Age of Conan Review

Posted on 21 May 2008

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A new MMORPG went live yesterday called “Age of Conan.” I decided to check it out. Here’s a brief review (or overview):

Installation: Lengthy. The game is huge and comes on 2 DVDs, so the installation reflected that fact. It took almost an hour to get up and running, and then the game began downloading a patch the first time I started it. That killed another 15 minutes.

Character Creation: Detailed. You begin with no memory of your past, aboard a slave ship bound for somewhere in a storm. First you select your race from 3 possible choices: Aquilonian, Cimmerian, and Stygian. Aquilonians are “the wealthy, cultured city dwellers”, Cimmerians are rough woodsmen, and Stygians are mysterious practitioners of the dark arts. Each race has a variety of classes which are it’s own version of popular MMO standards MMO. For instance the Aquilonian healer is called a “Priest of Mitra.” For Cimmeria, you can play a “Bear Shaman”, and Stygians get the “Tempest of Set.” Each is roughly analogous to the Priest healer of World of Warcraft. The archetypes include additionally: Rogue, Mage, and Soldier. Next, you can customize your avatar, tweaking a dizzying array of sliders until your “alter-self” looks just the way you like. I found the available hairstyles to be somewhat disappointing, but other than that there’s not much to dislike. Unlike many RPGs, there’s no initial point allocation to be done. Once you select your race, gender, profession and “look”, you’re on your way. Point tweaking comes later.

Graphics: As has been widely reported, graphics in AOC are very good, and a marked upgrade over WoW in nearly every way. Water glistens and ripples realistically. World terrain is incredibly complex and detailed. There is some repetition with man-made objects (campfires, tents, crates, etc) but the buildings and towns are unique. In WoW there are maybe 5-10 standard building types that are repeated over and over again. Where AOC falls down graphically is in character modeling and animation. Players and NPCs kind of glide along. Running is stiff and unrealistic, and when a character assumes a battle-stance, it is splay-legged and unnatural. Players and NPCs run around stiffly. With lag, player spawned minions look like they’re sliding and skating around. Much of the “charm” that makes WoW what it is is missing. Think Oblivion “online” with out the excellent writing and character facial animation and you won’t be far off. Everything is cold and static. Swimming is possible, and a “breath bar” appears when you dip below the surface. Occasionally graphics glitches can be spotted. In once case there’s a particularly buxom NPC who is literally bursting from her outfit, bare skin clipping through her clothing in an most unseemly manner.

Cut scenes seem to be well handled. At the beginning of the game was a segment that was every bit as good as anything that Blizzard has delivered. Performance note: I have a quad core machine with 4 gig of memory and an ATI x1900, and I had to scale back the resolution a bit. 2560×1600 was a bit much at max quality. Now getting more than 30 frames at 1600×1200.

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Sound: I turned the music off after 5 minutes. It seemed like standard fantasy MMORPG fare. Voice acting was several solid notches below that found in WoW.

Quests: NPCs with quests to give have a large exclamation point floating over their head. These NPCs are also conveniently marked on the player’s map. When quests are completed, the exclamation point turns into a question mark – exactly as it does in WOW. Maps come with coordinates built in, which is something that WOW players have had to install mods to accomplish. Hovering your mouse over a player who has something to say changes the cursor to a “chat bubble” and right clicking the NPC moves the POV to an up close static aspect. Players are then presented with a series of questions they can ask the NPC, and the NPC will respond. The responses are all voice acted, which can get annoying in a hurry. When an NPC’s response is several sentences long, players will typically read ahead rapidly. This results in many unfinished sentences, as players impatiently click the next question. So you get a very odd-sounding game. It should be noted that this sort of quest interface is standard fare in RPGs, and will be immediately familiar to most gamers.

Leveling up: An experience bar runs across the bottom of the screen, and as the player slays creatures and completes quests, the bar “fills up”. When the bar is completely full, the player gains a level and the bar resets. In addition to the bar is a little circle with a number inside. Each day, the first 10 kills (of a level close to the player) result in an experience bonus. This is similar, I suppose, to WoW’s “rested” experience bonus. Some levels, players are rewarded with an additional “move” or skill. Players also get a number of points that they can allocate to things like “bandaging, mana-regen, etc.” The list of modifiable skills starts out small and grows larger as you level.

Interface: AOC presents players with a task bar. Tasks 1, 2, and 3 are attacks…1= Attack Left, 2=Attack overhead, 3=attack right. These attacks are executed by pressing the appropriate number key on your keyboard. As you gain new attacks, you can drop them into additional buckets to the right of the “big 3.” Early on, I earned a sweeping attack, which I dropped into bucket ‘4’. Players have health, mana, and stamina bars. Some attacks use mana, stamina, or a combination of both. There’s a map in the upper right corner which can be zoomed in and out. There’s a day/night indicator there as well. At the top middle of the screen there are tabs which you can press to look at various things…stats, quests, etc. There are additional “buckets” to the left of the “big 3” action buttons, and players can drop potions and other consumables there to be accessed via mouse-click. There is an online help “thesaurus”. Video, sound, and other configuration options are modified by pressing the “ESC” key and selecting the appropriate item from a menu.

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Combat: Combat in AOC is a button-mashing affair. You select your opponent by clicking on them or tab-targetting. A big arrow appears over their head, and a circle surrounds them. Then you click 1, 2, or 3 to direct your attack at an appropriate part of your opponent’s body. Enemies will seek to actively block your attack, and there are floating ‘shield’ indicators to give you an indication of which side the enemy is seeking to defend. If you attack a sector with 3 shields up, you’ll do much less damage than if you slide an attack into an undefended area. There are combo moves as well, where you string together special attacks with standard ones to deliver bonus damage. Some enemies will drop bags or chests on the ground which can be looted by right clicking. Players can loot other player’s kills…an important distinction from WoW. I was able to ghetto loot many bags from other players as they were occupied in killing multiple mobs. I’m not real clear on how aggro works yet, although I have noticed that when you lure one close-by mob into attacking you, they’ll bring their nearby friends as well.

Inventory: Pressing “I” brings up the inventory screen, and a “paperdoll” of your player character. Similar to WOW, you can equip head, hands, legs, chest, boots, rings, and more. There are 3 different bag options…general inventory, a bag for quest items, and a third bag for crafting components. Gear is discarded by dragging it out of your bag and clicking an empty space on your screen. Items can be sold to vendors for coin. Some vendors sell food, others potions or other types of items.

Miscellaneous: Player and NPC avatars occupy space. As such, they cannot be run through, unlike WoW. This presents some interesting dynamics in group combat, with tank characters forming literal walls to protect casters. However in crowded indoor areas, it can be very difficult to navigate. One time I needed to go up a flight of stairs to talk to an NPC, but it was embarrassingly traffic jammed by player bodies trying to do the same. The game is heavily instanced…most buildings are zones require loading to enter. Similarly, switching from multiplayer day to single player night will also require a load. Players have their names, level, and guild name in text over their head. Creatures have their name and level over their head as well (in red text.)

Communication: Communication is handled through a chat dialog box on the left hand side of the screen. There are several different channels, including a guild channel.

Conclusion: AOC is off to a solid start. It’s too early to tell if it’ll make serious inroads into the dominance of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, but if nothing else it will provide an interesting diversion until Wrath of the Lich King is released.


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