It’s been a while in writing, but we’ve finally got round to putting together the review for Age of Conan : Hyborian Adventures… The game that shall forever be know as the game that got us back onto the evil that is Warcraft…
There are a couple of initial shocks with AoC. Firstly, the 30Gb is requires for installation. Secondly, the graphic requirement. I know AoC is a high end game, intended for new pcs with above average graphic cards, but I can say from playing this on both a high end platform and a ninja status pc, it has frame rate issues no matter what… Even in low density areas whilst standing still, you’re lucky to be getting any more than 40-50 fps on a decent pc, that is simply not acceptable. And when you entire a city or player heavy area, well, you might as well be reading a comic book, as the frame rate becomes like turning the pages.
If you say Conan to most people, and they’ll say Arnold Schwarzenegger. Age of Conan however, is not based on the 1982 Arnie movie, but based on Robert E. Howard’s original 1930’s Conan novelettes, with some inspiration from the later comic books thrown in.
First warning. Choose your server carefully. There’s a mix of PvE, and PvP servers, however most PvP is open PvP. That means every man, woman and child for them self! Currently, there’s also no penalty for ganking lower levels (although that is due to change in a future patch), so on PvP servers you’ll die at the hands of some high level grumpy teenagers on a regular basis.
Character select takes place on a boat where you can pick male or female from one of 12 classes, divided into four archetypes (Soldier, Priest, ‘Rogue’ and Mage). There’s all your expected classes (Guardian – tank, Priest of Mitra – healer, Ranger – dmg dealer etc…) plus a few hybrids, like the Herald of Xotli that’s a mage/melee class). Some classes however, are restricted to your race. Aquilonian (Rogue, Priest of Mitra, or Warrior), Cimmerian (Rogue, Bear Shaman, or Warrior), Stygian (Rogue, Tempest of Set, or Mage).
AoC, like most MMO drops you in a starting area. In this case it’s the island of Tortage. You’ve been unceremoniously dumped up on the beach after the ship you were a slave on crashed, and, after a brief conversation with a mysterious beach bum, you fight your way to Tortage City, rescuing a scantily scad maiden along the way (AoC does like it’s maidens scantily clad!).
Once inside the city, the game gives you the choice to switch from the normal MMO ‘day mode’, to a single player almost RPGesque ‘night mode’, allowing you to level through a large chunk of your first 20 levels solo. This introduces an interesting dynamic for an MMO. Although there is only the one starting area for AoC, this system allows Funcom to tell the same story from mutiple angles, depending on your character class. So stealth classes are sent to eves drop on conversations about the locations of prisoners, whilst the warriors are send in to bash some heads and rescue the captives. This helps re-playability, as you want to play through with each class to see how the story fits together.
The start zone of Tortage is very nicely put together, with voice overs for all the quests, which are presented in same sort of cinematic way you get face to face conversations in single player RPGs such as Neverwinter Nights giving you various optional replies… not that they make any difference to the outcome, but at least they tried, and it’s a nice change from the usual MMO box of text. It does make it somewhat of a disappointment when you get into the larger world though, and voiceovers are almost non-existent. Would have been nice if they’d spread the voice work around, rather than loading it all into the starting area.
This is one area where Conan tried to differentiate itself from the WoW clones, and has a nice little twist on the traditional MMO combat system. Your 1, 2, and 3 keys are set to swing your weapon left, right, and forward. These correspond to shielded areas on the target, so if your opponent has his shield stacked to the left, hit him on the right. This also effects the way the combos operate, as you use the 1, 2, 3 key system to advance the attacks. Its a nice touch, and does help bring a feel that your connected to the combat.
INTO THE WILDS
After leaving Tortage, you move to one of 3 cities, depending on your race. This is a bit irritating if your friends have decided to play Necromancers, and your playing a Guardian, as you’ll be split into separate zones. Having said that, moving around Hyboria, is fairly fast due to the fact it’s all done with loading screen, rather than connecting flightpaths, or long runs through dangerous lands. As convenient as this is, it does rather make the world incoherent, as you never get a feel of how one area connects to another.
From here on in it’s pretty much your standard MMO fair. Kill X number of fluffy things to get Y. Fetch me this. Carry me that. They have stolen the EQ2 climbing idea though, so it’s sometimes means climb here and Kill X, but you get the general idea! Some of the instanced quest appear to be nicely thought out, but this is where the problems start…
If i had to sum up AoC in one word. Buggy. Buggier than an ants nest that’s decided to throw a mixer party with the local woodlice log and is serving dragonfly wing vol au vons while dancing to Now that’s Buggy vol 56. I’d possibly even go as far to say it’s buggier than SWG was back in the day (yes, that buggy!) I’m sure these quests will be fixed over time, but after finding the umptenth quest you try non-completable you start loosing the will to play. It may be interesting and well written, but if you can’t actually finish it, whats the point!
Secondly, the servers appear to be incredibly unstable. You’ll be lucky if you can play for more than an hour without the server ping jumping up and over 9000ms, causing the entire game to freeze for several seconds, sometimes it settles, other times it simply crashes the game and kicks you out. As I’m writing this review, the servers have been down for hours, fixes have been applied to the problems, and those fixes have caused further problems…
They also seem to spend each week nerfing, boosted, then nerfed classes again, not allowing any sense of stability in game play and causing the player to feel completely uninvolved in the entire game. I know it’s a new game and things need balancing, but i’d rather they fix the stuff which is genuinely broken rather than messing with the stuff that is at least playable.
TO SUM UP
First impressions of the game are good, the ideas, graphics and gameplay seem well thought out and interesting. But, thats were it ends… The game is seriously flawed, with almost constant server issues, graphical glitches and quest bugs… The more you play, the more bug. It does start to feel like there are more bugs in this game then players.
I am really sad over this whole thing, as this game does have potential for being a great MMO, but, it seems Funcom decided to issue it as a “pay-monthly” beta instead… Worse still, there are supposedly plans to make a console version of AoC, so you rather get the feeling they decided ‘lets use the PC suckers to iron out the bugs first’.
There is little balance between classes making PvP more of an annoyance than fun. The game is highly demanding on any pc, and crashes even if you look at it wrong. The 18+ certificate on the game has done nothing to reduce the amount of children playing it, this is quite clear when you are constantly ganked by someone twice your level, while his parents watch Eastenders and he sits on his pc in his Transformers pjs in his room!
Geektown has been discussing this review for sometime, we both see the potential to the game, but also can not ignore the numerous issues…
Crom would be disappointed with this poor show of a game, less action and adventure, and more frustration and disappointment.
Since drafting this review, both myself and Dave have left Age of Conan, as the frustration being caused could have become fatal… The actual end result was nearly as bad… After 2 months of playing, and one final particularly buggy gaming session which ended in another server boot, one of us shouted in frustration ‘Oh FFS, i just want to play something that works!’…
Hence, the re-installation of World of Warcraft… A game we both swore we’d never return to after escaping it’s evil grasp…
Damn you Age of Conan… By Crom and all his devils, damn you…