Age of Conan, Initial Impressions (Part 2)

Well, I am level 30 now. Not too bad in my opinion considering I have to work full time, prepare for a big move to a new place, and deal with server outages. Since I basically bashed Funcom in my last post I’m going to try to focus simply on the game itself in this one. While this is essentially a review of the game from my point of view, I don’t really want it to look like one, so I will spare you ratings of any sort and just kinda summarize my thoughts of different aspects of the game.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics and sound are quite simply put, superb. That is, if you have a system good enough to support it. As stated in my prior entry I believe they have underestimated the system requirements of the game a good bit. Luckily enough my girlfriend and I are able to play it just fine.

The music is something I haven’t yet turned off, which says a lot. The combat sounds are really neat and really get you into the mood of killing stuff. It quite honestly takes a lot of the monotony out of questing. I haven’t noticed much in the way of ambient noise such as wind, birds, water, but I’m sure its there. I did notice the sound of snow “crunching” under my feet, so I know the ambiance is existent, just quite suttle.

The graphics, even on the lowest settings look great. There are really well done lighting and shadow effects, the foliage on trees looks great, the monsters are very unique and detailed. The world and landscapes are gorgeous. You can tell they have very good attention to detail which is very important to the immersion of one of these games.

Character Creation and Development

When you first enter the game you are placed on a slave ship. If you choose a male race the camera spins and centers in on one of the slaves who are rowing. If you choose a female, the camera zooms to the back of the ship and centers in on a woman chained to the wall who is obviously being used as some sort of whore.

At this point you being customizing. I must say the initial character customization is much more flexible then any other game I have played in any genre, hands down. While you are limited to only 3 different races at the time of my writing this, the amount of immersion and customization they put into the initial creation of your character really leaves you feeling like you are going to have something unique in the game, not just a carbon copy of everyone else. This really helps get you in the mood of your character and immerses you into the game.

Development seems quite similar to that of other games. You gain new abilities as you level up. So far this process has been automatic. I have not been to any trainers nor have I had to buy anything. Each level after level 10 you get one or more “feat points” which can be put into improving your character further. Much like most other games you get a limited number of points to distribute so you must choose wisely. There is another system beyond the feat trees which are skills you can put points into. I am not clear on how these points are earned as I have gained hundreds of them. Skills you can put points into are similar to the types of skills you get automatically in other games. Regeneration Skill, Hiding/Stealth, Casting Interruption, Taunt/Aggro Generation, Climbing, etc. These are just two more ways that you get more powerful as you level.

Storyline and Lore

I should start by saying that I am definitely not your traditional RPG player. While I generally like to read up on websites and stuff later to get an idea of the lore and figure out just who the bosses are I am killing, and why; during the game play itself, I do not get very involved in it. I just spam click past all the quest dialog and move on. This game is not much different for me in that respect, however, I feel that for someone who does enjoy the immersion of quest lore, and in-game storyline would be very pleased.

For the first 20 levels, every single NPC, and I mean EVERY one is voice acted. The quests have massive cut scenes and you get a real sense of immersion. I have to say that the initial “destiny” quest for Age of Conan was hands down the best starting quest and zone combination I have ever seen in any game. The first 20 levels fly by because the story is so, well, awesome. The voice acting, by the way, is VERY well done. It’s not just typical crappy acting.

Also, as a side note, this is one of the only games I have ever played where I still have the music turned on.

Since I don’t know much about the Conan universe and when I think of Conan all I can still think about is Arnold Schwarzenegger, I can’t really say how consistent the game is with the actual books and lore it was designed to emulate. I would be curious to see a response from someone who is aware of the consistency on this front.

User Interface

I am going to try hard not to bash the UI too much since it would be unfair to compare it to the more refined UI of games which have been out for several years. Basically, the UI is just ok. It has everything you need to play the game, and is relatively easy to navigate. The map is superb, for people like me, who hate questing and just want to know where to go and what to kill. If you like to explore and find stuff for yourself, you can turn the little dots on your map off, and run blind.

As of right now, you cannot customize the UI at all. Nothing is movable, resizeable, etc. Funcom recently created a “User Interface Addon/Modification” forum inside the official game forums which tells me that they will be opening it up for public modification. I also hear rumors they will be using the familiar LUA system Wolrd of Warcraft uses, which would be fantastic.

My biggest complaints with the default UI are the chat window and the social windows. The chat window is extremely clunky and limited. The only semblance of a “general” chat room is “OOC” (out of character) but that does not talk server-wide, I believe it only talks to the current instance of the current zone you are in, which sucks. I wish they had a collection of global channels, and I wish the chat interface as a whole was easier to use.

The social windows, and by this I mean friends list, guild management, player search, etc. are crap. You cannot manage ranks in your guild, you cannot easily manage your friends list, its just highly limited. I expect some major changes to these portions of the UI soon. Keep your fingers crossed.

The only other beef I have with the UI is the slash command system. Too many things are relegated to slash commands and have no spot inside the UI to show them. The emote system is limited, adding a friend to your friends list is some clunky command “/cc addbuddy <charname>” and many other regular every day MMO commands are quite similar. It is quite simply put, non-intuitive and quite clunky.

Combat System

Here is where the game really shines. The combat system is amazingly fun, and in about 20 hours of game play, has not gotten old yet. Essentially Funcom calls it their “Real Combat” engine. It is basically 6 directions you can swing your weapon, and 6 directions you can actively block with your shield (if you are using one) all in 100% real time. The really neat thing is how if you are wildly swinging a large weapon at an enemy and another enemy is next to him, you will hit them both. If a mage blasts them with electricity and they are close enough together, it hits them both. It really breaks the MMO mold in terms of “Target enemy, spam buttons”.

There is also a combo system, which feels something similar to what you’d get in a fighting game. You press a button to do an ability, much like in other MMO’s but you must then press a sequence of swing buttons (like UP then LEFT) in order to actual complete the combo, which your character performs. These combos and abilities of course have all sorts of different effects, just like regular spells and abilities do in other games.

There are also Fatalities, a-la Mortal Kombat, which are pretty neat. I am still not 100% sure on the mechanic to make them happen, I believe it is just a random % chance. Basically it seems like if you kill an enemy using a combo and not just a regular attack, there is a chance you will perform a fatality on them. The fatality animation varies depending on the weapon you have equipped, and I am assuming it also changes with level. Examples of fatalities are cutting off your enemies head, running them through with a sword, or smashing their head in with a mallet. After the animation finishes you get realistic blood spatter all over your screen. Trust me, it never gets old.

The only issue I see with these is that they happen at random, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to prevent them from happening. So if you are fighting about 6 enemies and you get a fatality on one of them, you continue to get hit by the other ones while the ~5 second animation plays. Can be a little annoying at times. I am sure they will do something about this such as only allowing a fatality on the last enemy you are fighting, or to turn off fatalities entirely.

The other neat thing about combat is the active ability to shield yourself in any direction or to attack an enemy in an area in which they are not shielded. This is just another aspect of the “Real Combat” system I really enjoy. If I open up an attack against an enemy with a series of overhead attacks they will shift their blocks to the top, then I can start hitting them at the sides doing more damage. It’s really neat.

So far I am loving combat in this game, which is the main point Funcom focused on and it really shows.

Questing and Leveling

The quest system is much like any other game. NPC’s have an icon either denoting they have a quest you can do, or a quest you can turn in to them. The big difference is really only at the lower levels (sub level 20) where you can play at night, which is entirely single-player based quests, or during the day, which is multi player. I have not seen the ability to play in single player mode at all past level 20. The quest system is very vanilla aside from the aforementioned immersive cut-scenes and voice acting. Post level 20 though, the voice acting seems to have totally stopped. I did not expect every NPC throughout the whole game to be voice acted, but I am honestly not sure if any of them are, aside from maybe a few major quest arcs here and there. This is really no problem with me though as I tend to just blaze through the quests as fast as possible anyhow.

The one thing I can say is, the quests themselves are much less boring to do. In most other games I have played you spend at least half your time killing snakes, rats, oversized bugs, or other lowly animals. This is not so much the case in Age of Conan. While there are definitely quests to kill things like snakes or crocodiles, the vast majority puts you up against large monsters or other worthy opponents, making questing not only more fun, but making it more realistic to me, as your destiny in every MMO is to become some great powerful entity. Great powerful entities don’t kill flies and rats.

One thing I really like is the speed at which you level, which for me has been quite fast. I know a lot of people will not like this as some people particularly enjoy a slow paced fun leveling experience. I for one just want to get to max level and focus on the end-game. If my hopes are correct, in Age of Conan less of the focus is on the level grind, and more of it is on the endgame content.

Equipment and Items

The gear system in this game is not all that unique. You have your different rarity and quality items denoted by some different color in the item name. The thing I really like is how most of the items look very unique. I believe they are dynamically mapped to the character making all of the gear look very good when worn. Most of the gear so far is pretty unique too. In most other games every robe or piece of armor you get is the same model but with different color patterns on them. In this game, while a lot of the low level gear is similar, it is not the same. I really like that.

Tradeskills and Professions

This will have to be summed up in another entry as you cannot get a real profession aside from gathering until level 40. So I have no experience with the crafting system in this game yet at all. This could really go either way. In most games I tend to ignore crafting since the items you get from it are usually sub-par and you get much better things from drops. If they actually make player-crafted gear useful and viable then It could be a very good thing for the game.

Groups, Raids and PvP

This is yet another subject I cannot really touch on except for in a very minor way. I know that groups are a maximum of 6 players and raids are a maximum of 24 players. I have not encountered much group content in the way of traditional dungeons or “instances” so I have no idea what this content is like or how it performs. One thing I do like is this “apprentice” system they have. It can bring a group member up to 1 level below yours, making it easier to group with people of unequal level. I do not believe this has any impact on XP gain. It seems to only really affect their core stats, and does not give you nor them any additional abilities.

As for PvP, I am on a PvE server (Zug). I have no yet participated in any of the mini-games, nor any other form of PvP. So I cannot rightly comment on this at all. I do know that there is a rather large implementation of PvP in the game though. Check out this review for more information about PvP in Age of Conan.

Final Thoughts

Having played many other MMORPG games, such as World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, Guild Wars, Eve Online, just to name a few. I feel my opinion might be only slightly valuable. I am a pretty objective guy. I know that it seems like most people who choose one game to play automatically sorta hate the ones they aren’t playing. I believe that is a way for all of us gaming addicts to feel just a little bit better about the game we do spend hundreds of hours of time playing, vs the ones we don’t. No one wants to feel like they chose the wrong game to play.

World of Warcraft is the game I played most. I was a level 70, uber-geared, officer in a raid guild. I played that game from the day it came out, until October of 2007 when I quit due to quite simply being tired of the game. WoW is the epitome of MMO success with over 10 million subscribers. The game has beautiful graphics, a very refined interface, and tons of players. They just simply made it too accessible and took a lot of the prestige out of being as hardcore as I was. For someone who played it for years and years, and put so many hours into it, it would pain me to see a player who just started the game a few months ago have equipment and gear equal to mine. It also has a very childish player-base which gets very aggravating to deal with at times.

Everquest 2, I played for maybe only the last 4 months, but it was long enough to get my character to level 80, get into yet another raid guild, enter Veeshans Peak, and get very very bored with the game in general. This is however not due to the game itself. My honest opinion is that EQ2 is superior to WoW in almost every way. There is just something very depressing and sad about playing a dying MMO, and In my humble opinion EQ2 is dying. There are less players and servers then ever. I am honestly not sure why this is the case, but it definitely seems to be. Just look at this chart. Quite sad.

Age of Conan I feel is extremely different from every other MMO I have played. It does have very funamental similarities obviously, but those are difficult to get away from. One very positive note for me is the “M-Rating”. I don’t care if theres blood, or if I can freely use bad language. I just feel this rating will keep a lot of the more annoying little teenagers out of the game, at least until they trick their irresponsible parents into buying it for them.

To sum it up, I believe at this time Age of Conan will be the MMO of choice for me. I have not yet cancelled my EQ2 account but I feel I will very soon.

I suggest anyone who is even remotely bored with the game they are currently playing, or curious to try an MMO out for the first time, give it a try.

3 thoughts on “Age of Conan, Initial Impressions (Part 2)

  1. Hi, Bryan. I hope you read this post and e-mail me back at jason.wood@cox.net. First, great article on Age of Conan.

    My wife and I are playing Age of Conan with me at the controls. We started playing since launch and have been playing all holiday weekend.

    Our Dark Templar character in the Scource PvE server is only level 19. While online we see the same Guild members go up one or two levels while we have not gone up one level. And I’m talking levels in the 20s. One of our guild members is level 31, but he won’t tell me how he leveled up so quickly.

    So, Bryan, how did you level up so quickly? Did you focus on doing quests versus killing creatures/monsters? Did you organize/do your quests in a certain way?

    Also, I cannot get on the US Forums no matter how many times I change my Forum username/password under Account Tools. I keep getting invalid username/password message.

    Thank you for any advice.

    Jason Wood aka Atalis on Scourge.

    P.S. Even though we are on a PvE server, our character kept getting killed by other players or groups of players. Does this continue after you get off the island?

    P.P.S. What is your character’s name and what server are you on? I’d like to say hi. Just don’t kill me.

  2. I’m a writer from St. Georgen An Der Leys, Austria just submitted this to a colleague who is doing a little research on this. And she actually bought me lunch simply because I came across it for her… lol. So allow me to paraphrase this…. Thanks for the meal… But yeah, thanks for taking some time to discuss this matter here on your web site.

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