The Norwegian branch of the Nordic region's largest gaming magazine, Gamereactor, gave Age of Conan a 9 out of 10. They are full of crap. It's not that Age of Conan isn't worthy of the score...it's just that there is no way of knowing that yet. They had their score ready before the game even went into early access, so in essence, they reviewed the beta of the game, which you cannot actually play now.
This is not a review. You cannot review an MMORPG on day one, or two, or three, and expect to have experienced even a slice of what the game has to offer. Games change from beta to retail. Tweaks are made, the population grows, servers get strained, etc. No, this is simply my impressions of the beginning of the game, at the beginning of its life as a full, retail product.
How much have I experienced so far? I've played every character class to level 10, with my choice of main - the Conqueror - played to level 20, the point you escape the newbie island and are thrust out into the open world. I'll look at the mechanics, the story, and the performance as it stands right now, and take from that what you will.
Setting The Scene
Age of Conan is of course based on the classic work of Sword and Sorcery master Robert E. Howard. His fiction is set in the fictional Hyborian Age of Earth, a lost time of dark magic before the rise of civilization as we know it. There is nothing cute or cuddly about the world of Conan. Animals are vicious, savages are brutal, and even the flora can take the life of the less wary traveler. Funcom has managed to capture the gritty feel of that mythical age quite nicely, creating a world that feels real and menacing at the same time.
Like Howard's works, sex and brutality are everyday subjects in Age of Conan, neatly earning it's M rating. The second NPC you meet in the game is a whore, abused and left chained in the jungle to die. Female characters can even take off shirts and go topless...luckily my main is on an RP server where this doesn't happen too often.
The game launched with twelve classes available between three races, all variations of humans. You get three warrior classes, three healer-types, three rogues, which includes the classic Barbarian, and three caster types. Since I have only played each class to 10 out of 80 possible levels, I can only give you the slightest of opinions.
The warrior classes all start off feeling relatively similar, but soon roles emerge as new powers are learned.
Of the priest types the only real boring class I encountered was the Bear Shaman, who is nothing more than a weaker Barbarian with a heal over time spell for the first several levels, only coming into his own around level 10.
The assassin class most closely resembles the classic rogue archetype, but perks and talents soon set them apart from the pack. Barbarians are rogue warriors, and nothing hurts quite like a sneak attack from a two-handed battle axe.
The mage classes are perhaps the most interesting of the lot. Demonologists function like warlocks from World of Warcraft, eventually getting a topless succubus to stare at. Necromancers command hordes of the undead, and their pets are just extremely creepy. Probably the most interesting of all is the Herald of Xotli class, fighter mages who can change their form into that of demons.
Funcom has crafted a leveling system that combines the skill point allocation of Anarchy Online with the talent system of World of Warcraft.
Skill points are awarded at every level that can be distributed to various non-combat skills, such as perception, endurance, running speed, climbing, and hiding. The interesting bit comes when you realize that you can redistribute points at any time, taking away from one to heighten the other. If you find a rock face that needs a certain amount of climbing to ascend, simply swap your points around and make it happen. If you know you've got a long journey ahead, pump points into endurance and run speed to help get there faster. Honestly it is a bit flaky from a mechanics standpoint, but if you imagine it as a hero tapping into his inner reserves to focus on a task it works, in a way.
Feats are like talents in WoW, with each class having two different disciplines to choose between. At first they don't make much difference, but after looking through the various skills that become unlocked it is easy to imagine that two level 80 assassins could have two completely different play styles based on how they spend those points.
This is where the game really shines. Rather than having a simple button for attacking, characters have three...left, right, and center. In combat, enemies have lines around them that represent their defenses. Hit them from the left, and their defenses will shift to the left. Same with right and center.
Then come combos. Combos are special attacks that require you to activate them and then attack in a specific direction to set them off. Have a particularly devastating combo that finishes on the left side? Attack the right or center until the opponents defenses shift there, and then hit them where it hurts with a combo attack.
There is no simply standing back and watching your character attack in AoC. You don't hit the attack buttons, you don't attack, period.
One of the best aspects of combat is collision detection. If you are grouped and the casters are behind you, you are literally blocking the enemy's way. They cannot go through you, so forming a wall of muscle to shield the magical minds in the back row becomes a completely viable tactic.
Particular lovely for melee classes like myself, is the fact that you don't have to target a creature to hit it. If you are swinging your weapon in a wide arc and there are four creatures crowding up in front of you, you are going to hit them. Position is vital in the game when taking on large groups of enemies. If you are being attacked by four things and aren't hitting at least two of them at a time, you aren't positioned right.
Combat is by far and large my favorite aspect of the game. Sometimes I found myself spending an hour killing creatures half my level, simply for the joy of combat.
The first 20 levels in Age of Conan are half MMO, half single-player action adventure game. During the day you fight alongside however many other players there are on your server, but the prevailing quest line takes you into the Island of Tortuga at night, where it's just you against the enemy.
The plot revolves around bringing down an evil tyrant who has taken over the island, with your character aiding the city's resistance fighters while trying to learn the skills that were lost along with your memory during the opening shipwreck.
Funcom didn't half-ass this mode either. Each of the four archetypes place a unique and different role in how the story progresses. A caster might solicit an evil sorceress to become her apprentice, thus revealing her plans to the resistance. The plans revealed, a rogue character must sneak into her mansion to swap out a magical scroll with a fake, while the warrior must fight his way up an active volcano in order to swap out the virgin blood used in a ritual with whore's blood. While the warrior class frees an NPC from pirates, the priest class must gather the remedy for the poison afflicting said NPC.
If you were to take the MMO completely out, those first 20 levels would make an excellent, if somewhat short single-player RPG. That's really the highest praise you can give an MMO. I would buy a single player game that played like this.
The game staggers a bit performance-wise, but a great deal of that is due to the age of my system than the game itself. On max settings, my 2.13GHz Core 2 with 2GB of RAM and a Radeon x1950 Pro will run the game, but the frame rate is just terrible. Medium settings are playable, and medium settings with shadows turned off seems to be the sweet spot for my system. Low settings are playable, but you lose a lot of view distance in the process.
There are plenty of bugs and glitches to be had as well, but nothing that has completely ruined my experience so far. I've frozen a few times, but that is extremely rare. Sometimes instances take longer to load than other times, seeming to choke at the end. There are some clipping issues, notably with an NPC in Tortuga who has breasts too big for her modeled shirt.
As of this writing, Funcom was dealing with an issue with a zone that was trapping characters inside of it, which I am sure they will fix as soon as possible.
Other than those problems, the game runs rather smoothly, thanks to Funcom instancing the hell out of everything. While it can be a bit of a pain trying to find out what instance your friends are in, it mostly works to the player advantage. All the quest mobs in the area being slaughtered? Pop into another instance where they aren't. \
Yae Or Nay?
I'd say that Age of Conan is a game that any mature MMO player should at least try out, either picking up the game yourself of borrowing a friend's buddy code, once they go active. They've managed to take the world's most generic fantasy setting and create a very compelling game around it. I was worried that this would be just another cookie-cutter MMO, but I am happy to report my worries were for naught.
Just keep in mind that these are initial impressions. If the end game ends up being crap on a stick, don't come whining to me. Not my fault.