Age Of Conan – Returning Review
I’ve been playing Age of Conan again since the new expansion Rise of the Godslayer came out about three weeks ago and thought it would be a good time to write up my impressions of how the game’s progressed since I left almost 18 months ago. Returning to this virtual world of Hyboria is a bit like hooking up again with that sultry Mexican temptress who you dumped after discovering she had the personality of a piece of wood. Well, the good news is that this fiery lady has had some schoolin’ and can now hold a pretty decent conversation over breakfast following a night of fast-paced combo action. Oh and I know.. me, blog, sex, chauvinism… I just count my lucky stars that my wife doesn’t read this crap.
It’s kinda hard to do reviews of MMORPGs but I’ve pumped in a solid 25-30 hours of playtime so far, spread over two new characters, so I reckon that’s enough to get a pretty reasonable indication of how new and returning players will feel about the game. This is mostly a look at the state of AoC in general and how it’s changed since launch and I’ll probably wrap up more of my specific thoughts about RotG in another article at some later point even if I ever doubt I’ll get to the level cap to experience most of it’s high level content.
The first thing you’ll notice now about AoC (and the thing that most people remark about of the game) is its graphics and, boy, is DirectX 10 gorgeous or what? Without a shadow of a doubt Conan is the best looking MMO about and, unlike some games that age badly, it’s filled into it’s big ol’ aesthetic clothes quite nicely. Improvements in hardware and all of the hard work that’s gone into optimizing and debugging the game’s engine means that everything now runs how it should: for the most part, a beautiful and graceful beast. It’s not perfect though and enabling DX10 will drop your DX9 frame rate in half (although with a few customisation tweaks a high spec machine should still be able to get a solid 30FPS) and there’s still the occasional crash and rendering bug. Still, the game’s come a long way in the technical department and it’s very welcome indeed.
Gameplay wise there have been a lot of changes to both the stat system and the classes. Player stats and stats on items have now been “fixed” and no longer have stupid benefits like fixed percentage mitigation making future upgrades obsolete. Why that was ever in the game in the first place boggles my mind. Most classes have also had major overhauls and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me as some of them were practically unplayable at release. All of the tank classes, and in particular the Dark Templar, my class of choice, for instance have been properly addressed to fix their flaws, make their abilities more logical and useful, and give them proper tanking and DPS feat trees. Unfortunately the class design still isn’t perfect and there’s a lot of corner cutting going on as is very apparent in the fact that all three tanks still share generic combos from levels 1 well into their mid-game. It’s disappointing and a pet hate of mine – I think someone should be able to experience the distinct nature of a class straight from the outset.
New or current players starting a new character will, of course, have to go through the trials and blood-stained tribulations of Tortage all over again. About this, I have mixed feelings. I love Tortage, I really do, and it’s still a shiny example of a very slick and polished introduction to a game, oozing lore and immersion from the moment that intro music hits. However not much has really changed in those zones and going through it all again for the 10th time is pure tedium to say the least.
Life after Tortage has improved dramatically though and the new level 20-40 zone, Gateway to Khitai, is pretty awesome, filled to the brim with quests and content, and will make you feel like you’ve actually set foot onto the steppes of ancient Mongolia. Sadly though the expansion content takes a break at level 40 all the way until level 80 and that’s a real shame because I’m desperate to explore the rest of Khitai and dismayed at the prospect of having to adventure again in some of the more boring zones like Field of the Dead. Still, apparently Funcom have introduced new content through patches that makes the transition between high levels easier so maybe it will all be fine.
The Khitans as a race are also a welcome addition to the original meager racial offerings and it’s nice to see Asians being so prominently portrayed in a game. Their background and culture fits in perfectly with the existing lore and Funcom perfectly have adapted the original mentions and concepts that R.E. Howard left behind to make a believable addition to the Hyborian universe. Graphically they look fantastic too and have an adequate offering of customisable characteristics and traits to distinguish them from the other races although I have to say I would’ve like to have seen more. Gameplay wise they’re now also the second race to be able to be any of the three mage classes and that’s really opened up a lot of combination options for the player. I suppose the only real issues with the Khitans is that FC haven’t introduced any new classes to go alongside them and thus some of their race/class combinations are a little odd. Khitan Bear Shamans? It doesn’t make much sense that the most advanced and intellectual race in Hyboria would be practicing tribal Cimmerian magic…
I also should take a moment to mention the community in AoC and, frankly, just how flippin’ good it is. Even when playing on the gank-fest PvP server of Aquilonia it was decent enough but after moving to the pure PvE RP server of Hyrkania I discovered a whole new sense of camaraderie and community. Yes, that’s right, I actually had a few groups in which when people died they said “ha! that was fun” as opposed to ranting about how bad the healer was and then quitting the instance in a huff like a spoilt brat. Shocking, I know.
Conan’s come a long way in its two years since launch and it’s shaping up into a solid game that’s a lot of fun and a refreshing break from the other cliché fantasy MMOs on the market. It still has it’s strong sense of immersion and lore and the devs at Funcom have noteably worked very hard to make substantial improvements to the core gameplay (no small feat considering how many lay offs they had). However the game still has a way to go before it will be able to rival the more polished and established MMORPGs like LOTRO, EQ2, EVE and WoW. The future’s bright though and AoC is on the right track.
Anyway, time for me to go crack some heads and disembowel some infidels in full DX10 glory. I’ll leave you with the traditional Stygian farewell: “May Set bless you with a thousand whores.”