Archlord is the second MMOG released in the United States by Codemasters.  Developed by NHN Games, the draw for Archlord is the concept of relatively open PVP play with an actual goal:  become the best in the game world, become the Archlord, and gain virtual fame and fortune for yourself. 

Given the 900-pound monster that is World of Warcraft, it’s becoming harder for a MMOG to really find its niche, requiring a solid hook to get and (most importantly) keep players through subscriptions.  Does Archlord have what it takes to find a solid level of success, or is it destined to a similar fate to many MMOs suffering from a lack of players and virtually empty servers?

Note:  As with every PC review I write, here are my PC’s specs:  Athlon XP 2400+ @ 2.0 Ghz, 1 GB ram, Windows XP SP2, running Archlord at a resolution of 1024×768 on standard 2.1 speakers.

One of the early things picked up on about Archlord is the quality of the graphics, especially in the character design.  The character graphics are quite detailed and beautiful, and the landscapes are very nice as well.  As the game features a day/night cycle, the skies change with the passage of time, and it really looks nice to see the difference in an area between day and night.

Of course, given that this is a Korean game originally, the quantity of designs is somewhat limited, to better server lower-end machines, such as is found in many of Korea’s internet cafes.  So while the character designs are very pretty, there’s not a huge amount of variation in how you can make a certain race/class combination look, for example, and generally some higher level monsters will merely be palette swaps of lower level monsters, possibly with a different weapon.

While orcs, humans and moon elves may all look different racially, the various classes really don’t look too different, with the only way to tell between classes usually being the weapon that they’re equipping.  At lower levels, especially, characters tend to have a way of looking alike.

The game runs quite smoothly with very littte in the way of pop-up while moving around.  The only time that I had graphics issues, in fact, was after alt-tabbing out and back into the game, but any glitches there were easily fixed by alt-tabbing again once more.

One of the first things you will hear after installing Archlord is the music of the game, which is very majestic in nature.  Generally speaking, all of the music in the game is very attractive, and it wouldn’t be a far stretch to play the entire game with the music turned up in lieu of almost anything else. 

That isn’t to say that the sound effects are bad, however.  The various weapons all have distinct sounds, moving across different terrain types have different footstep sounds, and special attacks and spells all have their own effects. 

The only real problem is that the balance between the two is really turned towards the sound effects over the music, even when both of them are at the same level.  About the only time that the music really overwhelms the other sounds is if you have the effects turned down to about 20% while the music is set at 100%.  This is really more of a minor annoyance than a gamebreaker, but still deserves to be said.

If you’re coming into Archlord from any western MMO like Everquest or World of Warcraft, there’s quite a significant adjustment period dealing with the control set.  The game seems to use a hybrid of a standard click-to-move like many Korean titles and also like Guild Wars uses, with the ability to use WASD or arrow keys as well.

Character movement is controlled by either left-clicking on the terrain to send your character to the location specified, or using WASD or the arrow keys to move forward or backwards or to turn left or right.  The camera is controlled by the mouse, with the mouse wheel zooming the camera in or out while a click of the wheel will rotate the camera 180 degrees.  Holding the right mouse button down while moving the mouse will move the camera at will.  Generally, WASD or the arrow keys is fine for movement while fighting or for a short distance, but clicking on the terrain is wonderful for moving longer distances, although the game only moves your character in a straight line path to where you click.

As with many MMOs, Archlord has a hotkey system, with the ability to have up to four sets of bars labeled from 1 to 0 with + and – included.  However, 1 and 2 are hard-locked to health and mana potions respectively, although you can change the strength of potion used for each. 

Some of the other basic commands involve double left-clicking on a monster to attack a monster or doing the same while holding the control key to attack another player.  Picking up items can be achieved by pressing the space bar and the alt key can toggle on or off the names of items on the ground.  Many industry convetions are kept, including I for inventory, C for character, Q for quests, M for map and P for party.  Combat skills are opened with K while crafting skills open with J.  All of these are accessible in game and many can be configured to fit the player’s preference.

Archlord, as all MMOs, begins with character generation.  In the game, you have a choice of three races (human, orc and moon elf) with a total of eight classes spread among them, although there’re really only three types of class.  Humans have the Knight (warrior / tank class), Archer (ranged weapons) and Mage (magic).  Orcs have Berserker (tank), Hunter (ranged) and Sorcerer (magic).  Moon Elves, however, are different in that they only have Rangers (ranged) and Elementalist (magic).  Once you choose your character race and class, you select your look from the somewhat limited selection of choices for hair and body types, and then you’re off.  Each race starts in a different area on the map, of course, with starter towns and quests.   You can create a total of three characters per server.

With Archlord being a Korean import, one of the things that’s almost expected to be part of the game is a massive amount of grind.  Luckily, it seems that a good deal of the grind has been circumvented through a somewhat decent quest system.  Every level, different NPCs will open up new quest lines, generally consisting of anywhere from two to five quests each.  Granted, most of the quests are your typical MMO fare, from going to talk to someone, killing so many of this monster, bringing so many of that item to another person or crafting a certain item for yet another person.  Still, it’s something different, and it’s very easy to tell who offers quests by colored exclamation points above their head.

One of the things that’s obvious right off is that the monster selection is pretty sparse.  Where many MMOs will have a variety of monster types in an area, Archlord generally sticks to one monster type in an area, then another area further on with a different monster type, gradually increasing in level.  Sometimes, two groups will merge slightly, but usually you’ll run into the same type of monster all together, sometimes with elemental versions, which are significantly tougher than their level.  Luckily, their names are handily marked with green text. 

One thing that must be noted here is that the game is extremely party-based.  Not only are some dungeons and encounters (including all elemental monsters) aimed at parties, the loot system and drops are quite heavily biased towards the party as opposed to the solo player.  In fact, in one stretch from level 1 through 9, I only saw one item that wasn’t either gold or a potion drop.  While still level nine, I joined my first party, and saw five items drop in the first five minutes between myself and the one person in my party.  While comments from other players and a GM seem to point at drops being tied to character level, with drops coming easier once you reach a certain level, and personal observation seeming to find it being tied to whether one is solo or grouped, the actual information appears to be secret, as neither the manual nor the website offer that bit of rather vital information.

While we’re on the subject of things missing, there’s a significant amount of content apparently missing in Archlord:  namely, the Archlord system itself, which is promised on the game box.  According to talk on the forums, the Archlord system isn’t in the Korean version of the game (which apparently is a year ahead of the US version) and is only a recent addition into the Chinese version.  Other missing (and promised on the box) content is castle sieges, which was recently added into the Korean version of the game.

Missing content doesn’t end there, it seems, as PVP seems rather meaningless at this stage of the game.  While you cannot PVP in the game world until level 15, you can go to battle zones at level 10.  Supposedly, if you die in a PVP battle, there’s a chance that you’ll lose one of your items.  However, at this point, item loss on PVP death is not in the game as far as anyone knows.  Starting a PVP combat flags you as a first attacker, which means that anyone can attack you for up to twenty minutes afterward without repercussion.  Also, if you attack someone more than four levels below you, you gain villian points.  Get enough of them and become Wanted, with various levels of being Wanted having more severe penalties.  Unfortunately, PVP as it stands is pretty pointless, with there being no real risk or reward for involving yourself.  In fact, you can actually be penalized by winning a PVP fight simply by the losing player setting up a bounty which could cost you up to 10% of your XP.

One other major bit of missing content are the pre-order items.  While these items are in the game, reports from players are that the items themselves do not yet work…which renders them rather useless. 

Archlord also features a somewhat crude crafting system, with the ability to gain different crafting skills at various levels.  You have a choice between Ransacking (used to find hidden items on corpses), Carving (to find meat and other cooking items) and Skinning (for skins) on one hand and Cooking and Alchemy on the other hand.  Unfortunately at this time, the trade skills seem more rudimentary than anything else, with few crafted items that are actually wanted by most players.

When you level up, you are given a skill point that you can use at a class trainer to buy various skills, both attack-based, buffs, passive skills and others.  This leads to the concept of ‘finding the perfect build’ as seen previously in WoW and Guild Wars, much less Diablo II. 

It also seems that some solid ideas have been borrowed from other sources, as the game sports a basic auction house, an in-game mailbox, and Passports in both one-way and Roundtrip, similar to town portals in the Diablo series.  The chat system, however, is a definite Korean influence.  Instead of the standard /ooc, /auction, /tell and such from many other MMOs, you have standard speaking simply by typing, a /s for shouting, /w (for whisper) playername to send a tell, and the ability to create or join channels, including making them private.

The biggest problem though seems to be that there’s currently a solid dearth of players on all three of the game’s servers, only two of which seem to be available at this time.  At almost anytime you log in, the population shows as ‘few’, only creeping up toward ‘normal’ now and again.

Before we even get into the value of the game, it has to be noted that this game (according to the front page of the manual) is protected by FADE and Starforce.  As per Gaming Trend’s current policy on PC titles, we are deducting 10% from the overall score (denoted by a 60% reduction in the Value section) for the presence of Starforce.  That being said, there were no recognizable issues on my system due to the presence of Starforce, and it seems to be a tamer version, not requiring a reboot or driver installation.

One of the hazards of adopting any MMO at or near launch is that there is always going to be issues.  A game with a relatively good launch will have fewer issues, or smaller ones.  One with a poor launch will sometimes be crippled with massive, game-crashing bugs and exploits.  It’s also worth noting that many MMOs have apparently shipped with end-game content missing from the game, only to be patched in later (Everquest, World of Warcraft). 

The overall launch of Archlord was pretty stable, although there were the expected bugs, both in translation from Korean as well as game-related issues.  However, the biggest problems continue to be the fact that PVP is pointless as well as the missing content that’s featured rather prominently in advertising for the game as well as on the box.  Without some pretty constant and heavy patching from NHN to not only bring Archlord in line with the Korean and Chinese versions of the game, this game is quite probably doomed to die an early death.  Our suggestion is, even without the Starforce issue, that the game is not ready to be purchased at this time.  What could have been a rather fun game is marred by the simple fact that the game is broken.

When I originally got into the beta, I was pretty happy with how the game played.  It had item customization to a point, had a decent quest system, and had some pretty nice random items.  Unfortunately, sometime between beta and release, the game changed drastically.  Finding out through gameplay and through the forums that there were literally major parts of the game missing, and not only missing, but missing in the Korean version as well which had been out well over a year….let’s just say that the forums have not been a happy place to visit, especially currently as people are posting that they’re leaving quite frequently.  Of course, this is mitigated by the fact that you do not have to be a subscriber to the game to post there.

The people at Codemasters seem to be doing as best they can to make the game solid, but without support from NHN, their hands are pretty well tied.  I do have to wonder though, why mention the Archlord system in advertising and in the box if it isn’t in the game?  Also, the stress on groups to the point of crippling item drops for solo players seems a bad idea, but then again, I tend to enjoy a solid amount of solo play.

Given a year or so, Archlord might be a solid title.  Right now though?  It’s not worth the money.