Blindsided By Conan

Age of Conan has left me without much to write. Well, what I really mean is that I’d rather play AoC than write about it. Funny that, I was not even planning to give this game a try and I normally try all the MMOs after release at some point. For some reason, AoC just did not grab me at all when reading the previews. Honestly I expected it to be a disaster. But now that I have been playing it for a while, I’m having a hard time wanting to play anything else.

Lord of the Rings Online had been my main game for the past year and I was not expecting to stop playing it until Warhammer Online came out. After a few weeks of AoC, I can’t even bear to play LotRO at all. I love the lore of Middle-earth and I know next to nothing of the Conan world and yet, I find myself eagerly reading all the Hyborian quest text presented before me.

So why am I having so much fun? I expected bugs and poor design. Instead, the bugs encountered are hardly noticed as I run past swinging swords in a flurry of blood and guts. The visceral feel of the game really pulls me in. Instead of a sleepy auto-attack system, I feel like I’m right in the heat of battle trying to pull off intricate 3 and 4 maneuver combos dropping every foe before my feet. I rush into crowds and usually end up the only one standing. I *feel* powerful and I love it.

Admittedly, when I started playing I was put off by the heavily instanced areas and did not feel like it was a world I could happily explore in. All of that changed once I finished the first 20 levels of the new player experience and left the city of Tortage behind. As I emerged in the “real” lands of Hyboria, the instancing seemed just right. I could climb the mountains before me and travel to what is beyond. Still, I really feel the instancing is what allows each area to be so heavily landscaped and lush without breaking my computer. The world feels so real to me now. The fog rolling across the valley is exactly how I would expect it to look.

I’ve played most every class and they all feel wonderfully over-powered at some point in the early game. The mages are a bit tougher to play in the beginning but they get better as they level, which is not unusual. The melee classes are just super powerful from the start. Taking on groups of 3 or 4 mobs at once is a treat. Each swing of the sword damages all of them. Perhaps they will tune their power down in the future, but that would be too bad in my opinion because right now the combat is a blast. I hope to never see auto-attack again.

The attack combos of the melee classes and the Ranger are where the combat really shines for me. Using most skills will enable a follow up directional attack (or a chain of several directional attacks) which, if done properly, will cause a you to gain a buff or inflict more damage on the enemy. The casting classes are left behind in this area as they just have a spell to cast. There is no follow up attack you can use. Hopefully the “spellweaving” feature will make up for this. I am hoping to take a caster up high enough to try it and find out.

The quest text is fed out in a conversational style and I really enjoy it being done this way. All future MMOs need to use this method. AoC’s conversation options do not make a difference which is certainly a bad choice. I should be able to impact my quest by choosing how I respond to the quest giver but here all the choices appear to end up in the same place and that is a shame. Still, it is an improvement over the “page of text to read and click OK” of previous games’ design.

I am having great fun exploring the world before me. Just the other day I came across some rough steps in the mountains. I followed them up for a while and then came to a tunnel into the mountain. I passed through that and came out in what appeared to be a huge abandoned temple. I crossed a rope bridge into the temple and spotted a large statue a *long* ways off. I was really impressed with the size of this place and the level of detail provided for as far as my eye could see. I ran for a good while toward the statue and finally realized it was of a giant snake and I literally got frightened. I turned around and high-tailed it out of there. It has been a long time since my gut reaction overruled my brain rationalizing that it’s just a game. I really felt like I was going to get in trouble for walking on sacred lands or something.

So are there bugs? Yes there are. Does the game need work? Yes it does. Is it fun? Very fun. If this is the direction game design is going, focusing on fun even at the expense of some finishing touches, I’m all for it. It is weird for me to be so forgiving of issues with a game. I’ve got a pretty extensive experience playing most of the major MMOs going back to Asheron’s Call and it feels really good to be having fun at this high of a level again. It has been a while… I hope it lasts.

– Ethic

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Ethic

I own this little MMO gaming blog but I hardly ever write on it any more. I'm more of a bloglord or something. Thankfully I have several minions to keep things rolling along.

18 thoughts on “Blindsided By Conan”

  1. Wow…I did not expect this…
    I appreciate a blogger who really takes the time to look something over and can admit when they made a mistake…
    Cheers to you…

    Since you came from LOTRO, I also bet you are a casual gamer…am I right?
    I think this is the reason there is such a vocal group about issues with the game …it is rabble coming from the hardcore gamer..
    The game was pushed as a PvP sensation…which it is ok at…but, the Casuals seem to understand the game, and really take the time to
    Read quests
    Study the landscapes and visuals
    Learn the various workings of features…like traders, gathering and crafting..
    etc…

    The game is far from perfect…and maybe that is what turned me off to LOTRO…with it’s pristine little world, leading you by the nose to various quests, which start to feel lackluster..
    It was too perfect to be true, and finally after time…it showed.

    For now..with AoC’s well done leveling curve..(I have been in since EA), great grouping dungeons, awesome combat and well worded scripted questing..
    I am having a blast..

  2. I feel the exact opposite LOL and cancelled my account based on limitations and annoying quest text and XBOX combat. Not for me as I actually WENT BACK to LOTRO.

    OMG its like parallel universe Jerry Seinfeld!

  3. The senior dialogue writer agrees with ya on the conversation options:

    “Actually, this was a particularly interesting slice of agony. Every quest had to be available to every character, no matter what they said or what race/class combo they were…I hated that.”
    – from the interview at Massively.

    I’m of mixed minds. This would work only if you had more than enough quests that skipping some of them wouldn’t shoot you in the foot xp-achievement wise. And perhaps some factional alignment. Compulsive achievers would want to hunt for the ‘best’ option. My altitis would have a field day. At least this way, you can roleplay while still feeling confident that you can eventually get the quest from the NPC and haven’t burned bridges permanently.

    Oh, and I dare ya to set foot -inside- the temple. :) Waaay inside.

  4. It’s weird, because I hear a few folks complaining about lack of quests at 40… and I’m stunned.

    I’m not at 44 and had a log so full I had to delete some from one zone until later.

    Now 55+ may be another story, but those folks who are lost at the late 30s early 40s need to read their quest logs and look at the game map.

    40 zones:

    1.) Fields of the Dead (East of Conall Valley)
    2.) Tarantia Noble District (across the big bridge in Old Tarantia the city).

    Just a little advice, Ethic if you find yourself in a similar situation around 40.

    Also, remember that when you finish with one of the 20+ zones, it’s time to move onto another of them. So if you start in Khopshef Province you might hit 30 or so before you say, hmm no more quests here. That’s when you go to the Wild Lands of Zelata or Connall’s Valley which should each already have bread crumb quests in your log.

    I’m not sure why but Funcom made it so that it’s nearly essential to play at least 2 of the 3 starter zones outside of Tortage. You may end up doing some gray quests too when you head to the other zones, but fear not. They still give full quest experience unlike WoW or LotRO or any other MMOG really.

    Gray means they’re easy, but they still give the same XP as they would when you’re of even level.

    Anything else I should impart? Hm… just beware of crafting. It’s not that it’s not in, in my eyes it’s just not really worth it yet. But that’s level 40 anyway.

    Gathering is good, helps the guild city, and can net money. Be sure to do those gathering quests from out in the crafting zones.

    /endrant

  5. I pre-preordered AoC collector’s edition from Amazon.
    I have the box, never opened, sitting in my closet. It’s actually sitting right on top of my never opened collector’s edition of Everquest 2.

    Both games I knew were ‘less than WoW perfect’ when launched. So I felt I would just wait until they had patched the game enough that it was worth trying out.

    For Everquest 2, that time never came for me. Mainly due to a lack of excitement.

    For AoC I also feared the same fate. Blog posts have been more and more ‘thumbs down’ for AoC.

    Your blog post is a refreshing thing to see!

    I’m not sure if the ‘magic’ that has so captivated you will captivate me, I get the sense that it’s a “not for everyone” sort of game.

    However I’m more eager to try it out now.

    I’ll continue to keep an eye on the patch notes and blogs and once I feel that AoC is ready for me, and I am ready for AoC, I’ll install it and check it out :)

  6. @Openedge1: Yes, I consider myself casual, normally putting in maybe 10 hours per week. Conan has me staying up much later than I like. I really think I was justified to be worried about AoC given Funcom’s history with Anarchy Online (which I did actually play for more than a year). I certainly called it wrong on this game, as I have not had this much fun in a long time.

    @Jeromai: Thanks, now I am even more frightened.

    @Bildo: I’ve never been into crafting. With my limited play time I feel crafting is a waste of my time. I will gather, as long as it can be done while I adventure.

    @Robert: You are wise to wait and see. It seems most MMOs take 6 months to really settle in. For me with AoC, I am worried the power of the classes will be nerfed and I would really hate to miss out on this god-like power I have right now.

  7. It’s rare that this happens, but all I really have to say is:

    /signed

    Man, you are so dead on. I came upon the Sanctum of the Burning Soul yesterday and had the exact same experience. The lack of mobs outside the temple entrance made it oh-so-much-more terrifying. I got the distinct sensation that –*I should not be here*–.

    Quest outcome can actually change by choice in conversation trees, but it’s very rare. For one example, try out-orating the Priest of Set in Old Tarantia. It would be nice if quest text could get some more customization, in my opinion – my wife, playing a Priest of Mitra, gets rather upset when she is told to go do utterly immoral things and is given no choice in her approach.

    Final note: Don’t read the forums. For the love of God, don’t read the forums.

  8. “Final note: Don’t read the forums. For the love of God, don’t read the forums.”
    Made me LOL :D

    @Ethic – i’m rather surprised but then again – pleasantly :)
    I guess you’d be playing on an US server, so no more interaction is possible, than wishing you even more fun and good times ingame
    cheers! (and just wait for the Eiglopian Mountains! You’ll have a blast!)

  9. Aww, man… As if my City of Villains altitis hasn’t already become rampant ever since Issue 12, now it’s obvious I’ve got to try this out too. It’s been on my periphery for a while now, but the promise of exciting, combo-chaining melee combat in my MMO has me begging:

    Does anybody know where I can get a trial account?

  10. @Rhinocerosaurus: There will be a system for current players to send out invites for a free trial soon, but I know not when.

  11. So far my impressions of a lot of the doom & gloom posts regarding AoC has been that they fall into three categories:

    1. It’s just not their kind of game. This happens. Why people review something that just doesn’t appeal to them is beyond me.

    2. Bugs and unfinished content really bugs them. How they’ve survived through other MMO launches is beyond me, but I do understand being patient and just waiting until a new MMORPG has hit its stride.

    3. Like pundits, they want to place bets on which game they think will ‘win’ the prize of being the next big MMO. Since they hadn’t predicted it was Age of Conan, they’re determined to trash it and favour games that haven’t been released yet.

    I’m loving this game, but for me it seems tailor-made. My original first glances at it didn’t thrill, screenshots don’t do the animation justice, but once I’d seen actual video of it, and then after actually playing it… I’m hooked.

    I too would have a hard time going back to any of the current MMOs.

  12. I’m having fun myself right now. Just got off the boat in to Cimmeria with my barbarian (natch) Combat is fun, and the story line in your Destiny quests are really really good.

    It is however somewhat buggy (nowhere near the extent AO or Vanguard was though) Most of it minor (my minimap keeps going gray for some unknown reason and only fixes itself when I zone) with some Major (I keep getting told I am out of Memory..with over 3GB of RAM >.< )

    When it works though the game just “clicks” it is a gorgeous world. I just got a brand new Quad core Dual 8800GT system and I get to see the game in all it’s “pretty” and it lives up to it. While I still like the stylized artwork in WoW there is something to be said about the realistic look of Hyboria. I know the DX10 version of th egame was delayed but I wonder if FC will be able to implement it without making the already high system reqs even higher to run it.

  13. The first time I crested that hill and peered through the tunnel at the Sanctum of Burning Souls, I was simply awestruck. I’ve found the environments to be more immersive and plausible (saying ‘realistic’ seems silly when it’s a fantasy setting) than any other game I’ve played. Moreso than Oblivion or LotRO, and though I enjoyed WoW I wouldn’t say its environments ever swept me away. I’ve been amazed time and again by the sheer beauty and sense of ruined mystery that pervades Hyboria.

    The gameplay has been quite engaging for me; I’m enjoying casters and smashers alike (from Priests of Mitra to Demonologists to Barbarians). Yes, there are a fair number of bugs (my minimap greys out pretty often, and I get a memory leak/crash maybe once per two hours of play) but discounting those, I’m having a great time.

    But by all you hold holy, avoid the forums. ‘Cesspool’ is far too kind a word to describe the experience.

  14. Just about to give AoC a whirl…I felt LotrO was too clean & polished too smooth. Combat in LotrO, I found unexciting which is where the game lost me.

    I hated Guild Wars too with it’s over use of instance content, I just hope AoC doesn’t thril me the same way.

    Nice post Ethic!

  15. Interesting observations Ethic.

    I had a somewhat different experience during beta of AoC, and from that I decided not to buy it at launch, but to revisit it about 6 months post to see if it had been polished up.

    My main problems with AoC were of two varieties. One was design, the other was implementation.

    I can understand implementation problems – a certain feature is supposed to do X, but it just doesn’t work yet, but it can be fixed. Besides bugs, another example of an implementation problem is grouping.

    I find there’s very little incentive – and a lot of disincentives – to grouping in AoC. Some of this is due to the community, but the game itself doesn’t overtly reward grouping outside of instances. Compare and contrast with an MMO like City of Heroes/Villains, where grouping is encouraged through xp rewards and complementary classes – and it’s easy to do. AoC seriously needs to fix the group chat, the grouping interface and give bonus xp for grouping.

    The game also effectively punishes grouping by encouraging people to progress and churn quests in a variety of locations, which means they’re constantly speeding from one quest to the next. Stopping and gathering a group, doing some quests but not others, is enough for many people to just not bother and go their own way solo to get more xp/min.

    Another implementation issue is the UI, which is stoneage by MMO standards. WoW and CoH/V have far superior UIs. But that can be fixed…

    On the design side, I have an issue with the combat. I love 90% of the combo system, but I find it clunky. Why, for instance, do you hit a combo, hit the directions *then* the combo ability fires?

    Why not use the directions to open up the combo which lights up in your tray, you hit it, *then* it triggers? I know Funcom freaked out several months ago from playtesters saying that system was too complex (although their original system was not exactly what I’ve described here), so they dumbed it down and made it more clunky.

    The other main design thing that bugs me is that AoC fails to capture a lot of the real richness of Robert E. Howard. By this I mean Conan is often stalking through the bowels of some forgotten temple, more often than not running from something unholy into a scrappy desperate fight with a handful of cultists to steal the gem and only just makes it out alive. That’s an experience I’d like to have in a game.

    But you never hear of Conan helping the local townsfolk gather wood, or wandering up the road, fighting a dozen gorillas on route, to kill a bunch of random bandits who stole some dude’s lunch. That kind of questing is banal, regardless of the flavour text surrounding it. And i was hoping AoC might have a more sophisticated approach to questing.

    Anyway – just some thoughts. I think AoC might pull me back in in a few months time. But I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% happy with it. But that’s my, and my expectations’, problem…

  16. You’re right about the grouping in AoC being very dissimilar to CoX. But then, CoX is a shining jewel of innovation in many ways.

    Finding a group in AoC is like any standard MMO – tough, involving lots of broadcasting over some channel, with plenty of waiting around for a somewhat ideal class composition, and very little guarantee that the other five people are going to gel together with you. I could levy the same accusation at MMOs like WoW and LOTRO, etc.

    AoC’s design does include a few interesting features on paper: One is the apprentice system, based on CoX’s sidekick system. I haven’t seen this being used yet, and I suspect it’ll take people used to other MMOs a while to embrace the idea. I know I’m personally a bit too nervous to go into a dungeon that’s too high for me and trust an apprentice system, so I don’t even respond to calls to group until I’m an appropriate level.

    I like that they’re sneaking in group content the higher in levels you go. I’ve never been terribly impressed by WoW’s “solo to 70, now group for endgame” approach. I’m one of the terrible inclined-to-solo cohort, but even I’ve managed to overcome my inertia and group up in order to complete a dungeon instance, and some overland group quests.

    The design that encourages people to join guilds helps. (Building guild cities, siege pvp, etc. On paper anyway. Even if the implementation is currently buggy. Very buggy. Practically nonfunctional. Ah well.)

    I disagree with your assessment of AoC’s quests though. Again, I could turn around and point back to CoX. “Why don’t I feel like a superhero?” goes the complaint we’ve all heard before. “I’m just beating up small time gangs. Why isn’t my superhero saving the world from great otherworldly menaces?”

    It’s an MMO like any other. There’s bound to be some errand-running or warehouse-clearing for xp in between the really good story arcs.

  17. Hmm….I think Conan’s a bit busy uhm, being king and all. I think he’s also trying to stop a war or something. Give the guy a break…mind you, I was hoping I’d be able to punch a camel or two by now.

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