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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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/