Back then, Ardwulf was drawing comparisons with Vanguard, which naturally made me feel somewhat favorably toward the possibility of playing it one day. Now Saylah is running a series of detailed "what you can do and how you can do it" type posts that are pushing me two ways. The Piracy on the High Seas post I linked yesterday was kinda exciting but her most recent entry on the various ways of making money in ArcheAge made the whole enterprise sound anything but.
Here's the problem: just about all the activities Saylah lists - mining, crafting, trading, fishing, farming, playing the market - sound like work to me. Yes, they are, by and large, things you can do in most MMOs but in most MMOs they are sideshows, optional activities you could either go at with vigor, dabble in or opt out of entirely. They don't comprise the core activity of the game.
This, really, is my issue with sandbox gaming in general. I don't especially want to come home from a real job to a pretend one. I want to go exploring and adventuring I want to goof around. I don't want to tend crops or carry packages over long distances just to earn enough imaginary money to buy better crop-raising tools and faster package-carrying transport so I can do it all again only slightly faster. At least I don't want to have to do that.
The core activity of MMORPGs, at least in my understanding of the genre, is killing things to see what they drop then putting the best things you find on your character. Serial Killer Barbies; it's what the genre is. My characters live in the world and understand it but as a player looking in from outside, when it comes to actual gameplay, that's my motivation - kill some wildlife, dress a doll. In ArcheAge, that's right out: mobs don't drop coin, gear or crafting components. I'm not quite sure if that means they don't drop anything other than quest items but it doesn't leave much other than maybe consumables.
Saylah explains that questing is at the heart of leveling and gearing your character. "Gear is provided as quest rewards, looted from dungeons, earned with end game tokens or crafted by players...You receive gear sets at the end of quest chains – 3 pcs to the set from this guy, 2 pcs from that gal and a weapon from another one." That just happens to be a mechanic I strongly dislike. Several of them in fact.
So, we appear to have an MMO in prospect that heavily focuses on things I would consider "work" not play, while excluding one of the key factors that draws me to play MMOs in the first place. Added to which it uses a series of mechanics I usually try to avoid whenever I can. The PvP and Piracy aspects don't put me off the way they did Syp - it's the underlying premise and basic mechanics.
Then I read SynCaine's rhetorical piece, where he asks himself, in tones positively dripping with ennui, whether he might end up giving it a run. He ponders "I still don’t get what a ‘sandpark’ is, in terms of what you are trying to accomplish...if your core gameplay (combat via questing) isn’t fun or engaging, am I really going to keep playing so I can fly around or sail a boat?" Is there a good answer to that? The only one I can think of is that the scenery really is that good and the gameplay you have to endure is not actively unpleasant. That's hardly a ringing endorsement.
Saylah, at least, is reassuring on both those points: Of the visuals she says " ArcheAge on the water has no equal in my MMO experience. It’s simply breath taking. Mining along the shoreline, fishing or standing by watching players load their ships, is a visual treat." And on quests "All I can say is that they’re not horrible."
Unlike Syncaine I'm not struggling to find an MMO, any MMO, worth trying. I'll probably take a look at ArcheAge when it launches just because its new, it's free and it looks pretty. I wouldn't expect to stay long but you never know until you try. Perhaps what sounds like work in print will feel like play in practice.
On balance, though, the more I think about the full implications of sandbox gaming, the less attractive they seem. Oh, and since I didn't have any pictures of ArcheAge, I've taken the liberty of using a few snaps from The Hammers End. I finally caved and started the free trial last night. It's definitely not any kind of sandbox, the questing is meh and I don't think I'll be staying there long either but, hey, I'm a rat with a sword bigger than he is exploring dark woods with his undead, dual-cleaver-wielding pet fish! Beat that, ArcheAge!