Age Of Conan – Returning Review

Sometimes R.E. Howard was inspired by Asian culture and sometimes he just ripped it off completely.

Sometimes R.E. Howard was inspired by Asian culture. And sometimes he just ripped it off completely.

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.

I always like to stay one step ahead of my opponents

I always like to stay one step ahead of my opponents.

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.

It just wouldn't be Age of Conan without the boobs

It just wouldn't be Age of Conan without the boobs.

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.”

-Gordon

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13 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    Thank you, may Set bless your snake.

    I adventured in Aquilonia, Stygia and Cimmeria to level up. This way I also made sure to see most of each zone. Great that you found a good server. Seems one has to pick the RP servers nowadays to ensure a semi decent server community.

    • Gordon says:

      RP servers are usually a good choice because they attract more mature players. AoC is also a good game for it because most of the loyal fans are *very* into their Conan lore and it can be quite fun. Expect to get stick from them if you don’t have a proper RP name though!

  2. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    Great review, but let me ask you this – what more does Funcom need to rival these more “polished” MMO’s?

    I do agree that some of the classes could be more defined and I was disapointed that three of the four new zones in RotGS are only intended for level 80 characters.

    • Gordon says:

      It’s a good question and something I probably should’ve covered in my review. I’d reckon FC need to:

      Fix the final issues with performance and bugs
      Address some of the class issues (like all of the tanks sharing the same generic combos for most of their low levels)
      Add more content. Perhaps an alternative to Tortage and some Khitai zones for levels 40-80
      Flesh out PvP some more

      Not that much to be honest. They’re almost there.

  3. kaozz says:

    Good to hear it’s had some nice improvements. I really had fun playing it for awhile but I just ended up getting kind of bored. I don’t think I really liked the mechanics of the game for combat as much as other games. Maybe it’s not so bad now.

    • Gordon says:

      The combo is definitely one of AoC’s strong points and makes it a lot more interactive and interesting to play. It’s surprising how quickly you get used to not having to target mobs to attack them and having to actually use a little strategy to overcome your opponent’s directional shields.

  4. Stabs says:

    “I just count my lucky stars that my wife doesn’t read this crap.”

    Your wife probably won’t mind. Your sultry Mexican bit on the side will probably brain you with a tortilla pan once she finds this though.

  5. Seconded on the fix the final issues with performance and bugs thing. AoC was unplayable for me a couple days ago. I got all excited too because there was a patch…instead, it just made my fps plummet and it was happening to others too. At launch, being in Khitai (Northern Grasslands) with my level 80 also made my game crash due to memory leaks. Not sure if they fixed that yet.

    • Gordon says:

      I think FC do pretty well considering the complexity and demanding nature of the game but yeah, still something they need to sort. Not been to any of level 80 areas yet but I heard they were quite bad with crashes. Had no problems in the Gateway to Khitai though.

  6. Yasmina says:

    I haven’t gone through Gateway to Khitai yet (having decided to knuckle down and get my barbarian to 80), and I haven’t seen the meat of the expansion content in the rest of Khitai. But what I’d be very interested in reading would be a comparison between Funcom’s original quest design and any improvements or lessons that have shown up in the new stuff. A lot of refinements have come along since the original game (as seen in WotLK and WAR), and I’d like to hope they kept their design strengths and also had a chance to grow.

  7. [...] Age Of Conan – Returning Review | We Fly Spitfires – MMORPG Blog May 28, 2010 … It just wouldn't be Age of Conan without the boobs. Conan's come a long way in its two years since … [...]

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