Age of Conan: The Review
A good Game with Fatal Flaws

There are comments made about this article
Click HERE to view the comments


Introduction
Well the time is finally here. On May 20 Age of Conan, one of the most highly anticipated MMOs to be released in years will finally be ready for the masses. Most likely you have heard or even read the AoC FAQs and boards during its development. However, if you want to know more about AoC (and its prime competition, Warhammer Online) Take a look at the game summary I wrote HERE.

I was lucky enough to have been brought in to the General Beta several months prior to this game's release. Funny enough I was awarded the beta account by being one of the winners of the 'AoC Beta Prayer' contest with my article on the odds of getting a beta invite (Read it HERE). I guess someone at Funcom has a sense of humor and enjoys irony. But this gave me an opportunity to get the inside of what AoC really has to offer the MMO player.

This article is about What to expect from AoC..a bit more than what you get from FAQs or boards, but an in depth look at my experience playing this game. I am not for or against AoC: Like the AoC vs WAR rivalry you see on the boards. I honestly believe that both games will have substantial playerbases and future success.

To see other articles I wrote about Age of Conan, try these
Reviews
Age of Conan Review: "A great game with a fatal Flaw"
Age of Conan Vs Warhammmer Online
Leveling guides
Age of Conan Leveling guide: Level 1-20 "Tortage, its not just for breakfast anymore"
Age of Conan Leveling guide: Level 20-40 "Life as a Hyborian Tween"
Age of Conan Leveling guide: Level 40-60 "Mommy, are we there yet?...No!"
Age of Conan Leveling guide: Level 60-80 "And your journey to the Dark Side will be complete! "
Aoc Guides
Age of Conan Crafting guide: "Harvesting for the decapitated"
Age of Conan PvP Guide: "Mama Said Knock You Out!"

So, with that introduction, lets begin.

Game setting
Most reviews start with character creation. However, that is NOT the first feature you encounter upon starting this game. You will find that the games greatest strength is the story and its ability to draw you in. Once you hit that Start button after creating your account....the real world fades and you are thrown into the Game world. Age of Conan is based on Conan set 10.000 BC in the world of Hyboria. And you feel it even before you've made your character. As soon as you choose your server..you get a splash screen with Conan himself scowling at you. His eyes piercing clearly "Your in MY WORLD, Boy! ...step out of turn...and I will slice you to pieces!"

Character creation
The first scene is your flight onto a slave ship...being pursued and attacked. Slaves man the oars (those which are still alive) trying to escape, High seas and storms surging, rain pelting and thunder rolling across the rotting planks. Here you choose which slave you will start as. The game allows the standard Male or Female choices, 3 'races' (but all are human...no elves, no Lizardmen) which are Stygian (Dark skinned desert dwellers), Aquilonian (Proud, advanced, cultured), and Cimmerian (The good ol barbarian types from the north). If you want to start quickly, just pick your name and your Classes. There are 4 standard types and 3 subtypes in each, I wont go into them specifically because I already did that in this article HERE.

You start off with a random face/body. you can just enter your name and choose a class and then go right into the game. However, you can also choose to customize your character. The character customization is very advanced. You can easily create a very unique avatar. The first tier of customization allows for variations of Body size, Voice (you gotta scream as you chop off peoples heads now!), Tattoos ( body and face separately), skin color, eye color, hair style, facial hair style. Now are eye color options necessary? probably not, but its yours to change. I would like a little more skin and hair color options, but all its a nice way to make the character really yours. However....

There is a Second Tier of character customization! Hit the customize button again and you can specifically change body aspects like Chest size (big and small...you can guess why), bosom (and again) hips, butt, arms and legs sizes. Then you can move to the face and change eye , nose, ear, chin angles/length/depths etc. With all these to play with...Your character looks will be yours alone ....all hidden under the clothing/armor and helmets.

With that, enter the world
...and your Ship is Destroyed!!! Screams of everyone aboard cry out...fade to black
...and your in the game....

Game Immersion
Let me tell you now, this games greatest strength is in the Game immersion. Funcom, in my mind, did this right. They want to put you in the pages of a Conan Graphic Novel. In this they have succeeded. I would say that only LOTRO can compete in storyline to AoC. To draw you deeper into the world, when you click on a quest NPC, there is no scribbles of text that you read, but your Point of view camera is set as a Face shot. many have voiced dialogue allowing you to hear the fear, sadness, hate or frustration that goes with each quest story. It is a refreshing way to go through what many players now dread...the grind.

The world of Conan was written to be dark and gritty. This game captures that and augments it 10 times. You wont find any Heroes here...No Cavalry to the rescue...the only happy ending is the one where you split your enemies head open. Examples of this include
1. Decapitated corpses are displayed on pikes, or dangling from ropes on the city's walls. Blood flows freely.
2. Fatalities. The killing blow of each fight has a small chance to be 'Fatal'. with that you enter an animation where you could decapitate your opponent, or run him through, or several other specific animations appropriate for your weapon/class. Blood spurts freely..and splatters on your screen. After a while I didn't think the screen splatter was all that cool and became somewhat annoying and obtrusive especially if I was fighting more than one foe.
3. Sound. The music is ok and appropriate, I didn't think that much of it. The ambient sounds are very loud at times. drunks whining, belches, cries and screams. In the tavern especially I thought it became a bit childish..only because every 3 seconds was another belch.

PVE Gameplay
AoC has great gameplay. First I applaud the fact Funcom went the extra mile and placed collision detection for all players and Mobs. About time, no running through this way and that. There is no /face or /Stick that I could find. Combat is directional, you have to be facing your opponent. There is autoface in PVE,if your fighting more than 1 mob, as soon as you kill one you will automatically turn to the next. In PvP however you will be in trouble if your opponent is more nimble at controlling his characters movements than you.

There are many quests and each will give significant XP for the time you invest. Not all quests are "Kill X Mobs" Some are gathering plants, others are delivering messages. Still there are plenty of Kill X mobs, but most are very doable. Understand that for the most part you can fight 2 mobs at once and win 95% of the time. Most mobs will be found in groups of 2 or 3. so killing 20 Mobs goes very quick. The miniMap has build in quest locator function. It will show you where quest NPCs are around you, it will have arrows pointing you in the direction of where your quest targets can be found and a big X marks the spot when you arrive. This makes questing very easy and a very efficient alternative to straight grinding.

For the grinder in all of us, there are many packs of mobs to grind on. The respawn rate is quick but not so quick that your worried about immediate respawns after a kill. One concern I have is that Im not sure there will be enough Mobs. I can see that, at least in the early 30-35 levels that there may be a lot of competition for spawns. Once you tag a mob , it is yours, and cannot be stolen from you if someone else attacks and kills it. A small LOCK icon is displayed by the name of the mob to show others that they cannot get XP from this mob. However, if you pull a group, you better damage everyone in that group..because unless you do, they are fair game to anyone who comes along to take. So watch out when this game is released...it may be frustrating trying to level because there just isnt enough mobs and too many players....a huge number of servers on release may address this in part. That remains to be seen.

A very unique aspect to the game is "your story' quest lines. basically it is a series of solo play quests that only you participate in. No one else around. The first example of this is the tortage Night quest. Again, this game is about immersion, and after you complete this quest line you will see why.

Another concern that has been brought up a lot in discussion forums is the fact that the game isnt a seemless open world which many players are used to in games like WoW, DAOC and the like. AoC has many mini zones which are instanced together. I will agree that some zones feel more like linker regions...They dont serve much purpose other than being a hallway to various instances. The outskirts of tortage gives you this feeling, as well as connarch where you arrive at lev 20. The instances themselves themselves are also a bit linear. There really is one or two paths which are well marked out and which you and anyone with you must follow. However, Ive seen this in many games when they are first released. Now many players have argued that this takes away from the MMO. I disagree, at no point did I ever get the feel that the game was a series of instances. They did flow well. There is a lot of potential in each one and I expect the zones we seen today will be vastly different a year from now.

I would also like to give a shout out to the best scene Ive had in MMORPGs to date....After thwarting the a Sorceress' enchantment atop a volcano...the volcano erupts and just when you thought you had won...its time to run for your life. Escaping the volcano's fury was a heart pounding dash down the mountainside racing to the exit....exploding boulders falling all around you... the ground was shaking (7.8 on the Riechter scale)...you enemies screaming , many engulfed in flames only to die in a burning husk.....priceless!

PvP Server gameplay
Life on the PvP server will be hard. I took it upon myself to try out the pvP servers. Let me tell you it is just not for everyone. That is not news by any means. Ganking is a part of all PvP servers in MMOs. However I write this because there has been a lot of discussion on the Roleplay-PvP servers where 'roleplayers can control/police'. For the first 30 levels, I would consider this game a gankers paradise. note: Everyone has stealth ....let me repeat that...EVERYONE HAS STEALTH. Rouges, Warriors, Archers and casters alike. many of the MMO veterans well know the power of choosing your fight, setting up the conditions and having first strike.

The PvP server issue becomes even more pronounced when you take into account the zone travel is narrow. A lot of the travel to and fro can only go through certain areas due to geographical barriers (Mountains/gorges). Also, many zones are small, as such, your movement (and everyone elses) can easily be predicted or seen by anyone. The counter to this is simple...move in stealth. Honestly, that isnt so bad either..movement in stealth is not nearly as slow as in other games. However, moving in stealth for non rogue classes drains a lot of stamina. Thankfully when you get out of tortage and into the wild lands do the zone areas really open up.

A further issue is that stealth is broken on attacking (makes sense) but also with interaction like obtaining or turning in a quest, buying and selling from a merchant, falling, and zoning. This leads to several occurrences of zone camping, quest camping, and NPC camping. Expect this a lot at the early levels.

Now, for everyone whos reading this and saying "OMG, that sucks..how can Funcom have done this" I will deflty reply. "Because, this is what a lot of PvPers WANT!". Some people like it hard.... they want a game that has a 'WTF' setting. PvP servers are NOT for everyone, but just because it is not for you doesn't mean there are not a substantial number of players who enjoy the chaos. But I do want to let those players considering PvP servers (Especially PvP-RP) as an option thinking it will have an underlying civility, some unspoken rule of honor....Heed my words: THERE WILL BE BLOOD.

The great Flaws of AoC
No game is perfect, Aoc is no exception. There are minor issues in this game and some I have outlined above. But as a whole those are either fixable with time and growth of the game, or are something to be expected. However, I will confess that the biggest issue of this game..the one where I feel Funcom has miscalculated is simply the

System Requirements.
The last patches during the final days of AoC Beta significantly ...I would even go so far as to say impressively improved the gameplay for lower end computers. However, the system requirements of this game still remain higher than every other in this genre of PC games . Even with the last patches the game runs very clunky unless you can beat the standard. I list the system requirements in my earlier article HERE. Basically it boils down to you need a fast processor, a good graphics card and a Lot of RAM. If you are missing ANY of these, you will find yourself banging your head against the screen in outrage. The lack of one of these components cannot be made up by improvement in another. You must meet them all! failing to meet any of these and The loading of the different zones can easily become a bathroom break. FPS can fall to a crawl in EVERY city. The cities are something to behold ...but it will seem like a postcard than a 3d MMO if your system is lacking.

I've heard several people say that you need to have 4 gigs in order to run AoC smoothly, since Vista 64 uses 1.5 to 2 gigs. I dont claim to know this as a fact, but I will say..if you have less than 2 gigs RAM you are in big trouble....no matter your operating system. I will tell you that you should have at least a graphics card that is 256mbs. If you sport a 128, I would also seriously consider this when deciding about this game. Processor, well there are a lot of them out there, the specs talk about 3GHz Pentium...again, I would say you better beat that.

In fact, if anything I would say that the current listed minimum specs to run this game are set TOO LOW and may cause a false sense of security. I am not saying its intentional. But to think that you buy this game with a P4, 1 gig of ram and a 128 mb graphics card is just silly. Yes, perhaps the game will 'run'...but I wager the game will be unplayable! In the end AoC pushes the system requirements for this game genre, but it's nothing you cant overcome, in time and $$ investment in your system.

And there lies the problem. The fact is the current MMO climate is dominated by WoW. And WoW is FULL of players who are just burning out left and right. Many are desperate for a new game. Coming from computer that runs WoW just fine to a game that will lock up, crash , or simply put them at a severe disadvantage against everyone and everything will be a HUGE disappointment. Especially if you just plunked down $49.99 for the AoC standard or even more for the Collectors Edition not to mention the Game Cards and Strategy guides. This is the games greatest flaw, because the backlash from the growing pains of this game can have long lasting effects. In MMOs the first impressions are the most important (exemplified by the release of Vanguard). The players with systems who cannot take it...may fall back to WoW.

Inconsistant Gameplay
It is now no secret, AoC was released before it was fully ready. A fact that was not lost on the Beta testers (myself as one). In the end what happened is they front loaded this game. The first 20 levels (as I describe above) are what a LOT of players want in this game. However, after you leave Tortage ...much of what was great, is lost...or at least diluted. The NPCs (except for the destiny quest series) no longer have voices. You are now left to read the text and lose a bit of that great immersion. Unfortunatly, there is no backdrop to the quest text. Thus on several occasions you find the text is too difficult to read as it becomes washed out against bright backgrounds. This, when combined with the spoon feeding of quest locations on the minimap and the strong desire to level up as fast as possible leads to a problem...you play the minimap, and not the game. Entire zones may flash by while you simply follow a gray arrow leading to a yellow X ...guys, I did that back in the days of Atari 2600 and Intelvision. The game eventually loses much of its immersion and the grinding becomes more apparent.

Too many leaks in the Dam
It is now no secret, AoC was released before it was fully ready (Did I say this before?...no, not me.) However, the TIMING of the release was perfect! Its just that the game wasnt ready. The two are not as mutually exclusive as you may think. No doubt that the MMO world needed an escape from WoW..AoC provides it. However, by using their Big Picture view ..they have missed a lot of substantial holes.
1. Significant class balance issues should have been realized before release especially when over half your servers are PvP.
2. There was no hiding the salivation of the gold farming industy. Yet little has been done to stem their influence or the annoyance of constant spam via tells and in game mail.
3. Significant bugs in quest NPC causing entire lines to be incomplete or worse...Quests to Nowhere!
4. Itemization was bland at best and dismal for some (HoX..I feel your pain!). Much of the armor was the same look just with different stats. making it very difficult to stand out in a crowd.
5. Crafting just didint work initially. However this has significantly improved over the last several patches. It has reached the level of "OK,I can craft ....but not anything of value" .

Recent Improvements made to AoC....Take Heart!
However, all is not lost. Most of these issues can be rectified as the devs put in updates in content and bug fixes. When you step back, wipe away all the burnt out MMO haters who constantly spam the forums and judge this MMO with an unbiased eye. AoC is a GOOD game with the potential to be a GREAT MMO. Rival WoW ..it very well may, but not now. After 6 months of updates and content...expect it! So the question eventually comes back to you...are you really willing to play WoW for the 5000th hour /played, or will you take part as being one of the first in the next BIG MMO even with all its faults?

Here are some of the Improvements recently made to AoC on the 7-17-08 patch
Captains and wagoners in Old Tarantia, Khemi and Conarch Village have opened up traveling routes deeper into the wilderness:
Travel times have been one of the biggest issues for AoC. Funcom is making a good change here.
 
Price of the basic mounts has been reduced from 2 gold to 75 silver:
I honestly did not think 3 gold was all that hard to get, and It will get a lot easier as the economy matures. However a nice change.
 
 Mounts can no longer be sold:
Hasnt happened to me, but man, If it did I would be pissed
 
 It will be possible to get experience from ‘grey’ quests again:
Should never have been changed
 
 Combo finishers now have 25% extra range:
Hurray for melee Love!
 
spell casting target still needs to meet all the necessary criteria when the action finishes:
Hurray for Melee Love!
 
 A GUI element for emotes has been added:
One small reason players have not felt world immersion is that all the other players in this game are stiff as boards. Time to /emote Jiggle
 
 All team members and their pets get the fatality buff when a team member performs a fatality:
A nice add
 
 Combo chain will now be stopped when you begin a charge:
A tough hit for some melee, but I understand the need for the change. NOTE combos are not cancled when you move forward and around, just if you use a charge spell/ability.
 
 Fizzle and immunity rolls have been moved to the end of your spellcast:
Hurray for melee love!
 
 Stealth is checked again at the end of your spellcast:
See above 'hurray' comment
 
 Mercenary players in a team with a guild member should no longer be hostile-flagged during battle:
Making them useful and not feared
 
 You will no longer be able to attack guild members on PvP servers:
No matter how much you want to..or how much they deserve it!
 
 If your pet does the most damage to a target in a minigame:
Hurray for necro/demo love! ...ok, perhaps not so much demo
 
 You should no longer be able to damage your raid members on Culture PvP servers:
No matter how much you want to..or how much they deserve it!
 
 Tradepost will now list in color text:
Saves me from working my cursor over every item and may prevent a carple tunnel fatality
 
 Items you hand in to the Crafter Trainers will from now on be returned to you:
Hurray for saving me 20+ silver on those rare crafting handin quests
 
 Fixed several causes of crashes and instability:
Vague , yet always a welcomed change. Client is very stable now


Helping make your computer run AoC
For those players who have a solid computer, but dont have a lot of money (after putting down $50-$70) to spare. I would say that the best bang for your buck to run AoC better is to upgrade your graphics card. I know that RAM is likely the cheapest, but if you put up an investment in the graphics card, it will take you a lot farther than 2 more gb of RAM.

For the Settings, The biggest memory drain Ive found is the Shader. If your having FPS issues, make sure your shader is completly off. Water effects should be taken completly off as well. Set your view distance to 500. On those systems who are really struggling, turn off ALL particle effects by sliding the particle distance down to 0. Have more tips? Leave them below so everyone can benifit.

Theres a quirk to nivida drivers where in some situations your settings will default to multiple display mode - you split your graphics processing power to render on two displays. If you don't have two displays plugged in, that second part of your video card is doing nothing but pick its nose while you flop around with sub-par frames in AoC. Heres how you fix it:

1) Open up the Control Panel.

2) Open up Nvidia Control Panel

3) Click on "Manage 3D settings" on the tree on the left hand side.

4) Scroll down to "Multi-Display/Mixed GPU Acceleration"

5) If your setting is "Multiple Display performance mode" change it to "Single display performance mode" - Note: you can no longer use two monitors, as far as i know.

Hope this helps

Summary
AoC is a great PVE game.
The Immersion and storyline is one of the best currently released
The gameplay, customization and handling is enjoyable
Its about time a MMO put in a combat system with both directional combat and object collision..thankyou Funcom
The PvP servers will be bloody and tough, more so at the beginning...you have been warned
The System requirements will be the make or break factor for players of this game. Do not be reassured about meeting the minimum specs...you must significantly beat them
The Game was released before it was complete, yet at its core the game has a VERY strong foundation. The next 6 months of patches will make this game the one to beat.

Good Luck and I hope this helps. Want to contact me? Email me at Admin@TheBurialGrounds.Com

Level Quickly! Class specific PvP Tactics!
The AoC Class and Strategy guide!
Make your Age of Conan life easier by using the AoC Gold Guide
Know thy Enemy! Get the advantage with
The Age Of Conan: The Ultimate PvP Guide.
Ashlings World! One of the best
1-80 AoC Leveling guides


Players who generally agree with this article saidSome players would add these changes
I agree with much of this article and would add
My experiences have been different in this way