There's no magic button or pre-scripted path, though, because the game is sorta sandboxy.
Here's a question. What do you want to do in ArcheAge? Your answer can't be "I want to do something besides the quest grind." You have to be specific, define that something, and then look it up. ArcheAge leaves a lot to be desired in terms of in-game tutorials and explanations, but because of how long it's been playable in various markets, there is a ton of how-to info available.
This may sound harsh, but I get the feeling that MMO fans have forgotten how to play a game with sandbox elements. And that's to be expected, given the way that one particular design paradigm has dominated this genre for over a decade now and has trained us all to think a certain way and go through certain motions regardless of the type of MMO we find ourselves inhabiting.
So let me help you out. Do you want to be a trader? Do the blue salt intro quests, guides for which are here. Once you do these intro quests, though, you're on your own. You'll have to decide whether you want to transport a pack of apple tarts (or spices, or snowlion yarn, or dozens of other specialties) to Austere or Mahadevi or Lutesong Harbor based on the time and risk involved and based on the current trading prices, which fluctuate according to NPC demand, which is a function of how many players have recently completed the same trade run.
Heck, maybe you don't want to transport apple tarts at all, and instead you want to deliver elephant cookies. That's a decision you'll have to make; there is no quest flow for it. In fact, there's no quest for it beyond those tutorial joints. You either acquire a trade pack and ferry it to the port of your choosing, or you don't and you're not a trader.
Maybe you don't want to transport trade packs at all. Maybe you want to craft the materials necessary to make trade packs (or weapons, or armor, or sheet music) in order to supply your friends and guildies. Better yet, maybe you want to supply lazy traders like me who are usually in a hurry to buy stacks of chopped produce and who don't want to wait around to grow them and chop them ourselves. This is but one very narrow avenue you could explore, and it's one that requires a significant amount of preparation, planning, and even research, all of which translates into fun gameplay for an MMO economy nerd like me, but of course your mileage may vary.
Are you more action-oriented? Perhaps you'd rather be a boat captain and hire your ship out to transoceanic traders. You'll either want to save up enough gold to buy clipper plans off the AH or save up enough gilda stars to buy them from Mirage Isle. Then you'll need to acquire the resources to build it and spend a bit of time learning to maneuver and learning harbor layouts and good routes. You should also ding level 50 and practice PvPing both alone and in small groups so that you have enough experience to defend your customers, their cargo, and your boat.
Being a boat captain sounds simple when I distill it down to a paragraph like that, but that paragraph involves weeks if not months of fun gameplay, depending on a number of factors and depending on how good of a boat captain you'd like to be.
If fishing's not your bag but you'd still like to do something on the water, why not set up a salvage operation? There are decent rewards to be had from acquiring diving gear and scouring the bottom of the game's harbors for trade packs that have fallen off of recently deceased traders. You'd be surprised how many such packs the pirates overlook, and while you may not get rich, it's a fun side activity and it's certainly off the beaten themepark path.
While you're at it, you could look into treasure hunting using similar tactics and equipment, though you may want to wait until the release of submarines on November 4th.
And speaking of November 4th, that's when the northern continent debuts, and with it I'm betting will come more opportunities for land ownership. If you're not keen on living in PvP lands yourself, you'll probably see some safe-zone spots opening up as people move or realize they can't afford several plots. Once you get a piece of land, ArcheAge's farming and husbandry minigames become available, and they're fairly engrossing if you enjoy management sims and the like.
All of this stuff is the tip of the iceberg, and while most of it requires a good deal of time and money beyond the dabbling stage, all of it is basically accessible from the get-go. You have to decide that you're going to do it rather than keep grinding away on the quest treadmill, though. All of the activities I've mentioned give level XP, so if you don't like the quests, stop doing them!
Ultimately, ArcheAge is a game that rewards investment. It doesn't require investment, as you certainly can log into it a couple of hours per week and casually goof about. More than likely, you'll gravitate toward questing if that's your play window, though, because questing is the most efficient way to level with limited time.
And as I alluded to earlier, we have all been brainwashed into believing that the level grind is the reason for playing an MMORPG. It's hard to get out of that fun-poisoning mindset when confronted with a game like ArcheAge that offers a triple-A questing experience and a bunch of equally relevant sandbox-style activities.
In short, ArcheAge isn't a title for everyone despite what you may have heard from the marketing people at Trion and XLGAMES. It is quite literally a throw-back virtual world the likes of which we haven't seen since 2003 when EVE Online and Star Wars: Galaxies brought Ultima Online's concepts into three dimensions. ArcheAge is a virtual world that requires time to experience and time to master. Heck, it requires time to sample enough of it to form a considered opinion about what you'd like to master, nevermind the actual mastering part.
ArcheAge, moreso than any living MMORPG excepting EVE, is truly what you make of it. If you choose to quest and only quest, then it will be bland, repetitive, and casually involving like every other quest-centric MMO.
Jef Reahard is an ArcheAge early adopter as well as the creator of Massively's Lost Continent column. It chronicles one man's journey through XLGAMES' fantasy sandpark while examining PvE, PvP, roleplay, and beyond. Suggestions welcome at email@example.com.