Age of Conan Open Beta Writeup

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

Tortage at nightDuring 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.”

MOVIES: Gaining Access to Tortage \\ A Glimpse of Tortage City \\ More to come soon!

Screenshots: AoC Gallery

PODCAST: *Graev and I will be recording one later today*

Click ‘more’ to watch the videos embedded here on our blog. (more…)


Keen’s AoC PvP Weekend Impressions

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.



Age of Conan PvP Weekend info!

This afternoon at 1pm Pacific time the Age of Conan PvP Weekend kicks off and lasts until the same time Monday.  That's three whole days of AoC PvP!  According to…