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Age of Conan Closed Beta Impressions– Part II

13 May

This is the second of a series of my impression on the Age of Conan Closed Beta.  For part one, go here.

The Starting Experience

Initially you start out shipwrecked on the beach and quickly work your way to the starting noob town of Tortage (*cough*Tortuga*cough*).  Welcome to prison.  You’ll be here for a while.  The town is big and nicely done with a large number of starting quests to get you going.  You’ll recognize the quest givers by the now ubiquitous rotating three-D exclamation point.

Much of the starting player sequence is told in voiced over dialog mini cut scenes.  These are generally very well done, but feel very much like a single player RPG.  The mini cut scenes are presented as a voice over dialog with the NPC you are talking to.

Your part of the dialog is selecting from a limited number of responses like “Oh, yeah, I’ll see him dead first”, “Oh really? Well, can’t blame a man for taking a profit” and “Goodbye”.  Your varied responses seem to inevitably lead you to the same conclusion– awarding you a quest or on occasion, providing background lore.

While I generally like the idea, it does get rather annoying since you have to complete the dialog to get the quest the quest giver is offering.  And if he’s offering more than one quest, the only way you’ll know that is after being awarded one quest, you’ll see there is still a gold ! above his head.  Immersive, maybe, but after a while it just becomes cumbersome and annoying.  Once you realize that your responses don’t really matter, you simply click click click until you see the message that you’ve been given the quest.

All that eye candy in Age of Conan comes with a price.  The game is heavily instanced.  All indoor spaces and other zones are instanced requiring a significant wait staring at a loading screen.  While I say “instancing” it might be more accurate to just call it “zoning” since the area you are traveling too is generally just a public area that requires loading.  While the “miracle” patch I referred to in my last post seemed to speed up the loading screen, get used to staring at it and enjoying the otherwise quite nicely done soundtrack selections.  Likewise, I didn’t seem to have much lag or take a performance hit with several other players on screen at the same time.

Tortage is divided into two bona fide instances– the solo player “night” version and the multiplayer “day” version.  You can switch from one to the other at will at the Inn.  The single player “destiny” quest series is completed in the night version.  The schtick is that you are an amnesiac and trying to regain your wits as you become immersed in the politics and lore of the world and Tortage in particular.  Kudos to Funcom for creating a plausible immersion mechanism for managing what is essentially a long series of solo progression quests.

Let me just say the Tortage section is simply way too long.  I’m not powerleveling through by any means, but I’m also not completely slouching my way through (particularly on the 3rd and 4th alt) and my highest level character has spent about 5 hours in game and only reached just over level 10.  Rumor has it that if you’re uber you can blow through the whole 1-20 thing in 5 hours or so.  At 5 hours and level 10 I was ready to be done with Tortage.  Maybe its just the Bartle explorer in me, but I felt trapped and having alt-itis, I would dread the thought of having to free other alts from the prison that is Tortage.

And that’s one of my greatest complaints.  I would like to be able to go experience the world.  I’m not jazzed at the idea of investing 10 or 20 hours just to see what the rest of the world looks like.  My previous comments on class balance and quest difficulty apply to all the Tortage quests.  Some are insanely difficult, some are trivially easy, some simply require brute force kill, die, kill, die, kill to get through a 3 mob spawn.  Death involves respawning at a spawn point with full health.  I didn’t notice a death penalty initially, but in running the volcano instance on my destiny quest, I picked up a death penalty which can be cleared by finding your “gravestone” aka clicking where your corpse died.

None of the quests in Tortage where particularly interesting– the usual kill this, pick up that sort of stuff.  Some intrigue which at times I found engrossing.  As a matter of fact, early on with the heavy single player RPG feel to it, I was beginning to get a bit of that Oblivion feel, but unfortunately that went away and Tortage wore on and on.

Rewards and gear drops at least for the first ten levels were complete crap.  Almost everything I got was vendor trash.  As soon as I had a small amount of money, I purchased serviceable kit from the armorsmith and weaponsmith near the west gate to Tortage.  I got a distinctly Diablo feel to looting and gear drops in the early levels.  Thats due in part I’m sure to having to click on a loot bag that drops from each mob and then of course basically getting nearly nothing useful from them or merely a trivial upgrade.

Progression

New spells and combos are awarded automatically, so no need to seek out a trainer.  Of course, if I needed to seek a trainer, I might find out how to actually play my class over time since there is very little by way of meaningful tutorial.  Tips help and a “field manual” can help some, but players not terribly familiar with the current generation of MMOs may find themselves flailing or simply missing opportunities to develop their skills.

For a noob area, I must say levels 1-5 went very quickly while they bogged down significantly for 6-10.  At present there seems to be a bit of a flat spot where somewhere around level 6 or 7 you find yourself with many quests that are orange or red (higher difficulty) to you and not much lower.  With running around and the zoning, it can feel like it takes a while to make progress.  This is all the more frustrating when you consider that you must escape Tortage to enter the rest of the world which I’ve yet to see with something like 20 hours played.

WoW, EQ2, LotRO and even PotBS seemed to get the noob progression about right.  Start small, explain things early, often via the quests themselves, gradually increase difficulty and introduce complexity, then send them on their way off in the world.  Part of the feeling of progression come from exploration and discovery.  After the tenth time running across town to zone via a row boat to White Sands Isle, you stop feeling heroic and start feeling much more like an errand boy.  You often are in other games to, but hey, give me some different scenery at least.

Again, the post is getting a bit long so stay tuned for the rest of my thoughts in Part III, but I’ll leave you with these tidbits:

I haven’t found a bank, a mailbox, or any crafting trainers yet and you can’t sit in a chair.

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6 Comments

Posted by on May 13, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

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6 responses to “Age of Conan Closed Beta Impressions– Part II

  1. Bill and Jo

    May 13, 2008 at 3:54 am

    To be fair, only levels 1-20 (in other words Tortage) are so heavily instanced. The rest of the game outside of Tortage is much more like EQ2 in terms of layout. This is a result of what happens when the developers start off with the idea of making the early portion of their game and entirely offline single player game as was the case at one point with Age of Conan.

    That’s also the reason why mailboxes and banks are not there. And as for crafting it doesn’t even begin until level 40 as it’s more of a part of the city building experience than anything else. Crafting is certainly not the focus in AoC. I haven’t even gotten to try it myself as I believe it can only be done in your guild’s city. But that might have changed by now.

    I do have to disagree with the questing though. My time in the game has been spent almost entirely running around Tortage as I build guides for TTH, and I find the area even after the 10 time fun and interesting. I think it depends how much you’re able to get into the storyline that’s being presented. It may not be of Mass Effect caliber, but it’s still above and beyond what we’re used to in MMOGs and that’s why I think I dig Tortage so much.

    Though I do wish there was more than one starting area, that’s also a result of the whole single-player experience they canned sometime last year.

     
  2. Bill and Jo

    May 13, 2008 at 3:57 am

    Oh! Also something just struck me about your post. You actually progress the fastest through Tortage if you focus primarily on your destiny quest as that is the main point of the area, again a leftover from the earlier design decisions.

    The destiny quest is the chain you do in “Tortage – Night”, and is entirely single-player. This alone should take you from 1-13 or so, and then again from 15-17 and then the final quest can usually be completed at 19, and it really only takes a few hours as the Destiny Quests give extravagant XP compared to the fetch and kill quests in Tortage Day.

     
  3. p@tsh@t

    May 13, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for the insight Bildo. That helps to explain some of the experience. I’ve heard from other folks that the fun really starts at Level X which is always a red flag to me.

    Part of my gripe with the destiny quest series is that its entirely solo in an MMO environment, so even if I wanted to level with my buddies, I’m on my own. Secondly, some of the classes and encounters are still wildly unbalanced so they are nigh impossible or at least very unfun IMHO in certain level ranges.

    Following the game’s advice to switch back to Day to level a bit before completing the destiny portions seems to make things worse not better– i.e. doesn’t end the pain much sooner.

    At the end of the day, I’d like to be able to make choices about my game play. In WoW or EQ2, I can choose to simply ignore all the low level starter quests if I desire and go somewhere else. Whether that is the most efficient strategy for progression is debatable, but at least I have the choice to do so.

    Funcom didn’t show me the light at the end of the tunnel soon enough.

     
  4. Bill and Jo

    May 14, 2008 at 4:29 am

    I hear you. I actually wish the starter area was a little more multi-player myself, but like I said it’s a remnant of what the game WAS going to be.

    I think it works, for me personally, but I’m betting you won’t be the only one turned off by it.

    I just hope they allow Tortage to be skipped entirely with alts or something later on. Because 1starting area IS going to get boring.

     
  5. p@tsh@t

    May 14, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Tortage skipping better be in release. While the character archetypes are familiar, they are not straight up fantasy MMO fare, so I suspect people will want to experiment a bit.

    Having to run them all through Tortage feels like it would be a pretty significant hurdle to get your alts back in the action in the world.

     

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