Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Check it out...
AGE OF CONAN LEVELING FLOWCHART
Saturday, May 24, 2008
And here he is looking like a Stygian Runway Model.
Cheers folks, and have a great week!
Friday, May 23, 2008
Here's a little Lore Lesson on the zone, thanks to AoC Wikia...
East of the coastal city of Khemi, Khopshef Province boasts no great cities—only fabled ruins recounted in ancient legends and caravan tales. Newcomers arriving in the province at the small village of Bubshur hear stories of a great and ancient pyramid that lies along a tributary of the Styx some distance to the south. Of late, an enigmatic oracle of the Shemite goddess Derketo has braved the haunted lands around the pyramidal tomb and laid claim to a temple structure adjoining the ancient pyramid, where his worshipful followers serve his every whim. What the arrival of this oracle portends and why he chose to settle so close to the mysterious crypt, no one knows. And local fishermen who risk the crocodile-infested waters of the river Styx speak of the bleak island west of Pashtun and the strange ruins located there, said to be a temple dedicated to gods that were old when Atlantis still rode above the waves.
Meanwhile, the people of Khopshef Province pray to their gods and try to go about their lives, mining salt from the flats around the village of Hep-Kab or welcoming the caravans traveling from Medjool Oasis to the south. They keep out of the punishing sunlight at midday and ward their houses against the evils of the night.
But all is not well among the people of the region. The island town of Pashtun, an independent village claimed by neither Stygia nor Shem, has become the hunting ground for a fearsome monster that stalks its citizens each night. Each morning the bloodless corpses of its victims can be found lying along the village’s dusty streets, or empty boats are found drifting in the river’s sluggish current. The village leaders have turned to the oracle, seeking an explanation for the deadly rampage, but he answers them only in riddles.
Now, each evening, as the red sun stains the western sky, the people of Khopshef Province glance furtively downriver and await a hero who will stand between them and the horrors that lurk in the darkness.
BANDITS, LIONS, AND DISAPPEARING CHILDREN
I spent a good chunk of time last night doing some pretty hairy deeds. I stumbled across a dying man who was poisoned by a jilted lover who also happened to be a cook for his clan of bandits. He asked me to not only track the cook down and kill her but to also bring him back one of her freshly cooked meals so that it could be his last. Apparently while she was a bit of a murderess, she was also a damn fine cook. I ran down river to the camp where the cook was holed up, slew her buddies and lopped her to bits with my polearm and more than a decent bit of electricity. In exchange he told me where he had hidden the treasure that he and the cook were going to share before it all went south.
As I strolled down the riverbank on my way to the next quest objective I came into some close contact with a particularly nasty crocodile. After fending the beast off, I did a little "JAWS" style investigative work to find the upper torso of a man's wife in the croc's belly. Yep, another quest. I stuck the torso somewhere on my person and kept on truckin'.
I also slew quite a few lions, lionesses, and cubs in order to protect the caravan route. I had to lug the heads of 4 of the males from the pack back to the town of Babshur for proof of my work. I'm not sure where I put them, as I don't think JoBildo's leather armor had pockets, but I assume it was the same place as the half-digested female torso.
In all, it was a successful night of deed-doing. Though I did run into one trouble spot. Escort quests are few and far between in Age of Conan, a fact I'm thankful for. I ran into a lost boy (not the Peter Pan variety) when I was out hunting lions, and he asked for my help getting home. No biggie, I figured, I was heading back to the town anyway and if all else fails at least I can use the kid as a bargaining tool if we get in a jam.
The problem is, when we got about 100 meters from the dork's home he went all David Copperfield on me and *POOFED* out of existence. I had no idea where he went to. He just disappeared. This same thing happened back in beta when I was escorting a maiden out of the Black Ones' place of worship on White Sands Isle. Apparently, it's still an issue. I won't be doing another escort quest any time soon. Especially if the next one I come across is as boring as this little kid's was. He wanted me to protect him from the lions, but there were no lions... not an enemy of any kind really for the entire slow saunter back to the kid's home. And then the little bastard had the audacity to bug out on me.
Ah well, I did gain two levels despite this set back. I can't wait to continue on tonight as I've moved on to another quest hub that involves a man named Captain Nut and another guy who calls himself the Cock Handler. Mature content indeed.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
In Age of Conan, crafting doesn't begin until level 40. I'm not sure exactly what the design decision behind this was, but that's the way it is. Your guild can start building its PvE city (separate from the PvP Keeps in the Border Kingdoms) as soon as you have a level 40 and that level 40 character is given Guild Leadership for long enough to claim a plot of land for the City in one of 3 truly massive zones). Your guild also needs to be made up of at least 24 people.
That said you can start gathering materials as low as level 20 in order to help your guild build that city and make a place to call home. To do this, it's a bit different than any other MMOG I've played. You'll get a quest in your starting city to go to your nation's main crafting and PvE city zone. For Khemi, this is the Purple Lotus Swamp which can be reached by heading straight south through the first adventuring zone in Stygia called Khoshepf Province (or something like that).
Once there you'll have to make your way to the Swamp's main crafting village which is oddly massive in the case of Purple Lotus Swamp. I assume it was made gargantuan with the expectation that eventually lots of people will be there training their crafting but last night there were only ten of us hanging out getting all the quests you need to begin your vocation as a gatherer. Anyway, this big old crafting village is where that initial quest first sent you, and by finding the NPC for that quest you'll be given 10,000 XP just for talking to a guy. Not a bad deal really. But once you see how long the jog is to get here, you'll realize why the reward you so.
So anyway let's go over the cool and the uncool about gathering in Age of Conan.
- This will likely be an uncool for some but there is no innate way to track gathering nodes. You must search the zone while keeping an eye out for indicators of something that can be harvested. Trees that can be harvested will have falling leaves from them and might stand out a bit more. Metal or rock deposits will be differently colored than the regular mountainsides and ground and often will be nestled next to a mountainside or rock outcropping. Leather is attained by killing beasts throughout the zone, with a somewhat small drop percentage.
- While you can't use a tracking system on your radar like in WoW, you can however make map notes of where you found the node or herd of animals. The place where the resources are never changes so as you scout the massive gathering zones, it's perfectly viable to make tons of map notes for future reference, or sharing with your guild mates via screenshots.
- Resources like trees, rock and metals have "health" on a percentage. Each time you gather from one it takes away roughly 10% of this health. When it's below 10% you won't be able to get anything from it, but when you stumble across one that's at 100%... you've got yourself 10 pieces of ore, or bundles of wood or whatever. This can also be an "uncool" in the fact that if it's a busy gathering day you might constantly be finding only recently tapped nodes.
- While harvesting a tree, or a copper vein, or any type of resource node, there's a small chance that you'll be interrupted by a "Jealous Prospector" or some other type of NPC enemy. This little touch is very cool in the fact that it even brings combat to a usually non-combative feature. It keeps you on your toes, rather than auto-pilot as you zoom from node to node. It also ensures that you'll be getting some XP and loot while you spend precious hours harvesting resources your guild.
- The whole zone is generally aggro free. Except for the rare occurrence of a mob popping when you near a node, or when you're harvesting, there's no real enemies. It's a zone entirely made for resource gathering and exploration and boy is there a ton of ground to cover. I spent 2 hours in Purple Lotus Swamp last night and only covered about 50% of the ground while I was gathering.
- It's a massive place. I don't know about the Acquilonian gathering zone, or the Cimmerian one, but Purple Lotus Swamp is one huge zone to play in. And the fact that they don't just give you a gathering radar to go by a la WoW or LotRO really places an emphasis on exploration that I thought might be missing from Age of Conan due to its non-open world. Tobold has said that he doesn't get the feeling of a world from AoC, and I can only suspect that it means he's not spent some time in the gathering zones. They're epic, plain and simple.
- Once you have the gathering skills, you'll also find nodes for the resources in the main adventuring zones of the world. But they're few and far between compared to the dedicated gathering zones.
- Since the zone is so large... I really wish I had a horse, or even that lumbering mammoth. Speed would be of much use for this part of the game.
- Lastly, you can take up all gathering professions. I can't recall them all at the moment, but there is no limit to which gathering profession you take on. You can be a miner and a skinner, a stone cutter, and a weaver (cotton and other fabrics). Why? Because your guild will need the goods and it's nice to be able to do it all instead of worrying how many more miners your guild will need. Everyone can pitch in this way.
- The initial quests to learn your gathering skills are long and often tedious. I spent 2 hours last night gathering, copper, silver, ash wood, etc. I only completed 2 of I think 6 different gathering quests. I couldn't even find leather on the beasts I killed, and I certainly didn't come across any Cotton plants.
- There are tons of nodes spread out across a massive zone... but because of the fact that they're spread out so far it often feels like there are too few of them to be found. I would like to see the disbursement be a little more dense. Maybe twice what it is now.
- The quests to gain the gathering skills require 20 of each resource. You spend hours doing these things and then you give the resources away to the quest NPC. LAME! After all that work for what I thought was going to go towards my guild's city, I ended up losing the resources. That sucked.
- The documentation on how or where or what the nodes will look like is slim in game. I was lucky to have a guildie who already had done them, or else I would have been lost. So take heed. Ores and rocks are near mountains and other major rock formations, lumber is on trees that have leaves constantly dropping from them, and leather is on the animals in the area. Cotton? No idea. Hopefully will find some tonight. My guess is by water sources.
- This is a guess, but I'm thinking that on PvP servers the gankage level will be astounding. Not necessarily an "uncool", but it could be if you're in the middle of mining some copper and you get jumped by 3-4 assassins and a necromancer. This is why I play on PvE servers.
- Nitpicking now, but there's no way to tell at level 20 how much resources you'll need for your guild city from within the game. There may be some website which has this info already, but I'd like to know what I should be stocking up on as I go along.
And that's about it for now, folks. I can see this part of the game frustrating a great many people who are used to the more simplified and streamlined affair that is WoW's gathering, or even EQ2's these days. But to me, this is a very novel and surprisingly fun take on the key part of crafting that will really reward the explorers and the dedicated. I could have been 24 from level 20 earlier in the night had I spent my evening questing and killing, but something kept me in Purple Lotus Swamp. I'm sure there will be others who find it as engaging as I do, but I worry that most will find it a waste of time when they could be out grinding mobs for experience.
Me? It's satisfying that childhood urge of being an archaeologist. It feels good to be exploring an uncharted land. One day I'll have all the nodes marked and it will likely become a chore, but for now... for now it's a blast to run around looking for buried treasure.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
TTH's Age of Conan Feat Calculators
Now, they're not all in yet and this is the beta run of them. But many of the classes are completed and updates will be forthcoming as I'm sure there are some descriptions and stats that are a little bit off since the end of beta. But come on... who doesn't play a way to play with their character's build without having to pay a fortune in game?
Go there now!
Looks like Funcom's stil got some kinks in the cogs. Just a word to the wise for anyone who was planning on visiting this place... I believe it's an area for the early resource gathering in the game, but I could be wrong. My realm of experience is almost entirely in the 1-20 game, so someone wiser can fill me in on that zone. I'm not even sure I'm spelling it correctly at the moment. Some help there would also be appreciated...
What's utterly fantastic about Conan to me is the feeling I got when completing the Destiny Quest, even though it was the 10th time I'd done so. Those first 20 levels, thanks to the storyline, really feel like a mini-adventure and the beginning of your greater purpose... to take down the evil sorcerer Thoth-Amon.
One thing I'll miss about Tortage though is all the excellent voice acting. Make no bones about it, when you leave Tortage the voice acting on every quest NPC comes to a stop. Again, most likely a result of the 1-20 experience originally being a single-player offline game, but it still is a culture shock.
It's okay really, as I'm used to reading plenty for quests, but it was nice to have the atmospheric accompaniment of the voice acting for those few levels.
Upon completion of "The End Battle" I also got a nice big polearm for my reward that pretty much whoops every other weapon available to me. But I also got Strom's (the big bad guy of Tortage) 1-handed sword to drop, so I have myself a decent DPS weapon and a nice 1-hander to use with a shield should I need the extra defense. God bless being a priest who can use a shield!
Man, I am stoked though friends. I'm finally really out of Tortage and now the next 60 levels will be entirely fresh to me. I can't wait to see what Funcom's got in store in terms of dugeons and city building, crafting and eventually sieges.
We got the TTH guild up and running yesterday and I'm currently the "Lord", but that might not be forever if Boomjack or Cody wrestle it away from me (gladly). So look for JoBildo or use the Social panel to look up the guild "Ten Ton Hammer" to find out who's on and we'll gladly send you an invite. We're in open enrollment for TTH members right now, so be sure to have a forum account with us as that's how we'll communicate outside the game.
Once the dust settles, we'll worry about more proper organization like officers and whatnot. We've already got a couple members nearly to level 40, so we'll be picking our plot of land for the Guild City this week most likely. Good times ahead!
Lastly, I hope to really get some adventuring done in Khemi tonight and in the surrounding areas, so look for some more substantial screens tomorrow and tales of my travels.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
The downside of the ToS at the start is that they're not particularly good at healing. Not at all. You get an early HoT that does something ridiculous like 2 HP every second for 17 seconds... but I have 200HP. So at the outset, I found myself relying more on my potions and resting between fights, and this is really the way it is for all healers in the beginning of Age of Conan. I remember exactly the same issues with the Bear Shaman. But then by about level 15 (roughly 6 hours into the game) suddenly it clicks in terms of healing. At 18 I have 3 HoTs and a Rez. I can pop those heals on my friend and I and watch as the health bars go up instead of down when fighting enemies.
Combine these healing abilities with my lightning AoE spells, my root, and my mez... and there's no touching me (even when solo-ing) unless I get swarmed. I've never played a healer that felt so strong and capable of playing alone so early on. It's a refreshing change of pace really. Something tells me Funcom wanted to make sure the healers in their game were actually fun to play, and because of the nature of the action-oriented combat and the pacing of the game in general... they certainly are.
There's just something very satisfying about seeing an enemy rife with elecricity as he convulses and turns blue then crumples to the grounds in a smoking heap. There's something more to it when you remember that you're not a mage, but a "priest" in a traditional sense. I can see myself providing a lot of support in PvP with my Crowd Control, and even holding my own with damage thanks to the power of the serpent god, Set.
Good stuff, Funcom. Good stuff, indeed.
The lag was minimal, the players plenty, and the client... smooth as could be running on absolute highest detail. 30 frames per second, no graphical bugs or niggles... just uninterrupted gameplay for the rest of the evening. Finally, with launch, people can now see the game I've been playing and loving for the past few months. I only hope their open beta fiasco didn't do them any harm. Though early reports are that Funcom had a very high pre-order rate for this little gem, and I hope so. They deserve success for creating such a fun take on the genre.
Anyway, the purpose of this post...
I woke up Sunday morning and immediately went to log in. Sundays are ritualistic for me. I wake up, I go downstairs, I eat some awesome breakfast and I chill out with my wife while we figure out what we're doing for the day. Not this Sunday.
This Sunday I went right into my office and pulled my PC out of sleep mode. I had a few quests that my eyes wouldn't stay open long enough for that needed to be handed in. Later that afternoon I had made plans to go with some friends to see Iron Man (a 2nd time, it was worth it), and during the movie my mind kept drifting to my Tempest of Set (more on this later) and just how much fun it was to electrocute picts and Redhand Guards until they turned blue and black from the power of his spells.
I got home eventually but my buddy Adam wanted to hang out and play some GTA IV since he was waiting on his girlfriend to pick him up from my house. There I was, playing easily the best game of the year (maybe of the past 10) and all I could think about was JoBildo, the Tempest of Set.
Yep, it's a good game. I want to go home now. I want to go back into Hyboria. But hey, at least now the game's live, and it's running on all cylinders. Well played, Funcom. You've won me over for good.
More on my adventures later. Lots of work to do today.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Look for Bildo or JoBildo there, and feel free to pester me whenever.
Servers go live in about an hour from this posting.
Have fun storming Hyboria!
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I'm not sure where we TTH folk will be headed yet, but I'll keep you all posted. Here's the list of all servers for those who can't see Funcom's site from work... like me.
US Servers (Early Access 17th of May)
- Gwahlur (recommended Oceanic)
- Bloodspire (recommended Oceanic)
European English Servers (Early Access 17th of May)
French Servers (Early Access 17th of May)
German Servers (Early Access 17th of May)
Spanish Server (Early Access 17th of May)
- Zingara (PvE)
Guess those Spanish are screwed if they wanted a PvP ruleset server. Heh...
Moving on... it looks like he'll be using the Barbarian as his class in our group, and I'm probably oing to use the Bear Shaman in that case as it'll be nice to have a DPS powerhouse teamed with a healer (and a melee healer at that). Now these two characters we'll only really play when we're online at the same time and in the mood for teaming, so that still leaves me with the difficult decision of which class I want to play as my main honcho.
I'm still sort of leaning towards the Herald of Xotli for his absolute damage output and the coolness factor of a two-handed sword wielding fire and demonic mage. But that doesn't mean I have ruled out all of the other classes the game has to offer.
I spent a lot of time in the beta with the Dark Templar and Assassin, but the Barbarian is also a class I'm itching to play and I'm sort of leaning towards making one myself. But then I start thinking about the Demonologist, the Necromancer, the Tempest of Set, and even the Priest of Mitra... and of course that leads me to thinking abouut how tanks are always useful and I start thinking about the Conqueror and the Guardian.
Is it possible for a game to have 12 classes and each one of them are fun to play? I never used to think so, but with the way combat works and the way Spellweaving is touted as working I think Funcom's sort of struck gold when it comes to that area. None of the classes are boring or any less interactive than the next one. And that speaks volumes for the replayability to me, with the exception of only having one starting area in Tortage.
So then, dearest readers... if you had to pick for me knowing my previous playing habits across WoW, LotRO, TR, and now the AoC beta which class (aside from the Bear Shaman since he's decided upon) would you suggest?
A tank, a rogue, a caster, or yet another healer? I'd love to hear some ideas since my head can't seem to come to a conclusion and time's a-waisting.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
As you can gleam from the image to the left, it appears that each side of a siege battle in Age of Conan will be able to bring 48 of their best players to the fight. For some reason or another the VN Boards are all a tizzy and so are the official forums.
To me, 48 people versus 48 people sounds like a pretty hectic and fun time. I imagine it's going to be a whole lot of fun when you toss in trebuchets, catapults, War Mammoths and Rhinos and the whole shebang... so what's the problem?
Apparently this little image, taken from the in-game beta manual, is not exactly what people wanted to see. Though Funcom never said how many people they were hoping to have in a siege battle, maybe they should have as it appears lots of players were hoping for 100s of players on each side taking part... which of course would be an astronomical feat.
I mean let's be serious. In WoW our biggest battles are 40 versus 40, and in WAR I believe WHOLE CITIES will be fought over with just about the same (though obviously this could change before launch). In a game like Age of Conan, with the visuals their Cheetah engine is sporting, it's amazing to me that they can even get 96 people together in a relatively small instanced area and not crash the server.
Not to mention the organizational logistics of a clan getting 48 people together, or 2 clans even. I suspect there will be a few clans that can on any given day, but for the most part I'm betting it will be a trial to gather that many players for a fight... which is where hired help from the general populace will come in.
Also keeping the numbers restricted ensures that siege battles will be relatively even instead of seeing the same 200 person clan overtaking the smaller 30 person clan each and every chance they get. With this set up, the 200 person clan is limited to 48 members at a time, and the 30 person clan must hire on some helping hands. Is it still lopsided in favor of the larger group? Probably, but at least the little guy stands a chance at holding his ground.
However, let's not forget that there are only going to be 8 keeps in the Border Kingdoms too. The rest of the fighting will be over smaller objectives like towers and other control points, and these will be up for grabs for any group of players from what I can gather. The Keeps are pretty much solely intended for the same set of Clans that would have been running Black Temple on day 1 in WoW. Whether that's a good design decision or not remains to be seen (I'm personally against excluding any of the player base), but the fact remains that the Keeps are intended for the most organized and active of clans and not just every group of 5 people who want to take part. For those smaller groups, there are other PvP objectives as well as the Mini-Games, and each have their own set of rewards for participation.
Call me weird, but I think 48 x 48 sounds damn good and whole lot of fun. I just hope I get to participate in a few of those battles during my time in Hyboria.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
The Adventures of a Hyborian wannabe-hero from levels 1-20 are a tough time, especially when his world is still in its birthing stages. Regardless, I shall try to chronicle my experience here by recounting some of my best and worst moments in Funcom’s Age of Conan. This will cover everything from my first impressions of the game to my final thoughts as we head into pre-order launch on Saturday the 17th (Did I mention my download is going strong and should be done by tomorrow? Here’s to massive game clients!).
THE EARLY TRIALS – VISUALS AND THE NEED FOR UPGRADES
When I first got into the Age of Conan beta, it was via the technical tests which as far as I know are still covered by an NDA, so I won’t speak much about them here. But eventually I was let into the General Beta (now referred to as “Closed”), and it’s here where my real first taste of Hyboria was experienced.
Admittedly, the problems for me arose immediately as I found that my AGP Video Card, Pentium IV processor and 2GB of RAM really were the bare minimum requirements. Low settings and 15 frames per second were not my ideal playing circumstances. I knew then and there that an upgrade would be needed, and since it was going to be my job to work at Ten Ton Hammer on Age of Conan… I could justify it.
I upgraded from that old system to a brand spanking new rig with an Nvidia 9600GT, 3GB of RAM, and a Pentium Dual-Core 2.66Ghz processor and I’ve not looked back since. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that if you’ve played Age of Conan on an older system and enjoyed it but feel worried about how it performs on your dated hardware that it’s certainly a viable option to upgrade. I know many can’t afford it, or even think they should have to, but this is the simple truth about Age of Conan: YOU NEED A DECENT COMPUTER TO PLAY IT THE WAY IT’S MEANT TO BE PLAYED.
I can honestly say that with the right hardware, this game is awe-inspiring and head and shoulders visually above what other games in the genre have done. On the most recent client, I can actually turn Anti-Aliasing up to 16xQ with Bloom and highest shadows and not suffer a frame rate drop. I’m consistently at 30-40 FPS with all settings on high… and I’m not running an SLI system either. It’s sad that Funcom’s carving a niche for themselves by requiring near Crysis like hardware to run an MMOG really well, but if you can run it… Age of Conan’s a glorious spectacle to behold.
THE COMBAT – MORE ENTERTAINING THAN THE OTHER GUYS
That header pretty much says it all about the combat in Age of Conan. This is of course a matter of opinion, but for me the action in Funcom’s latest product is the highlight of the game and its genre. Only Tabula Rasa’s hybrid-FPS combat comes anywhere near as exciting and visceral. Some may call it “twitch”, and others will call it “button-mashing”, but these are veiled terms for misunderstanding a complex system that differs from what the industry staple has thus far been.
I think the criticism of Conan’s combat being “button-mashing” or “twitchy”, apart from differing preferences in play style, is that with your early hours in the game you really aren’t presented with great instruction on how it works. Sure enough you get some tutorial text as you fight on the beach in the beginning tutorial, but words don’t really help when there are so many factors to consider. It’s probably too much to ask at this point, but what Funcom could really use with the combat is an instructional video or an actual fighting training mission where an NPC teaches you the basics (that could be skipped later on with alts). And while words don’t really do the system justice, I’ll try my best to explain its intricacies, which could probably be a blog post all on its own, but bear with me anyway.
There is no auto-attack in Age of Conan. Every strike is controlled by the player’s pressing of directional attack buttons, and of course spells and skills (referred to as combos). The directional attacks, to begin with, are Upper Left, Middle, and Upper Right which reside on the 1, 2, and 3 buttons by default. Pressing these will initiate strikes in either direction, and they can be chained together in numerous fashions to create multi-strike attacks. No waiting for cool-downs with these. They are the most basic of your attacks. Later in the game, you’ll gain access to two more directions (Lower Left and Lower Right) but they don’t come into play until level 40 if I recall correctly.
Then of course there are combos. These make up the majority of the non-caster classes’ special abilities and are often the types of attacks that apply de-buffs or bleeds, or some other special effect. They are also proportionately more powerful than regular directional attacks. They require a certain amount of Stamina to pull off (like mana, rage, or energy in that other game), and pulling them off is sort of like a game of Simon. You press the corresponding hotkey to start the combo, then proceed to follow on-screen cues that tell you which of the 3 directional strikes you must hit to complete the combo. Early on these are simple as can be with combos usually only requiring an additional one or two button presses to complete, but as you level the higher ranking combos require between three and four additional keystrokes and you find they can become an exercise in memorization and more so reflexes in the heat of battle.
I do have a few qualms with the combo system, despite it being far more interesting that what’s on offer in other games. Mainly, it feels like during a fight that I spend more time watching which key I need to hit next when I’d often rather watch the beautiful mo-capped animations. This isn’t the case all the time, but is especially true when I’m learning a new combo or if my memory fizzles in the middle of a fight and I need to pay attention to the on screen cues more than usual.
Now, combos aside there are also a few additional features that make Age of Conan’s combat the most fun since the Yo-Yo. Active shielding can be employed by pressing and holding the X button during combat. This actually makes your character lift his shield (if he or she has one) and deflect oncoming attacks at the cost of stamina. This is especially useful in hairy fights when you need to give your healer a little extra time to get a heal off on you. Hand in hand with this is the active dodging you can do to avoid your enemies’ cone-based attacks and spells. By simply double-pressing any directional movement key (WASD), your character will do an acrobatic jump in the corresponding direction, often putting you out of harm’s way for a moment and giving you an edge on your opponent. This can be especially useful in PvP as a way to truly test your enemy’s reflexes.
Lastly, as you’ve probably seen in some of the combat videos, enemy mobs have 3 little white arrows that often change places during a fight. These are the enemy’s defenses, or rather where the most of their defenses are focused at any given time. These change during a fight in reaction to your attacks. Hammer your enemy with a rough overhead combo and maybe he will stack his entire defenses onto the middle defense, leaving his left and right side severely open. It may seem like a little thing, but this touch adds a ton of strategy when you take into effect the fact that combos can be nearly nullified by these defensive placards. It doesn’t matter if you hit him with your hardest special ability… if those defenses cover that spot, it won’t do nearly as much damage as it could.
What’s a bit of a downer though is that while you have the same defenses on your character as the enemies do, you’ll hardly ever find a use for them. Not because they aren’t useful, but because there’s already so much other action going on in combat that you’ll simply forget about them and just leave them as they are at default. It can take too much time to shift them where you want and more often than not when you have shifted them, you’ll find you should shift them back as your enemy has caught on and is hammering another area. I can see how it MIGHT be useful in PvP, but honestly I expect this aspect to be overlooked almost entirely.
The only other worry I have about combat is the macro-ing of combos. Keep in mind that to successfully pull of a combo your enemy needs to be standing in a relatively close space in front of you, and that your character needs to be standing still as well since one wrong key press can break a combo, and too much movement will have the same effect. Given the hectic nature of PvP, I suspect that macros won’t be too much of a problem, as the longer combos will hardly be used, but the fact that they can be macro’d means a lot of people will be on “easy-mode” on both PvP and PvE. What I’d like to see done is a sort of randomization of the combo keystrokes. This would ensure no macro-ing was possible.
Enough about combat.
QUESTING AND LORE – THE REMNANTS OF A SINGLE-PLAYER GAME
What most players will notice when first logging into AoC is that the entire starting area and its quests (which take place in a solo-only instance at night) feel very much like a single-player game. And that’s entirely because it used to be one. Just a little while back the first 20 levels of Age of Conan were going to be an entirely offline single-player game that wouldn’t require a subscription and would take roughly 20 hours to play through. Somewhere along the line, they realized that this could cause some heavy confusion about the game’s true online nature, and the Tortage experience (levels 1-20) were converted into an online starting area with a heavily single-player story arc that is intended to introduce the game and its mechanics to the players.
The downside? It’s the only starting area in the game. I love it, even after at least 10 play-throughs, but the truth is that variety is the spice of life. I seriously hope that there is a bypass option given after you’ve leveled at least one character of an archetype out of Tortage. I wouldn’t mind having to complete the 1-20 experience once for the Soldier, Rogue, Mage, and Priest archetypes, but if I have to do it every time I start a new character, I might cry. As fun as it is, by character number 4 or 5 in the live version I’m pretty sure I’ll hate it. By then, I’ll just want to get to the “real game” and out of the newbie areas, you know?
Now another issue with the Tortage experience is just how instanced it is… another side-effect from the game’s earlier incarnations. There are lots of scripted scenes and lots of self-contained areas that luckily now load quickly but they’re still annoying. LotRO wasn’t even this bad with the loading screens. However, once outside of Tortage the loading is much more like Everquest 2 in that you only see a loading screen when travelling between zones, and not when entering every building or cave.
Luckily, with the early memory leaks ironed out and the loading issue cleared up, the questing in Tortage is really quite fun. Nothing revolutionary, but the voiceover work and the cinematic presentation of the Destiny Quests (a long quest chain that chronicles the main story of the game and is entirely solo-able), really make them interesting in my opinion. Coupled with the extremely fun combat, I’ve never once felt bored in my time with Conan’s beta.
While I’ve only dabbled outside of Tortage, I can say that the same questing structure holds true there. Lots of quests, lots of dialog (though less of it is voiceover work), and lots of killing. There’s nothing out of the ordinary and nothing above and beyond. If you hate questing, AoC won’t be your friend. But if you love whacking things with the purpose of looting corpses for a needy old woman’s soup, then you’re in luck. This is not an area where Funcom tried to reinvent the wheel, and nor did it need to in my book. I think it’ll be some time still before the quests in an MMOG match the immersion and interactivity of the quests in an offline environment, so for now these will do so long as they’re interesting to read.
THIS REALLY GOT BIG…
I think that just about covers the main points. I left sound out, but there’s not much to go over. The music is really well done and very epic sounding and the atmospheric effects rank up there with WoW and LotRO as top of the line. A surround sound system will go a long way with Conan.
As for the later stages of the game, I can’t really comment. I’ve only gotten as high as level 29, but from what I understand the game remains true to earlier standards throughout the level climb. The only big mystery is Siege Warfare and Mounted Combat which I’m hoping do not disappoint.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. I know by now you can tell I enjoy the game despite its faults. In fact, it’s probably the most enjoyable MMOG for me since WoW first cast its spell on me back in 2004 with its promising but derivative take on the genre. Not to say that Age of Conan doesn’t do its fair share of copying, as indeed it does. There are raids, there is loot, and there are even “Battlegrounds” in the form of Mini-Games. But what Funcom does seek to change is HOW the game’s played on an interactive level.
The biggest selling point of Age of Conan is its much more interactive and lively combat system. If you’re sick of the traditional approach and are looking for something different but still with a medieval air… then Age of Conan might be right up your alley. As I said in our Ten Ton Hammer Beta Preview, Funcom didn’t set out to reinvent the whole wheel… they just wanted to turn the Goodyear standard tire into a Kumho performance model.
And in my eyes, they succeeded and then some. See you in Hyboria.
Monday, May 12, 2008
We saw in 2004 two MMOGs come out, WoW and EQ2. Blizzard's soon-to-be behemoth could be run on just about anything while to play EQ2 the way it's meant to be played you needed a powerhouse of a machine. This, according to SOE, was because they wanted to skew with an eye on the future. Meanwhile Blizzard focused on a solid art-style that might look dated down the road but at least it would still be pretty in its own right.
WoW launched with hundreds of issues... but they were all mostly server-side and not problems with people's computers running the game. But EQ2 had memory leaks, crashes, texture cache problems and on top of it all you needed a pretty damn nice gaming computer to play it smoothly... does this ring a bell today? These are the issues that Age of Conan faces now just one week from launch, and you can probably count on them still being a problem on the 17th when pre-orders get in and on the 20th when the game goesf fully retail.
Now, I've made it clear by now that I'm totally digging Age of Conan. But I most certainly would not be were I still on my old AGP single-core system. The only reason I'm so in love with Hyboria today is because my computer plays it flawlessly. And I'm very likely in the minority here. Keen's PC, not exactly an old machine even though it's not cutting edge, it runs the thing like crap and he's made sure to say so on his blog.
It's a misstep by Funcom as the vast majority of gamers who are into MMOGs simply won't be able to enjoy the game. There are plenty who will be able to as the 8800GT and other 8000 series Nvidia cards are now out there in full force, but many systems are still running on ATI 1600 series cards and Nvidia 6 and 7000 series cards. And these are the systems that won't be able to play AoC for sh*t.
When the dust settles after the 20th, the only people playing and enjoying Conan are going to be the ones who can run it on their PC and that I'm afraid is a smaller number than I think Funcom would like. They should be happy WAR's not releasing this summer... not because it's a better game but because you can almost guarantee that its requirements will be more manageable based on the screens and video alone.
As a wise man once said... with great shaders and post effects comes great taxing of video cards.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
There are still some kinks, as in some people are finding checkerboard textures due to their video-cards while others aren't, and NPCs are stuck in some funny positions, but these are "KNOWN ISSUES (tm)" and Funcom says they're already fixed in an internal build.
What I was met with today upon logging in was drastically reduced loading times, no more popping-in textures, and in general about a 15FPS improvement over the previous version. Also what they've always referred to as client stalling (stuttering) is gone for me, the BLOOM effect doesn't cut my FPS at all, and even fatalities seem more in sync animation wise. It's just... more fine-tuned and much more the type of client one would expect to see this close to release.
I don't know about miracles and patches being mentioned together... but this thing comes close. Let's just hope they don't drop they ball they've picked up and this is the client players in the Open Beta see on the 10th.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Now, he certainly rags on Keen a bit here, perhaps underservedly so as Keen's not the only person I've seen dismayed by Conan's rather active combat controls, but I can't help agreeing with the entirety of his post.
It seems that more than ever we MMOG players want the revolutionary, yet whenever we're given it (TR, AoC, Auto Assault) we simply say it's not how we pictured the revolution and we go back to playing WoW or EQ2 or LotRO... games that play the same old tune we've been hearing for the past 10 years. I wonder if when Warhammer comes out and we're treated to a game that plays exactly like the previous DIKU MMOGs, if we'll all call it revolutionary because of the Tome of Knowledge... essentially a massive collection of in-game achievements all the while dismissing those games that offer us new and exciting ways to play (Spellborn).
Not trying to spark a debate here, though I know it will, but do we even know what we want, or are we just never happy with what we're given?
Now, J's gone ahead and done an interview with MMORPG.com to clear up some of what's been going on in the open beta thus far, most specifically the performance issues a great many people have been experiencing.
MMORPG.com: We have heard that the Fileplanet Beta client is actually an old client and won't be the one used on release. Can you speak to that?
J. Tharaldsen: I have seen the same rumors that it's old, but it's not entirely true. We tried to include the best we had on a stable approach, but in our eagerness to please we wanted to get a few additional fixes out (hence we pushed the launch back a couple of hours). In order to reach the May 1st date some of those fixes led to unwanted side-effects which weren't discovered in time. For some, it got a bit rockier than we wanted. We are running an extensive survey now, and from the first few hundred replies (which should be statistically correct), it seems that most people are actually having tons of fun AND good performance. We are humble about it though, and admit that things could have gone smoother, but the experience some people have had now has helped us to improve for launch, which is what really matters...
Well there you have it I guess. So it's not necessarily an older client, just an oddly put together version that came with some serious side-effects. Still a "DOH!" moment for Funcom, but at least they're admitting it. Hopefully the patch to open up all content on the 10th for Open Beta will bring with it some necessary fixes to wash the bitter taste out of the mouths of some folks who are not exactly as impressed as I am.
Read the full interview HERE.
The Bear Shaman
This was the first class I played during my stint in beta. Our goal at TTH was to have at least levels 1-20 for all 12 classes documented by the time the press embargo lifted. This was the first one I played back in February, so my apologies if some of this info is outdated, though I'm pretty sure it's not.
Anyway, the first thing that struck me about the Bear Shaman was, "Boy, is he weak or what?" and that was with nothing to go off of as I hadn't played other classes yet. But despite this early weaksauce experience, the further I played with the class the more I found I liked him. Like the Herald of Xotli, the Bear Shaman is a casting class that doesn't hang back and heal and buff... he's right up in the thick of things whacking mobs with a two-handed mace and debuffing them with auras all the while keeping his mates alive with HoTs and burst heals.
The only real issue I had with the Bear Shaman is actually a quirk of all healing classes in the early levels. That is to say that their heals and the necessity of having them in groups is not readily apparent in the early stages of the game. I mean, they're helpful as potion substitutes (you can get healing potions easily in AoC that do a decent job of keeping you alive while solo-ing if you're a non-healing class) but really there's no need to have one in your group EARLY ON. It's not until the mid-teens or even level 20 that you can start to see where the Bear Shaman and his other healing compatriots will come in handy.
As you go further down the feat trees (think WoW's talents), the abilities of each class become much more specialized and magnified, and this is especially true for the Bear Shaman. Throw in high survivability due to buffs, and you basically have a long-lasting priest that can even hold his own in combat. I didn't get to play him in PvP, but for PvE he's definitely the type of healer I can see myself playing. Not at all unlike a Paladin or Shaman from WoW with more healing oomph.
I'll be using this guy a lot, even for an alternate I think.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
After about 3 months in the beta, and extensive time spent with 4 of the 12 classes (Herald of Xotli, Bear Shaman, Assassin, and Dark Templar) I think I'm for sure going to go with the Herald of Xotli as my main. Let me explain why this is "news" in Bildo's world.
I never play mages. I usually hate their squishy nature and the glass-cannon effect that comes along with it.
But the HoX is far too cool of a class to pass up. Fire and brimstone and a bid of demonic possession are all the tools I need to convince me that it's the kind of experience that's right at home in Hyboria. The only downside is that it means I'll have to play a Stygian... bleh. I've always been partial to Cimmerians as they're the more Nordic flavored people. Stygians are the Egyptian-esque people in Howard's world. Not that this is a bad thing, in fact their armor, weapons, and scenery are among the prettiest in the game, but they're just not my bag aesthetically.
If I can, I'll be the palest Stygian out there, and the one with the reddest hair.
There's just something about the HoX's skillset... right from the beginning you're lighting people on fire, spewing flames from your mouth, and turning into a demonic essence of the god Xotli and causing fire damage to all around you (for a brief period of time). I've also seen some of the feats and skills later in the game (and since I work for TTH I can post about this I believe). There's a skill later on that actually spawns a volcano nearby the enemy and proceeds to burn them to death. There's a giant pillar of flame that if it kills an enemy leaves behind a burning corpse that does AoE damage to other enemies in the area.
I mean... it's just so cool, and to top it all off the HoX isn't really a sit-back-and-fire type of caster. He may wear lighter armor, but that doesn't stop him from getting up close and personal with a 2-handed sword and slicing and dicing his foes. Throw in the every 2 minutes demonic form (the casting time of which can be negated with feats later in the leveling process) and you've got one hell of a fun class to play in my book. It's what a WoW rogue would be like if you gave him the powers of the Human Torch and took away his sneakier abilities.
I can't wait.
On another note, it looks like Funcom will be changing the Open Beta client to an All-PvP-Fest on the 10th, and they'll be auto-leveling the level 13 players to 20 and putting them in their respective hubs to begin the mayhem. Here's the rundown:
Funcom has announced that on May 10th they will be transforming the entire Open Beta for Age of Conan into PvP MAYHEM, while at the same time giving testers access to all that Hyboria has to offer! They will take down their servers for a short period to change the rule-set to Free For All PvP. Here are further details:
All servers become PvP servers. You can kill each other - no level restrictions on killing or getting killed, but you cannot PvP in the major cities.
All level 13 characters becomes level 20. Their inventory is wiped, but they have -tons of money and really nice equipment suitable for level 20s. Shopping bonanza!
You have access to ALL zones and ALL levels after level 20!
You will be zoned to your Race's Hub. (Cimmerians:Conarch Village, Aquillonians:Old Tarantia and Stygians:Khemi!)
We will get back with detailed information on the exact time it starts on the official Open Beta forums at IGN, as well as on the Age of Conan forums and community site.
Sounds like a buttload of fun for the PvP folks, but not exactly my cup of tea, nor other fellow "carebears". I'll pass on that part of the OB. Hopefully the Closed Beta will remain as normal so I can still compile class info this weekend for the TTH Guides.
EDIT: I'd also assume that this patch to Open PvP and level 20s will be bringing the client up to a more stable version, but don't quote me on that. It's wishful thinking on my part.
EDIT2: They don't really have anything to hide, but methinks making the servers FFA PvP is a way to limit the leveling process for players so they don't get too high up and then not buy the game because they played to 80 in a week... though I suspect some still will.
Monday, May 5, 2008
In any case, these players can now rest easy in the fact that they won't have to step foot outside during those 3 days at all. Get the Doritos and Mountain Dew ready, guys.
Perhaps in the face of negativity, Funcom's willing to bend a little here. I'm sure I'll still be around level 10 by Tuesday though... damn busy weekends. Someone please tell my wife that we don't have to be doing something EVERY day. :)
Saturday, May 3, 2008
And instead of them being surprised... I was. Reports across several forums and blogs of a fun game with some SERIOUS performance issues. I was stunned, really. That couldn't be right. As I'd been in the beta I'd watched an unfinished and buggy game become one of my favorite MMOGs to date - one that was ready to hit store shelves soon. I whole-heartedly expected to see thousands of other people similarly pleased with the client, its promising combat mechanics, and beautiful graphics even on lower-end computers. I expected people to be pissed that they were stuck at 13 and 13 only, but never did I expect all the shouts of crashing and leaking and BSODs.
Because these issues had been rectified in the weeks past, somewhat miraculously. Indeed in the Closed Beta there are still bugs. There are still some wrinkles to iron out. But by and large the game I'd been playing was very nearly ready to hit the hands of eager players looking for something new. The problems people were having with the Open Beta were issues that arose and were eradicated (for the most part) several weeks prior.
After talking back and forth with Keen (one of many affected by crashing, memory leaks, and poor FPS performance), we came to a realization. He got into Closed Beta and it just so happens that indeed Funcom IS using an older beta client on the Open Beta servers - one full of bugs that are outdated, crashes, and memory leaks that had been squashed.
I'm glad I'm not crazy, and that the game I play on the Closed Beta servers is as polished as it seems... but I can't help but wonder what caused Funcom to initiate its biggest pre-launch publicity event with code that was outdated and leaves a bad taste in the mouths of prospective customers.
I guess all I can do as a fan and one who's seen just how fun this game can be is hope Funcom patches the Open Beta client up to where the Closed Beta is. Because not only are the Open Beta testers getting a false image of what the game's like, but Funcom's potentially losing a lot of customers.
I'll cross my fingers and pray to Crom I guess.
Friday, May 2, 2008
These NPCs aren't just NPCs. This city isn't just polygons and textures. Liberty City in GTA IV is a vibrant and burgeoning society of thousands of people. It's not the kind of reality that we once dreamed of with Lawnmower Man, of course not. Not even close. But it is as close as any game has come to offering a virtual world.
I can't play Crackdown anymore, despite the more exciting powers your given. I can't sit through the dialogue in Mass Effect and be convinced by it because it's not accompanied with the same type of veritas. I can't get into Oblivion because the world seems dull and lifeless compared to Liberty City. And don't get my started on the once great but now outdated Godfather.
GTA IV, while still rife with bugs and little things that need improvement (not to mention that the basic structure of what the game's about hasn't changed since GTA III)... GTA IV is the kind of game that comes along and turns the industry on its head because of the possibilities it offers as feasible. The RAGE engine in combination with NaturalMotion's Euphoria produce a world and people so eerily lifelike (and yet cartoonish at the same time if that makes sense) that I find myself feeling for pedestrians I knock off of their bikes.
I was running from the Cops the other day and I had to jack some poor guys' SUV for my use. 2 of the 3 people inside ran for the hills, but 1 of them was sincerely pissed that I had tried to steal his friend's ride. He proceeded to try and pull me back out of the vehicle, and when I drove off away from him he was hanging onto the door and cursing at me until a bump caused him to let go.
During this event a pedestrian (some old lady with a cane) saw what was happening and called 911. I was long gone by the time they arrived, but I heard the sirens of the approaching 5-0.
When I left my apartment last night to go cruising and complete some missions I heard a lot of shouting on the street... preaching really. I turned around to find an older black gentleman standing on the corner with his bible open, telling anyone who would listen about how we're all going to hell. I waited for him to finished before approaching. He looked me square in the face and told me I was going to hell. I jabbed him in his self-righteous face, causing the bible to be dropped and the man to stumble. I don't mean he fell with a canned animation, but rather thanks to Euphoria he actually fell in a completely unique and realistic manner, clutching his face. He slipped while getting up off the pavement and proceeded to run like mad away from me.
The radio ever so cleverly keeps up with the pacing of the story with news broadcasters highlighting my escapades (man killed in violent gunfight, the suspect is a white male) as I advance the main campaign. The parked cars on the streets are often times locked, forcing me to kick or elbow the window out, sometimes setting off an alarm and alerting the police or the pedestrians who in turn call the police. When I get onto a motorcycle, if there's one available, I put on a helmet... which can be knocked or broken off my skull on impact. I can go to clothing stores and get sunglasses, and these too can be broken in a heated fight with some rival gang.
To top it all, Rockstar has finally created a protaganist worthy of our sympathy and within 15 minutes of playing you can't help but want to hug Niki Bellic and tell the poor bastard everything will be okay... even though it likely won't.
I could go on and on, and you'll probably see a few more posts on the adventures I have in this game. But here's what I'm trying to say:
This isn't just a game. It's visitation to 200+ developers' brainchild. This is quite possible the Citizen Kane of the videogame industry. In the long run, it won't be remembered for drugs, or killings, sex, or languange. It will be remembered because it was another giant leap in bringing videogames closer to reality. It's not often that a game can make me actually care about the characters involved. And I imagine it will only be harder for future games as I doubt they'll be able to match up to this experience.
Warts and all... GTA IV is not to be missed by anyone who's interested in videogames as art.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
But if you're in the closed general beta and not in the press, you're still being held to the NDA. Unless of course you happen to be in the closed beta AND the open beta.
Apparently the two sets of servers are split up, so people in General are not automatically in Open beta. Hence the limit of 50,000 for the open beta. I guess it makes sense not to include the 10,000+ already invited into Closed/General beta.
Anyway, just wanted to post that to remind everyone that the lid's not fully off the cookie jar yet. Though I don't expect we'll be short on things to talk about from the Open Beta even with only 13 levels to play.
EDIT: Got an e-mail from Funcom and now it says to be perfectly clear that Closed Beta players can say whatever they want about the game up until level 13 (the cap in Open Beta). The rest of the game beyond that is still under NDA. Weird? Yes. But hey, at least it's a sign that we're almost there.
I can talk all I want though, heh. *Holds Up TTH Press-Pass*
But that comes later.
Now, that doesn't mean I'll be posting a review here just yet. That'll come when the full NDA lifts with the rest of the blogging public. But I wanted to hop on here to link you to Ten Ton Hammer's Age of Conan Guide Portal.
Me, Machail, and Martuk have been working our arses off for the past few months to get this stuff ready and now we can finally begin to share the fruits of our labors. Straight from Machail's fingers, I'll let him do the talking...
That’s right folks, Funcom has lifted the NDA for US reporters (that means sites like this) and we are now free to talk about the game!
Let me tell you, it’s been one heck of a ride. Martuk, JoBildo and myself have been in game steadily working away for the past few months to get you all the information you crave; and BOY do we have the goods for you.
Over the next couple of weeks, starting today, you’ll be seeing quest guides, spell lists, and feats lists. We’ve got videos, screenshots, and more general guides. We’ve played through all the Destiny quests for the archetypes and will have those rolling out very soon for your reading pleasure. We’ve also got other big things planned, but I don’t want to spoil it ALL.
It’s been a lot of fun playing the game. We’ve played all the classes and are pretty confident you’re all going to love playing it as much as we have.
So, grab a chair and dig in. The hot infoz are coming at you.
Today, we’ll just point you over here where you can catch a glimpse of spell and combo lists. Some of these are complete lists as they stand today in beta. Others have the first 20 levels documented and will have the last 60 updated for you in short order.
Enjoy! And check back often – you never know when we’re going to post a new article.
Ten Ton Hammer's Age of Conan Class Guides Portal
Benjamin "Machail" de la Durantaye,
Age of Conan Site Lead,
Ten Ton Hammer
So what are you waiting for? Go study up on that Barbarian you've been wanting to play so badly!