As of 12:00pm PST the NDA for the Age of Conan Gamespot PvP weekend is official lowered. As I hinted at yesterday I was accepted to participate in this event and have gone to great lengths gathering information that will helpful to both myself and you my faithful readers. I think the best place to begin here is with a quick review. I want to give you my initial thoughts on everything from graphics to the basic gameplay before I go into details on each of the classes. This is going to be a long writeup but if you’re even remotely interested in Age of Conan I strongly urge you to take a few minutes and read the parts that interest you.
Reference: Part 2 now available!
Note: This information is gathered and these impressions were formed after the NDA dropped at Noon PST.
I have included screenshots and video (if they’re not in the post at the time of your reading please check back soon) along with this written commentary. This is a very rough draft and the class information will read more like my notes (because they are nothing more than notes that I scribbled down while playing). As usual this is beta and these things are *hopefully* subject to change.
Graphics and Performance
[singlepic=32,200,125,,left]The graphics are definitely high end and in my opinion the best “realistic” graphics currently available in a mmorpg. As for their performance it’s sadly what I expected. The game is a big fat resource hog and my PC is having trouble providing me with a decent looking and playable experience to my personal requirements. Your mileage may vary but here are my specs which should give you an idea of where your performance will be:
Operating System: Windows XP Professional (5.1, Build 2600) Service Pack 2
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 CPU 6400 @ 2.13GHz (2 CPUs)
Memory: 2048MB RAM
Card name: NVIDIA GeForce 7950 GT 512mb
Display Mode: 1680 x 1050 (32 bit) (60Hz) *NOTE: Lowering to 1440×900 had better results. See Part 2.
The game has three options for default settings: Low/Med/High and a lot of customizable options for scaling. I am able to run it on Med with tweaks to AAx2, AFx4, shadows completely off, draw distance <1000, and textures on medium and bloom OFF. On average I am able to pull 25-40fps (and yes, it fluctuates regularly giving it the illusion of hitching or being skippy) when I’m not in PvP. When I get into PvP my FPS drops under 20 and drops below 5 in huge fights with spell effects. It’s completely unacceptable performance for pseudo-twich pvp and I hope that the problem will be rectified before release.
Animations are top notch. I love how the game feels and flows. Some classes look a little stiff but overall it’s not that big a deal. I’m impressed with level of detail put into movement. Funcom put a lot of work into the details of the game and it shows.
Crashing is a serious issue for me. I have crashed to desktop four times today alone and once I received a message that my display driver has stopped working and my PC must be restarted. I was taking to a black screen with a blinking _ and was forced to hard reset. I find that most crashes come during PvP.
Overall the game is beautiful and if they can resolve the lag in PvP it will be playable for me. I’m in tech-shock right now though thinking about how my rig is having this much trouble.
Character Creation: I decided to include this under graphics and performance (Don’t ask me why because I[singlepic=30,200,125,,right] don’t know!) The character creation process in AoC is better than most mmorpgs. It feels like Oblivion’s level of customization. You get to choose your race, gender, and basic appearance. From there you have advanced options with way more choices than necessary – but it’s neat! In theory everyone should look very different under their armor. There are however several bugs with the creation process including changes not being saved, hair styles and textures appearing incorrectly, and other assorted bugs that need to be ironed out before release.
Basics of Combat
I’m going to break this up into 2 parts.
Melee Combat: As advertised the game takes a very different approach to melee combat. I have dubbed it “pseudo-twitch” because it’s a mix of traditional mmorpg combat and combat that requires consistent micromanagement. Using keys 1-3 you can swing your weapons left, overhead/straight, and right. Characters and NPC mobs will adjust their shields in and before combat to compensate how much damage they are able to receive in melee comabt from a specific direction (you’ll find this plays a HUGE part in combat because if you’re attacking someone where they are shielding they’re not going to lose much health). Swinging your weapon feels like it’s as fast as you can press the button with most weapons. In addition to the directional attacks there are combos which require you to press the combo button then press the directions that come up on the screen, and as a result a combo is executed. The combos bring with them bonuses in all forms. They are the bread and butter of melee combat and are necessary for you to deal any significant damage. I have also found a few classes have normal skills which I will touch upon later in the class specifics.
Spell Combat: At the time of writing this I have been unable to find the spellweaving feature. I do not believe it’s in the game. So far everything a spellcaster does feels exactly like a traditional mmorpg spell caster. I’m slightly bummed about that but this could change in the future. Each of the spellcasters, in addition to their spells, can swing a weapon like a melee character but none of them have combos.
Since the PvP weekend offers the level 1-6 newbie island experience I’m going to touch upon PvE then go into my analysis of Conan’s PvP gameplay.
PvE: It is magnificent! I was truly shocked to find the PvE to be such a pleasure. Combat in PvE feels effortless and every battle flows almost seamlessly. I have played through this 1-6 experience over five times and each time it feels the same. There are boss mobs scattered periodically throughout the island that offer a small challenge and even the basic npc mobs feel dynamic with their shielding and abilities. I can’t speak for the rest of the game but if I were to be completely honest I have to say that this PvE feels extremely polished and on its own capable of luring me into playing Conan.
The newbie experience itself is also well done. The bosses drop interesting loot that has been different every single time I’ve run through the island. The tooltips that they offer are very helpful and informed me of everything I needed to know. The island itself is very linear but that’s to be expected from a tutorial type experience. There is one main quest line that introduces you to your character and his role in life and the interactions you have in the story and world are very well done. A+ overall on PvE.
PvP: Here we go. Unfortunately I am not satisfied with the PvP that has been presented in this weekend event at all. There are two modes of play that I want to talk about very quickly:
[singlepic=33,200,125,,right]CTF: Standard CTF except the map or location or whatever is horrible. It’s very boring and it feels so slow and lack luster. I actually feel World of Warcraft has a way better CTF game in Warsong Gulch. Sorry Funcom, it’s the truth.
Team Death Match: It’s really called “Annihilate the enemy team” but it’s essentially Team Deathmatch with a twist. Each side has their own base in a very small map. There are 2 side bases that can be captured to stop the enemy from spawning. Kill the enemy and their resurrection totem/pillar and you win. It lacks thought. I really don’t find it fun.
Combine how thoughtless the two modes are and how really lackluster they feel with the fact that you LOSE “pvp experience” when you die and you have a ton of incentive to stay the hell way from these “mini-games”. And did I mention the teams are completely random? And just to salt the wound a little here It needs to be mentioned that every single time you die you get a loading screen – yes, you read that correctly, every single time you die in the CTF/TDM mini-games you have a load screen.
Overall PvP gameplay feels clunky and the very opposite of PvE. Where PvE felt polished, PvP feels strenuous. It doesn’t flow. People jump around or run out of range and combos are ruined or useless. When variables like lag and system performance come into play it makes for one completely frustrating and confusing time. Admittedly we’re being thrown in at level 20 with characters we barely know how to play… but the general feeling is rooted deep in the game’s design.
I don’t want to come across like an arse or seem too critical, especially in beta, but I want you guys to know what I truly feel — and I truly feel like this mini-game and clunky PvP is not going to cut it. However, there are still the Border Kingdoms which will have a DAOC frontiers feel to them. Those have to be Conan’s saving grace or else it’s over for the PvP gameplay.
Balance: Possibly Conan’s biggest hurdle right now is the balance in their game. I have no idea how far this reaches (the classes all feel similar at levels 1-6 in PvE) but right now in PvP the classes are completely unbalanced. Rangers and stealthers are 1 shotting people. Some classes feel like they couldn’t cut into a stick of warm butter. Casters are a mixed bag with some dealing little to no damage and others (like Tempest of Set) completely annihilating anything that moves. The game is one month from release. I’m getting nervous.
This post is getting really long so if you’re interested in reading more about each of the classes and my final thoughts on the game (including a link to my Age of Conan screenshot gallery and videos) then read more.
AoC has some very interesting classes. I think this is why they are having trouble balancing them all. Some of them are very different and unfamiliar in the traditional mmorpgs. Each class has two trees for their class specific feats and a general feats section. This allows for some customization but I’m questioning some of the feat trees because some sound a lot better than others. This is far too deep of a discussion to have in this post but keep it in mind.
Okay, I have tried every class now and want to briefly describe how they feel in combat, maybe relate them to another game’s class, and add other random commentary.
Assassin – This class feels like the standard dagger wielding assassin class. It stealths and has huge burst damage. Most of the damage will come from combos. There have been complaints in the global chat that Assassins are 1 shotting players. I have yet to confirm this but I can confirm they are high dps but squishy. Their stances allow them to combine poison with their attacks. More of a single target dpser.[singlepic=27,200,125,,right]
Barbarian – It’s a rogue class believe it or not. The Barbarian is that “meat grinder” dps class that swings weapons fast and furious packing a huge punch. Going into rages and being an overall killing machine then you’ll like this class. I found his ability to absorb damage was slightly above the assassin. His combos are intense and the aoe damage is there. I like his dual wielding more than using a 2hander.
[singlepic=31,200,125,,left]Ranger – Absolutely the flavor of the month and overpowered beyond comprehension. I have been one-shotting people with this class and completely annihilating tanks without breaking a sweat. Sit back, shoot arrows, and destroy anyone and everyone. It’s broken and rumor has it Funcom has already said they are getting bludgeoned to death with the nerf stick. That said, it’s rather fun. I find the archer style in this pseudo-twitch style to be quite engaging. If it’s balanced and still retains the punch it deals then this could be the best ranged “archer” class ever in a mmorpg. But please Funcom, fix it.
Guardian – Standard tank. Guardians can use polearms and sword/shield and receive combos for both. My guardian had a lot of combos that debuffed the enemy making them deal less damage or have a more difficult time of dealing damage. A lot of disabling the enemy. Lots of taunts. Very durable and a perfect class for the guy who likes to run in and smack things without the fear of immediate death. Spend your feats right and the guardian is almost unkillable with one of his abilities – I expect it to be nerfed.
Conqueror – It feels like a WoW PvP spec’d Warrior. Like oldschool Fury or something. Conq’s do intense damage and have higher survivability than rogues. They are the dmg dealing Soldier(tank) class. I felt my conq did more damage with a 2hander than he did dual wielding, but there are combos for both. Conqs also have stances and even group buffs that increase damage. A well balanced class right now.
[singlepic=28,200,125,,right]Dark Templar – Feels like a Shadow Knight mixed with a Paladin. DT’s have auras that either help their group or hurt their enemy but giving the DT and his group self-heal procs, dmg procs, etc. DT’s have life leech spells and other Shadow Knight’ish abilities. I used a sword/shield combo and felt very beefy. I glanced at their skill trees and saw that they can spec for more of a spell focus or a melee focus. I like it!
Bear Shaman – He’s a buffer/healer who can swing a 2handed hammer. What more is there to say? I died in two hits but I blame the rangers. I like his buffs and the heals had enormous range — I believe they were even aoe heals. He can spec to make his buffs better which could really be amazing at higher levels. I would be afraid to go against a team with a shaman if I didn’t have one in my group.
Priest of Mitra – It felt like a holy spec’d WoW priest. It could deal damage but it was laughable. Heals were awesome and I was actually very aware of the enemy PoM’s because their team never died *shakes fist*. I’m going to test this more today and see if I can figure out what I’m doing wrong with their damage.
Tempest of Set – It’s currently overpowered. It feels like a Druid class with the most offensive nukes imaginable. They currently have this lightning spell that melts faces. They are supposed to be the offensive magic healers but Funcom went overboard. Great class though and I expect it to be by far the most fun of the healers.
Demonologist – It summons a demon pet. It nukes for decent damage. It’s sorta kinda like a mage in EQ or a Conjuror in EQ2 except the nukes are slightly better than the pet. Demonlogists would actually nuke the hardest of all classes if the ToS wasn’t overpowered. I want to test this class out more because I really feel like the pvp I did with mine was with a completely noob team. If I were able to sit back more and not get beat on I could dish out the pain.
Necromancer – I’m not really sure what I think. I tried out my Necro in a CTF environment and he wasn’t able to scratch melee characters. His nukes are downright pathetic but his DoT’s did eventually hurt… they just took forever and were completely ignorable if the enemy had a healer. The pet’s (you can have 3 out of [singlepic=29,200,125,,right]mixed variety) were dealing decent damage but really they felt like a DoT. Put them on a caster and the caster is dead. Go against a tank and it’s a crapshoot if you’re going to live. Another class that I will be testing more.
Herald of Xotli – I think this is my favorite or second favorite class right now. Essentially the HoX is a battlemage. They wear cloth armor, swing big 2handed weapons, transform into demons, and have some nukes. The combos on this class were really doing a lot of damage. I think this is because at level 20 the fire resistance on most classes is really low. Looking at their feats the HoX can eventually call forth volcanos and huge demons into battle. It’s a traditional mage that can take advantage of Conan’s twitchy gameplay… What’s not to love?
I am admittedly a very harsh critic when it comes to first impressions of MMORPGs. When I look past the performance issues, the insane lack of balance, and the mundane mini-game PvP I see the potential for an amazing game. More importantly I see a game that I would definitely subscribe to and play. If the quarks can be worked out and the performance optimized then this will be a real winner.
SOON TO COME – More Videos and more Screenshots. If you’re seeing this message then I have not added all the videos or links to the screenshot gallery. Check back soon!
This post is a work in progress and I plan to update it several times over the next day or two. More blog posts will follow if the information is worthy of a new post.
HoX and Barbarian PvP + Commentary:
Ranger PvP + commentary:
Demonologist & Necromacner PvP + Commentary:
Dark Templar PvP + Commentary (Active Blocking and Fatalities seen.. and yes I said commentarying..)
Priest of Mitra + Commentary in a CTF match (I turn the tide of the battle in my team’s favor)
Bear Shaman + Commentary
Post-Nerf Ranger + Commentary:
Guardian + Commentary:
Tempest of Set + Commentary (amazing damage)
Conqueror + Commentary (I show how the conqueror is a blending of Guardian and Barbarian gameplay)
Assassin + Commentary (forgive the audio quality.Â I had teamspeak up and that messed with it pretty bad)