Well I didn't get to play as much as I would have liked throughout the beta, and I only leveled 2 characters to 13 but I'll share my thoughts anyway.
Melee Combat System:
This is the biggest innovation this game makes to MMORPG's. Long gone are the days of sitting there auto attacking while you push mash ability buttons. While there was nothing wrong with the previous versions in past MMO's, this is definitely the next step forward.
Pro's of Combat:The pro's of this system are what make the combat enjoyable. You have to put thought into your attacks to get the most damage from your skills and your items. I feel though that the blocking system doesn't make that big of a difference in PvP. While in PvE you can see your enemies shields and they move them according to where your attacking, PvP is too fast paced right now to make any intelligent adjustments to your own shields unless you are only fighting 1v1, and even so you would have to be absorbing a lot information to do so effectively. Right now I can't see moving your own personal shields making a positive impact. I feel default protection on all sides will be the norm. Active blocking seems to work okay, but you have to anticipate way before the hit because of the lag time between the swing, and when
you actually pull up your shield. It worked very well on my Tempest of Set while I waited for my Heal over Time to tick up my health. I just held down active blocking. I foresee healers using this until a
tank can come pull aggro away.
Con's of Combat:
Gone are the days of you sitting there AFK while you whack on a boss. That's not a problem for me, and probably won't be a problem for some people, but for those of you out there *cough* WoW hunters *cough* that like to go AFK while you fight a boss or a mob with a lot of health, you will be disappointed. Other problems I ran into were animations being messed up while running forward. They just don't look natural at all. It is also very hard to pull off combo's on moving players in PvP. I found that I had to stop moving entirely, hit the combo button, continue running and try to get off the moves all while following the person. Since your weapon actually has to make physical contact with the player character or at least get pretty close, it may be hard to get off these combos.
First off let me start by listing the specs for my computer that ran this game.
Intel Quad Core Q6600 @ 3.4GHZ
2GB DDR2 Ram
eVGA 8800GT 512MB (G92)
Windows XP Pro 32bit
2x 320GB Seagate Barracuda's 7200.10's
First off, the graphics in this game can be very nice, but outside of Tortage I experienced very bad texture popping, low resolution textures that looked worse than EverQuest 1 and very finicky lighting that caused nearby buildings to change brightness randomly on and off as if I were hovering my mouse over them to select them like doors/chests in World of Warcraft. The first day I played I experienced horrible loading times, horrible stuttering/stalling, and very low FPS all on High Settings. Now while I don't expect the best performance, I did spend a good amount of money on my PC back 6 months ago and I can play any game out there (except Crysis) on the highest settings and easily get 60-100+ FPS. I later found out that enabling Shader 3.0 and having Bloom on would cause a bunch of these problems, so I dropped down to Shader 2.0, turned off bloom and the general problems went away. I continued to have long loading times once I initially entered the game from the character select screen, but between towns and dungeons it wasn't that bad. There was one specific dungeon that took over 5 minutes to load and once I did load in I couldn't move around without the game stalling while loading textures and stuttering while turning around corners.As the beta went on I found performance generally increasing in Tortage, but once the Open Beta PvP event started I found performance dipping down into the low 30's upper 20's FPS even on medium settings with shadows turned to characters only. This problem isn't that wide spread as someone with the exact same spec experienced a bit higher FPS and even people with lower end computers had better performance. The problem isn't just mine as I have seen people with computers that cost $1000's of dollars more than mine have the same performance issues. I hope this is resolved in the retail client.
Character customization seems pretty standard with a decent range of options. I would like to see more faces for each race, and more skin tones. Anyway here goes.First pick your gender, then your race, then finally your class. Then you take a pick from standard faces, some tattoos, your skin and eye color, and your hair. Some people would settle for that and call it a day and get ready to start, but if you're looking to further your customization you can click on the "Advanced " tabs to get a little more creative. From there though you can customize your characters body build. Theres a triangle from which you can move a slider around for proportions. At the top of the triangle is skinny, to the right is muscular, to the left is heavy. You can move the slider around in between all those to make any combo of stature you like. Also there is a height slider. From there you can even go more advanced and mess with your characters nose, eyebrows, and all sorts of neat little things that may or may not matter to you.
Class selection is pretty good as well. Each race only has so many classes it can be, and it seems that all Mage based classes are restricted to Stygians. There are 4 Archetypes. Soldier; which is your tank classes, Priest; which are your healers, Rogue; which are your melee and ranged DPS and Mage; which are your pure caster classes. Each Archetype has 3 sub-classes that you can choose from.
Guardians - The more defensive and lowest DPS of the 3 Soldier archetypes.
Dark Templar - Less defensive oriented than Guardian but has offensive spells and auras. Mid DPS
Conqueror - The highest DPS but the least defensive of the three. That doesn't mean they can't tank, they just do it differently. They have auras they utilize to boost various combat stats.
Priest of Mitra: The main healer, lowest dps.
Bear Shaman: Decent group healer, Melee DPS.
Tempest of Set: Heal over Time based healer it seems, and also caster DPS.
Not sure where the priest DPS classes rank in their respective sub archetypes.
Barbarians: High AE DPS, multitude of weapons, low armor.
Assassin: High single target dps, can also hit multiple targets, mainly uses 1h weapons like swords and daggers (or just daggers). Also low armor.
Ranger: AE and Single target DPS, also ranged, they seem to be good at doing both types of damage, but not as effective as the other two becuase they're more specialized.
Necromancer: DoT based DPS class with pets. Pets range in strength and also how many you have is based on what strength pets you summon. It makes for interesting combos.
Demonologist: AE and Single target DPS class. Also has a pet but not in abundance like the Necro. It seems to cast spells also. Not sure what other abilities it possesses. Maybe group buffs?
Herald of Xotli: A Melee based mage class with low armor, high damage, and the ability to transform into a demon. While in demon form you have increased health, damage, and absorption of damage I believe. Plus you look cool.
I haven't touched on PvP at all because I feel I didn't get a good feel for it during the PvP weekend. You can also find more videos out there yourself better than I can explain. I feel the real PvP will be in the world PvP on the PvP servers and also in the Siege PvP. Overall I think the game has great potential. I feel it's success will be determined based on how well Funcom can stabilize performance and also keep a delicate balance of power between all classes. The last thing we need is everyone to be nerfed, but also we don't need crazy overpowered people running around. Balance is key and Funcom being a veteran of the MMO Genre should have a good idea what to expect out of players. The best sign of balance is when everyone is overpowered but you. I will be buying Age of Conan to see how the game progresses towards the high end portion of the game.