Much of what I have written over the past few days about Age of Conan has appeared negative. It's important that I start this morning's post off by saying that…
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.
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