Hello Destructoid, my name is Elandarex (which happens to be an anagram for my real, exceptionally common name) and I am a Gamer, which I have been led to believe is an immoral, socially bankrupt wretch of a creature. Of course, this sits just fine with me given the alternative!
I came to gaming relatively late compared to most gamers I know and despite the occasional brush with Nintendo systems my main gaming past time was playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. Eventually I was introduced to Nights Into Dreams and it soon came to be that my first gaming console, a Saturn, was in my possession.
Still, it wasn't until Final Fantasy VII that I became totally embroiled in gaming, and ultimately, my life was signed over to gaming after spending countless hundreds of hours adventuring in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn. After entering into the Church of Bioware I knew I should give up my long standing aspirations of becoming a Paleontologist and enter into an unholy pact with video gaming.
Since then, I have worked towards getting a job in the industry and am currently finishing up with an education in Game Programming over the next few months. Reading Destructoid for the past year has helped me maintain some semblance of sanity in the midst of many of the more psychotic gaming types at school and I felt that it was long past due that I quit my lurking and joined in with this unparalleled gaming community!
Note: I'm not too fond of this profile at the moment but am also far too lazy to make any changes to it at the moment, a common trend in my various dealings.
Wait, what am I saying? It's Diablo 3! That's right, for any out there who have been following the mystery surrounding Blizzard's splash screen teaser on their site, this comes as no surprise. However, for those who don't display quite the same level of obsession as the rabid Blizzard afficionados it may come as a shock to hear that Diablo 3 has been officially announced by Blizzard over at their 2008 Worldwide Invitational.
Now, if you would rather experience the glory (i.e. a teaser trailer and length game play trailer) for yourself rather than read up on my thoughts, (and who could blame you) the official site can be found here. If your browser won't load up the videos for you to bask in their magnificence however, there's worse you could do than hear my thoughts on this monumental announcement.
Now, there may have been a great deal of exaggeration in my preceding statements so let me get one thing straight here: I am not one of the Blizzard faithful. I hate World of Warcraft with what could be seen as an unnatural passion and I don't much care for the Warcraft series in general, I thought the original Diablo was okay and liked the sequel but could never bring myself to finish it out of eventual boredom, and I quite enjoy Starcraft though I generally only played it with friends while hidden away in the computer lab at my old high school as a convenient means to escape work. That being said, from what I have seen so far of Diablo 3, which is very little of course, I am very much looking forward to the latest entry in this esteemed series.
I should mention however that initial impressions of the game play for me were kind of meh. It really just seemed like more of the same, only with a fresh coat of paint. But it didn't take me long to realize that that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The moment of realization? It was probably when a fat hulking blob monster, vaguely reminiscent of Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas, was defeated and proceeded to explode into what seemed to be a horde of moray eels. To put it simply, it was freaking awesome and I cannot wait to do it myself!
Which brings me to why I am liking this new incarnation of Diablo. For a series centered on the slaughter of countless demons and undead, coupled with an elegantly simplified control scheme, the only real sense of satisfaction to be had (aside from the collection of a seemingly endless array of loot) is in the feedback rewarded upon delivering the killing blow. And while I may have ultimately been left unsatisfied with previous titles, Diablo 3 looks poised to quench my inner blood lust with combat that looks a great deal more visceral than it ever has before.
Adding to that sense of carnage are the destructible environments on display here. With almost any object in the game world seeming to be fair play, combat in Diablo 3 doesn't seem satisfied with simply leaving behind the ravaged remains of the fallen, it seeks to bring the roof down with them! Watching the game play trailer, as the developer's Barbarian character waded through a throng of zombies, pitching them to and fro with each swing of his mighty axes, the hapless undead would smash into the stone railing lining the sides of the walkway and the rails gave way beneath the relentless onslaught, crashing to the empty abyss below. This, needless to say, seems profoundly satisfying.
Now if only you could pitch that old geezer Deckard Cain over the edge with them. I mean, come on, when is this old guy going to kick the bucket already? Still, perhaps this will be his final outing as Blizzard seems more intent on telling an engrossing story this time around, a perfect stage for ending Cain's overdrawn career. The dev illustrated their newfound focus with an interesting summoning ritual and by showing off the new dialog system. Still, there really wasn't much to show and the dialog was far from engaging from a player's point of view. Being fair though, the game has only just been announced so I a looking forward to seeing whether or not Blizzard can take their storytelling to the next level.
The first half of the trailer showcased the returning Barbarian class from Diablo 2, yet there were some surprises in store during the second half with the introduction of the new Witch Doctor, a virulent pet class with a propensity for warping the minds of others. This newcomer certainly looks quite interesting with its disease-ridden pets and swarm attacks, but all you really need to know is that it can summon a wall composed of zombies. Yeah, a wall of the damned. That is purely awesome incarnate.
So, with all that being said, the visuals in Diablo 3 are looking exceptionally lush, and the game play is certainly well on its way. It's anyone's guess as to how far along they are in developing content however. For one, they boast of 5 classes for the finished game but so far have only released details on 2 (again, this has only just been announced so even that is somewhat impressive) and who knows how long it will be until any more information is forthcoming on the other 3. This is Blizzard though, and given how high they set the bar for quality in their titles this will be one game that looks to be well worth the wait.
But that isn't what this post is about, not entirely at least.
Last night I had the distinct pleasure to sit in on an hour and a half long lecture that Will Wright made at the Emily Carr school of design in Vancouver, BC. I almost couldn't attend due to the show having sold out before I first discovered this monumental opportunity. Luckily I had left a message conveying my interest and I was contacted the day before the lecture and given access to some tickets. There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I could care less as I got see Will Wright in person!!
So why was Wright gracing us with his presence? The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently playing host to a special event that is going on through to September called Krazytalk! Industry Giants which is part of their latest exhibition, Krazy: The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art. If you're in the area, I would definitely recommend checking out the events they will be holding to see if you might be interested in attending one of them. Now obviously, after seeing Will Wright, I could care less about any other event as they can only go downhill from here.
Still, what is important is that Will Wright's lecture was amazing! I knew I had to share it with everyone here in some fashion, so I brought a camera, notebook and mechanical pencil with me, though they wouldn't let me film or take pictures during his lecture so I had to rely on hastily scrawled notes. I will tell you this much: my hand experienced grievous levels of pain as I struggled to keep up with Wright's constant outpour of information. It was quite the experience.
Alas, being unable to take pictures of any kind (outside of the one I managed to snag before he left the room) means I don't really have anything to spice up this post with. So I have opted to simply repost my picture with Will Wright every once in a while, only with my friend having been replaced by someone I would rather spend time with. Case in point:
As I eagerly awaited Will Wright to ascend the stage, I could not help but think of the many vile and perverse acts I wanted to perform on his podium, much as I'm sure the rest of the sold out crowd did as well. As I began to question my sexuality, the lights began to dim and the room went anything but silent. Perhaps it was the fact that we were all about to be within meters of a god among men, or perhaps it was the incessant Sim City-like jazz that was being played in the background, but the energy in the room was palpable and reeked of god-complexes.
Starting eight minutes late, we were greeted by disappointment. Two ladies whose names I don't remember and speeches I forget wasted precious minutes that could have been spent basking in Wright's radiance. If that weren't enough, they couldn't stop talking about their precious school programs, vapid cunts that they were. I know that sounds unreasonably impatient, but I am an unreasonably impatient man. Also, to all of the students who got a personal session with Will Wright: Fuck you!
And so, after spending so much time listing Will Wright's many accomplishments that I wanted to slap her just to get her to shut up, the man of the hour took the stage to much applause. Behind him, many odd images began flitting by in what was obviously a powerpoint presentation of some sort until they came to rest on one slide that said simply "Video Games (In Context)".
Wright began by going over what brought him to the Krazytalk festivities, which mainly boiled down to another attendant speaker on behalf of comics having derided video games as an art form and responsible form of expression. Ironic, I know, and Wright felt much the same way. So it came to be that Will wished to address gaming's disreputable position in the entertainment world, which brings us finally to Will Wright's lecture proper.
We were told the all too common tale of encountering a "normal" person and being asked what you do for a living, with the reaction to game developer being one of horror and shock. Wright naturally brings us back in history to illustrate how this situation is not unique in the slightest; he uses a 15th century monk and another man's unfavorable reaction to how absorbed he is in a book to parallel the same grounds gaming finds itself on today.
He then went on to talk about how art forms often evolve into forms of expression quite unlike that of their original purpose, such as how writing was originally meant for what was essentially accountancy and not the beautiful works of prose it became. To illustrate this progression in art Wright brings up a slide depicting a cheesy romance novel, which is fitting to say the least. Getting back to the speaker on behalf of comics, Wright comments on comics originally being politically charged social tools as opposed to now being perceived of as base entertainment. At one time, Mary Pickford even said that sound would add nothing to film, one of the earlier bonehead statements regarding new technology.
This of course brings Wright to talk about inventors underestimating and miscalculating the worth of their inventions. He jokes about television having once been expected to improve education, following that up with a slide containing the Dukes of Hazzard. This naturally leads to talk of the internet and its origins as a military tool and the sleazy platform it has now become (DToid excepted of course. Though Wright may not have said this, I know he knows it to be true). All of this shows that art forms are originally created to solve certain problems, eventually becoming mediums for entertainment and ultimately, art.
It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Will Wright's work that he considers gaming to be a medium ripe for learning opportunities. We, as a species, build models of our world using our senses, and with the help of our greatest asset, imagination, construct our reality. Essentially we are running simulations in our mind, only there's a good chance we're not translating it all into Simlish. Wright goes on to break this down into four processes:
Classification Causality Empathy Agency
Now, you'll have to bear with me here as I was having a difficult time keeping up, but from what I can recall essentially in all of our interactions we first classify the variables of the situation, analyze the causal paths stemming from this event, draw on our own experiences to personalize the occurrence, and finally decide on a course of action or agency to take. Wright uses an encounter with a tiger in the jungle to illustrate how our reactions to this encounter follow this progression model and how it all happens in an instant. He then continues to show that encountering a painting of a tiger in the jungle, despite it sharing many of the same qualities of the real tiger in its depiction, results in completely different agency.
Wright believes that our brains have evolved (all you bible thumpers might want to leave the room for a bit now) from Fish -> Reptile -> Bird -> Mammal -> Ape -> Man, with each evolutionary step providing varying perspectives in our needs such as food and fight or flight reactions. It was with our evolution into man that we received our greatest asset, imagination. We build a model of a person when interacting with them, completely apart from their own model of their self. Not only that, we construct models of what we feel their model of us is as well, and I'm certain that I'm not alone in that I can take that even further without even being in a drug-induced paranoia.
This brings Wright to his next topic: Learning.
Human beings are phenomenal when it comes to recognizing patterns better than any supercomputer, which he illustrates by showing an image of what seems to be random dots until you notice that it is in fact a dog. What we do is generate Schema from situations we encounter that define new rules that we then apply to similar situations. Unfortunately, being mortal beings, experience is a major limiter in our development of schema, which is why learning is so important.
With learning we are able to expand our horizons, and whether it be through toy experiences or the experiences of others it ultimately comes down to learning through play and story. While many animals learn through play, including humans, it is only the homo-sapien species that learns through story. Wright breaks story down into another four aspects:
Archetypes - Making use of a picture of Vader, starting off gratuitous Star Wars references
Environment (Setting) Cool Abilities - Essentially fantasy fulfillment
Beginning with archetypes, Wright talks about how Horatio Hornblower was inspiration for Captain James Tiberius Kirk, how the Kurosawa films were inspiration for Lucas when he made Darth Vader, and even went so far as to compare the cast of Gilligan's Isle to the seven deadly sins and how ultimately that formed the basis for Sandman.
While archetypes are important to help us connect with the story, it is the environment or setting that is crucial to our learning. With new settings we are able to build new models which are all essentially toy worlds, even those based in reality. One of the most important elements of these models are the inherent abstractions we make which filter out irrelevant information, thus improving our ability to learn. Toys are an excellent example of this process of abstraction.
Alright, I think I'm going to take a break here as this is a lot to read and there's still a lot left. I managed to take twelve pages of notes during his lecture and this has only gone through around four of them. I've tried to capture the progression of the lecture as best I could without the aid of video or pictures, and without quickly summarizing what I found to be an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I cannot possibly hope to convey how unbelievable this lecture was but I will continue to go through his presentation sometime tomorrow.
Feel free to let me know what you think of all this so far and whether or not you would want to read more in detail or a more summarized version. I reserve the right not to summarize. :P
I wrote a lengthy first impression on Age of Conan a couple weeks ago, and though it may not have received heavy comments or anything, it did seem to impress Falconer over at Hooked Gamers. So it came to pass that I was asked to review AoC for their site, and if anybody is curious as to how this game turned out, yet wants more than a mere impression of it, feel free to check it out at Hooked Gamers.
Please let me know what you thought of it, as I may well write more reviews for them in the future.
Can you imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning to that voice? It would provide all the motivation I need to make it to the next day. Plus, I just really want to know if his codename has any significance in the bedroom, not that I'm gay, and not that there's anything wrong with that. Uh, I think I may have said too much and it's high time I got to the point of this post.
GameTrailers has a new Bonus Round up, and while I usually don't care too much for the show, aside from a few interesting episodes, the latest one has certainly piqued my interest as it stars the one, the only, David Hayter.
For those of you who don't want to sift through GT's site (and who can really blame you?), you can get to the video here.
As always, David Hayter is funny and awesome and continues to have the best voice ever. Not only that, he just continues to look more and more like Snake every time I see him. But wait, I detect a problem in this little feature...
What is with these guys taking time away from David Hayter's mellifluously dulcet tones and their invasion of my ear canal? Who the hell do they think they are?! Luckily, I know how they can improve things for the next part in this series.
First of all we have N'Gai Croal. This guy thinks far too much of himself and can't seem to stop putting his foot in his mouth. Not only that, but so far the only black guy in MGS4 seems to be a weapon dealing pimp, so nothing good can come from N'Gai's commentary. Besides that, I don't like having to use two apostrophes to denote possession with anyone's name, so N'Gai needs to go.
Next we have Rob Smith, the lucky bastard who has been able to play MGS4 all the way through more than once already. That right there is grounds to despise him, but am I correct in remembering that he used to be the Editor in Chief for the Official XBox Magazine? And now he's Editor in Chief for the Official Playstation Magazine? This reeks of foul play to me as I suspect he murdered the previous Chief so that he could get his grubby little mitts on MGS4 before anyone else, the bastard. Oh, and he's bald; get rid of him.
Finally there's Geoff Keighley. Who is this guy again? Oh yeah, he's the host. Aside from presenting flimsily impotent arguments for sci-fi lesbian simulators (which I am all for) to right-wing nutbags, he likes to spend his days not letting the voice of Solid Snake do all the talking for his show. This is unforgivable and displays poor judgment for a host, so he's gone as well.
Now naturally David Hayter can't be the only one on the show; somehow that wouldn't feel right, so the solution can't simply be to get rid of everyone else. Rather, I feel that the best solution would be to replace them with speakers who are actually engaging and would have something meaningful to say, such as quotes from the MGS games!
I can already see the possibilities!
You have Cam Clarke as the host of the show, only dressed as Master Miller as hosts should always wear sunglasses. Cam Clarke would constantly refer to Hayter as brother and hilarity would ensue. Also, he should fly into the studio on a Hind D. That would be ideal.
Next we have Paul Eiding, the voice of Roy Campbell. He would be able to provide us with valuable insight as to the government conspiracies the games are so rife with, him being a high ranking member of the military. As a bonus, near the end of the show he would start having seizures and spouting nonsense; it would be great!
Then there's Christopher Randolf, voice of Otacon. He wouldn't do much. He would sort of just be there, behind Hayter, providing moral support during the proceedings. Oh, and he would piss himself at some point.
Obviously the old guy would be replaced with Patrick Zimmerman, who does Revolver Ocelot. What would be great about him is not only he would constantly say things like, "They call me Revolver... Ocelot." we would also be able to experience some much needed drama between him and the host. There's gotta be some bad blood there what with Liquid's arm possessing him and him taking away Liquid's speaking role.
I almost forgot. David Hayter would still be there, of course.
So what do you think of my recast? Pretty awesome isn't it? Also, am I the only one who wants David Hayter to start doing audio books?
So Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures has just been released and the public servers are now up and running. But with so many MMOs out and about nowadays, why should you spend your hard-earned dough on this one? Well, I don't really care what you do with your money but I do care about my own opinion. So, even though my opinion probably doesn't matter to you because I'm new here, I'm going to give it to you anyways because I like the sound of my own typing.
Why should you place your trust in my opinions? You really shouldn't. After all, you're old enough now that you should be able to make your own decisions (seriously, as this is an M-Rated title), but on the off chance that you're a young'un that managed to bamboozle your mother into buying this off of a lazy EB employee, I'll let you know why. I have played more than one MMO in my life, not a lot, but quite a few. They include: Ultima Online, Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Final Fantasy XI, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Planetside, Tabula Rasa, and, naturally, WoW. My other claim to fame is that I tend to hate MMOs with a passion simply because they are so hands-off, uninspired, and ultimately, boring. I have never broken the level 30 barrier, with the exception of Tabula Rasa where I reached the high 30s but stopped due to the game being horribly unpolished post-30.
So what do I think of Age of Conan? I'll save those that don't want to to read further the trouble: I love it.... so far. It has been the most unique and engaging MMO I have ever played and is most definitely the most beautiful.
So what do I love about it?
The boobies! Seriously though, I haven't progressed far enough to hear the lamentations of women, let alone actually bare witness to the polygonal mammaries this game boasts, but have been taking careful note of the jiggle effects. Actually, that statement is not entirely true. I have seen nipples during my brief initial sojourn into Hyboria as there is one NPC in the starting town whose clothing is clipping on her body and revealing flickering glimpses of nipple texture. Well done FUNCOM!
Number one on my list is definitely the combat. Before this released, I was quite leery of the concept they had on show. While it seemed to be a great departure from the standard auto-attack fare in MMOs, I had serious misgivings on its ability to deliver. Turns out, that aside from an awkward first few battles, it works extremely well! Not only does it provide more challenge than typical combat systems but it also serves to really keep you engaged in the battles. This isn't simply because of the added difficulty in each fight or because it is fun to try out new approaches to the slaughter, but because you need to be on your toes if you want to witness some of the brutal deathblows!
Admit it, this is why you want this game.
Nothing beats a little decapitation to sweeten the pot, especially when it includes blood and gore splattered all over your HUD. The thing is though, these events are not at all frequent (or at least not at my level), and so you really have to be paying attention to revel in the proper glory they offer. You cannot simply attack enemies normally to trigger dismemberment and disembowlment, you have to finish them off with combo attacks, which brings me to a more detailed overview of the combat and its controls.
Combat in AoC makes use of the tried and true hotbar keys seen in every MMO since WoW, however, in AoC the hotkeys feel a hell of a lot hotter thanks to the friction you'll generate as you hammer on them like crazy. While you will of course be re-orienting your warrior with the mouse and right mouse button, and moving him/her around with the standard WASD arrangement, the real meat-and-potatoes of your frenzied melee are the 3 directional attack buttons (eventually 5): Upper-Left, Forward, and Upper-Right mapped by default to 1, 2, and 3.
One press of a directional attack equates to one swing of a deadly instrument of death, and that's a good thing. The reason behind the different directions is that you and your enemies have 3 guards arcs that you can assign to one of these directions. If only 1 guard is assigned to a direction you will be damaged normally from that area, 2 and you will receive minor damage reduction, and all 3 will mean massive damage reduction. The crux of the system is the fact that if a direction has no guard then major bonus damage will be dealt. So combat essentially boils down to you trying to not only hit those unguarded spots, but also lead your enemy into guarding one area at the expense of another.
While that may sound really simple, and it is, it is obviously a hell of a lot harder to keep track of it in the mess of combat, giving you a bit of a rush. Add in the fact that your weapon can hit multiple targets that are grouped closely together as well as the ability to perform combos, and the melee combat in AoC has sure come a long way from auto-attack. Almost forgot, combos essentially act much like special abilities you would put in the hotbar in other MMOs, only to activate them you not only have to select it, you also have to follow it up with a specific normal attack (at the moment they only require 1 attack, but I'm assuming later combos will require a chain of attacks to fully activate). This, again, really adds to the chaos in combat which is a good thing because that is exactly what real combat is: chaotic.
So what about magic and whatnot? I can't really comment on that so far as I have only rolled myself a Conquerer character which is part of the Soldier line. What I can say is that I have taken on a couple mages in PVP and it is quite satisfying to bring them down after taking care of their demonic pets. Did I mention that PVP is awesome fun with this combat system? I guess one other thing I can comment on is that Rangers (or perhaps all ranged weapons) allow long-range first person aiming. While I haven't tried it myself, the fact that every entity in AoC has a proper collision box bodes well for the utility of ranged weapons.
Alright, enough about combat. Let's talk about something that isn't as great, but still pretty good. The Interface.
The final interface looks waaaay better than this.
Nothing truly ground-breaking here. It looks nice, with the art really complementing the atmosphere of the world. For the most part all of the information you need is readily visible, with your hotbar at the bottom of the screen and options to add additional hotbars. There is also an extra hotkey-less hotbar to the left of the primary bar for you to put non-essential macros and abilities in (such as the Rest ability or long-duration buff skills). Your vital information is perched right ontop of this bar, with the vitals of your target (if you have one) over top of the primary bar (nice because you can have easy view of their condition while looking at your abilities). To the left is the typical chat window, customizable in usual fashion. The standard menu buttons such as your stats, inventory, and journal are all situated at the top of the screen, small enough so as to be unintrusive, though they are somewhat out of the way if you want to access them (though let's be fair, everyone should be using key shortcuts to access them anyways). Finally, in the upper right corner lies the mini-map. Nothing terribly special there.
While the stat and inventory pages leave something to be desired, the journal menu is easily the best I have ever encountered. Not only is it split in two on either side of the screen like every other menu (which you can opt out of by holding down Ctr or Alt when accessing to bring up only one side) with the quest entries on the left and the description of the selected quest on the right, it also has the single greatest, and obvious, innovation that I've seen in an MMO (this may be in other MMOs but I haven't played them or noticed it if I have played them). There is a goddamned map right below the quest entries that shows you where the quest giver is and where you have to go to complete the quest. Now, for those of you who say that spoils the immersion: shut the hell up; no MMO is properly immersive yet so it's a moot point. This feature is just a nice convenience. And while on the subject of the normal map, not only does it have these lovely little details (including grayed out circles denoting general regions to locate certain objectives in) but it also shows you where potential quest-givers are at all times. This is not a new feature or anything, it's just nice.
Of course, no discussion of the interface would be complete without the most important part, the controls themselves! Unfortunately (or fortunately?) there isn't much to tell. If you've played an MMO in the last few years you get the basic idea. The combat does feel a bit awkward and takes some getting used to but soon it will feel like business as usual, which is always a good thing in the controls department.
Now its time for my inner graphic whore to come out and play.
This game is flipping gorgeous! There's no other way to put it. Now, I had originally intended to take screen caps in-game to show off how it looked on my setup (for some reason I couldn't get it to work), but needless to say, the above image does not do it justice. However, I should put in a disclaimer here noting that I am running the game at max settings (excepting AA, which is set to 2x), so obviously results will vary. But, running at max with a rig that is no longer top-of-the-line (though still obviously quite good) I am getting an average 25 FPS, which isn't enough for me to really notice any slowdown.
For those curious I am running 32-bit Vista with SP1 and a 2.6Ghz Core2Duo, 8800GTX, with 2GB of RAM. I started running at less than max, and while it wasn't near as beautiful, it was still better looking than any other MMO on the market.
Age of Conan looks picturesque at times and my initial approach towards the city of Tortage was a wonder to behold. There is so much going on here, and even without DirectX10 enabled (apparently it isn't fully supported yet, though that is likely going to be here by August) it looks simply stunning. Much like Crysis, starting out in a jungle was a good way to show off its graphical chops, and frankly, there's not much point in my going on here as you really have to experience it yourself.
On second thought, there is one thing I will mention. I was moving the camera around my character and on colliding with a wall and closing up on his face his grim mug became slightly transparent, no surprises there. What was surprising however was the detailed neck musculature I could now see down onto, which I will likely be seeing again when I lose my head in a dangerous combat situation. I love decapitation...
I'm going to skim over general gameplay somewhat quickly now.
I'm not going to mention sieges because I can't do them yet. Talk about incentive.
Quests work in much the same fashion as any post-WoW MMO. What is nice in AoC however is the fact that you're not reading a block of text before clicking accept. Rather, the player is presented with KOTOR-style dialogue sequences wherein you can actually make certain moral and social choices in the process of accepting (or declining) quests. They also come complete with full voice acting, which should give those players more inclined to just skip through all of the story reason to pause and take it all in. The voice acting thus far is also quite good.
Leveling up is pretty standard, with your character increasing his/her vitals, core stats and secondary statistics. You also receive skills, abilities, and combos at specific levels, and on reaching level 10 you can begin purchasing feats which work pretty well exactly like the talent system in WoW, which is one of the few things about WoW that I actually quite liked. What is slightly different from the usual hum-drum of leveling however is the skill system.
Characters develop various skills as per their class ranging from ones that increase out-of-combat regen to skills that affect things like stealth all the way to skills that govern mobility. As a level 13 Conquerer some of the skills that I had access to were the following: Bandaging (which increases health regen through rest), Endurance (which lowers the stamina cost for sprinting), Perception (which increases my ability to spot hidden entities), and Climb (which basically allows me to climb different surfaces). You are able to allocate skill points towards each of your skills to increase their potency. The maximum allocatable points for each skill increases occasionally on leveling. What I enjoy about this system is the fact that you don't gain more skill points on leveling up, you gain them as you gain experience. A simple distinction I know, but one that makes it far more interesting. Say there's something you want to climb but need 50 in your Climb skill to do so and you have 48. Rather than having to gain an entire level to boost your skill, just go out and gain a little bit of experience and use your newfound skill to increase your Climb.
I'm sure that I'm missing some stuff, but it's late and I want to move onto the world itself.
Apparently there are books based on this game. Who knew?
At first glance you might think that Age of Conan is just another fantasy game, and to be honest, I thought much the same before plunging myself into Hyboria. What you have to realize however, is that Conan has an exceptionally detailed and robust mythology that has been created over decades upon decades, which really helps this game to come alive. Another aspect of AoC to bear in mind is that it is not High Fantasy! It is more Low-Mid Fantasy, and that means no elves, dwarves, orcs, and (thank god) no gnomes.
You are given three different races to choose from at character creation, and they are each one of them human. What you are offered are three different cultures to choose from: the cultured Aquillonians, the barbaric Cimmerians, and the sorcerous Stygians. Each one of them is just as varied as the different races in WoW without feeling so forced and above all, requisite. Character creation in and of itself is quite interesting too as you are actually creating a character while they are on a slave ship, and apart from the interesting setting, you are given extensive options for customizing your appearance; options that rival and even exceed games like Oblivion. What is unfortunate however is that you cannot zoom in on your character's face while editing and the setting ultimately proves more of a hindrance than anything with its crazy lighting and rain effects.
So what else can I say about the world? Not much. I'm still on the starting island where you'll stay until around level 20 by all accounts. You are able to switch between day (where you're part of the player community) and night (where you're on your own doing the quests that progress the story) as you wish, though once leaving Tortage you are thrust into the world at large and a proper day/night cycle takes place.
What I can say is that so far Tortage, conceptually, seems like it would be generic and samey, but it feels anything but. Like I've said before, you really have to try it out yourself. As for what the future holds, I am very excited, considering the rich tapestry of Hyboria's mythology and the extensive body of work that brought it all to life so the developers could focus on putting out the best MMO I can honestly say I have ever played.... so far.
For those of you who have yet to experience the joy of theft, you're really missing out. There's nothing quite like the bracing awakening one experiences upon discovering that they have been robbed. Yes, it is such a treat to bear witness to large gaping void in your various collected possessions and an experience not soon forgotten.
In case you were wondering, yes, this morning I awoke to find several of my things missing, and the back door quite ajar. Luckily, the offending crackheads (I'm assuming) did not take much but what they did abscond with was pricey to say the least. I am now without both my 360 and PS3 as well as my disc of Rock Band and the first disc of Season 1 of Flight of the Conchords. I consider myself most fortunate that they did not make off with my computer as I have had that happen once before and nothing has devastated me as much since, excepting deaths in the family.
Obviously this was an unpleasant morning, but my local police were quite helpful and comforting and I have high (read: naive) hopes that I will see my consoles again. One particular aspect of these events actually amused me somewhat, strangely enough; the thieves decided to just leave the Wii behind, simply pushing it aside to get at everything else. Obviously they aren't familiar with what they could have gotten on eBay.
Ultimately, the most amusing part of this for me was the fact that my Wii was dusted for prints. I don't know why, perhaps I was still in shock, but I couldn't help laughing and feeling like I was in a new series of CSI.
However, my despair over the loss of my beloved consoles soon revealed to me something far more sinister.
Why, I thought, did the foul perpetrators of this nefarious crime not pilfer the Wii? It simply made no sense. They had gone to the trouble of disconnecting it from the display, even going so far as to reposition the television much as it had been prior to their infiltration. Surely the Wii could not have been a difficult item to pack, and ultimately unload. Something was afoot, and the Wii was at the center of it.
I recalled to myself that the night previous had been the first time in ages that I had availed myself of its functionality; and could I have sensed some deep-seated contempt directed towards me as I sat down to play some Mario with my friend, simply brushing it off as a symptom of my usual drug-induced paranoia? PSA: Don't do drugs. Could the activation of the Wii have triggered this ordeal, and if so, why? I felt this warranted closer inspection.
As I neared my recently dusted Wii, I could sense that something was amiss. Its typically demure composure seemed to have been replaced by one composed of menace and promised retribution. Gazing deep into the red glow of its power indicator, thinking it closed off from the world surrounding it, a dark secret I could never have anticipated revealed itself to me. Some ancient evil inhabited my Wii, perhaps all Wiis, and nothing good had ever come of ancient evils. Before I could make good my escape however, I was struck from behind by one of the WiiMotes, knocking me out cold.
I don't know how much time passed until I regained consciousness. I had been assaulted around 8:27 a.m. and came to around 1:00 p.m. and was never very good at those clock challenges in Brain Age. As I cursed myself for not training my brain more thoroughly I noticed the Wii engaged in its passive download state, only evilly. Its disc loader glowing as red as Jack Thompson forced to rely on logic and reason, the demonic Wii was transmitting data over its WiFi, though not to any friend code I recognized.
Granted, I don't really recognize any friend codes but the point still stands.
As I strained myself trying to decipher the cryptic code I noticed the the composition of the data in question. It was transmitting plans for World Domination, and it was transmitting it to Reggie Fils Aimes.
How could this be?! I thought to myself as I lay motionless on the floor trying not to be noticed by the Wiimote and its Nunchuck henchman. I read over the Wiixcel spreadsheet:
Wait! Could it be?! Was the robbery all a part of this plan for World Domination by Reggie? I began to fear for the safety of my consoles as I had never feared for them before. I forced myself to continue reading...
Phase 5: Assimilate Captives and Their Exclusives - 7% Progress
Good! I still had time to save them.
Phase 6: Kill All Humans
My God. What could Reggie be thinking?
Phase 7: Throw Wild Robot Rave Party
I knew I had to stop Fils Aimes from accomplishing his nefarious schemes, but to do that I would need more info, and I would need a Wiimote to get it. I leapt to my feet and quickly snatched my Dualshock3 controller, the purloiners having neglected to steal any controllers in their haste. Taking advantage of the Dualshock's superior weight I launched it at the Nunchuck before the Wiimote could waggle it into action. The Dualshock clipped the Nunchuck's analog stick as it started up, causing its movement vector to be set off center.
I turned to face the Wiimote as the Nunchuck spun around in circles, impotently. I made a grab for my target but the wand was too fast for me. Activating its accelerometer it gestured towards my face, striking me on the bridge of my nose. Dazed, my glasses knocked to the floor, I knew I was done for. When the Wiimote neglected to finish me off I turned about and saw it lying on the ground, motionless, its pointer having exceeded the range of the sensor bar.
I cautiously advanced on its prone form, and knelt to pick it up. With the Wiimote in my possession I made to put the Wii back under my control. Before I could make my move however, the Wii made one last ditch effort to undo me by forcefully ejecting the Super Smash Bros. Brawl disc that had been languishing in its care for months directly at my wrist, in vain hope of severing it. Twisting at the waist to dodge the deadly projectile I forgot to also remove my wrist from its path.
Luckily the disc was mere plastic, my having not sprung for the metal special edition when I first made my purchase. The game disc inflicted a small incision on my forearm and proceeded to impact on the Rock Band drum set. The resulting shrapnel claimed the artificial life of the helpless nunchuck, severing its body from its spinal cable. As the Wii glowed on, agast, I took this opportunity to wrest control.
Quickly browsing the data files on the Wii's flash memory it became apparent that much of it had been damaged when the Wii made its final attack. Still, there seemed to be some tags linking to the Wii's Photo Channel. Switching channels I found an image that would forever sear its memory upon my soul.
Poised over my long-lost friends with a wicked wii-white scalpel grasped by his meaty hand, I, at long last, knew true terror. Reggie Fils Aimes and his greasy sausage fingers was having at my poor virgin consoles, surely voiding their warranties. I could not bear to look any longer.
Looking through the last dregs of data files, I noticed yet another reference to a Wii channel, this time the Everybody Votes Channel. Quickly switching channels, I began to feel a surge of hope for the first time since I uncovered this plot. Reggie had put forth several votes to key members of Nintendo, and while almost everyone voted against killing all of humanity, only one member opposed the vote for world domination. The god of gaming himself, Shigeru Miyamoto.
Surely Reggie could not hope to stand against Miyamoto!
Alas, the truth was far more terrible than I could have foreseen. Tracking a trail on the News Channel revealed that Miyamoto had been missing now for several days, with no clue as to his whereabouts. Then, hacking into Reggie's account with his friend code, I uncovered a series of Message Board posts between Reggie and someone called simply LS.
Needing Shigeru's support to move concentrate fully on World Domination Reggie had hired a bounty hunter to track Miyamoto down, capture him, and bring him back to Nintendo HQ. In exchange for Miyamoto, Reggie promised this mercenary that he would bring one of Sony's exclusives under his dominion so this hunter could retake his rightful place as the voice of the villain. As I continued reading, my suspicions were proven true.
The first exclusive to be assimilated in Phase 5 was to be none other than Metal Gear Solid; and the hunter? The hunter was none other than Cam Clarke, and he was going to find Shigeru Miyamoto no matter what the means necessary. Now I knew what I had to do; find Shigeru Miyamoto before Cam Clarke did, and kill the Reggienator.