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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

Computer Go Boom

Posted by Daedren Monday June 30 2008 at 6:26AM
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For those that don’t know, which is hopefully nearly everyone, I’m an ex-Air Force guy currently held prisoner in mainland Europe. I say this because it’s relevant to what I’m about to say. I met a lot of people in my 8 years of service, and left behind a lot of good friends in the states when I chose to live in the land of wine and baguettes. This includes a lot of “gaming friends” - you know, friends that you game a lot with but sometimes struggle to do normal social stuff with like going out or doing whatever the hell it is people do when not lodged in front of their virtual hamster feeder.

I got a letter from a friend I used to be stationed with in the states in my first “newbie” years in the military. I played Ultima Online and Counterstrike with this guy, along with various LANparties and other geektastic stuff that used to be going on in our free time. We didn’t keep in touch much through the years, but he somehow came across my humble blog here in his searchings on Age of Conan or midget porn or something. After exchanging pleasantries he wrote me a few things and asked if I could maybe write something about what he said. And here we are.

Basically, my friend is a MMO addict like a lot of people. He started with Ultima Online, moved on to Everquest, then to DAoC, then WoW, and now Age of Conan. Of course some other titles were mixed in there as well like Horizons, Shadowbane, Vanguard - he, like many of us, were not impressed with these games and went back to the safe bubble of his chosen game at the time and let it soak up his time.

While reading some of my earlier AoC stuff, he came across another blog site that I happened to mention in an article: Keen and Graev’s gaming blog. He read one article, in particular, called “Summer begins: will it be another slump?” — and because of this one article, he told me, he threw his computer out a window.

Yeah, he threw his computer out of his window. There was no broken glass because the window happened to be open. Only a bug screen lost its life as the shiny Thermaltake case smashed through it and then deposited it’s various components on his front lawn. (He’s ground floor, and has a house - no flying computers out of highrise apartments unfortunately.)

Most gamers know about “gaming rage” - that is, smashing stuff or being violent because of something that happens in whatever game we’re playing. Hey, it happens - I’ll admit I’ve lost more than a few keyboard keys and even dented up a monitor or two (was a lot better back in the CRT days) due to some stupid and rather trivial string of events that happened to take place while engaged in some virtual whatever.

However - this is the first time I’ve heard of someone being so moved by an article that it caused them to take immediate action. While there could have been other contributing factors (I do believe alcohol was involved), it’s still a bit remarkable for someone to react with such emotion to “words”. At first I almost laughed this off - and then I went and really read into this article on Keen’s blog. So, what’s it about, anyway?

I think the first line sums it up nicely:

“Sorry, I had to have an emo moment. My worst fears have bore fruit and the realization of another long and hot summer is upon me. This will be the second year in a row that the dreaded Summer Slump attempts to throw me into the fiery pits of boredom. Summer starts today and lasts until September 22. What is out or coming out that is worth playing?”
 

Ok, that is a bit depressing. No, I don’t mean that fact that *gasp* “no good video games are coming out this summer…” — I mean it’s depressing that someone’s emotional state and relative happiness is based upon the release of virtual entertainment. To each their own, I suppose, though I do wonder how the poor people that happen to not be born in our rich, every opportunity given, catatonic westernized society (or more than 20 years ago anywhere for that matter) managed to survive without hanging themselves out of sheer boredom.

And then at the end we have:

Overall this Summer will be LONG and HOT (105 degrees or more here every day) with the only relief being our invitation to E3. In July (14th - 17th) we’ll be roaming the wings of the L.A. convention center gathering all the information we can from the Media and Business Summit then heading back to our Hotel room (we decided battling traffic every morning and night wasn’t worth it so we got one) every night to write our impressions and record podcasts.
 
If all else fails, there’s always Fall. /facedesk
 

In his defense, he did say he was going emo for a moment, right? So here we have - a couple of teenage kids (I think they’re still in high school?) whose lives seem to revolve around video games and MMO’s. Hell, that could be a false assumption - perhaps it’s Peter North and Ron Jeremy over there writing - we all know that any popular niche blogger gets more ass than a toliet seat, right? Anyway, it was my view that yes, the article is fucking depressing. It’s not worth throwing your damn computer out the window though. Come on now!

And then my friend told me this:

“Well, actually… I think what did it was something I read on your blog. I was reading your about section or something and you had a little quip (quoted below) …. I think it was this plus just seeing the hopelessness or utter pathetic nature of what I read that really blew me over the top. Self imposed digital prison?”

Here is the quip he’s referring to:

“With that said, though we enjoy our little secure life of gluttony and pursuit of higher entertainment, most of us secretly wish for some sort of apocalyptic event that would free us from our self-imposed digital prisons and 9-5 jobs. It is our inability to do so under our own free will that we struggle with on a regular basis.”

Well shit on me. I was just trying to be witty. I guess I need a warning label that says: “Do not mix this with depressing, melodramatic posts bitching about having no ‘puter games to play.”

All joking aside, it got me thinking. I think my friend really needs (or needed) some help dealing with what he considered an unhealthy addiction. He’s still in the military. He’s not married, probably no serious girlfriend. His average day Monday - Friday is probably something like this:

Monday - Wake up 6:30 AM. At work by 7:30. Home by 5PM. Game until midnight / 1AM.

Tuesday - Wake up 6:30 AM. At work by 7:30. Home by 5PM. Game until midnight / 1AM.

Wednesday - Wake up 6:30 AM. At work by 7:30. Home by 5PM. Game until midnight / 1AM.

Thursday - Wake up 6:30 AM. At work by 7:30. Home by 5PM. Game until midnight / 1AM.

Friday - Wake up 6:30 AM. At work by 7:30. Home by 5PM. Game until 3 / 4 AM.

And then it’s the weekends:

Saturday - Wake up at noon. Eat. Game until 3 / 4 AM.

Sunday - Wake up at noon. Eat. Game until 5PM. Do some social thing. Home at 10-11PM. Game until 1AM.

Rinse, repeat. Normal workouts are mandatory in the military so he doesn’t even have to worry about being overly obese. That’s a 50 hour work week and a 60 hour game week. Subtract gaming time if you want to play sports or try and have sex.

I think that is what he was pissed about. His life, when he wasn’t at work, revolved around gaming. He had to sacrifice gaming time to do any “normal stuff” when it should have been the other way around. He clearly had no moderation in his life in terms of gaming. As they say, that shit was out of control. Well, it only lasted… 10 years. Is it over? Not sure. Maybe it’s like smoking. You can never really quit.

Anyway, here’s what he said about the whole thing:

“I had just upgraded my PC for Age of Conan. Dual 8800 GT’s, new MB, new widescreen monitor. 1000$ USD for it. I’m only a TSgt right now, but its not really a lot of money as I dont spent it on much (got a new car is about it).
So there I was. The only reason I was reading anything at the moment is because the Conan servers were down. I remember getting home from work… servers down… I was fucking pissed. Played some Call of Duty for a while but I get bored easy. So, waiting for the servers to come back up… grab a few beers, started watching some Naratu on my TV.
I was reading some of your old Conan articles when I saw the link to Keen’s blog. I started reading through some of his latest stuff. Then I got to that article. I remember laughing because I thought the dude was pathetic. Then I kind of realized… I’m the same way. Look at me, I’m pissed off because AoC servers aren’t up. Why? I’m already working on my 3rd level 80 and the game’s not even out a month hardly. It’s like I need to go level up every character and spend all my time in the game or I don’t feel right. I want the security of my nice green guild chat and I like it when people ask questions about game mechanics or where item X is - because I can answer them.
So I read this article and it hit me. I’m just as bad as this guy. Servers aren’t up, I’m pissed. No Age of Conan, I’ll go back to WoW - all 7 level 70’s I have there. And if I didnt have WoW I’d probably lose it man. I don’t even know what the hell I would do. Like you said, digital prisons. I pay these companies money so I can just spend all day and night playing in their little worlds. What does it mean at the end of the day? Jack shit is the answer.
I threw my new rig out the damn window. Bug screen only, no glass (thankfully cause I live on base). MP’s came about an hour later cause one of the neighbors called and said they think someone tried to break in at my house or something. I had most of the stuff off the yard by then but my PC was still sitting looking all sad by the driveway.
Just wanted to let you know… dont mix beer + depressing shit like that! Warning! :)
Havent plugged my PC or my old one in for the last couple days… feels kind of nice. Been rewatching some movies I havent seen in ages and maybe going out with some coworkers or something. So dont worry about me!”
 

Behold, the power of the internets. We can rebuild you, we have the technology. Oh, and we can make you throw your computer out the damn window.

So, anyone else have some stories of article rage? MMO rage? Do tell….

The Age of the Extended Beta

Posted by Daedren Friday June 13 2008 at 11:19AM
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Let's shed the formalities to get started here: Age of Conan, in all it's glory, is an unfinished and unpolished product. This doesn't mean it still can't be fun (and it can be quite fun) - and it also doesn't mean that we should, as consumers, silently ignore these blatant mistakes that Funcom has made by releasing their unfinished product in what could be considered a "pay to play" extended beta test.

It's not my goal to alienate people immediately to think I'm going to go on some tirade about how Conan a complete pile of dung and we should all curse Funcom for a thousand generations or anything. What I aim for is a constructive look on how the state of the game was at release and now, a couple weeks after "launch". I know there are a lot of people that are still on the fence whether to leave their current MMO for Age of Conan. Investment into a MMO can be a consuming thing, both financially and time-wise.

Edit: This has been a sort of "living" document as much has changed in the past week since I've started this. This should be noted that Funcom is actively working on things, which should be encouraging for any player that's a bit concerned on the long term status of the game.

Anyway, on to Daedren's look at "the state of Conan". No, it's not California.

Client Stability / Performance:

I'll start by saying that Funcom did a great job scaring the hell out of Open / Close Beta testers by releasing a client that was far more stable and playable than these beta clients. In retrospect, this was mainly due to the debugging feature and the game devs "playing around" with testing stuff toward the end of the beta. The release client, for a lot of people, has been pretty stable.

Now the bad stuff: the Technical Support forum (at least on the EU forums) has more topics and posts than any other forum. Even taking a sample from my guild (40 or so people) - there are still a lot of instability issues that people are having. There seems to be a lot of problems with the Conan engine and performance in certain zones. On average, in a typical evening of playing (4-6 hours) you can expect maybe 1-2 (at most) client crashes, depending on the zone and server load.

Client disconnects are far more frequent. There seems to be a current bug where if the instance you are in gets too low on players, it automatically "shuts down" and boots you from the server. When you log in, you're in another instance. Piss poor way to handle that, but this doesn't happen all that often. The good (or bad) thing about this is that your teammates / friends in the same instance get DC'd also, which makes for a nice social building experience as you feel you've coordinated something so great and unique that you cause the server to boot you all.

Performance is so-so. The biggest issue for most people has been the actual zones causing problems. For the first week, the 40+ zones Field of Dead and Tarantia Noble's District were causing serious performance issues. People that got 30-50fps everywhere else were getting 1-5 fps on average in these zones. This made leveling (and PVPing) absolute hell. Fortunately, they've fixed most of these issues in the first week. The biggest performance issue people seem to be having now is in large scale PVE / PVP battles where a lot of AOE is used. People with juggernaut gaming PC's even with everything on low settings (and they can normally run high) are reporting 1-5 fps for 10-15 seconds if certain classes / AOE spells are used by multiple people. Let's hope this gets worked out by the time sieging and border lands PVP is up and running.

A last note about the client: DirectX 10 - one of the main "selling points" of the game - is still not implemented. Oopsie.

Content

This is by far the hottest and most severe topic for most people. Age of Conan is a wonderful - almost completely polished game - up until about level 35. While this is arguable (as you're forced to hop around and do a lot of grey / green quests in the 20's/30's), for the most part the early game is quite complete and enjoyable. At level 35 you get to experience your first "instance" - I'll cover all of these below - and it starts to become obvious that the game is lacking a little polish.

At level 50-60, it becomes clear for most people that questing is no longer a viable option for advancement. While the subject is debatable, it's estimated that a player will need to grind (as in - kill stuff over and over again, ad nauseum) for about 5-10 levels between level 50 and 70. I can confirm this to a degree - I'm always duoing or trioing with my friends when I play, and we ran out of quests at about level 55/56 (and this is even with a lot of AOE grinding while doing quests) and had to bite the bullet and grind our way to 60. Things didn't get much better 60+, as we quickly ran out of quests in Thunder River and Aztel's approach. Kenshatta (the level 70+ zone) has about 3-4 levels of quests, so you can expect to grind about half of that, either by instancing or boring ol' mob grinding.

(note: a few more Main System / Catacombs runs would have helped a lot with experience. If you're able to do these, you might be able to do very little grinding on your way to 60+.)

So, high level leveling content is a bit sparse. The good thing is this is easily fixable with the addition of another content zone or two from level 50-80. The bad thing is that if you're currently at this level, you're stuck with either grinding or running instances (which may or may not work, depending on your server - see below instance "Cisterns and Main System"). In the end it really depends on the player. If you're mainly a solo player that doesn't want or have time to find groups for instances, you'll probably be grinding a few levels out in the 50's.

Travel System

Traveling in the lands of Hyborea quickly is done by suiciding across zones to appear at other resurrection points. Is this intended? Who knows. People accept it as a necessary evil to solve a logistical issue in it's current state. Actually running (or riding) from, say, Field of Dead to Old Tarantia would take about 15 minutes. It'll take less than 5 if you can kill yourself quickly. Realistic? No. Practical? Yep.

Edit: Mount speed has been changed recently. It's still faster to suicide across a zone - the only problem is finding a cliff to jump off of. It's sometimes faster to just ride now rather than search for your demise like some death loving maniac.

Instances

(This is not a complete review of all instances in the game - only the ones I've tried)

The Sanctum of Burning Souls

This is the first proper instance I got to try out, and I must say it's good fun. It's the first time you'll see bosses drop "blue loot". The bosses are fairly straightforward. The instance, overall, is not challenging, but it's an excellent way to advance from 35-42 if you can run it a few times.

This instance isn't without bugs, however. The boss loot tables are pitifully small - 2 bosses drop the same blue item every time, while the other 2 drop from a table of 2-3 items. Also, the second to last boss (Princess) is bugged. You attack her, she doesn't move, and drops nothing. Overall, probably the best and most complete instance in the game that I've done. Yikes!

Edit: Princess has been fixed in last patch and loot tables have been increased a bit.

Tordelbach's Tomb

This is a level 50+ instance in the Field of Dead. Instance is small, and has two bosses that drops loot.

The fights in this place scale ridiculously. The trash getting up to the boss is sleepingly easy - level 50ish elite mobs that hit like a noodle. Just as you're yawning, you get to a mini-boss, which turns out to be a somewhat challenging fight. Now that you're awake, on to the last boss, just a stone's throw away.

The last boss fight will last about 10 seconds. In these 10 seconds, you need to kill the boss or she'll start doing this insane AOE thing that kills everyone nearly instantly. So, hope you brought some level 60+ DPSers or an entirely ranged group. As she's doing this AOE attack, waves of elite minions start coming in and healing her.

The biggest problem with this encounter isn't the difficulty, it's the bugs associated with it. I ran Tombs 3/4 times - and every time we didn't kill her the first try, she bugged out. This meant anything from running to the instance start and killing everyone as they respawned or just turning yellow / unattackable and starting to dance as we flail away on her with no effect.

Edit: Last boss becoming unattackable has been fixed last patch.

Cisterns / Main System

The Cisterns and Main System are different instances as they are not "proper" instances - there are other groups and people with you, like in Dark Age of Camelot's "Darkness Falls". While on paper this seems like a good idea - and actually can make for some interesting PVP scenarios - in the end, it fails to be a rewarding experience if you're forced to sit and wait for boss spawns for hours on end. (I really feel for people on PVE servers - must be a nightmare!)

The Cistern is small and relatively easy to do because it's so short. Chances are you can get a crap PUG and do the 3 / 4 quests there in under an hour if everyone is at least mildly not horrible. Stuff here is level 50 elites and gives ok experience that might get you a level or two.

Main System is where the real fun happens. Boss spawns respawn anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half, meaning if you don't get killed by another group you'll probably end up just waiting around a lot. The experience is ok if you can kill things quickly with a good group. As the bosses are shared and often on long respawn times, the bottom line is that you'll probably get a lot of time to work on some dance combos or emotes or something. Groups don't usually want to go trash clearing as they're afraid to miss a boss respawn.

Bugs in the Main System aren't horribly bad. It can happen where bosses follow people back to the instance start, making for a royal bloodbath. Loot tables seem to be small but at least moderate, and the rewards are good.

Best case scenario: if you can get a good group on an empty server (or non peak playtime) you can make some serious experience and loot to offset the grind in the 50's.

The Pyramids of the Ancients

This is by far the buggiest zone / instance / thing in the game. It's meant to be a mid 30's instance. Instead, it's a virtual hole of bugtastic fun that can make for some interesting and disturbing game experiences. The zone has a lot of potential, as you get to do things like unchain a captive naked hotty and collect the dismembered body parts of someone for a purpose you probably don't want to know.

In this instance you'll find you can magically walk through locked doors. You'll also get a quest where you learn you've just killed the mobs that would have dropped the quest item. Redo the instance and you'll find the quest is broken anyway. The last boss goes into an infinite dying animation and drops no loot. The main quest for the instance "Enter the Pyramid" doesn't work. According to it, you've not yet entered the Pyramid, even being on the top floor of said location.

End Game Instancing

Disclaimer: As I'm just about to hit 80, I have to report on these all from second hand knowledge.

Basically, the general feeling is this: there are no properly working end game instances other than Frost Swamp, Ravine, and Oasis instances. These three zones are a bit special as they are actually level 40-80 and adjust accordingly to your level. The instances are extremely simple, loot is pretty good, and general difficulty is easy.

Other instances and end game raid dungeons, from what I've heard, are almost completely unplayable. Anything from bosses and mobs resetting mid fight for no reason or guys that teleport through walls, all the end game stuff seems to be at least mildly bugged. End game boss raids are either impossible to do or easily exploitable, with some not even dropping loot.

I won't expand on this too much as it's all second hand. End game Conan, as it stands right now, seems to be a work in progress.

Summary

All in all, instancing in Age of Conan - in my experience - is very buggy. I could understand having a few bugs (like Sanctum) in your instances - but to release the game with entire zones broken (like Pyramids) or putting bosses on long as hell respawn times (in Main System) is a bit on the shady side. This sort of stuff is why you beta test. Lock the zones out that are buggy as hell (Pyramid) and make these instances at least work on a functional level. Annoying bugs are one thing, but bosses that bug out requiring you to rerun an instance is just plain unacceptable. All in all, instancing for the most part has seemed a waste of time (with the exception of Sanctum) - making for an unsatisfying experience that leaves a lot to be desired.

Crafting

Crafting is one of the key aspects to an MMO for many players. If you're looking for a rewarding and engaging crafting system, look no further than... well, not Age of Conan. The current state of crafting can be summarized as "completely borked". Bugs abound in the crafting system: anything from quests you can't delete (filling your precious quest log) to materials that are impossible to obtain - oh, and great stuff like your crafting skills resetting when you respec - crafting, in it's current state, is an incredible timesink with little to no benefit other than constructing guild cities.

Sadly, crafting seems to be the only worthwhile thing to do at the moment at level 80 because it's needed to build your guild city / village. It's not so much resources that are needed rather than just straight cash. Upgrading to a Tier 2 city seems to cost upwards of 100g at the moment (with materials) which is obtainable by a small to medium sized guild after a few weeks usually. Unfortunately the buggy crafting system really roadblocks a lot of progress here, and rumor is you can't progress past a Tier 2 city at the moment. Tier 3 cities are supposed to be required for owning or building a Border Keep, so we can safely file this into the area of "not completed" yet.

When will it be fixed / completed? I'm not sure. Doesn't seem to be a priority on Funcom's list at the moment.

Class Balancing - PVE

Another smoking hot issue is class balancing for leveling. Sadly, many classes in their current state are very underpowered - almost to a point of unbelievability. At the end of this scale are the two proper "Mage" classes - the Necromancer and Demonologist (covered a bit here also). Their main problems right now include spells that don't scale properly (doing the same damage at level 50 and 80), completely broken feats and abilities, and the inability to maintain damage or level in an efficient matter. There are mixed reviews of both these classes, but the general consensus is: Demonologists are doing less damage in PVE than a Priest class (TOS) and Necro's only really "shine" after level 65 when they get some AOE pets. The Conan dev team has announced more changes will come "soon" - so let's hope soon is actually soon rather than later.

Scaling down, AOE and Healer classes (with Bear Shaman being the worst PVEer of the Priests) have a huge advantage progressing in the game. Classes like the Tempest of Set and Priest of Mitra can effectively AOE / Solo 5-6 higher level mobs with little downtime, while other classes like Assassins can barely take 2 even levels on - with moderate downtime. Soldier classes can also AOE kill very well, albeit slower than some of the AOE powerhouses like ToS and a high level Necro / POM. Most melee classes kill considerably slower than their spellcasting counterparts, though most is "manageable" with the exception of the Assassin class at the moment.

Why is this important? Well, because of lack of high level content to keep you busy and questing for exp, you're left with either grouping or trying to grind quite a few levels out. Some classes are just far better at it than others. Keep this in mind if you're like me and can't handle much repetitive grinding.

PVP Class Balance

As Age of Conan is (or was supposed to be) a PVP oriented game (make no mistake about that) - so PVP Class balancing is, of course, always an issue. Not many people are level 80 yet, so while it's true that high-end PVP is still a bit of a mystery (for reasons explained below), there are some concerns about PVP in the current state of the game.

One of the biggest concerns in the current state of the game is the ability for many classes to "one shot" kill people. For example: a Barbarian or Herald of Xolti utilizing all of his knockdown / cooldown abilities will kill a Necromancer, Demonologist, Assassin and probably a Bear Shaman / Tempest of Set / Priest of Mitra almost every single time. This varies with mileage, of course - the Healers have a much better chance of surviving because they might have heals ticking on them or some abilities to mitigate some of the incoming damage.

What's this mean? Well, if it's still there in the end game, that's piss poor game design. No one wants to run around in PVP and be victim to the "3 minute mage" every single time. As it is currently, 2-3 classes can effectively take out all the squishy classes with little or no effort. It's similar to being stunlocked from 100% - 0% in WoW - not much fun. People want to at least be able to fight back, do something - anything - in PVP. Playing target dummy to those that won the "instant kill" class lottery is just plain silly.

Another thing in PVP that seems a bit wonky is Healers. Healers, in their current state, do more damage than their mage counterparts. Tempest of Set's are especially dangerous as they've been reported to do more damage in battle than a Demonologist or Necromancer. Oh, and they can heal too. Any of the three Healers can, with one heal on themselves, completely negate any damage from many of the pure "DPS" classes which makes "1 Shot Killing" or zerging a target the only effective way to bring it down. I agree this is a bit hard to balance out - if a Healer can't even keep himself up, how can he keep his teamates up? However, I think that as of right now no healers have *any* mana issues whatsoever, it should probably be looked at.

Anyway, the game isn't about 1vs1 PVP. Or at least it's not supposed to be. Group PVP pretty much boils down to this: take out their healers or you're going to lose. So, as a Healer class, you'll find yourself constantly targeted by duel or trio stealth / HoX combos. As you'll be knocked down / out of the fight for a good 5-10 seconds, the only way to survive this is have someone with counter knock-downs watching your back. This brings a good tactical element to team PVP, though sometimes people just die too darn quick (a HoX + Barb combo on a healer can take them out in literally 2-3 seconds) for any strategy to be involved.

PVP System

For those that haven't heard, the PVP experience system did not make the release launch. What's that mean? It means that PVP battles in it's current state mean absolutely nothing. There is currently no PVP reward system in place. Death means nothing: it works like in an FPS - you respawn at a spawnpoint and go about your business as if nothing had happened. For many people this isn't very fun or interactive. The whole system just seems lazy.

End game PVP is supposed to be about border land wars, keep sieging and PVP minigames. Currently Border Land keeps are unobtainable due to Crafting limitations. My biggest concerns about massive PVP battles is client stability and performance. I've been in some 20 person (total) fights and it's been laggy as hell. 48vs48? Ouch. Let's hope they work everything out in the next few weeks.

Instancing - as in, same zone, multiple copies/instances of this zone, is one of the biggest obstacles in World PVP. Word isn't out if the Border Lands will be instanced - let's hope to Crom not - but as of now, this makes world PVP extremely hard and non-dynamic. People can swap instances and avoid people. Interaction becomes an option. All in all, while I understand the technical reasons for having this, it leaves for a less than satisfying world PVP experience in it's current state.

Continuing - the sad fact is that Age of Conan launched without a working PVP system. For a game that is a "PVP oriented game" -- this is just plain piss poor business. If the PVE content was finished it might sting a little less, but the evidence remains that the PVE game is just as (if not more) incomplete than the PVP system. All in all, we're left with a constant reminder that Age of Conan is just not quite finished.

So, we're left with no meaningful PVP system, end game PVP sieging and border lands not working, and questionable PVP class balance. The positives, at least, are that you have plenty of time to learn the combat system and your class in PVP before it really "counts". I can't think of any other positives (other than PVP being possibly fun) of the AoC PVP system as it's just not implemented yet.

Conclusion

Age of Conan has it's strengths: a new combat system, nice visuals and sound, and the promise of a dynamic PVP system that has attracted a lot of players to the game. Funcom has invested a lot of time and money into this game, so it's a very good bet to think that these problems will get sorted out - eventually.

Underneath this shiny little cover, though, Age of Conan is almost embarrassingly incomplete. It really needed another 2-3 months of good beta testing to work out. Of course this is an arguable topic, and people will say "it's complete enough!" or "it's fun" which I can give a half-hearted "meh" to in response. The game is not complete, even by MMO standards, and has most certainly lost a good deal of initial customers by releasing the game too early.

I want to bash this horse a little more - apologies in advance - but Funcom screwed the pooch on releasing this game too early. The company buckled to either PR or marketing idiots and didn't bite the bullet to finish their game. The weirdest thing of all to me is that new MMO's use World of Warcraft as their "model" or at least try to copy a lot of the working things from this game. Now - I'm a Blizzard hater as much as the next guy - and I wouldn't mind WoW losing lots of customers - but I have to give Blizzard a lot of credit for not releasing stuff that isn't finished. They aren't afraid to delay something to polish it. Of course, WoW wasn't perfect on release - and I know these arguments will come - but WoW was much, much more polished than Age of Conan at release. The WoW PVP system was broken / nearly non-existant, but WoW was never a PVP oriented game. It was a PVE game with PVP slapped on later as an added bonus as most will agree on.

Now, for the real conclusion!

Age of Conan is kind of fun. I like the new combat system. Never will I be able to auto attack again. Fatalities make it even more sweet.The graphics in the game are also wonderful. The voice over dialog and quest scripting is great, especially at lower levels.

The game has just been released, so it's not expected to be 100% complete and polished. However, main elements are just missing or broken. Yes, they'll be added sooner or later. Classes will be balanced better than they are now for both PVE and PVP. Instances will be fixed and both high end content and leveling content will be fixed / added.

Until then, though - make no mistake. You're playing and paying for Age of Conan: The Extended Beta. For those of you seeking a complete MMO with little to no hassle - I just can't recommend this game to you. If you're like some of us, though, and just need a new MMO to play and don't mind waiting a while for some of the promised features, jump right in with the rest of us.

 

Original article is located at: http://www.r1ft.com/age-of-conan/the-age-of-the-extended-beta/

Gandalf Tanked a Balrog

Posted by Daedren Thursday June 5 2008 at 11:21AM
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While in the recent months I've expressed my dissatisfaction with the possibility of yet another Medieval/Fantasy sort of MMO, I'm also a believer if you do something, you should do it right. Today's discussion is about archetypes - more specifically, the Mage archetype - how Funcom and Age of Conan implemented it, and what they could have done better.

Of course any opening paragraph such as that carries a bit of weight with it. Here I am, Joe Gamer, playing armchair referee and spouting that my ideas are better than a team of game developers. It's not my intention to portray this sort of arrogance. I'd like to think of a set of ideas - which is really all this is - as more of a constructive criticism to a just released game than a direct attack on their core game design.

Age of Conan was released about 2 weeks ago, and as most new MMO's, it has its fair share of problems. This isn't the place to discuss those, as I've already given a general overview of the 12 AoC Classes and done something on the Age of Conan Extended Beta. No, this will be specifically targeted at the Mage Archetype, and more specifically the Necromancer and Demonologist classes.

The Problem

Age of Conan follows a very traditional archetype structure with their Mage classes. On paper, all are "high damage, low survivability" classes. I've left the Herald of Xotli out of this discussion because it's not a typical Mage archetype, which I consider a good thing. I think many will agree with me when I say the Herald of Xotli class is designed fairly well and provides for a "fresh" feel to a Mage archetype. Arguably, it can be considered the "most working" Mage class at the moment in both PVP and PVE.

The Demonologist and Necromancer follow the typical Mage archetype stereotypes by being ranged magical users with little or no defense and a very small hit point pool. We refer to these types of characters as "glass cannons" because they are designed to usually output a huge (and dangerous) amount of magic damage but be short lived themselves if under fire. This method has been used in nearly every MMO, from Everquest to World of Warcraft.

So, what's the problem? Well, aside from these two classes being mostly broken at the moment (as admitted in a recent developer announcement that changes will be coming soon) - these classes lack any real creativity or ingenuity in their design. By this I don't mean being forced into using the same 1-3 abilities every fight (though that's pretty much the case now) - I mean that they're forced into this Mage archetype with almost no thoughts of creating a different or dynamic gameplay experience for the player.

The real problem lies with the glass cannon mentality in itself. This old and tired standard of low hp / low armor / high damage classes is nearly as bad as the leveling system itself in an MMO design. I, as both a MMO player and MMO designer, have never understood why this stereotype is embraced time and time again. It's an overly simple system that leads to a "Rock, Paper, Scissors" system in both PVP and PVE encounters.

Gandalf Tanked a Balrog

I use Gandalf for this example because he's (arguably) what the entire Mage archetype is based off. Of course, other characters such as Elminister and Raistlin helped popularize this (among countless others); I suppose nearly all modern Fantasy MMO's are just a rehash or Dungeons & Dragons at least in some shape or form, but that's another topic of debate.

The dramatization of the Gandalf vs. Balrog fight in the LOTR movies is a perfect example of how a mage Archetype *should* be. Now, before we start talking about how the Balrog was probably level 25 or so while Boromir was probably only level 15 or so while Gandalf was 25 or 30, let's assume for all purposes that D&D levels and stuff don't apply here. While it's clear that Gandalf is the "most powerful" in the group, if you applied modern MMO mechanics to this Gandalf vs Balrog fight, Gandalf would have ran up to the bridge and got one-hit killed by the Balrog with a huge sword.

That didn't happen. Gandalf used a nice glowy shield from his staff to completely deflect all of the Balrog's damage. In this case, Gandalf "tanked" the Balrog because he negated all of the damage the Balrog tried to do to him. Most people know the rest of the story, but that's not relevant to this discussion.

There we have it. The atypical Mage archetype displayed a hybrid-like nature in fulfilling the role of a "tank" in an encounter with an enemy. A soldier with a shield might have been able to deflect the huge firey sword and not get sliced in half. A mage did it here by means of magic. This mechanic of "tanking" can be imagined in countless different ways; from causing the enemy to drop their weapon, repelling an enemy, causing mental anguish, controlling them via voice or telepathic means - the possibilities of Mages fulfilling a different role other than "high damage, dies quick" role is always overlooked in core game and class design.

It's this simple mentality that I believe should be embraced by the Fantasy MMO genre. Why are only Soldiers able to "tank"? It makes no sense at all. While I agree that a Knight in armor with a shield should be great at avoiding harm to himself, magic users should have just as many means to avoid damage (if not more - they're using magic!) - at a level at least equal to their Soldier counterparts.

Another slight caveat to this problem is Mage Archetypes not engaging in melee combat. While we can all agree this was solved in the case of the Herald of Xotli, we're left with two Mage classes that don't even utilize the fun new directional combat system AoC has implemented. While I agree that an absolute focus on melee would be redundant, it's realistic to think that Demo's and Necro's would be able to do some sort of magically enhanced melee (or even touch attack) combos. This also opens the possibility of aiming ranged spell attacks to make a more interactive combat style. Couple these sort of melee attacks with the abilities that allow the mage to survive more than 5 seconds in melee range, and we're seeing the start of a fresh new class archetype that throws the old out and embraces dynamic gameplay.

Yet, here we are, 2008, and the first "third generation" MMO is here - Age of Conan. For a game that has really tried to revitalize the MMO Fantasy genre by "shaking things up" (Dynamic combat system, Healers that nuke/damage well, AOE focused melee characters, even a melee Mage with a huge sword ripping hearts out) -- we're left completely underwhelmed by the core design of the two Mage archetype classes Necromancer and Demonologist.

Conclusion

It's probably too late to redesign the core mechanics of these classes. The upcoming fix will only solidify these two classes into their "glass cannon" roles. I doubt we'll see Demonologists hefting up their staff and repelling hordes of enemies or sadomasochistic Necromancers embracing pain to fulfill a "tank role" in Age of Conan. No, the time for that was a year or so ago when these classes were in the core design phase.

This doesn't mean that Funcom hasn't at least made an entertaining game, albeit more focused on melee combat. It also doesn't mean people can't have fun playing these mage / caster classes - of course they can, just as they have fun playing glass cannons in prior games. What I think most players won't find is a truly unique gameplay experience with these classes in terms of game mechanics.

So, what does everyone think? Do you prefer the tired and tested system of typical mage roles or do you think hybridizing them would be a good thing?

Conan: May Class Review

Posted by Daedren Tuesday June 3 2008 at 11:06AM
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I've had a few friends wanting to try out the game recently and asking me what to play. As a leader of a guild it's my job to at least pretend to know something about all the classes. Here is my insight on how I think the current state of the 12 AoC classes are as of the beginning of June, 2008. Please take these with a grain of salt as I'm just trying to give a rough overview and not a detailed look into each class.

Soldier

Guardian

PVE: A great tank. Highest Hit Points and armor makes them the ideal choice for any PVE group. They, along with the Dark Templar, are the only really viable "Tanks" in the game. Can solo pretty well with not much downtime.

PVP: A beast against any melee class and strong against casters as well. Currently, they actually do more damage specced sword / shield, so those wanting a 2 hand polearm build are going to have to wait until it's fixed. They can do some incredible burst damage and take forever to kill.

Conquerer

PVE: Wonderful to have in the group, if for no other reason than their in combat res. They can't tank as well as a DT / Guardian, but they still have high HP / Mitigation and taunt skills so they make a good offtank. It's better to have one of them tanking than a squishy. Can solo ok - nothing great - with little downtime.

PVP: A great support class to have in a group mainly for their auras and combat res. Their damage and survivability isn't bad, but nothing spectacular. Using two handers, they do more burst than Dark Templars (and sometimes Guardians). They also have a lot of knockdowns so are good to protect the casters. Not a great solo PVP class.

Dark Templar

PVE: Lowest Hit Points out of the 3 Soldiers, but can still tank very well. Needs to micromanage a lot of skills to tank properly and use life drains. Best at tanking groups of stuff but still good with single target tanking. Can solo with virtually no downtime and handle huge groups of mobs at a time.

PVP: Low burst damage, high survivability. Most melee classes you'll just laugh off. You'll have a tough time killing Healers and an easier time killing Mages and Rogues. Good in groups as you bring quite a few group drains and abilities.

Rogues

Assassin

PVE: By far the worst Rogue class for solo PVE. Does extremely high damage but can take very little punishment, making this an ideal grouping class. Have a few lifesaving abilities on cooldowns, but very little mitigation and hit points. Almost impossible to kill groups of mobs unless they are way lower than you. Can duo fairly well with a class that can survive.

PVP: Does the least amount of sheer burst damage of the Rogue classes which is strange. Can sometimes take out single targets (depending on armor / hit points) but more often than not ends up short. Nearly impossible to take out healers with as they can outheal your damage if you don't kill them with your first (and only) knockdown / CC. A good group PVP class that is nearly unstoppable with another rogue class taking the same target.

Barbarian

PVE: High damage, high hit points, low armor. You do a ton of damage and have some nifty knockdowns to go with it. Not a great solo class, but your AOE abilities and high hit points allows you to take out groups of mobs quickly or down single targets fast. Along with the Assassin, a great melee DPS to have in a group. Great class to duo with a healer or soldier.

PVP: You can take almost any non-Soldier class out before they can do anything. Using all of your knockdowns and CC, you can do enormous amounts of damage before anyone can react. After these are gone you're extremely vulnerable. Very hard to play against Soldier classes as they will survive this initial attack.

Ranger

PVE: Great at single / double target PVE soloing. Has trouble with groups of mobs. Good in a group as you provide steady ranged damage. No group buffs to bring to the party.

PVP: You can do high amounts of damage in a very short period. 20yard range makes you a hybrid ranged / melee character. You can perform well against squishy targets but have trouble against the Soldier archetypes.

Mage

Herald of Xolti

PVE: Extremely squishy - low hit points - low armor. You kick out a lot of damage. A bit tough to solo with as your survivability is low but you do good AOE damage. Good in groups or duoing with another class.

PVP: Your Fire Lance + root / mez will be able to take some people out in one hit. Survivability is your main concern. Can be a frustrating class to play in solo PVP but does well in group PVP. Gets a charge like ability + some self mitigation spells that are a bit hard to keep up all the time.

Necromancer

PVE: Broken class past level 50. Does piss for damage. Spells and abilities are broken and don't scale well if at all. Pets are a nightmare to manage. Class review hopefully coming soon.

PVP: Pretty much a free kill for everyone. Low hit points, low damage, low armor / survivability. Your nukes can't even scratch a healer with a single hot on them. Life isn't good.

Demonologist

PVE: Gets progressively harder to level with past level 30. Spells scale poorly and some abilities / talents are not working. AOE damage is ok but has been nerfed recently. Currently bugged in groups and usually pulls huge amounts of aggro for no apparent reason.

PVP: Another free kill class. No survivability, low damage and hit points. Can get lucky and kill some melee classes from ranged. Class review also coming soon.

Healers

Bear Shaman

PVE: Does fairly good solo with absolutely no downtime. Moderate AOE abilities but very low hit points. Needs lots of micromanagement to be played properly. Wonderful group class with an emphasis on melee support. No group buffs but has the most Heal over Time spells of any healer. (short range on most of them)

PVP: Suffers from low hit points but can last virtually forever if you don't kill one in the first 10 seconds. Has a knockdown plus short duration stun + 2 snare abilities. Heals are centered around caster, needs to be in melee to heal effectively. Gets a lot of self buffs and a few party abilities like remove root. Can spec to get charge like a Soldier. Not a bad solo PVP class but best in groups.

Tempest of Set

PVE: A juggernaut of AOE killing. Can take groups of 8+ even level with virtually no downtime. Great solo class + in groups. Brings hit point buff + electrical damage to the group along with good healing ability.

PVP: Good survivability and good damage. A very good solo PVP class and also great in groups. Can be devastating if left alone in a battle. Usually a priority target in PVP (along with the other healers). Gets a root, snare + a knockdown at high levels.

Priest of Mitra

PVE: Highly sought after in PVE groups. Regarded as the best healer. Also extremely effective in PVE aoeing. Not as good as the ToS, but can still do good solo. Has a group HP buff along with lots of other goodies.

PVP: A beast of a class in PVP. Has almost countless CC abilities, good survivability. Damage isn't great but can still be enough to kill any other class that can't heal. Damage is mainly PBAOE focused with the ability to do moderate direct damage.

 

--- So, think I got something wrong? Feel free to add your corrections! Always looking to gain more insight on the classes.