I know my articles are usually devoid of visuals, so hopefully a short little montage of what I'll be discussing helps folks out a bit.
Questing and "End Game"
Now, to be clear, I can't read Korean. I can barely remember any words in Korean unless I hear them, and most of them are things like "hello" and "thank you." I also have a limited play time; the Korean beta is not open 24/7, but at certain times, which for me are 11pm-6am, which is usually when I do this thing called "sleep." I also tend to tell friends, family, guild mates, and strangers not to judge an MMO until you get past "level 10", which is usually when you get out of the starting zone, except for Darkfall (to which I always say, "Find a guild first, then try it, because it drastically changes your game play experience"). Starting zones tend to be very different from the rest of the game, in that they're very boring. They may introduce a few combat mechanics, like multiple schools, AoEs, or combos, and if you're lucky, you may get to experience a higher level feature like vehicle combat, but it's not something you can have yet. No, you have to go out and earn the right to see the rest of the game, and it's usually pretty different from what you get at the end.
Most MMOs have something called "end game." There's a reason it has a special title- the game you experience while leveling up is rarely the same game you end up with these days. I never talked about "end game" in, say, Asheron's Call, but once developers made easily achievable level caps, people started to realize that without leveling, they had to find something else to do. This was also around the same time questing was changed from something fairly epic into the dirty word I'd previously described.
I'm not going to lie, though, when I tell you that ArcheAge isn't changing this. The leveling process for me is much easier to do in TOR than AA simply because during or at the end of the quest, I get a little "choose your adventure" video experience, sometimes shared with my friends. It's simple most of the time, especially if I use my map and read the quest, but it isn't quite as simple as WoW or Rift quests. However, with TOR, I always have this nagging voice in the back of my head that says, "What happens at the cap?" Voice acting and cut scenes take time to create. I know I can't quest forever unless I go at a very slow pace or try to play through all the character stories and options (which I won't; I'm getting too old for alts).
The exact opposite is true for ArcheAge. Quests are usually very simple because there's arrows everywhere that tell you where to go. If you're collecting an item on the ground, it'll have a blue exclamation point screaming at you to touch it. Maps give you a vague idea of where to go, using maps and large icons that even your mother should be able to follow. A few quests are harder to figure out due to the language barrier, but none of the ones that give these features are like that (well, the glider took a bit to figure out that I had to press a hotkey button to deploy it, but that wasn't so bad). It's very boring and unchallenging, but in all honesty, even single player RPGs are like this today. That's why we have story to try to hide how boring the task it. However, I'm not worried about the end game. Heck, even the quests tend to have the option for me to complete them for doing some work rather than all of it (other players, for example, said they got their glider at level 6-7, but I got it at 4 because I hate questing). The whole time I'm thinking things like, "OO! If I had some friends, we could build a forest maze." These aren't things like raids or group quests, affording the highest tier of loot for this content patch, etc. It's things I get from sandbox games. Leveling is honestly a means to an end, rather than the meat that strings me along until I meet up with this strange "end game" concept. It's not like Darkfall that throws everything at you at once, but it's different from WoW because it doesn't misguide you about what the game is about. It's in the middle, and it's very refreshing, which is why I'm breaking my usual "level 10" rule.
It always happens. You're out questing with Jim and he needs to answer the phone. You need to kill 10 rats, but you just cleared out the spawn and want to go over that hill to kill the rest. The problem is that Jim won't get credit. Lame.
Solution? Multi-passenger combat mounts! It won't always be the fix you need, like if he needs to pick up 4 of the tails, but it's a start. Get his butt on the back of your mount and you can do the quest and move him.
But what happens if you have to go afk? Jim is ultra casual, and multi-passenger mounts tend to cost a lot in game, even other sandbox titles like Darkfall. This is where ArcheAge pleases us once again: you get the mount for free as part of a quest at level 2-3. Yes, you'll need cash to pimp it out, and it needs to gain levels too, but at least you get to keep it, unlike WoW's combat vehicles that are tied to a zone or quest (and in some cases, need to be re-earned). It's a happy compromise between the two: easy access to the feature, but you have to work to improve it.
I still remember when I got my raft in Darkfall. It took me several days to gather the materials, but I didn't use it often. I was so afraid to lose it. I won't lie, I once drove 10 minutes to the local coffee shop when I had a power out, just because I was worried about someone finding my raft and taking it while I was offline (which was a real possibility in DF). I have a lot of stories about that raft that I won't have about my AA boat, but that's not a terrible thing.
My boat in AA, as you can see, if mainly for travel, much like my raft. However, it also makes me want to create a bigger, better, badder boat. One with canons and a sail and such. Controls were not what I was expecting (I had to hold "back" to go forward, which makes sense), but that lets me know that ArcheAge isn't going to make ships glorified mounts. Something is different about them right from the start, and my little row-boat only makes me want to see more of this.
I'll be the first one to talk about how problematic flying is in World of Warcraft. It's a fun feature for a single player game, but in MMOs, it brings more problems than solutions in my mind, especially when only high level players have access to them. I'm sure WoW pvpers who weren't the first to the level cap can recall someone dive bombing out of the sky to kill them. Other may remember setting up an ambush, nearly killing the assailant, only to have him get out of combat and fly away while you stood there, jaw on the floor, knowing that he was going to get away and there was nothing you could do about it for several more levels, and even then, your character's aerial combat options were closer to different ways to suicide than ways to get retribution.
Gliders are yet another happy compromise. Going from a high to low place, it's not bad, but when you land, you're down. Gliders only go down, so if you see a tree you wanna chop down, you have to ask yourself if you want to walk the rest of the way. The same goes for anyone that attacks you. If they want to land and kill you, their escape options are the same as the victims. If there's a nearby cliff you can use, they can use it too. If there's no jumping points, you're both stuck there.
Now, for WoW players, you're probably thinking, "What about the level difference? Flying is usually restricted to higher levels or, in some cases, the highest levels." While this is true for WoW, I was able to get a glider at level 4. No taking my lumps for 60 levels without the possibility to escape or get friends to follow the ganker as she runs away. The sort of freedom the glider gives is very liberating in general, and experiencing it at such a low level makes sight-seeing more viable, and a hell of a lot of fun!
Let's get to the meat of the situation: I was growing a small grove before leaving the lowbie area. It wasn't instanced. Anyone could have chopped it down, or helped to add to it. It's still in the game world as far as I know, and there wasn't any kind of blue-print that said "add seeds here to build!" such as in games like Horizons/Istaria. When my saplings grew, I was so excited! I made a real impact on the world. A place that was once barren now had life, and as I traveled around a bit, I'd find other areas with grape vines, apple trees, and other plant life, and I'd ask myself, "Did someone make this?" The fact that even the lowest level of players (because, again, I did this before hitting level 10, without guildies or even spending a lot of money) can make their mark on the world in a way that others can interact with it is... there's no words for it. I can't think of another game that's allowed me to do this. The closest would be Animal Crossing, and that's, at most, a 4 player game, and time travel can make that feature seem trivial. As someone who only had about an hour a night to play, this feature felt very rewarding to me.
Final Newbie Thoughts
I hate questing. XL GAMES' quests aren't going to change that. I'm still going to tear at my eyes, even if I can kill 1 rat instead of 10 to get it over with. However, I love the features. I wasn't in thinking "get to end game and then see if this is a good game" like I have to do with almost all other MMOs. From the start, I was exploring and building and being rewarded, not so much with in-game trinkets, but a sense of wonder and pride, something I can't remember feeling in an MMO since... maybe Star Wars Galaxies (sorry TOR, you're fun, but your big brother's features were funner. RIP SWG). I still haven't figured out how to kill my fellow lowbies, seen prison, the pirate faction, the third continent, castles... but it's ok. The newbie introduction has been enough that I wait for 11pm to roll around, every night, just so I can have one blessed hour with a game that actually shows itself to me as a new player.