Good and Bad things about Age of Conan

After having spent several days without playing Age of Conan, and the simple reason that I just didn't feel like it, I logged in today to give it another go, trying to find that lost spark.

It was back to crocodiles, bandits and rhinos in the Stygian desert, river and oasis landscape. I did five or six quests, and just as I was killing a quest mob for a seventh the game froze and I got a black screen with weird stuff on it. Yea, graphical error. It was just to close down the game. And I couldn't be bothered to start it again.

So instead I went into the account page and cancelled my subscription. Not just for the graphical error mind you, it's the building feeling of discomfort and a sense of not getting value for the money that made the decision. And to further rationalize why I felt like I felt I decided to make a list of things I liked, and disliked, about the game.

Read the full post »Things I like about Age of Conan

The combat system
Hitting stuff in melee with big sharp things have never been so much fun. Interesting combos and not relying on auto attack is a refreshing wind in today's MMOs. Head chopping and blood stains on the screen adds another point to the fun.

Graphics
The graphics are stunningly beautiful, not arguing there. If you got the computer to view them and still run smoothly that is, not many does.

Quest system
Having your quest objectives and where to kill said quest mobs on your map is really sweet. Funcom basically took what Wowhead is for World of Warcraft and implemented it into the game. No more following obscure directions in the quest log and tabbing down to a website to find where the h3ll that rock is.

Not that the system doesn't have it's flaws. It's unable to display quest areas as anything except circles. Which means that if quest items is on a straight road or river for a large distance, the system will display a circle from one end of the road to the other, which will indicate that quest items can be found a large distance on the sides from the road. It happened to me a lot of times in the beginning before I figured why this was.

Things I don't like about Age of Conan

Instancing
The idea of making more than one instance when areas get to crowded, to ease levelling and not having fifty people on the same spot moving around, is a nice idea. But it has not been thought trough. The thing about a Massive Multiplayer Online game is that is supposed to be massive multiplayer. A MMO is supposed to be a virtual world, and limiting the number of people in each instance reduce the feeling of being in a living world. The problem with many players on the same quests still exists in spite of instancing. Respawn time for quest mobs or objects are horrible, expect 5 minute wait times if someone took the quest item just before you. World of Warcraft solved the issue with lot of people on the same spot competing for quest mobs by making spawn time shorter, and it works wonders.

Also, by dividing the world into segments that you can't visually travel between make you lose the world feeling. Instead of a world it feels like you are in a big corridor, with doors on each side leading to different areas. The door to the south lies just beside the door to the north, and there is no difference in time to travel to either of places, be it the far frozen north or step into the door to the local inn. It feels like being in a big box, the freedom that usually MMOs stand for is not there.

Having several instances of zones make grouping so difficult that it's just stupid. If you for example answer a tell in the chat about people looking for members for quest X, you need to enter the same instance as the rest of the party. And in a party of six, it's possibly that you are each in your own instance. Deciding which instance to join takes time, and when you switch between instances you get teleported to the closest graveyard. Which can be quite frustrating if you are standing at the quest objective.
Apparently there is a summoning system for just this problem, so that you can summon people to your location in your instance, but that function doesn't work. That it doesn't at the time of release is beyond stupid, it is the difference between a Working and Fail group system.

Interface
The entire interface is horrible. A simple window for guild listing and /who players, would that be too much? Right now your guild list get thrown into your friends list, which is a annoying bit of black box as it is. You can't search for individual players without inviting them to your group or your friends list, and when someone whisper you it's impossible to find out what race, class, level or even guild he belong to.

There is also that is referred to as a "Looking for group" system. Exactly how it works is a mystery, but I have gathered this much from the few times I bothered trying to use it. All groups in your zone is listed, and they can apparently check that they want members. What they want members for cannot be specified. So the basic LFG system is the good ol' chat.

And the chat is also a joke. It can have several tabs, and you can select what channels to view in the window. There is the normal chat, combat chat, and you have the System and On Screen Messages. System show important things like rolls for items, money received, but also totally useless things like that your spell casting was interrupted (by you moving for example), and slightly useless things like your quest goal to gather 15 rhino horns is 3/15 done.

Here is another bit where Funcom show a obvious lack of simply thinking things through. The usual Party chat (/p in WoW for example) has been renamed Group and accessed by /g. That would be fine, except that used to be the Guild command. Guild is instead now /gu, which feels just annoying. Why not name groups party? World of Warcraft won't sue you, Funcom.

The On Screen Messages is even worse. The game is very eager to pop useless information into the middle of your screen, and every new piece of information is displayed in a big black border that stretch across the entire screen. And there don't seem to be a limit how many you can have on your screen at the same time. Do fast looting of 2 quest items from 3 dead mobs and you will have 6 big black bars covering your screen making you not see that a demonologist is starting to cast a big ball of fire on you.

All the information from these black bars can be shown in the On Screen Messages channel, and it's on by default. The first thing that you do when you start a new characters should not be to spend 2 minutes configuring the chat, but that's exactly what you do.

Lack of transportation
You are able to ride a mount at level 40. Unfortunately, they cost 2g plus 1g for the training skill, and the average player will be happy if he has collected 50s by the time he get to 40. You can get a free mammoth or rhino if you had pre ordered, but what the information don't tell is that these are not really mounts used to travel with. They are siege and combat mounts, you can get along faster by running.
And there is no sort of transportation between zones except running. Well there is another way that most players use. It involves jumping from high cliffs and then select the closest graveyard where you want to go. Yea, the death's don't really have a penalty. It's first when you experience the joy of running from zone X to Y to Z for the fifth time that you start appreciate World of Warcraft's flight path service.

And other things that are just as annoying
That simply starting your game from the patcher takes way too long time.
That you have to watch five company logo movies every time you start. One time is enough?
That you can't logout to character selection screen. You have to login again.
You can only have a certain amount of total characters (think it is around 8) on your account, not per server as is the ordinary.

Summary
In my opinion, the negative outweighs the positive. The instanced system absolutely destroy the world feeling, and they won't change such a major part of the game. The other parts on the negative side can probably be fixed in patches over the time, but instancing in the major problem.

People who haven't paid for the game has really no clear idea of how the game is. The game is very fun the first 20 levels which is the starting area, and probably most of the time have been spent on this area. Most game reviewers don't seem to have bothered levelling further than this before giving their judgement. The game after level 20 is a whole different matter. There are no more voice conversations, and probably never will be, and fun quest lore turn into "gather 15 rhino horns" followed up by "gather 15 crocodile tails". And those in turn are followed by "deliver this stuff to my cousin in [zone furthest away possible]". Your standard grind MMO in other words. There are a few interesting quests out there, but they are few.
The lacking content, necessary functions, major bugs and a stupid interface make one impression: unpolished. It should have needed at least a few months more in beta to get everything right. Many praise Funcom for a very smooth launch, but what they mean by that is that servers didn't go down every fifteen minutes.

I was in the (what some call fiasco) Early Access of Age of Conan, and it was nothing less than a last closed beta. Which I and other people paid for. When I ran in to a bugged quest that, from a quick inquiry in chat knew that everyone had trouble with, I contacted a GM. I was promptly told that they would and could not fix the quest, but that it would be fixed when the game "launched". You don't need more proof that you got fooled and were playing a beta than that.

Overall the game lack that which are most important when creating a MMO: a Vision. Age of Conan uses the knowledge from World of Warcraft and implement the good ideas that Blizzard worked out, but other than a interesting combat system and better graphics, it's nothing new under the sun. Upcoming Warhammer Online on the other hand, seem to have no end to new revolutionizing ideas and content, but don't have impressive graphics. As countless gamers have said: graphics are nice, but content are king.
My prediction for AoC is that it will get plenty of copies of the game sold, but in a few months not many will still be here.

The game now has one month of play time left to prove me wrong over cancelling my subscription.

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