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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.