The Age of Conan Open Beta began yesterday afternoon. I have been looking forward to this opportunity to test the game again so that I can further solidify my feelings about the game and determine once and for all if I will be playing AoC at release. It is my intention in this writeup to convey my true opinion on what I have experienced from levels 1-13 and then pass judgment on the parts of the game that I have played. I acknowledge that this is beta and the servers are being stress tested. However, anyone who believes that this is not what will be released in 16 days +/- a few bugs is a fool. Anyone with past open beta experience knows first hand that this is the game you will be playing at launch. Now let’s get to the goods.
PvE Leveling Experience Levels 1-13, the story and more
During the Gamespot pvp weekend I was able to level from 1-6 in the singleplayer starting area. That means I had 7 levels of unexplored territory and adventures to experience. I created a Dark Templar Soldier Class because I am most interested in playing one at release. The first thing I noticed when I began fighting NPCs was that Funcom had upped the difficulty ever so slightly. It wasn’t long though before I began 2 shotting Picts and obliterating these mini-bosses finding myself out of the 1-6 starting area and outside of Tortage itself. Outside of Tortage is a NPC who gave me a very simple task to gain access to the city. I wasn’t allowed to enter until I had my slave shackles removed. He sent me to a blacksmith about 50 feet away who offered to help me, but I had to get him some bricks. To get the bricks I had to run up a hill about 45 seconds away and left click 3 bricks. Bringing the bricks back to the smith he removed my shackles and I was granted access to Tortage. My very first quest in Hyboria completed and although it was lackluster, it was neat.
As I entered Tortage it became immediately clear that the standard method of leveling in AoC would be questing. As far as the eye could see, and cluttering my mini-map, were orange exclamation points with NPCs offering me quests. I’m not going to give you a recounting of each one but the majority were “Go here and kill X of Y” and “Pick this up off the ground across town for me and bring it back”. Very standard questing and not something that hurts and helps my impressions of the game. When I reached level 7 I decided it was time to begin the singleplayer quest line again. In this Tortage area Night Time represents singleplay and Day Time represents multiplayer.
The singleplayer quest line was decent. The central focus of the story arc is to help free Tortage from its the Tyrant who bastardized the brotherhood that used to govern the city. This Tyrant has blockaded the harbor and made life miserable for the residents of Tortage. The missions and story from here on remained interesting and moving towards a solution. They involved visiting an island to rescue an agent of Conan, finding the lost brother of the bar maid, and the beginning of learning my true purpose in Hyboria from my mentor/trainer. All in all it’s nothing to get excited about or declare revolutionary but the story and leveling from 1-13 are about as good as one can ask for in a mmorpg.
It’s worth mentioning that I had a really big Guild Wars vibe with how the world was instanced. There is this slash command that lets you change which instance of the world you are in. This was the cause for many people’s frustrations when they could not locate their party members who were supposed to be standing at the same location. I don’t like instanced worlds because they break immersion completely. But it’s a lesser evil I suppose.
How about the polish? Everyone’s favorite word.
The game definitely has areas lacking polish. I feel the questing system needs to be polished up to at least the standards set by WoW (king of Polish). Running through the town is a great example of where the game needs polish because there are invisible walls and pathing issues all around — it feels clunky sometimes. Additionally there are even problems with combat that need polish. When fighting mobs they sometimes disappear and reappear or mobs add from miles away. It feels like it’s almost there but that “Feeling” you get when you’re playing a completely fine tuned game isn’t there yet. Fixable. Very, very fixable.
Combat and other Mechanics of the available Gameplay
Nothing really changed from levels 1-13. Fighting a NPC at level 10 feels the same as it did fighting one back at level 3. The only difference is that I have a few extra combos that require me to press a few more buttons. It’s very evident that their system used to be designed like EQ2’s old system with classes being available at level 20 and a basic archetype being played through levels 1-19. Why? Because all of the characters in a archetype feel almost identical right now and share many abilities.
If I’m going to be completely honest here I must mention that the constant pressing of buttons is borderline buttonmashing for me. Graev has already come right out and said it is definitely buttonmashing. The combat system is still pseudo-twitch in my eyes and even more so in PvE now that Funcom raised the difficulty level. However, I am now questioning whether or not the system is revolutionary like Funcom claims. There really is something to be said about auto attacking. Up until now I felt like I didn’t need it, but I find myself really wondering if the removal of auto attack has turned what could have been a revolutionary system into something that will, over time, grow very old and indeed feel buttonmashing. Can I really sit here and press all these buttons for months? That’s a question that I need to answer for myself. Thankfully my G15 keyboard can macro the combos… but at the same time practically reverting the combo system back to standard mmo 1 button presses.
There are some really great PvE mechanics and features that have me still excited about the system. For example, I love the fatalities. Once you learn how to execute them more often the combat capabilities of your character will really open up. I have found that the best way to execute a fatality is to execute a combo that will kill the enemy on the last hit in a place where his shielding is most weak. Once you execute the fatality you are given an enormous bonus to stamina and other things which REALLY helps in boss fights and big battles. Most of the time I find myself less interested in my objective and more interested in trying to see my Dark Templar cut off a guys head! Fatalities give Conan’s combat a soul.
Crashes and glitches and bugs, oh my! Performance Issues aplenty… NOTE: THESE ARE ISSUES WITH THE OPEN BETA. THE CLOSED BETA IS DIFFERENT AND I HAVE PROVEN IT.
Before I begin listing the issues I encountered I want to make one thing VERY clear. YES, I acknowledge my system is “medium” and YES I acknowledge again that this is beta. I even acknowledge that Funcom might have been silly enough to provide this open beta with an older client than the one being shipped in release. When the game isn’t having these issues it’s actually quite pleasant. I’m getting 40+ frames with my current settings and I actually think the game is STILL the most beautiful mmorpg on the market at low-medium settings!! HOWEVER, these issues were still something that impacted my experience with the game incredibly. These are not issues with my system. These are issues on Funcom’s end.
The following are just a few of the problems I encountered.
Consistent crashing to desktop – I crashed to desktop several dozen (yes, you read that right) times yesterday with a so many different reasons and errors that I stopped keeping track. I submitted a report each time to Funcom.
Multiple system crashes – My PC would lockup at the exact same point in-game when I tried to enter the tavern at night time. I am not alone here. Many others are experiencing this same issue. When I get this lockup I must hard reset my PC.
Falling through the world – I fell through the world more than a half dozen times yesterday. The results of each incident were nearly identical leaving me under the world in a body of water with one option … drown myself to get back to the bind point. 50% of the time I fell through the world my system would crash or I would crash to desktop.
BSOD – I had my first BSOD in 3 years lastnight. It happened while talking to a NPC. Suddenly my system locked up and a BSOD appeared. It mentioned something about my display driver which I assume means it crashed.
Server Disconnections – Acceptable for a stress test. I can’t complain here. However they were plentiful.
Hanging on Loading – Three times last night the game would hang while loading into a room. I would be forced to CTRL ALT DEL and end the process.
Additional problems worth mentioning: Getting stuck in instances, falling through bridges and ramps, Npc’s missing, party members being invisible or in another instance of the world altogether, and bad MEMORY LEAKS!
I can sum this up in 1 word: Vanguard. Yep, I said the V word. Crucify me in your nerd rage if it makes you feel better but this MUST be said. The game’s stability is even worse than Vanguard right now. If this is an older client and these issues were fixed (which some people have the audacity to claim) then why is Funcom subjecting us to them? That’s not only poor business but inefficient testing. I don’t think they are that stupid. That leads me to assume that these issues are NOT fixed and one of the purposes of testing is to help them find solutions — which I am more than happy to do. Ultimately the bottom line is still ever clear in my eyes that this game releases in 16 days and my last impressions of the game will be that it worked against me when I tried to enjoy it.
Overall what do I think? Will I be putting money into this game?
Overall I think the gameplay is good. There is an interesting story with a quasi unique combat system. The gameplay is “standard” mmorpg. It’s a quest-centric leveling design with raids planned for end-game and PvP. The potential for an above average mmorpg is there. But right now it’s being overshadowed by horrible performance issues and stability.
I have two goals for the next few days. 1) To see if I truly want to play the game and 2) To inform those who read my blog whether or not I feel that AoC is a good mmorpg worth thier money. Before Gamespot’s pvp weekend I was 100% playing Conan. After The pvp weekend I was 75% sure. After experiencing all of open beta’s content I am now 40% sure. I have felt these feelings before. I had them with Vanguard. I pushed them aside and I got the game and it came back to haunt me. I’m not sure that I can do that again.
I’m going to be blunt. Funcom is lucky that WAR was delayed and Mythic should be kicking themselves that their game wasn’t ready in time to go against AoC. If these two games went head to head then AoC would have been obliterated and unless Funcom turns things around before Fall that’s precisely what will happen. Sorry if you disagree, but that is the truth of my opinion.
I’m going to play some more of Open beta and pray they fix these issues. You’ve heard this before, right? “Good game but horrible stability.”
Screenshots: AoC Gallery
PODCAST: *Graev and I will be recording one later today*
Click ‘more’ to watch the videos embedded here on our blog.