AoC Icon Review of Age of Conan

My son reminded me that I promised a quick overview of my experience with Age of Conan on the PvP weekend! I’d like to reiterate that this was a cut-down version of the client and that we were limited to the tutorial (levels 1-5) and PvP instances (beta-buffed to 20). This means that I (and the others who took part in this PvP weekend) did not get a full view of the game.

Starting Up

Accepting that it was not the real game but simply a cut-down version, my initial response was good. The character creation process allowed for a fair amount of customisation – you could go for basic choices (tall broad woman with a “resolute” face) or you could dive into the advanced character creation and twiddle with the details, such as mouth width and eye angle. It was not as detailed as SWG character creation but gave players a decent amount of customisation – important in a game where the “races” are all human and look very similar. I would like to see more colouring options and advanced modes for hair and tattoo features – or at least a few more choices.

The game seemed a bit unpolished, which is not unreasonable for a game in beta but a little bit worrying, this close to release. After character creation, two questions popped up:

Do you want to experience Tortage Jungle?
[No] [Yes]
“Beach Intro” Do you want to play this?
[Yes][No]

I said yes to both and ended up on a beach with a man telling me that the jungle was that-a-way. Having played through the sequence a second time, I understood the questions (you can skip the tutorial or the cinematics of receiving the first quest) but in terms of new user experience the questions seemed unreasonably vague, almost intentionally confusing.

Many of the loading screen “tips” and help details did not match the actual gameplay, leaving players shouting at one another to find out what basic keyboard commands were. Trivial commands like toggling melee mode on and off and sitting down were not made available.

In the beginning, it seemed like every time I tried a new command the game would freeze up. It took me a while to realise that it was an issue with new menus or pop-up windows and if I waited for a moment, it would clear up and work normally from there on out. Again, not a major issue but specifically a problem from a new user experience.

On the other hand, I found the controls (with the exception of melee toggling) very intuitive despite the wrong instructions in the help text.

Visual

Graphically, the game seemed fine. I didn’t stop and stare at the scenery in awe but neither did it bring my machine to its knees as many had predicted.

My specs: Intel Pentium 4 with 2gb RAM and a Radeon X1950 Pro

I put up a full gallery of Screenshots where you can see the basic scenery on an unmodified system.

I left everything on the default settings and other than the issues with new windows opening, I found the game very playable in the PvE area. I ran around and spun in circles with no issue and although the graphics weren’t stunning on the default settings, they weren’t disappointing either.

Except the shadows. The shadows were bizarre. My own shadow was twice the size of me when I was lying flat on the ground, making it look like I was hovering under a spotlight. As I approached the Pict village, I would see the NPCs far off in the distance, their shadows touching my toes. Often I would see a shadow flickering along a hill, where the NPC was on the other side of it. I would never have thought shadows could be completely immersion breaking but they were so surreally wrong as to make me stop in my tracks.

There were some texture issues and I found myself sinking into the scenery fairly regularly but not in such a way that affected gameplay.

Gameplay

The initial quest involved escorting a slave girl to the city. The tutorial stepped me through the process carefully but was not overly linear: there were additional areas to explore and boss mobs tucked away in corners for you to discover. The slave girl cheered rather indiscriminately during fights, seemingly as impressed with my death as my victory. Her laughter and cries of encouragement sounded disturbingly like the SIMS and I couldn’t help but think that I would be glad to be rid of her in the long run.

There was much that was missing from this cut-down version of the game but it did seem like I was getting a massive amount of skill points for every kill. One player made the comment that it seemed it would be trivial to max out all of the major skills, which makes the system rather pointless in my opinion.

The tutorial was fast and easy – as I think it should be, as an introduction to the game. I am assuming that leveling up takes more time once you have left the jungle instance and are in the “real” world. Although there is only one tutorial instance, I found I was happy to go through it multiple times, checking out some of the non-primary areas and looking for new outfits. I am not saying it’s particularly deep gameplay but most tutorials have very little to offer after the first time through and I was pleased to see the amount of detail placed into the jungle sequence.

On the other hand, combat was so simplistic that there was no reason to really learn your character – combos weren’t needed to win your battles and shields could be quietly ignored. As the combat system seems relatively complex, it would be a shame if random button mashing did the same job.

There were a few boss mobs scattered about. Those which were part of the quest line seemed to drop decent upgrades but generally there would be a static chest in the area with food and potions. It seemed a little bit disappointing when I took on my first Boss to find a standard drop and the chest as the only reward. To be honest, if this were not an instance, I would be concerned about someone strolling straight past me after I had engaged in order to pick up the treasure. I suppose the treasure simply isn’t good enough to be worth trying to steal it from under the nose of other players but it did seem a bit of an odd mechanic. Perhaps it is different outside of the tutorial instance.

Combat

I had heard lots of complaints about the “button mashing” system for combat, with no auto-attack. In reality, I did not see it as a problem at all. You have to keep using your specials and pay attention to the fight – it didn’t seem like button mashing any more than other games. I honestly didn’t particularly notice the lack of auto-attack other than when fighting a low green crocodile where I would normally not waste my specials but just riposte the thing to death. As it is, a single hit killed it.

I didn’t think about the bloodshed until someone asked me about it – at which point I rotated my camera to watch myself in battle and found that indeed, blood was spurting all over the place. In one particularly messy battle, my monitor become splattered with drops of blood, which was an interesting effect. However, the end effect was much like red paint balls – I really didn’t feel squicked out by the blood at all and I never saw a single decapitation. I’m not crazy about things looking like they hurt and I avoid violent movies. The AoC graphics were simply not realistic enough to cause me any risk of nightmares. On the other hand, I never saw a decapitation, which might have affected me differently.

PvP

I’ll have to be honest here and say that I was not in a position to test the PvP as thoroughly as I should have. There was a single PvP lobby, full of people looking to join instances, which crashed the game for me shortly after entering. I could only manage at all if I managed to get into a PvP game within 60 seconds of entering the lobby. The lobby was under considerable strain for the PvP weekend and I didn’t attempt to change my settings, so I’m happy to accept that this would not have occurred in the normal game. In addition, a few balance breaking issues came up and, as it was trivial to create a new character for the PvP, as soon as someone discovered a method of one-shot killing, half the server seemed to reroll as that class and inundate the instances with one-shot killing.

Reading through the reactions of other players, I noticed the negative PvP reviews seemed to refer to struggling to keep up: PvP was described as too fast, chaotic, messy, difficult. To me, this is a good thing – PvP should be fast and furious and if you aren’t struggling to keep up then it isn’t much of a challenge. So despite my lukewarm initial response, I think the PvP aspects of the game will appeal to the serious player.

UI

The UI felt unfinished – and there were some that said it was an old version of the client so hopefully the actual interface shows a bit more polish. The chat window was messy and difficult to customise. The group window was tiny and you could only see the first few characters of the names of the other people in your group, which made it feel somewhat anonymous. In fast paced PvP, it became very difficult to keep track of people. Because there was no time to stand face-to-face in the instances, I often never knew my groupmates full names at all.

The hotbars seemed cumbersome and I am sure the first thing most players will do is re-arrange them. It wasn’t possible to lock the toolbar, leading me to delete hotkeys in times of stress.

Simple things seemed to be missing: there was no option to camp to character select, only “exit the game.” It didn’t take long to work out that you could use /camp to switch characters but the UI didn’t reflect that, leading to the feeling that they wanted you to log out if at all possible.

Do Girls Have Nipples?

Well, they didn’t in this client. The large smooth breasts looked much more bizarre than a topless woman would have! Male and female characters both start out very sparsely attired, as expected from the genre. As I fought my way through the tutorial, I found that different mob groups dropped different clothes. A pirate dropped “scurvy leggings” which covered me from waist to knee while the Picts dropped loincloths which were only just bigger than my bikini. I quickly became interested in discovering the various outfits and I liked the fact that I could get out of the bikini from the very beginning, although all of the outfits were skimpy.

I didn’t feel that tits and ass were constantly in my face and when I was buffed up to level 20 for the PvP, my outfit was downright demure. I’m sure there will be many scantily-clad females with max breasts dashing around the place but I really didn’t feel that it was as over-the-top as I had feared from the initial reviews. It took me five minutes to find leggings and a tank top in the tutorial which were decent without breaking the style of the game.

Conclusion

When I signed up for the beta, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Age of Conan. It’s not a game world that I have any real affinity towards and the Mature rating and “women as slaves” discussions had me half convinced that it was going to be totally unappealing to an adult woman. I was relieved to find real game-play and a detailed world which did not simply rely on hack-and-slash interspersed with boobies to have mass appeal.

By the end of the weekend, I had placed my pre-order. I’m looking forward to seeing you all in the Age of Conan.

Posted by Taymar on http://mmorpg-info.org.

 

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