On top of all the new content, Revelation also brought another new feature to ArcheAge’s proverbial table: brand-new “fresh start” servers, which are limited to players whose accounts were created on or after December 8th, 2016, and feature a modified version of the in-game cash shop that aims to limit the much-decried pay-to-win aspects of the game.
As someone who has always wanted to like ArcheAge but just couldn’t get past the pay-to-win stigma and the domination of the legacy servers by established players and guilds, I was intrigued by the prospect of starting the game with a blank slate, so I joined the flock of fellow fresh-starters to see if the experience might erase my former misgivings.
Let’s get one thing out of the way up-front: Yes, the launch of 3.0 was a trainwreck. And yes, I had initially typed out a long, bewildered, multi-paragraph diatribe musing about how Trion, an experienced MMO developer and publisher, could possibly botch things so badly. But that’s old hat by now, and anyone who’s interested in reading about all the ways Revelation’s launch went sideways (a long list, to be sure) has already done so. Needless to say, however, the first week or so of the update’s release was not particularly optimism-inspiring.
Once I did manage to get into the game, I first decided to check out the newly introduced Dwarf and Warborn races, each of which has its own unique starting zone(s) designed to take new characters up to level 30, at which point they will join the other races of their respective factions in the contested neutral zones.
New Dwarf characters wake up in the lovely alpine vale of Aubre Cradle with no memory of how they got there, natch. The storyline quests throughout Aubre Cradle and the follow-up zone Airain Rock—home to the Dwarven capital of Andelph—focus on solving the mystery of your lost memories and the circumstances of your sudden appearance. Time travel may be involved.
Warborn characters, meanwhile, begin their journeys in a flashback to an event known as the Ezna Massacre, where hordes of Warborn under the thrall of the Demon Queen Orchidna descended upon the Nuian town of Ezna and slaughtered its inhabitants. After completing this sequence, which is revealed to have been a nightmare, characters are released into the present-day Sunbite Wilds, where the Warborn have been pressed into a rather uncomfortable sort of colonial servitude by the Harani, who have implanted the Warborn with technomagical “mood stabilizers” to prevent them from succumbing to the violent impulses of their corrupted blood. Throughout their journeys through Sunbite Wilds, Warborn characters attempt to throw off the yoke of their Harani subjugators and come to terms with the sins of their pasts.
All in all, the new starting zones aren’t anything to write home about, but the arid, red-sandstone canyons of Sunbite and the snowy, evergreen-covered mountains of Aubre Cradle are gorgeously crafted, and I had to take some time every now and then to just take in the sights. It may just be me, but I felt like the trek from level 1 to level 30 was much quicker in these new starting zones than it ever was in the base game, but that could just be a flawed memory on my part.
While the new races and the new zones that accompanied them were certainly of significant interest to me when I hopped back into the game, the real draw for me was the server itself. The first time I played ArcheAge was well after the game’s launch, and by the time I got there, I felt hopelessly behind the curve. One of the game’s main draws for me was (and still is) its robust player-housing system, but back then, it was borderline impossible to find a plot of land even big enough for my basic farm.
By the time I had managed to accrue the materials necessary to build an actual house, I couldn’t find a single plot of land on which to build it. I spent some weeks trying to snatch up plots that had been foreclosed upon due to lapses in the owners’ tax payments and bargaining with other players to purchase their lots, but after continual failures on both fronts, I gave up on my dream of having even so much as a tiny hut to call my own, and shortly thereafter I gave up on the game entirely.
So of course the notion of a Fresh Start server appealed to me. Created (ostensibly) with the purpose of enticing new players who may see the legacy servers, with their long-established power-players and massive guilds, as intimidating, the Fresh Start servers seem to be part of an effort on Trion’s part to reinvigorate the game with fresh meat—I mean, faces. Judging by the overwhelming popularity of the servers in the opening weeks of the update, the effort seems to have succeeded, but the questions remained: Would these new servers with their new-accounts-only restriction really be able to give new (and in my case returning) players the chance to experience all the facets of the game from which they may otherwise be barred on the legacy servers? And would the Fresh Start servers’ modified cash shop be enough to shake off the pay-to-win stigma that has long loomed over ArcheAge in the eyes of the MMO-gaming community at large?
The answers to these questions are both complicated, and as is often the case, subjective. In regard to the Fresh Start server cash shop, I think Trion is definitely on the right track. I spent some time skimming through the in-game shop catalogue and checking out the items on offer, and unless I missed something major, I didn’t see much that I would consider to be especially imbalanced.
The only cash-shop-exclusive items that caught my admittedly unjaded eye as having major gameplay impact were some XP- and vocation-boosting potions, inventory expansion scrolls, and the Auction House license, which allows non-Patron players access to buy and sell on the auction house. Sure, these are still things that will give advantages to players with more disposable income, but the advantages are small, and as far as I can tell, ultimately negligible in the grand scheme of things.
Now, whether the Fresh Start servers provide a place for new players to comfortably learn the ropes and establish footholds of their own is a trickier matter. The truth is that maybe, in the first couple of weeks, they did exactly that, but as far as I can tell, players who didn’t get in on those first couple of weeks will find more or less the same issues on the Fresh Start servers as on Legacy servers, albeit to a lesser extent.
See, I was stupid: Instead of taking my time traipsing through the Dwarf and Warborn starter zones and taking in the sights, I should have been making a mad dash to get my large farm so I could claim a plot of land in preparation for building a house. By the time I got to that point, however—a little over a week after Revelation and the Fresh Start servers went live—every single housing zone (barring those in contested areas that I was unequipped to venture into), including the new ones introduced in Revelation, was jam-packed.
Many of them were largely occupied by empty starter-farm plots placed at skewed angles intended to occupy as much space as possible—thus preventing other players from claiming the surrounding plots—presumably so they can later be sold off for exorbitant prices. This, combined with the fact that the plots on which players are allowed to build are irregularly shaped and don’t even make use of all the available land, makes it immensely time-consuming and/or expensive for players who didn’t get in on the initial land rush to set up a homestead.
Yeah, I know that real-estate sharks are just part of the game, but it’s part of the game that annoys me to no end. Tax certificates aren’t exactly difficult to come by, and many of these unused, land-claiming plots had been paid off for weeks in advance, nullifying any hope of snatching up a foreclosed lot. And maybe it’s just me, but having to run around housing zones for hours on end, inspecting lots in hopes of finding one that I might have a slim chance at buying up, is not exactly my idea of a valuable use of time.
There are, of course, many other areas of the game besides housing: PvE and PvP combat, crafting, and so on. But when I consider how central housing and farms are to many of ArcheAge’s other core systems (crafting, especially), the fact that it’s so difficult for new players to establish a footing even on these Fresh Start servers remains in my opinion one of the major barriers to entry that keeps new players from investing in the game.
Ultimately, the Fresh Start servers, although a good idea in theory, will ultimately (if they haven’t already) succumb to the same fate as the Legacy servers: domination by some core groups of die-hard players with whom new players can scarcely hope to catch up. I don’t mean this as a scathing criticism or anything, really; that setup ensures that the aforementioned core groups of die-hard players will remain heavily invested in maintaining the power for which they’ve worked so hard. The fact remains, however, that even with the Fresh Start servers, ArcheAge is not particularly welcoming or encouraging to new players hoping to experience all the game has to offer.