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
, 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. read