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Right now, it’s a hard time to envy the life of an MMO developer. These games require massive amounts of time, energy, and money to develop their worlds, and once that is done, you face the daunting task of telling people about your title and getting some traction in a sea of other MMOs and video games. Blizzard has been facing dwindling numbers as World of Warcraft has begun to show its age, and new titles like Guild Wars 2 and the upcoming The Elder Scrolls Online are all fighting for a chunk of that MMO pie. So how do you stand out in this realm? One way is by making a completely gorgeous game.

That’s what Jake Song and XL Games have done with ArcheAge. Song was one of the creators of the NCSoft hit Lineage, although he left that company in 2003 to found XL Games which began development on ArcheAge back in 2006. The game is out now in Korea, and due in North America in the near future from Trion Worlds. We don’t tend to use the word “breathtaking” that often with MMOs, but it certainly applies here.

Story/Concept

MMORLY? This brand-new MMORPG has a very loose storyline, as the emphasis in this game is on whatever you want to make out of it. You will start from one of two different continents, Nuia or Harihara, after you make your choice of one of four different races: Nuian, the warriors; Elf, graceful forest folk; Hariharan, the workers and farmers; Ferre, the cat-like nomads who seek adventure.

From there you can combine 10 ability trees and over 120 different classes, giving you a ton of different options. If you want to be a farmer and focus on farming the land, you can do that. Want to build a trebuchet and take down another player’s castle? Become a pirate? Escape from jail after being judging guilty by your peers? ArcheAge lets you decide what path you will take, and you can make changes at any point.

Gameplay

Blank Check. As one of four races in the game, you are given near carte blanche access to this sandbox world, allowing you to do nearly anything and everything you can imagine. While not quite a Minecraftian level of creation exists here, you will be surprised at how far and deep the player options go, allowing you to construct siege weapons and use them against other structures, the ability to breed and sell animals, including mounts, a large underwater element complete with diving equipment where you can search for treasure, and much, much more.

During our demo, much of our time was spent traversing the seas in a ship, which you could go fully below decks and explore. Near the back was a double set of curved staircases that descended into the water, allowing you to easily exit the ship to dive beneath the waves.

Extreme MMOing. You can also travel throughout the world on a glider, which also manages to come in handy when you fall from a great height. Your avatar will tuck into position as delicate wings unfurl beneath them and they grip onto the controls. It’s surprising how elegantly beautiful it was. And then there are mounts, airships, and plenty of other ways to get around, which reminds us that we’re still talking about the vehicles in the game. That’s how much detail has been put into just one aspect of ArcheAge, and that helps emphasize how XL Games is treating the entire title.

They want to put all of the options at your disposal, and let you take it from there. If you want to build a castle and raise crops nearby, that’s something you can do in the game. Granted, you’ll have to protect that castle from foes, possibly even fellow players. If your fellow players (or yourself) go bad enough, you can be tried and labeled as a criminal and even serve jail time. 

Presentation

Very pretty. It’s worth noting that the graphics in ArcheAge are simply gorgeous, and the game is running CryEngine 3. We especially noted the water effects as waves lapped up against the shore, and the way the environment spreads out before you as you glide through the air. There is a wide variety among the different locations in the game, from seaside ports to lofty villages in the mountains, and each different zone has a completely unique look to it. Transitioning from gliding, to swimming, and diving beneath the waves was seamless, and Trion assure us that the system was running on a fairly average gaming PC, meaning you won’t have to overclock your system to squeeze the most graphical fidelity out of it.

The controls and layout or ArcheAge will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played an MMO in recent years, with basic action bars, health meters, and so on. Although the same aesthetic that applies to the look of the game applies to the UI, it makes up a complete visual package that manages to impress, even in this world of cookie-cutter MMO titles.

Takeaway

While ArcheAge looks simply gorgeous, the only real frustration is that it is not yet out in North America, and Trion also wasn’t discussing the business model behind the game. That means we don’t know exactly when it is coming, or if it will be subscription based, free to play, or some other revenue method. But what we saw during our brief demo was enough to pique our interest and put it on our list of “must try” games. As soon as we have more information about a possible launch date or beta for ArcheAge, we’ll let you know.