Thursday, June 19, 2008

AoC, Honeymoon’s Over

So yeah. Age of Conan is a let down. It was an interesting alternative to WoW while it lasted, but not worth paying actual money to play on a monthly basis. The flood of positive reviews is a result of people suffering from Honeymoon Syndrome. Because the game is new, they're willing to overlook flaws in the game in order to just be playing something besides WoW. Fanboi Syndrome rears its ugly head here, as well, as people who were clamoring on the forums for 18 months before the game was even released refuse to be wrong-in-retrospect, so they cling fervently to their previous (unfounded) assertions, even in the face of shit game play.

I myself am guilty of the first. I had just been banned from WoW, had ordered AoC about 2 days prior to its release, and was really looking forward to something new. When it arrived, and I booted it up, I was initially impressed by the graphics, and how well it actually ran on my system. I have an 8800GTX, and an AMD 5600+ (2.whatever GHz) with 2 gigs of RAM. That the game didn’t outright laugh in my face was reassuring. This was going to be fun! Fuck WoW, amirite?!

Wrong.

While the much lauded climb to level 20 really is something special, the game offers very little from that point on. I’m going to go out on a limb here and save myself from explaining the climb to 20 in AoC. If you honestly have no idea what happens, go and Google “AoC Destiny Quest” and come back when you get it. After your main Destiny quest is completed, and you leave the island of Tortage, the game takes a serious dive into the crap bin. I wrote my last article in the fevered grips of exactly level 19. Reread the review and chuckle to yourself at my naivety. Go ahead, free license. At level 19, everything in the review stands correctly, but MMOs don’t stop at less than a quarter of the level cap (shut up, twinks… you don’t fucking count).

After leaving the island, I was suddenly aware of how much polish the initial zone had, because the rest of the world started looking shittier and shittier the further on I pressed. Quest descriptions and the ‘dialogue trees’ are a farce. You pretty much just keep clicking the first choice until the quest is given, and if you end up back at ‘step 1’ you should have clicked option 2 on the last pane of ‘choices’. "Tell me about yourself" is an option of dialogue for every NPC. That’s the one you don’t click. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect every waking moment of an MMO to be a mind blowing experience that I want to write to a pen pal about. I do expect it to be at least ‘fairly entertaining’ though, and I expect there to be multiple paths to the final destination.

My toon is a dark skinned woman. I'm just sayin.

Take WoW, for example (god forbid). A level 19 horde side toon in WoW will have had the following dungeons already available to them:

Ragefire Chasm – While RFC may be a joke that 70s get tired of getting tells about, at level 10 or so, it’s an honest to god viable dungeon with bosses and quests and zomg green drops. I didn’t see my first “dungeon” in AoC until level 34. Destiny Mode was a very cool quest line, but there’s no “let’s group up 5 deep and go kill that boss in the lava cave” until level thirty-fucking-four.

Shadowfang Keep – SFK is STILL one of my favorite dungeons in all of WoW. I love being that level range on an alt, because I love running that place. It isn’t the most shocking level design, but it just feels… good. You start at the front door, work your way out to the courtyard, fight through the kitchen up the stairs, you on to the parapets, up the tower, and through various upper echelons to reach a showdown with Arugal himself… stopping to vanquish Fenris, the Hound Keeper guy, Odo the Blindwatcher… again, it’s just a clean structured run.

Wailing Caverns – Yeah. Too long. Not very liked, but it’s there.

Look, I’m not trying to turn this into a review of WoW’s lower levels, but just as a comparison of shit that you can do in WoW (and was there at launch) that is mysteriously missing from AoC. Even the gear itself… within 2 minutes of rolling a new alt in WoW, I’m wearing a new pair of dropped leggings that look different that what I started out in. All the armor in Conan is:

1) Brown
2) a Kilt
and
3) Pointless.

Note Yellow Arrow Length vs. Pink Quiver Size. Just sayin.

Stat distribution on items is vague, and never really differentiates one item from the next. People on the Conan boards argue that the game isn’t item or gear based, and that ‘that’s a good thing’. Okay, but … if you aren’t playing the game to get new exciting items, then… well, I dunno. I guess I’m a loot whore. Cool new items are kinda one of the driving forces in “running that dungeon” or “doing that quest”. Plus, oops…(!) the devs themselves have acknowledged that there really isn’t any gear in the game yet, and that they plan to add a bunch more in the future. Hm, so basically, the ‘gear’ part of the game isn’t implemented yet. Ahhh, gotcha. Well there goes the ‘it isn’t gear based’ argument; the reality is that the game isn’t done yet.

As far as graphics themselves go, you may remember that I wet my pants over the water in the starting zone (see what I did there?). It’s true that the first body of water you can leap into is certainly impressive, but then I got out in the world, and found these horribly textured other bodies of water that just made me wonder why they didn’t “10 MAKE WATER” at one point in the game, and then “GOTO 10 IMPLEMENT THE WATER HERE, TOO” throughout the rest. There is honestly about 5 different ‘types’ of water I came across, and the most disturbing looked like they melted down “Metal Form Mario” from Mario 64 and poured him into a lake. All green and silver and seriously what the fuck? Pop-up is horrendous. NPCs disappear and reappear randomly anywhere from 5 feet to 15 feet away. Quest givers are especially awesome because they have a "?" over their head, but if they haven't loaded yet, it's sitting on the ground where they should be. You get to sit patiently waiting for them to appear before you can turn quests in. It isn't my video settings. It's buggy. Not finished.

There’s three other things to touch on: PvP, the whole M for Mature Argument, and guild cities. The first two are both kind of intertwined, though. First is the fact that you can basically take a swing on anyone, (almost) anywhere. There are Shattrath type cities that don’t allow fighting. Funny note: Word just tried to correct ‘Shattrath’ into ‘Castrate’, and it kind of fit with the theme of this section. Outside of these cities, though, you’re free to kill people over and over, and generally behave like a dick, and so that’s what everyone does. Being a dick is fun for a while, and powdered donuts are pretty delicious! However, subsisting on a diet of powdered donuts alone would not be very healthy, and now matter how delicious the donuts, I think you’d probably come to hate the taste of them after a little while. Eventually, you begin to try being a dick in new, clever ways. Knocking people off cliffs with your horse’s Backward Kick maneuver, or just setting leg hold traps on people in town for no reason other than because you can. Sapping people in Gadgetzan without being flagged for combat was cute for a while; but after 20 minutes, I grew bored.

Add to the fact that the entire world uses some Guild Wars-esque instancing and rez point system, and being a dick isn’t even really viable. Killing someone doesn’t force them to run back to their corpse, they just pop up at a “spawn point” some distance away. Corpse Camping solved! Killing people at these spawn points is a bannable offense (crying about GM tickets and reporting people on PvP servers is nothing new here, move along), and if they get really upset, they can just pop over to a whole different instance of the zone itself. There is seriously talk of implementing a PvP Griefing Jail System. Watch this video. At about 6:30 in the video, the dev being interviewed is talking about putting your toon in JAIL for ganking lowbies, and making you do "... boring quests like carry the boulder over here, then carry it back". He goes on to say "... I tried to find things that people hate about MMOs... and implement that as hard labor... like here's a stick, go kill 300 rats in the prison yard" (7:45 in the video). Fucking Awesome, bro! Now THAT'S something I'll pay money to subscribe to!

The world's instancing, while silly, is probably necessary due to the game using collision detection. People can actually group up and stand on a bridge to block passage for others (a new way to be a dick, I’m there! Standing in the road! Woo! More Engaging Gameplay!). The way around this is to change instances to one where the road dicks aren’t blocking the path, but really defeats the whole “we’re all in this together” feeling. Also the fact that I can’t walk from one end of the continent to the other just ruins overall immersion. Load screens abound.

The ‘this game is rated M, so thank god we’re all adults here’ is laughable. The funniest part about it is that I see this EVERYWHERE. It’s on the Conan forums, it’s on any comment threads where the game is mentioned in passing. It seems to be a rallying cry for the ignorant, as apparently everyone playing Age of Conan or Grand Theft Auto is 19 years old and living on their own. I saw a little Japanese kid at the movie rental store yesterday trading Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops and Monster Hunter Portable 2 G or whatever for the PSP version of GTA (Vice City Stories? I honestly have no clue). I wondered why an 8 year old Japanese kid wanted to do drive-bys. Shouldn’t he be playing Pokemon Ultraviolet Turbo or some crap? Is mowing down hookers in an ambulance just as 'rad' to little Kenichiro as it is to Tommy and his little brother Billy in California? Of course it is. WoW is full of douchebags, don't get me wrong, but I daresay the population desity in AoC is more extreme. Like take 100 random players, and in WoW you might have 37 retards. In AoC it feels more like 64. Those are my scientific calculations.

Last stop is Guild Cities. Holy Shit! Player Housing! Am I the only person on the planet that thinks ‘player housing’ and ‘siege warfare’ are Totally Fucking Whatever? I could give two shits about the ability to build a hut somewhere, and even less about the ability to push a fucking catapult across the map to destroy said hut. Wow, this should be fucking sweet, right? Ignore the fact that you actually need to schedule PvP raids (We’re gonna show up next Tuesday at 3:30 pm server time and totally fucking PONE YOU!!1! Surprise!). As it stands, I was in a guild that farmed mats and mats and mats, and donated a metric fuckton of gold to get our ‘city’ built, only to realize that it did NOTHING for us. Yet. The buildings were empty, served absolutely NO PURPOSE, and just sat there, looking stupid. Oh wait, that’s just not in the game yet. That part of the game isn’t DONE.

Plx pay 15 dollars for the month of July, though, k?

No.

I’ll check back in 6 months or so, but I’m not going to pay for a beta. GG.

Who was banned from the AoC forums JUST FOR POSTING THIS PICTURE? A winner is Isobelle!

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