A great game that has some issues to work out. That’s how I would describe my experiences so far in Funcom’s Age of Conan.
When getting ready to write this review of the game’s first 20 levels, I had some trouble getting my thoughts into an order that would sound and look good on paper (or on your screen, as the case may be). On the one hand, from a personal point of view, these first twenty levels were some of the most fun that I have had playing an MMORPG title. On the other hand, I did run into a number of problems and customer support, at the time that I used it, was a bit of a mess. In the end, my fellow MMORPGers, I hope to address both the good and the not-so-good elements of the game.
I should start by saying (as I will say again in the graphics section of the review) that Age of Conan is one of the most visually appealing MMOs available. The developers placed a clear focus on having high-end graphics to bring the world of Howard’s Hyboria to life. While graphically this is a huge boon for the game, it has left players with lower end machines to either play on the lowest possible settings or, in some cases, not at all.
During my time playing the game, I didn’t experience a single major crash. That being said, I was hit pretty hard by a bug that saw my latency shoot through the roof, disconnecting me from my server. The problem, however, was solved by Funcom relatively quickly, leaving me to wander Tortage uninterrupted.
Once the company resolved the latency issue, I was left with only one technical stumbling block to overcome in the form of frames per second that didn’t really pass 30 on low settings. That being said, I didn’t notice any huge slowdowns and it was completely playable. I am told that this particular problem on my server and with my computer is rare and Funcom is looking into the issue.
The Premise / Story
The premise of the game (and therefore of the first twenty levels) is a good one. You are a slave, washed ashore after the ship that you were being transported in sinks. The over-arching story that runs throughout the first twenty levels explores the nature of your forced slavery and the evil plot behind it.
Players work their way through the game’s story in two different ways. The primary focus of the story takes place during the night time in Tortage. Night in Tortage is a personal instance that allows you to move solo through missions that will eventually bring you face-to-face with Strom, the evil dictator that has taken over the city of Tortage.
Daytime in Tortage plays more like a traditional MMO as you gather quests from NPCs
Personally, once you get past the rather clichéd opening premise of being shipwrecked on an island, the storyline was quite enjoyable. The tale that Funcom is trying to tell unfolds quite nicely and does change slightly for every different class-type giving it slightly more re-playability than one might at first imagine.
To get maximum fun out of the story in the first twenty levels, I would suggest running through Tortage night as often as you can. It is unlikely that you will be able to complete the entire twenty levels, so you should get some daytime play in, but the story really does take place at night.
While I wouldn’t normally place quests as a category in a review, the quest style in Age of Conan levels 1-20 are certainly worth noting. One thing that I will say is that between the destiny quests and the daytime quests, the starting area has no shortage of things to do (though I have read reports that there is less content after Tortage, I can‘t yet confirm or deny it personally).
What interested me most personally about the quests in Age of Conan was the way that they were presented. First, every time that you speak to a quest NPC, the camera shifts from typical MMO cam to a more cinematic position. From there, the NPC actually speaks to you. Voice-over dialogue is the norm in the 1-20 zone (though sadly it becomes more and more rare as you progress beyond Tortage, so don’t get used to it) and is done to great effect. The visual guys also deserve a lot of credit in the quest presentation, giving the NPCs not only moving lips that speak the words along with the actor, but with actual body language that gives you a better idea of the NPC’s personality. It’s not really a gameplay feature, so it won’t effect your game mechanics, but I thought that it was a nice touch that deserved a huge thumbs-up.
I should also point out in this section that I had run-ins with more than one broken quest. In one case, a patch accidentally moved me from inside of a quest instance to the outside. I couldn’t re-enter the instance and, because it was a destiny quest, I couldn’t move on without it. In the other case, I was told to retrieve a medallion. When I finally reached the treasure room there it sat, taunting me with that blue particle effect that indicates a quest item. Meanwhile, I’m unable to actually interact with it.
Each of these issues, I should point out, was on a different character, so of the four characters that I am currently playing, two of them had one broken quest each. Not ideal by any means, but not catastrophic either. The issues were eventually resolved with Customer Service (more on this in the CS section).
The quest dialogue itself gives players some choice in what their character says to NPCs. While this can help to contribute to the feeling that your character is unique and that their personality is under your control, the truth is that it can ring a little bit hollow. I would have liked to see, if choices were to be provided, those choices having an actual impact on the game. I’m all for flare and flavor, but it might have been nice to let my dialogue decisions have some kind of other impact. It’s a pet peeve of mine in MMOs in general. If I get lippy with an NPC, I want him to have some pride and refuse to worth with me.