storyline NPCs you care to name. She curtseys, she sways, she sings and she screams and somehow she has become the inseparable companion of my gruff, manly (catly?) Charr Ranger.

Her wordless, borderline personality outbursts spur him on through keep sieges and open-field skirmishes. Her piercing voice penetrates The Mists, bringing a fervid, febrile cheer to the endless snows. Her movements are mysterious. He often jumps from a high place only to find her behind him when he lands, yet at times he can turn and watch her skip along a ledge and jump down to join him.

 Last night, in a quiet moment as I was guarding our second Hills (we always try to keep one spare), I spent some little while trying to catch her out, running along the parapets and jumping down, trying to see if I could find some place she wouldn't dare to follow. There is none. She is fearless.

Of course stepping out unpartied as a ranger these days feels more and more like leading a team than going solo. There's the pet, naturally; always a Lynx or a Wolf for the Borderlands. Then there's Pwincess. Finally, when the rune procs (and the rune always procs) there's Rock Dog.

It wasn't the Charr that discovered Rock Dog. That took Asuran genius. When reports filtered back, how that peculiar hound saved the Junior Ranger from certain death, holding off enemies while Pet Number One licked his master back to life, nothing would do but the Charr should have one of his own. Indeed, so impressed was I, it's a wonder I stopped at the Rangers and didn't slap a set of Ogre Runes on everyone. The stats are pretty handy all round after all.

What have you seen, boy? Is it Grawl?

 Where's all this going? Nowhere much. Only to say that, repetitive and predictable as it can so often seem as you grind away at your faction or your dailies or your rep or your status, all of these games, these worlds, are already unpredictable. A small change here, a revision or a tweak there, something you never considered and scarcely noticed, yet next you know your character has altered, his personality too, and your gameplay along with both of them.

So, yes please, all you CCP Seagulls out there. Go ahead, make changes whose outcomes you can't predict. Better yet, make changes whose outcomes you admit you can't predict. We'll roll with them. Unless it's another NGE or Monoclegate of course. But that's a lesson that's been learned.

Hasn't it?

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Halfway Up The Stairs : ArcheAge

Last night my one and only ArcheAge character, a Battlerage Novice of the Crescent Throne, dinged 25. Exactly half-way to the level cap. For what that's worth. Which isn't much.

Somewhere back in deep time getting a character to the midpoint of the level range on your first run through an MMORPG was a significant achievement. It took me several months to get there in both Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot. Even in the era of EQ2 and vanilla WoW it was nothing to be sniffed at.

In recent years, though, reaching the Level Cap in some MMOs has seemed not so much like an achievement as getting to the end of an unreasonably extended tutorial. A tutorial, moreover, that sometimes seems to bear little resemblance to, and provide scant preparation for, the de facto "real game", the one that only starts when the number next to your character's name stops going up.

One thing you can generally still rely on, however, is that whatever passes for a main storyline or narrative arc will have been designed to last you roughly the same time as it takes to hit max level. Generally, that is. Not, as it turns out, in ArcheAge.

Oh, the game does have a central storyline, although you could be forgiven for not having heard about it. That's how I came to ding 25 last night, finishing it somewhat by accident when I rolled into Two Crowns at level 24 on the trail of what I thought was an entirely unrelated matter, having been sitting on what turned out to be the final step of the main storyline quest since I was twenty-three. I think it's meant to last you to level 30, the point at which you are expected to leave the protected PvE Kindergarten safety of your homeland for the Big School of  contested territory where bullies can steal your lunch money you get your first taste of PvP.

It's true that, as is my wont, I was running about five levels ahead of where the developers probably expected me to be, but even so to have the main storyline conclude while your character still has forty percent of her levels left to gain is far from regulation for the genre. I had already heard that a premature ending was on the cards but it still took me by surprise. I guess it's fair to say that Story is not one of however many pillars ArcheAge stands on. Can't really have one pillar 40% shorter than the rest if you expect your roof to stay up.

SW:ToR, GW2, LotRO and FFXIV:ARR all put story front and center in much of the pre and post publicity rounds but Trion always seemed to keep rather quiet about their narrative offer.  Now we know why. All the same, neither they nor XL Games were prepared to do without a story altogether. Someone in Korea certainly spent some considerable time and effort on it, creating a wealth of cut scenes to illustrate the gnarly and largely incomprehensible plot, while someone else, presumably Trion, employed an Actor (very much with the capital "A") to provide a lengthy and sonorous English voiceover for the international market, an expense and effort that has yet to be extended to the many untranslated NPC voice samples in the gameworld itself.

Some sources indicate that ArcheAge was based on a pre-existing series of novels by an established Korean fantasy author named Min-Hee Jeon, which would lead one to expect that the storyline, at least in the original Korean release, might have been more important than we in the West have found it to be. Intense investigation (aka googling) reveals, however,  that Min-Hee Jeon actually came on board after the game was already in development to produce the official novelization so perhaps not.

Either way, the central storyline exists and I have finished it. Or, rather, I have finished the Nuian racial storyline. I believe each race gets one of its own. Don't ask me to explain it. There was something about a Princess, I had a Mark on my arm and now it's gone, there was a big fight that I won somehow without really knowing how, Lucius turned up at the end and supposedly cast a whole load of lightning that I never saw... Par for the course, really.

The reward, apart from the satisfaction of a job well-done and a handy final chunk of xp that shoved me from 24th well into level 25, was a Level 30 Cloak I can't wear. That's what you get for pushing ahead.

So, no more main quest line to follow. Now what? Obviously leveling itself won't be a problem. ArcheAge is one of those modern MMOs that hands out xp points for just about anything.  Whatever you fancy doing will likely siphon xp towards you as fast as you can suck it down. Nevertheless, partly from whimsy and partly from a sensible desire to avoid the early-day crowds, I decided right at the start to attempt to level my first character to the cap purely through exploring and questing and I'd like to try and complete that goal. Lucky for me, then, that there seem to be roughly a gazillion non-main-sequence quests to keep me going.

Most commentary on AA has concentrated on what it does differently from other MMOs: competitive open-world housing, farming, trade-routes, vehicle-building, naval combat and so on. Little has been said or written about the questing and those few who have mentioned it have been less than complimentary. Not without good reason. It's very certain that neither the original writer nor whoever did the pedestrian translations is likely to be taking home any industry awards for either originality or quality.

That said, I have seen worse. A lot worse. There are moments of ironic or self-referential humor that are rather well done. Some of the characters have personality. There's plenty of variety. You get a sense of some kind of society in action rather than merely a scattering of unconnected tasks.

At the moment my quest journal is stuffed with unfinished jobs picked up along the roadside. There seems to be an infinity of farmers with infestations of Goblins, Groundlings and recalcitrant wildlife while every quarry, mine or fishing village proves to be a hotbed of intrigue and rivalry, where a passing adventurer or mercenary is seized on by all parties. I don't imagine I'll run out of good works, mercy killings and old-fashioned assassinations for a while yet.

Quest xp doesn't appear to scale, hardly surprising really, since one modern MMO feature AA appears to have eschewed is any form of scaling or mentoring. Consequently if I backtrack it's going to take more and more quests to make less and less progress. Then again, I'm not on the clock so who cares how long it takes?

And then there's the question of whether there are more, and more level-appropriate and therefore rewarding,  PvE quests in the contested areas. I'm guessing there are, given that there's supposedly a progression of quested armor and weapons all the way to fifty. It's going to be an adventure finding out. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Season's End : GW2

A full and speedy return to blogging normality today was somewhat impeded by my having to make a three-hour round trip to another city for some kind of work-related seminar (a previously unheard-of activity for grunts of my lowly level but something which seems to be becoming disturbingly frequent of late). Still, travel fatigue aside, I wanted to say something about the conclusion of the third GW2 World vs World Season before it disappears forever into the mists of time rather then just into The Mists.

Yak's Bend contrived not only to come first overall in Silver League but to win all four matches. They were mostly very good fun, with plenty of good fights and some exhilarating, extended sieges, both defending and attacking, but only in the first week could the outcome have been said to be in much doubt. We all expected Week 3 to be the toughest but in the event it fizzled and everything was wrapped up not long after the weekend.

I thoroughly enjoy the Seasons, more so than the regular competition, but it's clear that both need a lot of thought if they're going to offer genuinely edge-of-the-seat, competitive content for more than the odd match here and there. That said, and for all the complaining on the forums, each Season does see a very significant and sustained upswing in activity on the Borderlands so I can't be the only one having fun. I would guess that so long as ArenaNet keep seeing those numbers in their metrics they'll have scant motivation to make the kind of sweeping changes so often demanded.

The official reward for our sterling performance was, as expected, underwhelming. All of my Tournament Claim Tickets from this Season and last remain unspent, taking up valuable space in my bank vault, and will continue to do so until something worth buying is added to the Battle Historian's stock. I suppose I could get the Mini Dolyak or some Ascended jewellery and the various utilities are always useful but I'm hanging on to the tokens in the vague hope that one day they might come up with something I actually want and that I can't already get elsewhere.

The title for completing the extremely easy achievement is...odd: "Mist Treader". I quite like it.
It reminds me of my favorite of the Narnia books, one of my favorite novels of all time, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader". For that reason alone I might display it... if I could actually see my own title. Which, of course, I can't. Still, titles. I like them. Not complaining. Much.

Then there's the mildly controversial  Dolyak Tournament Statue. Clicking on this supposedly grants a buff to XP and WXP that varies in length according to where your server placed in the tournament. First place gives a five-hour buff. The controversy comes from the one-time nature of the benefit, which can only be used once per account on a single character. I haven't dared to click the statue to test it yet.

The unofficial award, of course, has been the catapulting of eternal T3/T4 stalwart Yak's Bend into the giddy heights of Tier 2. This was always on the cards, what with Maguuma imploding and Glicko ticking away in the background throughout the Season like an unexploded bomb. Even so, I don't think many of us expected such an emphatic promotion. Or wanted one.

T2 has been an unbalanced mess for weeks prior to the Season. Maguuma tried their hardest to get into the upper tiers months ago but when they got there they apparently found the pace too hot. They discovered, as had several servers before them, that it's a lot harder to slide gracefully down a Glicko snake than to climb up a Glicko ladder. A lesson I fear we may yet have to learn. Painfully.

Over the last eighteen months or so Yak's Bend has made an unconscionable number of enemies in WvW, primary among them Stormbluff Isle and Fort Aspenwood. There was some talk that we won some poll recently naming us Most Hated Server or some such. Apparently we ticked Sea of Sorrows off at some point too although I have no memory of how that happened.

Dire threats were made on the Official Unofficial Forums (such discussions having long been banned on the Official Official Forums, naturally) by a few self-appointed community leaders purporting to represent the views of SoS and FA. Apparently we would be double-teamed so hard if we ever dared poke our cow-donkey muzzles out of Tier 3 we wouldn't stop running til we hit T5.

Doesn't seem to have worked out quite like that. We aren't exactly bandwagonning, thank heaven, but we have picked up two or three really quite significant guilds on transfer and there appears to be a general resurgence of interest and attendance on the back of our Season success. Consequently we are outperforming all expectations including our own. For now...

It is, of course, very early days. We haven't even finished the first match yet. I have a queasy feeling this is how Maguuma started. Even if it does turn out that we can hold our own in T2, however, that only opens the prospect of an eternity playing the same two servers week after week. I have to say I was quite content in T3/T4, where we were getting good matches from a revolving pool of 5 or 6 very closely-matched teams. Ah well, time will tell if we can hack it in the big leagues, I guess.

So, there we are. On balance I would say Season Three was A Good Thing but the systems and processes could all clearly stand some further improvement before we get a Season Four. Plenty of time for that - I don't imagine we'll see the next round this side of Spring 2015.

Monday, 13 October 2014

And...We're Back

Breaking radio silence to announce our return from a week of sunshine and showers in Portugal during which fantasy worlds in general and MMOs in particular never seemed far away. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I get my so-called act together. Meanwhile, here are some pictures.

Map Call! DB Zerg at NE Garri.
Curse you, Duke Barradin! Will you never rest?
The Secret World of The Templars at Tomar
Dinosaur footprints! EQ2 expansion this way!
Yeah, right. I walk down the path and three giant spiders swing down on top of me.
I've been to Maguuma. I know how it goes.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

You Sold Me A Pup : ArcheAge

Klaus. Klaus! Where do we begin?

It's nice you're so impressed with my bravery.  What was it? The devil-may-care way I turned my horse onto your cart-track instead of carrying on along the paved highway to the great city of Marianople,  whose walls we can both see, right over there, on the other side of your cow-pasture?  Well, yes, I can see how some people might consider that must have taken some bravery. Although I imagine they'd think of some other word for it.

Dawnsliver, isn't that what you call this place? A romantic name for...well, let's not be unnecessarily cruel. You do the best you can with what you've got, I'm sure. Let's get back to the fields. What, exactly, is so dangerous about your fields, anyway, that it impresses you so much when someone dares to set foot in them?

There are some dangers, aren't there, Klaus? You wouldn't just be buttering me up in the hope of relieving me of some silver and getting one of those fat puppies off your hands at the same time , now, would you?

I might take your compliments more to heart if it wasn't for the fact that I passed through your village not two days ago and you didn't seem any too "impressed" with me back then. As I recall, that time you didn't want to speak to me at all. Didn't have anything to say about my bravery. No generous advice to offer on how I might better protect myself from the supposed risks lurking in your fields. Couldn't get a word out of you, could we?

Although, as I remember it, you were happy enough to take my money for one of those wolfhound pups. No tips on how to raise or train it, mind you. No checks on my suitability as an owner. You took the silver, I took the pup, not so much as a nod passed between us. And now here we are again, all smiles. That's a metaphor, Klaus. I've never seen you smile.

So, anyway, getting back to the "bravery" thing and the adventuring and all that, you wouldn't be working around to getting me to do some odd job for you, would you? Oh, it's alright, I know the drill. And it's not like I have anything better to do. Goblins, this time, is it? There's a surprise. Steal the wool, do they? Big knitters, then, are they, these goblins? You learn something new every day.

Well, I do. Not so much you, Klaus. I doubt you learn much new at all, sitting on your rump in the dirt all day here in the village square, if we may dignify it with the name. All day, every day. No wonder you're impressed. At least I move about.

No, Klaus, don't stir yourself. You wait there and I'll go see about these goblins...

There. That wasn't so hard. They aren't very big, after all, are they, goblins? Kind of famous for it. Here's your wool. Knit yourself a scarf. Winter's coming.

Wait. You did what, Klaus? You "prepared a few pups" for me? What does that even mean? Pardon my skepticism if you will, Klaus, but aren't these the very same pups, sitting in the very same boxes, as when I arrived? What preparation did you give them? Taught them a few tricks, did you? Got the old dog shampoo out and smartened them up a bit, maybe?

Oh, never mind. Just hand one over. I'll have that one there, the black one. Yes, I know about the cow's milk. Had to work that out for myself last time, didn't I? Back when you were in a sulk or hungover or whatever it was that kept you so quiet.

I'll just be off to the "dangerous" fields again and get this one all trained up. You can spare a little milk I'm sure. Must be strong stuff, that milk. These dogs do grow fast. Is that natural, do you think? Probably best not to ask. It's strange how little these pups look like the full-grown dog, too, isn't it? Okay, definitely best not to ask.

Time for us to say our goodbyes, Klaus. I'll be taking your black dog along with me. No, that's not a metaphor this time. Although looking at your expression I'm not so sure. Back to the old silent treatment, is it? Have it your way.

Look after yourself, anyway, Klaus. And take care of those puppies. I might be back and pick up a brown one next time I'm passing. Be nice to have the set. Always assuming I feel brave enough to cross the fields.

Oh come on, man. Lighten up!

Thursday, 2 October 2014

20-20 Visions : ArcheAge

For all kinds of very good reasons I'm not spending nearly as much time in ArcheAge as I'd like. Still and all, I managed to ding twenty the other night. Unlike just about everyone else I am, quite literally, only questing and exploring, but levels seem to fly by even so. Just how fast things would go if I was crafting and trading and doing all the other stuff I can only imagine.

The questing is ... okay. The main storyline is ordinary, unoriginal, peppered with mediocre voiceovers and near-static cut-scenes but it's not awful. The many, many optional side-quests are generally a lot better.

It's either battery farming by hypnosis or a secret training camp for the Chicken Insurgency.

The real reason questing is more entertaining in ArcheAge than it probably has any right to be comes down to something SynCaine sums up very well in his recent post on road travel. Long story short, spending time in ArcheAge feels like being somewhere. The old NPC nonsense is, well, the same old NPC nonsense, but the player activity surrounding it seems to impart some much-needed gravitas.

When an NPC asks you if you wouldn't mind taking a packed lunch to a guard further down the road (real example) the request somehow seems more reasonable, the journey more believable, simply because you travel along a road that is visibly and evidently being used by players for their own self-generated and equally mundane journeys. It's hard to explain why. It reminds me a lot of early Everquest, when players stuck to the roads because to do otherwise was suicide. I think it's something to do with shared endeavor.

I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get my Raki's head to rest on a pillow that way.
Here it happens automagically.

ArcheAge tends to remind me of many other MMOs as I play but first and foremost comes Vanguard. There's one piece of music that plays often that I swear is from Vanguard and there are constant notes of Leth Nurae in the ethereal, wordless vocals of another. As I push further into the landscape whole swathes of scenery bring back memories of central Thestra. I swear I've passed Trengal Keep and Misthaven on my travels.

Then there's the water. Twice I've been given a quest, checked where I needed to go and thought "I could get there by boat". There's nothing that tells me I'm in Telon so clearly as unshipping a ship to go sailing down a river on a quest. AA even has one over on Vanguard in the way the rowboat summons through a dimensional portal. It's a neat aid to suspension of disbelief should you start wondering just how you're carrying a twelve-foot dinghy in your backpack. These little things add up to quite a lot when it comes to immersion.

The attention to detail is impressive. The rowboat not only has a lantern but you can light and extinguish it. Also the quest item, a crate of instruments retrieved from the seabed, appears on your back. I almost drowned getting it back to the surface. And yes, I know I'm rowing the thing backwards. I was in a hurry, alright?

Roaming far and wide, I frequently end up ahead of myself and have to double back. ArcheAge is delightfully free and easy about what quests it allows you to take. There are hubs and there are pre-requisites that open up new quest-givers and chains but as a rule, if you ride into a camp or a village or an outpost there'll always be someone ready to get you started with a some trivial task or other and it snowballs from there.

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. Although, then again, wheat...
Even when there's no-one who wants to talk to you you can sometimes still find things to do. By the time I hit Level 18 I'd wound my way by a circuitous route to the gates of Marianople, which, has to be one of the more visually impressive cities I've visited in an MMO and quite possibly the most impressive from a distance. Outside the walls I came across a small village with some trained wolves and a merchant who supposedly would sell them.

Pretty sure I've been here on holiday once

He wouldn't speak to me at all but his wolves were for sale so I bought a puppy. He didn't come with much in the way of instructions but I figured feed him, play with him, brush his fur, the usual. I milked one of the cows in the field nearby, did a little dance, found a brush somewhere (same one I use for the horse most likely) and in a couple of minutes I'd  trained up my own battle pet.

Don't look down your nose like that, horse. You were a cartoon animal once, too.
Which I couldn't then summon because you must be at least level 20 to demonstrate sufficient maturity to send an innocent, trusting animal into hopeless battles to die for you. Or something. Whatever the reason I rather like the way you can do the quest even though there isn't a quest and get the reward even though you aren't allowed the reward. It's the kind of half-assed inconsistency that made early Everquest the fascinating conundrum that it was.

Ideal for the sailor who hates to get wet.

ArcheAge has a lot of those feels. The ship that lurched into a desert hill-fort, half a dozen players dancing hysterically on deck; the synchronized ranks of poultry seemingly training for the opening ceremony of some great sporting event; the lurid, out-of-context custom art on sails; the steampunk charabancs driven by escapees from Where The Wild Things Are; that creepy child with her "plushie" collection...

Okay, you're starting to creep me out a little...

I'm aware some, maybe most, of this could be new-paint smell. What seems amusing now may seem annoying in a week or a month. The friction between a convincing, immersive, naturalistic fantasy world and a box of crazy clown tricks may cease to strike sparks and start rubbing raw. Worry about that when we get there.

For now, at least, the view from level twenty is looking pretty good.

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