Massively's ArcheAge launch diary: Day two - Classes, skills, combat

Welcome to day two of Massively's ArcheAge launch diary. Technically, by the time you read this, it'll be day three, but you know how these things work. And I know, I know, it's not really launch; it's head start. But Trion's not wiping this weekend's progression, so I'm going to keep referring to this as a launch diary!

Thanks to a bunch of virginal script kiddies who thought it would be cool to DDoS the ArcheAge servers on Saturday, I didn't get to play all freakin' afternoon as planned. That's OK, though, because we've got a lot to talk about with regard to the game's basic mechanics.

Skills and classes

ArcheAge is a class- and a skill-based MMORPG that offers quite a bit of character build flexibility. During character creation, you'll need to select your first class from a list that includes Battlerage, Sorcery, Archery, Vitalism, Occultism, and Shadowplay. Don't stress here because you can pretty much experience all of these throughout the life of a single character via respecs.

You've seen those hooded priestess NPCs standing next to those big stone statues scattered through the gameworld, right? They're hard to miss since your character will start sweating some cute little heart bubble animation things whenever you're near one of these gals. Talk to her to revisit your skill tree choices (and be sure you have some coin on hand). Fortunately you don't lose any of the levels you've gained in skill tree A if you trade it for skill tree B, so if you ever change your mind, you're not losing time or effort.

In addition to being able to freely switch between skill trees, you can also reset the skill points within each tree any time you want. And of course, you're free to roll alts, but in my opinion ArcheAge is flexible to the point that alts aren't really necessary.

If you have a specific combat role in mind, the six initial classes will give you a good base on which to build. Most of them are self-explanatory if you've played a fantasy RPG before. The ones that aren't immediately obvious, like perhaps Occultism and Shadowplay, loosely correspond to necromancers and rogues. I say loosely because it will really depend on how you choose to allocate your skill points and your other two trees.

Once you've chosen your starter class, you'll be given a handful of skills and sent on your way. At level 5, you'll choose your second class. At level 10, you'll choose your third class, and the resulting trinity will give you some sort of cool class title (mine's Warpriest, for Archery, Battlerage, and Vitalism) as well as three corresponding skill trees. Unlike skills in most MMO skill tree systems, ArcheAge's skills needn't be taken in order. Some do have prerequisites, like a certain number of skill points spent in the current tree and so on and so forth, but you can skip around and take a passive armor bump from here, a knockback from over there, and oh how about a debuff from that tree and a heal from this one.

You'll level each skill tree just by adventuring through ArcheAge's vast PvE lands. In fact, pretty much everything you do in this game gives you XP, which is then dispersed to your character level, your skill tree levels, and if you're using certain skills, those individual skill levels. So even when you're chopping down trees, sheering sheep, and crafting funny hats, you're getting stronger in a wax-on-wax-off sort of way.

What should I pick?

How do you know which combat skills to pick? That's a good question, and it's one that many players will probably spend a lot of game time answering. In past articles I've chosen to highlight ArcheAge's non-combat gameplay simply because I'm a big fan of immersion, sandbox mechanics, and the like. But I'm confident the game's skill progression and the experimentation that it demands will keep combat types happy as well because there's so much choice and so many different builds to explore.

At this point I should tell you that ArcheAge's combat fits the traditional MMO tab/target model, so if you're expecting something actiony like TERA or Vindictus, you'll be disappointed. Don't discount it right away, though, because there's substantial fun to be had with combos, not to mention a verbose tooltip system that does a great job of spelling out exactly what each skill does and how (or whether) it synergizes with other skills.

Mashing 1, 2, 3 may get you through the game's first few levels, but knowing your skills and more importantly choosing skills that complement each other well will determine whether it takes you 10 minutes to kill a mob or 10 seconds. And of course we haven't even gotten to PvP yet.

If you're not a theorycrafter and you're intimidated by the game's 120 class choices, you'll benefit from looking at the forums. Quite a lot of experimentation has been done for you, since ArcheAge has been playable pretty much everywhere except the Western market for a couple of years now.

The feels

In terms of how the combat "feels," that's a pretty subjective thing. I like the weight of ArcheAge's melee combat. It's got a certain oomfph that's missing from a lot of MMORPGs, so much so that I'm foregoing my usual caster focus to draw swords and charge/triple slash with abandon via the Battlerage tree. The animations are gorgeous, too; this is definitely one of those tab/target games where you'll want to look away from your hotbars long enough to see your avatar kicking ass.

Ranged combat seems pretty standard and pretty fun. I'm dabbling in Sorcery on my alt, and of course I dig the mobility and the kiting prowess of the Warpriest's Archery tree so far.

That's about all the time I have for nuts and bolts today. The servers are up again, and I've simply got to get back in game. Let me wrap up this launch diary entry with a couple of brief anecdotes, both positive and negative.

First off, the standard launch window queues and disconnects are still present and accounted for on day two. In terms of gameplay, though, thus far the only real disappointment is the lack of custom emotes. If you're not a roleplayer, you probably won't care, but no /e or /em functionality means that I'll be putting asterisks around my actions in local chat and occasionally making frowny faces at my monitor.

On the plus side, I rowed across Moonswept Bay off the southern coast of Nuia this morning and got a good look at ArcheAge's colossal warships. There's a pair of them parked near the beach disgorging Blood Hand NPCs that keep the level 10 quest flow moving right along. I skirted these baddies and ducked under the water, where I was surprised to find that the level of detail on the ships extends all the way down to the anchors that were half buried in the sand, doing what anchors do.

Until next time.

For our complete AA launch week diary series, see the links below.

  • Massively's AA launch week diary, Day one

  • Massively's AA launch week diary, Day two

  • Massively's AA launch week diary, Day three

  • Massively's AA launch week diary, Day four

  • Massively's AA launch week diary, Day five

  • Massively's AA launch week diary, Day six

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?