So, AoC launch has come and gone. Aside from a few annoyances and a fetish with sharpening weapons, Funcom did a moderate job at not pissing a large portion of their customers off. I wouldn't go as far as saying everyone is happy - but realistic expectations must be set. "Not pissing everyone off" is about as good as you can get in today's picky and competitive MMO market.
I've joined many of my long time gaming friends on the Aquilonia RP-PVP server (EU region) and our guild Karma is going strong as usual. We always play on PVP servers, and mostly RP-PVP servers as we prefer a more mature PVP environment (and some of us even roleplay). Expectations were high for the PVP aspect of Age of Conan, so I'll share what my thoughts were during the first week / weekend in the world of RP-PVP Hyborea.
As I'm a working / family man, with not as much time as some of my friends, when I first logged in, many of my buddies were already nearly out of Tortage. If you're not at the exact same stage of the game as someone, grouping can be very counter-productive, especially at lower levels. I breezed through the first 8 levels or so no sweat, and didn't even have a chance to attack / be attacked by another player.
My first PVP experience in the game was at level 10. Zoning into the Wine Cellars, I experienced something similar to a WWF cage match. I didn't know why, and I didn't care, but there were about 12 people, all around level 10, just beating the hell out of each other. As I snuck over to try and grab a wine bottle (a quest item) - and I couldn't - I realized what all the fighting was about. People were fighting over these wine bottles. Not one to pass a fight, my Bear Shaman proceeded to club the hell out of everyone. This royal rumble lasted a good 5 minutes or so. Then, spoiling our fun, a level 23 assassin (still doing what on Tortage?) decided to start slaughtering everyone. I escaped with my life down the hall, switched instances, and grabbed a wine bottle in the deserted instance. I could have done that at the start, but what's the fun of that?
Tortage passed relatively peacefully, with only a few bouts of PVP, mainly on White Sands isle. Spawns / quest items got very crowded quickly, and rather than changing instances (most people either dont want to, dont know how, or dont care) and having a less crowded place, ganking galore was commonplace. It's in this forge of leveling and questing that server personalities are born, and by the time I was thankfully 19 and the hell out of Tortage, I had a good idea of how the server politics were going to be just by reading the OOC chat.
After Tortage, it was off to Cimmeria and the first real "open" part of the game. Heading outside the city walls, and being tasked with killing wolves / Alpha wolf, I had the choice of swapping instances (for less people) or interacting with people. I choose to interact. People for the most part were quite nice, and the unofficial "first there, first in line" mentality was pretty well preserved. Had a few good conversations just waiting around for quest stuff to respawn. I found that if I wanted PVP, I usually had to initiate it, save for a few gank incidents that are to be expected.
I longed for open PVP, so I found it. In the heat of a battle (with some quest mobs) a Ranger misfired and sent a couple arrows at me. I confronted him, asking him to apologize. He stood still for a good minute or two, decided speaking was not his strong point, and tried to leave. After a fierce beating, he finally responded to me (with many expletives) and then announced to the zone that I and my entire guild was ganking everyone in the zone and respawn killing them. I chuckled a bit and headed off to the next quest, which consisted of waiting for something to respawn for 15 minutes before finding out it was bugged.
I mention this not as a quick jab at an unfinished game (AoC has it's problems, but that is another topic) - but because this broken quest was actually one of the best things possible for world PVP. The specific quest (for those that know) is/was to kill the Vanir supply master at some Vanir camp. Reportedly, he spawns once, gets killed, and never respawns. Fair enough, it happens. Most people didn't know this, however.
People would clear their way to the mighty Supply Master and find a few people waiting for him. Some would be civil and group together, waiting for the mob that never spawns. However, some - feeling that they could be saving a good 15-20 minutes of play time - take an offensive approach of "kill whoever the hell I see that might kill my quest mob". Battles ensued. At the peak of the battle, I was in a group of 5, while we battled a guild group of 5-6 people for this prized quest mob. They died, came back, took us out, and we hurried back to get there in time to fight for the boss who would never come. Someone then mentioned that the quest was bugged in OOC. We had a good laugh about it and went on our way.
In my 20's, I gave PVP-minigames a shot. My first impressions of these are - *yawn*. The only potential fun I could ever see having here is with a group of friends / guildies, but that's stretching it. Both the Annihilation and Capture the Skull games are terribly boring in the sense that it's hard to care about guarding X or capturing whatever skull to win the game. These style of games are very similar to the guild wars mini-games, leaving out the Guild vs Guild and ladder aspects which were the heart of the PVP game. In the end, we won some and lost some, yet came out feeling like we didn't really do anything meaningful. Let's hope these get funner in the later stages of the game.
In my late 20's I encountered my first roleplayed PVP event. It wasn't much - just a bunch of guys playing Highwaymen at Cascade Falls in Conarch Valley. I commend them for some pretty good sneak tactics - putting a sole Highwayman on display in the middle of a bridge and jumping anyone that approached (6 on 1- can't do much there). I rallied some of my troops and we had a couple good battles before some level 50's came in and ruined our fun (before that we were all about the same level).
Leveling through the 30's was almost painfully quiet, mainly due to the fact you're forced to go do grey / green quests in other starting areas. This means you're usually 10 levels above anyone you see - so if grey ganking isn't your thing, it's hard to find a proper PVP fight - even as a guild labeled "the bad guys" on our server. I grouped mainly with my buddy who is an assassin, so we bombed through the thirties in a day or two. 40 brought new zones and equal level players, meaning more politics and fights. Unfortunately due to the lag / graphic problems in these zones, PVP fights were often unsatisfying (these have been fixed in the latest patch supposedly).
So, how is PVP shaping up? It's ok. Not spectacular, but not that bad. World PVP is the only "real" PVP I've seen - though instancing really, really hurts this. At peak times, popular zones have 5-10 instances running, so it's just too easy to avoid people. If a PVP group is in one instance fighting for a resource, just swap instances and go about your day. It's extremely easy to avoid people if you don't mind watching a loading screen more often.
My second gripe about open world PVP is the level system. Yeah, I'm against level based MMO's - they're just tired, lazy and played out in my opinion - and it makes for open world PVP while leveling just plain silly sometimes. If you're not in the group of "powerlevel until I pass out" people who want to be max level the fastest, you're at a huge disadvantage in any battle. I've seen rogues 10 levels below someone do moderate damage still, but if you play a soldier / mage archetype, you'll be doing piss to anyone just because they're a bit higher than you. I've found that +5 - 8 levels isn't that bad, after that it starts scaling tremendously in a bad way. I guess it won't matter much at end game, but it makes for much less dynamic and challenging PVP fights while you're advancing.
My last and final thought on Conan PVP is the Rock - Paper - Scissors game. Though the devs tried to assure us this wasn't the case (at least end game) - the PVP system hasn't done anything too revolutionary to try and break this stigma. One thing at these levels that is remarkable is the speed that everyone dies at. This is emphasized dramatically if you play a Healer / Mage / Rogue Archetype - people just don't last long in battle. Mages have it worse off - and seem to be the least played classes on PVP servers - they die incredibly quickly to any of the high-DPS classes. Priests can do ok if they survive the initial attack (which is sometimes hard). At the moment it just looks like another Fantasy - Rogue kills Mage - Mage kills Soldier - Soldier kills Rogue thing. I suppose this is an over generalization, and it's still not max level, but it still seems to be shaping up to be the same old jazz. Let's hope it's a bit more dynamic at 80.
In conclusion - first thoughts of PVP give a real overall mixed feeling. I see great potential in the PVP aspect of the game, but some serious roadblocks exist to really make it mature fully. Instancing and PVP Mini-games seem to be the negatives at the moment, while the dynamic combat system and good group play could make for an interesting server battlefield later on.