Monday, May 26, 2008

Age of Conan, The Review

So! Age of Conan! I just got kicked off the server for 4 hours downtime at 7pm in Japan, on a day where I didn’t have to work the following day; and I just started getting a wicked Sake buzz going, so I figured I might as well deliver early on the promise of an incoming Conan review. Hopefully my rambling will cotain a coherent start, middle, and end, and as an added bonus, I'm not violating NDAs, since the game is already out! Hooray!

There’s a little problem in that I only have about five screenshots to work with, since I was planning on doing this in a few days; but I honestly think the five I have will be enough to illustrate exactly where this game is in the Here and Now. Please also keep in mind that I’ll be constraining these images to 550 pixels wide to fit in the layout of our glorious new website. Without further ado (and even less time taken aside for the correction of spelling and grammatical errors), I present to you, the people of the jury, Exhibit A, to be labeled “The Hot Damn Oh Shit Factor That Everyone is Wetting Their Collective Pants Over”:


Age of Conan looks good. Like, REALLY FUCKING GOOD. Usually. I have a billion dollar videocard, with a 90 dollar CPU to back it up, but the game runs pretty lovely on my system with enough eye candy turned on that I can safely call the above screenshot ‘Far Cry, The MMO’ and not be completely full of shit. The water needs to be seen to be believed, as it just looks pretty sweet when you’re bobbing around out in the bay. The above screenshot isn't very good, but floating around in the water next to town, you realize that the water has actual volume. It isn't some flat 2D plane thay applied some bump mapping to. The waves are about 7 or 8 inches tall, and are individual waves.


It's good. Then you get out of the water and are confronted by the guy whose arms fold into his chest, and his forehead juts through his helmet. Stuff like that is pretty common. The little details need to be nailed down, but the engine is good. Over time, it will just get better.

You’re not really seeing it here, but the water moves and reacts to your wading through it, and omg blah blah blah i've spent about three paragraphs on 'teh wet'. Look, the last time I was this excited over water was the first time I launched CS Source, and just shot my Glock into the river for a few rounds of play, until I bought the shotgun, and entertained myself for another good ten minutes with that instead. You remember how you felt when Half Life 2 came out; don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Don't say you didn't crouch in front of that little bottle on the ground of de_dust to see your reflection in it. If your system has a used piece of toilet paper underneath the heat sink, I dunno what to tell ya buddy. Turn everything way down, and hope for the best? The game doesn’t look BAD at lower resolutions; it just doesn’t look as good as it could.

The character creation system is hot. Hot hot hot. For facial features, you get about 25 sliders with stuff like nose curve, cheek width, eyebrow height, eye depth, mouth size, mouth width, etc. You get sliders for individually beefing up the legs, while leaving the arms skinny, etc. Boobs go from.. uhh… big to bigger… err…. Yeah. No A or B cups in Hyborea, ladies, sorry : / I'm happy to say tthat the new Ixobelle is a hawt piratey chick, and it’s good to not have bones sticking out of my kneecaps anymore. I do miss cannibalize, though... ;)


There are a few graphical kinks to work out… I can see thru my hair while stealthed or swimming, and certain NPC’s breasts tend to… uhh… look around… while I’m talking to them.


I’m just going to leave that out there and let the imaginations run free on that one.


Anyway, moving right along…

Combat! Woo boy, here’s a big one, and you might remember in my LotRO preview and Warhammer Rants that I take this very seriously when it comes to MMOs, as over 95% of honest to god PLAYTIME is spent killing shit. Standing around with your dick in your hand at the Inn, bitching about “Osama Barak” or “Bill Clinton’s husband” don’t count as playtime in my books. At that point, the game engine could be as advanced as mIRC and still get a glowing review from me. When I want to go kill shit, though, the combat needs to feel tight, and needs to feel crisp, or I’m left wondering why the fuck I’m wasting my time on this shit when I could be playing WoW instead. Oh wait, I just got banned from WoW, that’s right… BUT STILL. Conan sports some real time combat engine that at first feels pretty fucking stupid; but trust me, you need to make it past this point in order to enjoy the game.

The attack system is broken down into three keys for attacking Left, Right, and Center (overhead), with ‘uppercut’ moves (from the left and right) being supposedly unlocked at 40. It sounds really stupid, and it felt really stupid at first. The first mobs you come across are so painfully easy that you wonder if the combat system is going to go easy on you for the whole shebang because they pity you for buying their stupid game and buying into the hype. Then, around level 10 or 12, everything clicks, and it’s fucking awesome. I can’t really explain when it happened, but fighting one mob, I suddenly ‘got it’ and from then on out I was having much more fun in the random killing of mobs.There’s a combo system that comes into play, and using a move unlocks a menu on your screen that’s like ‘okay, you used sweep (which will attack multiple foes at once), you need to use a right hand attack (or whatever) next for it to work’. Again, curse my lack of screenshots at my disposal, and the fact that I decided to write this after the servers went down for maintenance or whatever, but look…

(c) Ixobelle Photoshop Creations, All Rights Reserved

…this is a mockup I made in Photoshop… this is similar to what you’d see pop up in a (draggable, if desired) menu on your screen. You activated Multi-Shot (or whatever), and now you need to activate a Right-hand, then Overhead attack to ‘execute’ said move. For a while I just didn’t get it, and was like ‘fuck those other buttons, I already did the move, the follow-up doesn’t matter’. EXCEPT (!) that the actual move is executed on the last button push of the combo. Ohhh! Gotcha! Okay! It sounds stupid, and I probably would have understood it much earlier had I read the manual, but once that little light went off, I was bashing heads in left and right and having much more fun with the combat. The system is so different from WoW it honestly took a complete overhaul of how I 'do combat' until I came to be comfortable with it.

With LotRO, I pretty much just recreated my WoW UI, and went to work on the game. This game isn't "right click a mob to start swinging, and throw in a different move once in a while" though. If you aren't hitting a button, your dude is just soaking axe to the face. I still wanted to have my Belkin be WASD + 1-0, but that doesn't really apply here anymore... except that it DOES, you just need to tailor it differently. After trying to map certain buttons to Right, Left, and Overhead, I finally ended up just mapping the buttons directly to my mouse. I have one of those newfangled mice where the wheel tilts, and used that as right and left. There are two buttons below my scrollwheel for increasing of decreasing the sensitivity of the mouse, and remapped those to Overhead and Sprint. I made the mouse buttons F1-Fwhatever, and just remapped those buttons in the keybindings. When I get the left and right "uppercut" moves at 40, I reckon I'll make those Alt+mouse tilt left and right.

Logitech g5 pew pew edition

In conjunction with the realtime combat thing is dealing with the way mobs react to this. The mobs block in a way that has them ‘putting their shields up’ almost like enemy ships in Wing Commander. The shields are full left, full right, full top, or spread out among the three. If a mob is blocking right, and you execute a combo that utilizes ‘swing left, then overhead’, it’s gonna fucking hurt, and there’s going to be blood on your monitor when it gets pulled off. If you smash a mob’s face in so bad that his grandkids feel it, you pull off a “fatality” of sort… jamming your sword in his gut and twisting it while backhanding his face or something equally over the top.


The UI is lacking. Like, Severely. There is no Addon system in place like WoW, and from what I understand, there won’t be. This is both a blessing and curse. There will be no Damage, Boss, or Threat Meters (hooray! just play the fucking game!), but there are no Bongos or Xperl either (/cry). The UI is XML, can be reskinned, and people are already popping up with some basic rewrites. I’m using a "MirageUI" that I found on Curse, and it does the job, about 800% better than the vanilla UI. This will only get better with time.


The talent distribution and ‘dinging’ in general feel pretty subdued. There’s no huge BLING signifying a level gained, and of the 19 levels I gained, I think I only realized the ding as it was happening 2 or 3 times. The other times I just looked down at my XP bar and realized I was 16 now where 5 min ago I was 15. I actually went 4 levels at one point without spending my ‘talent points’ and got to splurge on the ‘feats’ pane for 4 points straight. Woo! Feats are basically WoW’s talents, and earn you crap like ‘activate this skill to inflict more damage with bow attacks for the next 13 seconds’ or ‘increase all bow damage by 2% and offhand weapon attacks by 3% (up to 5x for 5 points spent). It’s WoW’s talent points. Nuff said.

There are also, however, general ability points that can spent for sprinting longer (the game has a sprint button like Battlefield or Call of Duty), regenerating health out of combat faster, or running faster. There’s one skill called Climbing that I totally ignored, until I came to a ladder that was like ‘oh I bet you wish you had 30 climbing skill right now eh?’ at which point I respent the points I spent in RunFast into Climbing (for a small fee). All classes can Hide, as well, and all classes can also put points into perception to detect hidden characters. Tobold has complained about every class being able to effectively stealth in the game, but for me (as a stealth class, Ranger) it hasn’t been a huge issue. Yet.

The first 20 levels are spent on an island where you get to learn your class without too much pressure from the outside world. During the ‘day’ you run around in AoC much as you would anywhere else, but selecting to enter ‘night time’ (by talking to a certain NPC) takes you into Destiny mode, where you’re on your own. It’s solo content focusing on your classes strengths. Apparently rogues stealth around stealing shit (what I did), while healers heal some NPCs or something, and maybe a warrior charges in the front door to somewhere killing everybody. I’ve only seen one side of this, the rogue side, but it’s pretty fuckin sweet. Apparently (and again, I’ve only seen the one side) it retells the same story from different angles. So even once you’ve played though it, you know the drill, you’re just filling a different role this time around. I’m pretty sure the entire Destiny thing is optional, as I was seeing dialogs saying ‘wah wah Destiny mode is too hard, lemme skip to the next mission’. If you can make it to level 20 just during Day mode, then you can probably catch the boat off the island without ever doing night mode. The server went down right as I hit level 19, so I’ll know later.

PvP! Oooh! Oooh! Kill anyone. Anywhere. I invited some guy to group with me for a quest, and not only did the fucker refuse, he took a swing on me and thought he was bad ass. Apparently Rangers (my class) are OP as fuck, so yeah… GG. People are running around just killing anyone they can, all the time. It’s fun, but there really isn’t a huge penalty (sorry Khatib). Dying doesn’t really even involve corpse runs. You stack a debuff on yourself that starts out really weak (-2 damage dealt or something), but eventually gets to be a pain in the ass if you keep getting camped. By voluntarily doing a corpse run back to the spot where you died, you can loot your ‘gravestone’ that will remove the debuff. Walking around outside, you discover spawn points’ (graveyards) which is where you’ll repop when you die. Fuckers camp these, but yeah. I just rezzed, went stealth, then beat the shit out of whoever was trying to be cute, since my class is in dire need of a nerfing, I guess. Roll a Ranger, lol. You’ll be fine. The alternative is to choose a spawn point ‘further back’ and either just hearth back to town, or continue questing around that area.

Overall, the game is solid. It isn’t as TIGHT as WoW, but nothing is. Earlier today I was thinking how fucking awesome it would be if Blizzard just licensed out the WoW engine like Epic does with Unreal, and allowed people to make MMOs based on their toolsets. The combat engine is different enough that you aren’t playing ‘a different version of WoW’, but every time your toon jumps you kinda get kicked in the face for immersion and wonder aloud C’mon,…. Is that how someone REALLY looks when they jump? Not that WoW is photoreal motion captured or whatver, but it has a flavor, or style, and it pulls it off. Conan is all I have going at the moment, so it’ll keep me entertained, but I’m not ‘settling’ for Conan. It’s honest to god fun, and once you ‘get it’, you’ll dig it.


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