Lost Continent: Should we worry about ArcheAge's crafting?

Lost Continent
It finally happened. XLGAMES did something to ArcheAge that I really don't like, and while I'll stop short of labeling it a deal-breaker, it's definitely made me think about the game in a different light. To be fair to the company, this particular gameplay tweak was made to the Korean version several months ago, so it's a) not a certainty for the American version and b) not exactly breaking news.

It was breaking news to me when I read a recent high-level review of the title, though, because I'd been purposely steering clear of the Korean release in order to more fully enjoy myself when the game finally lands on U.S. soil.

ArcheAge tractor and crops
The crafting nerf
So what exactly happened? I'll let KeksX, the author of the aforementioned review, explain. "Crafting in ArcheAge is a really controversial topic. In CBT3 (or 4? I forget), the crafting was really different," he wrote. "There was great item decay, synthesis and all that funsie stuff for hardcore crafters. But because of exactly that, Jake Song and his company decided to put it out. They replaced it with a system that has RNG and not that much item decay anymore; also the item synthesis is out."

Song addressed the controversy directly via his Twitter account late last year. "Most users didn't like the system except hardcore crafters. So we removed it. Sorry," he wrote.

And that appears to be that. ArcheAge, while never advertised as a hardcore sandbox, was at one point shaping up to be a sandpark with a crafting system that actually made crafters an integral part of the game instead of relegating them to the second-class citizen status that they occupy in most of the MMOs released in recent years.

ArcheAge farm and farmer
A bigger audience
I can't say that this is terribly surprising, but wow is it terribly disappointing. On the one hand, XL has created this huge and immersive world, bursting with non-combat gameplay, exploration, and off-the-beaten path mechanics that are both a nod to some of yesteryear's epic sandbox MMOs and an honorable attempt at moving the genre forward by incorporating these features alongside more modern questing and dungeon mechanics. On the other hand, and as I feared in CBT2 a couple of years ago, XL is attempting to make the game more palatable to a larger audience, and in doing so it is running the risk of irritating the early adopters.

Casualizing the game's crafting and minimizing its overall impact on the game world would have been a smarter call if ArcheAge were coming out in, say, 2007. Today, though, what is the upside -- and who is the target audience -- for ArcheAge Lite? The people who sort of like MMOs but don't have the time to play them are already served by Guild Wars 2, which in addition to being more accessible lacks ArcheAge's Korean stigma in the West. It also lacks ArcheAge's forced open-world PvP, which of course tends to alienate mainstream players even more than crafting.

As much as I'd like to be optimistic about AA's ultimate success in America, I think it's highly unlikely that the game reaches beyond the niche audience that's already enamored with it. This is due to its non-linear elements and the sheer amount of stuff that will likely put off players who can't spend a lot of time with the game. Even now, with a more forgiving crafting system, you've still got land, dwellings, and farms to manage, to say nothing of keeping up with the Joneses in terms of your character builds in order to be competitive in both PvE and PvP.

Unless XL simplifies all that stuff, too, of course.

ArcheAge solitary rider
Bump in the road?
Fortunately, it's not all gloom-and-doom when it comes to ArcheAge's non-combat play. For starters, KeksX points out how Trion could revert back to the older, more crafter-friendly system when it deploys the game in the West. That's probably a longshot, though, as the majority of Western players react negatively to MMOs that cater to crafters or require combat-crafter interdependency as opposed to total self-sufficiency for the former.

KeksX also points out that ArcheAge's numerous non-combat minigames are fun in and of themselves. Things like fishing, music composition, and construction are fairly involved in-game pastimes that players can engage in in addition to the usual mob- or player-killing fare, and the presence of that sort of stuff keeps ArcheAge at the top of my personal most-anticipated-MMO list. Trading is a biggie, too, and every time I read a blurb about the package transportation minigame and the potential profit that's based on both rarity and distance, it puts a smile on my face.

But XL's decision to largely excise item decay and kneecap dedicated crafters is a troubling one. When you couple that with the fact that ArcheAge's economic system is basically an uninspired remote auction house, it really makes you wonder who the company is hoping will play its game when it finally debuts in both America and Europe.

Time-poor players already have more MMOs than they could manage in a lifetime, most of them AAA quality and none of them featuring any Korean cultural hurdles. More dedicated MMO players probably like a lot of what they see in ArcheAge, but they also might be wondering how long before all the virtual world bells and whistles give way to the pressures of the mass market.

Ultimately, I just don't know. Today's column has inadvertently turned into a meandering sort of inner monologue because frankly I'm still trying to work out how I feel in light of this new (to me) information. While it's way, way too early to think about jumping off the ArcheAge bandwagon, the recent crafting changes are a significant bump in the road.

Jef Reahard is an ArcheAge early adopter as well as the creator of Massively's Lost Continent column. In it, he chronicles one man's journey through XLGAMES' fantasy sandpark while examining PvE, PvP, roleplay, and beyond. Suggestions welcome at jef@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.