Further Age of Conan impressions – Taking my barbarian from level 1 to 30. And a touch of PVP too.

Having played Age Of Conan for almost three weeks now, I figured it was time to expand upon my coverage of the game here, and really flesh out what I’ve done, seen, loved, hated and all of that jazz.   The game has had a by most accounts a very successful launch, they just announced they are about to hit 1 million units shipped, which basically makes them the number 2 MMO behind World of Warcraft.  The game has also received praise from the gaming press, with numbers averaging an 84% grade at Metacritic.

But I don’t care much about sales numbers or review scores or any of that fluff.  What I care about is what I happen to see and feel and do while playing the game…  and now that my Barbarian reached level 30 earlier this morning I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the early game.

Lets get the low points of the launch and stability of the current game out of the way first.  All MMO launches are disasters, they are always riddled with bugs, bad performance, servers crashing, etc etc.  Age of Conan is no different.  But where other games (Like, say, WoW’s launch) usually have server related issues, Age of Conan suffers from an extremely unoptimized and downright buggy engine.  There are memory leaks that cause crashes, there are frame rate issues for just about everyone.  I personally have a just barely “minimum requirements” machine, and I see low frame rates and stuttering.   There are a number of user found workarounds and I have gotten the game to atleast be stable. But, it’s not good enough and Funcom needs to work these bugs out and get more performance out of its engine.  This is the nature of an MMO launch though, if you expect a perfectly running game you will be sorely disappointed.

So after spending a week or so optimizing the game on my own, I finally got to where it was playable and decided that I will just deal with it until its patched.  But, there are still a fair number of people who can’t play the game at all.  And there are tons of people with machines WAYYYY more powerful than mine that are basically getting the same crappy performance.   So, again, Funcom…  YOU NEED TO FIX THIS!

I have two characters that I play, my Barbarian on the PVE server Zug being my main.  I also have an Assassin on the PVP server Bluesteel, but he is only level 13.   The starting experience with the game is very fun and well fleshed out.  The character creation happens aboard a slave ship, you decide your race, class, your appearance, etc.  Once you have zeroed in on what you want and hit accept the slave ship starts shaking wildly and you know something is wrong.  You then go to a cut scene where you are sinking in the water, seemingly dead, but then a symbol appears on the surface of the water and mystically pulls you up.  The next scene you are face down on a beach when a weird old dude starts talking to you about how he saw your slave ship sink and that the owner of the ship went running off into the jungle towards the city of Tortage.  Your quest is to kill him, because if it is found out you are a slave you will not be allowed into the city.

So, yeah, right off the bat you are in the thick of a pretty interesting narrative.   I mean, who doesn’t want to kill their slave master?  So you pick up a broken ore (if your class can use 2h weapons, you pick up a broken bottle if you can only use 1h weapons) and you start your way towards the jungle.   After you get up the path a little bit you see a chick tied up and think “That looks like someone tied up a whore.”   Well, you are right, she is a whore, and she has been tied up… so you don’t feel bad making assumptions.  You talk to her and figure out that she isn’t all bondaged’ up for pleasure and she needs your help getting to the city, she says the dude with the key to get her out is over a ways, so you head over there with your broken ore and enter combat for the first time.

The combat in Age of Conan one of three things that set it apart from other MMOs on the market.  The way it works is that you and your enemy have active defenses, which are visible, so you swing your weapon where they aren’t defending to do maximum damage.  This system keeps every fight fresh, because you can’t just faceroll on your keyboard and get the same results every time.   Anyway, you kill the guy, unlock the hooker, and make your way through the jungle.

I don’t want to get into very many spoilers and I’m already taking too long explaining how the game works, but needless to say you make it to the city of Tortage and then the theme there is that the city is basically run by pirates and a corrupt government, so you join up with some resistance fighters and make everything right again.   The city of Tortage will be your hub from levels 5-20, it has a few surrounding zones that you do most of your questing in.  The “Destiny” quest line takes place at night, and is largely a single player experience.  You talk to NPCs to flip it over to night, and follow the series of quests.   It’s actually a pretty awesome system because each quest will teach you key things about your class… like sneaking, climbing, attacking, etc.

But it should be noted that a lot of people do seem to have issues with the single player aspect of the game and the fact that *EVERYTHING* in the game is instanced.  The technical reasons for it fairly apparent, the graphics engine is beautiful and if it was one seamless world where everyone was always in it together, the internet would implode and then we would all cry, because life without the internet really isn’t a life worth living.   Each instance of every zone holds a decent amount of people though, so you don’t ever feel lonely, and you can flip between the instances whenever you want.  So say you are in Tortage and your friend is also, but he is in a different instance, you just click a button and join his.  It is limiting, it does cut down on the “huge open world feeling” especially since you have to load between zones…  but it is also a necessary evil for the game to work in the way that it does.   I personally don’t mind it, but I know a lot of people do, so you have been warned.

Making your way from 5-20 is a very good time.  There are a ton of really awesome quests, you actually set a volcano off at one point, you steal stuff, you work sides against each other.   Most of the quests are your standard “Find 10 of this dude and kill them”  or “Take this pile of crap to this other NPC in this other zone” but there are enough standout, truly unique quests to keep the whole thing feeling fresh, even if you have been playing MMOs since the early 90s like I have.

Once you leave Tortage around level 20 you are sent back to your home Capital, whatever that might be.  For me it’s a place called Tartania.  Tartania is beautiful, and huge, and makes my computer barf its guts out as it tries to render it, but it’s all worth it.   Tartania has its own quests, but from this point on in the game it seems as though each zone basically has its own hub and story line.   So from Tartania I went to a zone to west and all of the quests followed the same basic outline of beasts being pushed towards the city from something more powerful on the outskirts… so my first wave of quests was to deal with the crap close to town, then I pushed out and started dealing with what was really causing the problem.   After about 5 levels there I decided to head back to Tart and go out the east gate and check out that zone.  Over there was a different story, the town was being invaded by a rogue group of dudes, I forget their names, but my job was basically to go in there and lay waste to increasing numbers of them.  With the combat being so fun, I was more than happy to oblige.

And there you have it, that’s where I stand as of now.   I can say that I really do enjoy the Barbarian class.  It is a “rogue” class meaning that I am melee DPS, and I can sneak with some efficiency.  Basically my job is to kick as much ass as possible, and so far it’s been a blast.  The combat is rarely one vs one, which is neat, because in the game when you are swinging your weapon, if it hits someone it hits someone.  Games like WoW or Everquest always locked you on to a specific enemy and unless you did a special AOE attack you didn’t hit anyone else.   This feels a bit more “real” because its really about where you stand and where you swing your weapon.   I decided to go down the talent tree for two-handed weapons and I’m very happy with it so far.  I can gather up big groups of dudes and just tear them to bits.   Not to mention the powerful combos that I have that cause great damage and usually have some sort of bleed DoT attached to them…. and then there are all the knockbacks and stuns I have.   It’s good, good stuff.

My experiences on the PVP server haven’t been quite as fun though, I must admit, and it’s mostly because I have been playing solo and doing FFA pvp solo is like running over to outskirts of Pakistan with a “I LOVE GEORGE BUSH” tee shirt on while making out with dudes and eating big macs with extra bacon.  Basically, I just get my ass kicked everywhere I go, so i rarely play.   I have some friends on the server but I can never seem to meet up with them.   The devs have said they plan on limiting PVP in some ways (like not allowing level 80s to kill level 12s) and maybe once those changes go in I will give it a bigger go.  But as of now, as a wanderer with no guild it is very difficult to get anything done.  Not to mention my poor performance, which if/when I get a huge stutter or pause in a PVP fight I am dead.  Also, from most accounts on their forums, the assassin class is kinda gimped right now… so maybe it wasn’t the best choice.

Overall though i absolutely adore the game.  I adore it enough to put up with all the technical problems.  I adore it enough to basically have been playing solo (communities are a HUGE part of what make MMOs great)).  I adore it enough to have this be like the third post i’ve made on the game.  The game needs work, and I guess the content gets pretty thin in places (I hear the first spot is the late 30s… so I’ll report from there when I get there).  But as far as MMO launches go this one hasn’t been all that bad.  And as far as MMO game play goes, AoC is the best i’ve played.  If they can figure out the rest of the shit this game will be my main addiction for a very, very long time.

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