The always poignant Tipa had this to say about Conan's coming fate:
"Age of Conan will launch and sink without a trace. Come on. PvP with sex and boobies and lots of blood in an election year? The first politician who sees this game will tear it to shreds. ‘Sinking without a trace’ would be the best outcome. ‘Being used as a reason to crack down on MMOs’ would be the worst. Luckily, the teenage boys who make up its natural audience will balk at the subscription fees. Plus, who the heck even knows who Conan is? If the average player even remembers the old Schwarzenegger flick, that’d be amazing — the people who would want to play this game weren’t even born then."I have to say that I think her statement and others across the blogosphere strike me as remarkably off-target. It's not that I don't see her point, it's that I think far too many people are focusing on the subject matter and the stupidly hyped blood and boobs aspect of this game. No one seems to be focusing on the actual gameplay, and it's in that aspect that I expect AoC to be at least moderately succesful.
I'm a big fan of Robert E. Howard's work, and while I'd love to see Solomon Kane in his own game before another Conan game, I'm confident in the pieces of work we've been shown by Funcom that they're taking the license seriously. Say what you will about the gore and the sex, but without either... it simply wouldn't be Conan. It wouldn't feel like Cimmeria or Stygia. However, despite the title of this post, I'm not here to play advocate for the mature-rated side of Age of Conan. I'm writing this to point out several areas where, if done right, Conan could very well push the genre in some very welcome new directions.
~Action and Combo Based Combat~
To say that traditional MMO Combat is in need of revision is merely an opinion, but one I'm proud to have. I do have my nostalgia for the highlight and hotkey combat, but I'm also the kind of person who believes in constant stiving for improvement. Combat in MMOs has largely been the same for the past 10 years, with very few successful steps away from the core mechanics. One of the more recent successful implementations of a new form of MMO combat has been Tabula Rasa (even if the game's sales underperformed), and Age of Conan is aiming to take things a bit further with their own Real-Combat System.
The RCS is basically a melding of what players will be used to in an MMO, and what a fan of God of War might be more inclined to enjoy. You will control the individual swings and where they're aimed at in AoC. You will aim the bow as you would in an FPS, and you will chain your spells together in an as of yet unrevealed "Spell-weaving" system. No longer will you simply, highlight one enemy, use your hotkeys, and watch the health fall. You'll have to think about the armor of your opponent as their defenses will adjust to where you're hitting them most, you'll have to link your sword swings in an appropriate manner for maximum damage, and you'll have a real chance to hide in some foliage and snipe an unsuspecting bandit from afar with your longbow.
While this will undoubtedly turn off some of your more seasoned MMO veterans, it does nothing but excite me. After playing and understanding the combat of TR, I can't wait for another company to take it one step further. If it plays well, Conan's biggest strength will be the Real-Combat System. This is where they need to make sure their focus lies. In yet another fantasy MMO primarily focused on combat, what's new needs to also be "what's good". The exact same sentiment goes also for Mounted Combat. If they're really going to do it, it had better work brilliantly. It's something many people want, but that doesn't mean it can be crap either.
~Town and PvP Keep Building~
Every guild or Clan in AoC will be able to amass the materials necessary to build their own towns or cities in the wilderness, and subsequently defend it from invading NPCs, or if in one of the Border Kingdoms (PvP Zones) from other Clans. This was something that was done to a very good end in old Star Wars Galaxies, and I think every fan of the MMO can agree that aside from the ghost towns they became, the player-made cities and villages in SWG were what made the game so special among other things. Again, IF AoC does this well, and they end up as more than a side-show and instead become something integral to the gaming experience, than the feature will be another aspect of what makes Conan so compelling.
It's in these two (3 if you count mounted combat seperately) facets that all hope lies with Age of Conan. If they're built right, if they work well, politcal quagmire or not the game will be a success in the States, and in whatever parts of Europe it sees release in. Last I read, Gaute Gaudager was talking about how they have to tone down different aspects of the game for different countries, so expect to see a EU and NA release relatively close to each other if not simultaneous. I am not saying that the emphasis of the press concerning Age of Conan hasn't been solely on the boobs and the blood. Hell, the last trailer for the game had more flying heads than Kid Icarus. But I'm intelligent enough to know that it's just bad marketing. It will undoubtedly work for some, both teens and violence-loving Droogies alike will dig Conan for its gore and sex-filled atmosphere. But not me.
I'm more excited about the new ideas the game is trying to bring to the genre. As fans of the Universal MMO we should all be focusing more on these merits, rather than its jubblies, media be damned.
Sorry for any typos, busy morning and just wanted to hammer this out quickly.
EDIT: Tipa unintentionally reminded me of one of my main reasons for writing this. The Xbox 360. That's the wildcard here. Forget the gore (which I might add is no more prevalent from what we've seen than in God of War or Resident Evil), and forget the sex (you can make it with an alien woman as either a man or a woman in Mass Effect, need I remind you?).
This article is meant to put those aside. The focus here is on gameplay, and also the fact that Age of Conan is aiming to be the 1st true MMORPG since FFXI hit the PS2 to make it onto the console side of things. I'm sure I'm not the only 360 owner who wants to be able to play his favorite genre with the comfort and stability a console provides meshed with the depth and socialization that thus far is only available on the PC front.
I think AoC will do okay, but not great on the PC. Where it will shine, if it plays well, is the 360. There are some 16 million (right?) Xbox 360 owners across NA and EU, and I'm willing to bet at least 500,000 of them are wishing they could play WoW or some other real MMO that's not the uber-hardcore FFXI on their sexy little consoles. I know I am. I'm not trying to be all over Funcom's jock here, but come on... what console owner that likes MMORPGs wouldn't want to play a solid offering on his/her console? It can be done, it just hasn't been yet for my tastes. I hated FFXI. Bring on Conan. I HOPE it turns out well. I really do.