Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Latecomer's First Impressions of Age of Conan

Two reasons for the timing of this review. The game is officially a year old - yay go Age of Conan! Secondly, I've had the game a couple of days now. After hearing how buggy and awful the game was by the usual pack of naysayers, and a couple of generally reliable sources, I decided to give it a burl myself.

Ok, firstly, to point out my perspective. Currently I'm experienced in a number of MMO's (WoW, Tabula Rasa, Fury Online, WAR, I even had a short stint in LotRO among a week or two in countless others). Machinery wise - my rig should be able to handle pretty much any MMO throws at me - Quad Core Q6600, 4gb DDR2, Geforce 9800GT 512mb, 1.5TB total internal HDD capacity, 1TB external, 24" primary LCD monitor @ 1920x1200 res, 17" secondary LCD @1280x1024 res. All on Windows 7 RC1 64bit.

Oooh nasty a beta OS and 64bit to boot :O With a beta version of DirectX (11) installed by default. Surely I'm asking for trouble.

Ok, fresh from the box, I install it, it gets up to patching, informs me I need to upgrade from Directx 11 to Directx 9. Points me at the appropriate Microsoft download site. After boggling at this and trying to find any other solution than lose 4 years of DirectX upgrades, I bite the bullet and install Directx 9. Heh, turns out it's happy to run side by side with 11 and let each game choose which to run on.

After this it was just a matter of downloading the patches, approx total of 3gb worth of downloads later (ooh a year's progress in this game = 3gb, not too shabby, the dev's have been busy). I log into the game, notice that like WoW, they have "Oceanic" servers, boxes physically located in the US, but designed to run on upside-down time, and have raid clocks reset appropriately. On the recommendation of Mikes I roll on the Oceanic PvE server.

I get to the character creation screen, I'm greeted by a boat with people rowing on it. Three people tend to stand out, the slaver near the aft cabin, a scantily clad concubine looking woman inside said cabin, and one guy who's meant to be rowing, halfway down the crowd, that instead is busy daydreaming. The game asks me to pick male or female. Being that I wanted to make a big brutal melee character to follow along my tastes in other games (I like tanking, but I like giant weapons even more) I choose male. The camera zooms to the daydreamer who now stands up. It asks me to choose a number of options Race/Class etc, but more importantly, it allows me to customise my character to levels completely unseen in most major MMO's. The customisation is phenomonal. I can adjust the proportions of arms, legs, waist, chest, smile, brow, eyes so on and so forth. Brilliant.

After finally deciding I was happy my Cimmerian Guardian looked brutal enough, I accept, the boat crashes, I fall overboard, the boat sinks, I sink to the bottom of the water, but shock horror I come back up to the surface, and wash up on a beach.

The obligatory welcome happens, with an old guy, and a particularly fan-servicey lady who's tied up in a very skimpy outfit with a Russian accent to boot. I begin my adventure on the island of Tortage.

I work my way up through some quests, and come across an option to go to nighttime - as it turns out, all my story-driven questing is to be done at nighttime, solo. Like the new "phasing" system thats starting to take off in certain other major MMO's *cough WOW*. The first place I came across this concept for use of early levelling was LotRO. Worked wonders.

Turns out I didn't like the guardian as much as I'd hoped. Didn't seem right. So there he sits on my character selection screen, stuck at lvl 12. I'm sure I'll come back to him. I decide to roll something completely different, but generally my 2nd choice in fantasy games - the nasty, evil caster archetype - I want to roll a Demonologist. I choose female, camera zooms to the lady I thought to earlier be a concubine, but everything else works out the same.

I play my way through Tortage, following all the quests I can get, loving how this caster works. She's everything I dreamed my Warlock in WoW to do.

The city of Tortage really seemed alive to me. The npc's flirted, or poured their hearts into everything they said, the quests all meant something, you got to really hate Strom and Mithrelle. Every word spoken by an NPC had voice acting to it. It was truly a complete experience.

I complete the Tortage quests and get sent back to my homelands of Stygia. With designs heavily borrowed from the Egyptians. (yes I realise REH based Stygia on Egypt) The NPC's are silent. I'm sent to every corner of the world by the different NPC's - I have troubles grouping anything more than 2-3 quests to take me to the same area so I can bowl them over in succession.

The whole experience that was Tortage just did not seem to follow onto Khemi - the major port of Stygia. NPC's could not care less about me unless they had a quest for me, and then it was "I need this. Go get it.". The writing seemed to take a downturn. I'd heard among early reports that things beyond Tortage weren't completed by launch. Granted, it was by no means game breaking, but definately immersion shaking.

I had one quest that took me into an area, that while my quest was yellow to me (approx right for my level) - I died within a few moments there, and the graveyard I was sent to was surrounded by mobs 4 times my level. I hearthed, ditched that quest and found some more.

I traveled to Cimmeria, the landscape boggles me still - definately the most beautiful in game land I have ever seen. Green valleys and snow covered mountains, a rolling brook, pine trees, wolves, badgers and people with red hair I have to kill. Truly heaven.

It would seem that my fears were all misguided, as I found myself exploring smaller towns, they seem to be completely written, with well planned quests but still lacking some bits of voice acting, and nobody trying to get in my pants yet.

As with any MMO, one of the important factors is the community. Right from the word go, I noticed there was a "New Player Help" global channel, and a global general channel. I kept my eyes peeled for both. People requested help in the NPH channel and received solid, timely and friendly help from people at or near the level cap. I rubbed my eyes. I've never seen this in any MMO. Not one outburst of "Lol, noob, RTFM" to be seen. To even more amazement, the furthest general seemed to descend was when somebody tried to start an argument about how WoW was the only mmo worth playing. He didnt get any response. He shut up pretty damn quickly.

Some people were whinging about graphical errors and memory leaks. I've been monitoring my CPU and Ram load while ingame ( having a second screen with the gadgets on top of my G15 screen displaying them as well) with nothing really to report. There was use of the cpu. There was use of ram. Neither got particularly tough. I turned everything up to maximum on the settings and still no troubles. Granted I wouldn't want to try and run photoshop, maya and a hard drive defrag in the background.

All in all, I can see myself falling head over heels for this game, I'm currently lvl 22 with my main and absolutely loving it. Would I recommend somebody play it? Absolutely, grab a copy if you see it on the cheap, or if you're free to download 13gb, give the trial a whirl. You'll see what I'm talking about.

I will report back when I've tried group content, some pvp and/or hitting the level cap. Until then, I've got some leveling to do, and only 10 days left of being unemployed to do it.

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Article Source: Vangsoe, Mads "A Latecomer's First Impressions of Age of Conan." A Latecomer's First Impressions of Age of Conan

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