Archive for the ‘Age of Conan’ Category

Appearance in MMOs

A character’s appearance in a MMO usually dictates two things: what they are and how powerful they are.

Originally, older MMOs didn’t really have a lot of variety in clothing and, if you look at Everquest, it only served to define what type of character you were. Obviously armour and clothing could grant a vast array of stats, bonuses and abilities but there wasn’t much of a way to tell a level 50 character apart from a level 40 one. EQ eventually started to buck that trend though by introducing more and more elaborate looking weapons, visually rewarding the player as well as statistically.

Now, flash forward to today, and MMOs use appearance for more than defining what class you are, they use it as a milestone for character development and achievement. Compare a level 1 Priest in World of Warcraft to a level 80 one and you’ll see a huge difference. The low level character will be wearing bland, uninteresting clothing whilst the level 80 will have far more interesting garb. And of course raiding and PvP plays a part… the more you play your character and the more you take part in activities, the more you are rewarded with an aesthetically pleasing appearance. A player who raids in WoW will likely be wearing huge, glittering and glowing shoulder pads the size of small cars whilst a non-raider will look decidedly more bland. Appearance is more than just a collection of items with useful stats, it’s a status symbol.

No doubt MMORPG developers are keen to show off new graphic engines with complex and attractive visuals but they’ve also discovered that appearance is another carrot they can dangle in front of players. It’s become a tool to reward people and indulge their egos – “the more you play, the cooler you’ll look!”. I don’t have a problem with the principle of that but sometimes it gets frustrating.

Age of Conan is a perfect example of badly done appearance scaling (note: I haven’t played in 6 months so it have changed). I remember wearing the same tunic from level 14 until 50 just because it looked so much cooler. Also, trying to get a full set of decent looking gear was a grind at best – I must have done the Sanctum of the Burning Souls several dozen times with my Assassin just to get some decent looking, matching gear. It wasn’t fun and, upon reflection, not remotely worth it because I out-leveled the armour soon after.

I guess my feelings towards appearance is that I don’t mind the raiders and the PvPers having the best looking gear and I quite like the idea of appearance actually ’scaling’ as I level but ultimately I still want to look half decent and reasonably cool without having to sell my virtual soul to the Gods of Hardcore. Plus, not only do I want to look good when I hit the max level, I also want to look good as I level. Call me vain but appearance matters. It’s how you get with the ladies.


Impressive MMOs

One of the many reasons that I enjoy MMOs so much is that they occasionally give me some stunning moments when I see, or do, something so incredible it just makes me think ‘wow’. I’ve played a lot of MMOs and some have been very lackluster (*cough* Warhammer *cough*) and unimpressive whilst others have really immersed me and drawn me in, giving me some incredible sights and moments that I’ll never forget. Here, in the chronological order that I played them, are some of those games that impressed me.

Everquest

Out of every MMORPG I’ve played, EQ will always be the one that really blew me away the most. I was 17 when I first played it and, although I had tried a couple of small MUDs and read about Ultima Online, I’d never experienced anything like it. From the first moment I saw other players talking, sitting, and interacting I just knew that I could never go back to ‘boring’ single player games. EQ was a vast online world that just stunned me in every sense of the word. I remember the first time I saw an Ogre in Blackburrow, the first time I saw a level 50 character run past, the first time I ran the gauntlet of death to get my Enchanter spells in High Keep, and the first time I trekked the oceans to visit the far away lands of Kunark. I know a lot of this is nostalgia but EQ was honestly unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Everquest One Screenshot

How Did We Actually See Anything?

Anarchy Online

The next MMO I played that really impressed me was Anarchy Online. Sure, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as EQ but it was the first sci-fi MMO and it really tried to do new things. One of my favourite memories is going into a ‘nightclub’ for the first time and just seeing people… dancing.

Everquest 2

Having played EQ on and off for 5 years, EQ2 was a game I was immensely looking forward to and excited about. Although it was pretty rocky to start with (eventually evolving into one of the best MMOs available however) it was still impressive to see and stunning to play. Sure, it initially wasn’t very well polished compared to WoW but it had atmosphere, immersion and a ton of gall. EQ2 really pushed the boat out and coined the phrase ’second generation MMO’. The graphics were beautiful, it had almost full voice work for the NPCs and it took an entire new approach to crafting. In the early days it may not have been perfect but I was blown away by it’s scope and ambition.

Vanguard

Yep, Vanguard. I tried VG when it first came out and although it certainly wasn’t perfect, it did have one big wow moment for me and that was the first time I saw the port city of Khal. I remember being quite stunned by it and really admiring the beauty of the cityscape and all of the effort that had gone into making it. If VG gave me nothing else, at least it gave me Khal.

Port City of Khal in Vanguard

Port City of Khal in Vanguard

Age of Conan

Although Age of Conan was ultimately disappointing, I still found it initially very impressive. I think for me the incredible thing was purely the visuals and the atmosphere. I’m a big fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan and the game managed to capture the look and feel of the world perfectly. The first time I played it, I was stunned by the graphics and the sense of immersion – Tortage is still a great experience, just a shame that the rest of the game lacks depth.

World of Warcraft

I started playing WoW seriously about four months ago and never really experienced any ‘wow moment’s (pardon the pun) until last weekend. I was playing my level 65 Warrior and entered Terokaar Forest in Outland for the first time and saw… Shattrath City. It completely blew me away, a feeling enhanced by the fact that I just wasn’t expecting to see anything so cool. It’s not the most graphically impressive thing I’ve ever seen but the combination of effects, immersion, atmosphere and my interest the surrounding lore really did it for me. Kudos to Blizzard – I’m looking forward to see Northrend now.

Shattrath City

Shattrath City

Draenei Priest NPC in Shattrath City

Draenei Priest NPC in Shattrath City


2009 Predictions

Here are my predictions for MMOs in 2009:

Star Wars: The Old Republic, Star Trek Online & DC Universe Online

Won’t be released this year. They will all be delayed until 2010.

World of Warcraft

Will continue to power on as usual but, as before, it will eventually lose subscribers to other games after a few months. This won’t really have any impact on the overall WoW subscriber figures though and players will return in droves in 2010 when Blizzard releases the next expansion. The dual-spec talent system will be delayed until late Spring but it will be much appreciated when it arrives.

Everquest 2

SoE release another new expansion in November, increasing the level cap by 10 and adding a new continent, the moon of Luclin. Unfortunately, the expansion doesn’t include any new low level content.

Everquest

SoE open a new server in March, similar to the Stromm server back in 2003. Lots of people go back and try it out for nostalgia’s sake.

Lord of the Rings Online

Continues to power along steadily but absolutely nothing exciting happens with it…

Age of Conan

Funcom release an expansion in the Spring with a new race, new content areas for all levels, a deity system, a handful more fatalities, some raiding zones and increase the level cap to 90. They make the Tortage starting area optional for all players who have a level 80 character or above.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Mythic work hard to fix all of the technical issues in the game has and focuses on improving the RvR experience. They increase the leveling speed again, making it quicker to get to T4 and reduce the all of the ‘requirements’ for PvP and RvR in Tiers 1-3 (i.e. reducing the number of people required to siege a keep). They add some new T4 PvE dungeons and, in the Spring, release the Choppa and Hammerer classes in a world event. They make scenarios cross server. During the summer they announce that they will release an expansion in 2010.

Vanguard

Vanguard eventually gets an expansion and proves that it just… won’t… die. The expansion focuses primarily on new areas for high levels and raiding.

Tabula Rasa

The games closes in February, only 15 months after having started. Real shame cause I actually liked the game – if only it had more depth and content.

Darkfall

Eventually releases this year and, despite a lot of fanboi hoo-ya, never really amounts to anything as all of the hardcore players return to WoW after trying it out for 1 month.


AoC Is Better Than WAR

2008 saw the release of two highly anticipated games – Age of Conan and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I remember at the start of year reading the usual threads on forums about how they will conquer the universe and destroy World of Warcraft, making Blizzard cry and us laugh with shottenfreud. Never happened. In fact, both games are now getting severely panned by the blogging community whilst WoW is growing ever stronger. However, it seems to be the general consensus that WAR will eventually become a great game and challenge WoW whereas AoC will die a vicious, combo-orientated, death.

I disagree.

Although I think WAR is a decent enough game, it’s basic design is flawed deeply enough to prevent it from truly evolving. AoC, on the other hand, may be lacking content depth but it’s core game is excellent and it’s world is truly rich and satisfying. And I’m not talking about gorgeous graphics here, I’m talking about the feeling of the game when you play it and the immersion it provides. AoC really feels like a virtual world and, most importantly, it feels like Robert E. Howard’s virtual world. WAR, on the other hand, just felt a repetitive tiered t numbers game with no soul.

A Wall of Text has a good article up about why they are quiting WAR and I agree with everything. To me however, the scariest thing about WAR is the dying population and how it will effect gameplay. My original server, Karak Hirn,used to have a queue of 1-2 hours and yet, a mere 6 weeks after starting, the population was marked as ‘low’, even on peek times on a weekend (I haven’t checked it out recently). For a game which relies on large amounts of players to create the fun (PQs, RvR, scenarios) this is the kiss of death.

Mantooth fighting during a keep seige

Mantooth fighting during a keep seige

Keen and Graev are rather harsh towards AoC in their 2008 summary but, to be honest, I don’t think they ever liked the game. I haven’t played AoC in a few months but I still feel an affinity towards it and I honestly believe it will develop and evolve into a great game, much like EQ2 did. All AoC really needs is a good does of content, bug fixes, class balance, and new armour models (please, I want the variety!!!) – sounds like a lot but it’s all possible and doesn’t require huge reworks to the original game. It’s core gameplay is great and I have to commend Funcom for pushing the boat out and trying new things with their combat system. I have every intention of picking this game up again after their first expansion this year.

Mantooth: old man, big sword

Mantooth: old man, big sword