The first thing that I want to say in writing about the game’s ‘M’ rating is that “mature” in this case is meant to indicate someone over the age of 18. It has nothing at all to do with the emotional and psychological maturity of anyone. I’m not sure why people thought that it would somehow indicate a more mature community, but it doesn’t.
Now that I have that off of my chest, I want to talk a little bit about the elements that come together to give AoC that ’M’ rating.
First, and most obviously, is the blood and gore factor. While I would argue that gore is a strong word for a bit of blood spattering on your screen and a few headless bodies (as well as some pretty gruesome looking set dressing corpses), it is in there and it serves a purpose. Let’s face it, the occasional fatality provides the player with that extra feeling of accomplishment (especially when it happens during a boss fight) that contributes to the “fun factor“ of the game.
Second, appears to be the nudity. While I have seen the screenshots and heard the stories, nudity really didn’t play a role in any of my 1-20 gameplay beyond the odd topless succubus that serves as the Demonologist’s pet. Sure there’s a bit of sexuality and a healthy does of sexual innuendo, but I didn’t find nudity to really play any role at all in my experience.
I think though that where this game shows its mature rating comes in the casual discussion of things like commonplace slavery and rape. These are pretty extreme concepts that are dealt with well in Age of Conan. In the end, the IP itself demanded the ‘M’ rating. While none of these elements makes or breaks the game as a mechanical entity, not having them would certainly be contrary to the world that Howard envisioned.
This is where, in my opinion, Funcom should have focused more of their pre-launch attention. When the game launched, the line for petitions on my server was over 100 people long. Logging out of the game because that was just too healthy a wait, I found upon logging in the next day that my petition had been closed due to inactivity.
From there, I emailed customer service with my problem. All I ever got back was an email that told me to file a petition.
To make a long story short, I found the customer support for Age of Conan to be lacking. While my problem was eventually solved, I had become frustrated and to be honest, this effected my enjoyment of the game, even after I got back in. Fortunately (after continuing with no further issues), I stuck with it and the feeling quickly faded.
I am not alone in my frustrations as I spent a great deal of time reading forum posts indicating that others were experiencing similar issues.
This all being said, I am told that CS has been improving and growing to meet the needs of the community. Let’s hope that it improves dramatically, but I am afraid that for some players, the damage may have already been done. While I would rate the AoC customer service at a passable level as my problems were eventually resolved (I’ve had experiences where I couldn’t resolve anything in other games), I certainly can’t give it high marks at this stage.
I’m going to take a minute to address something here that applies more to all MMOs than it does specifically to Age of Conan:
For a major MMO launch (or any MMO launch for that matter), customer support / service can be your lifeline to players. It really can make the difference between whether a player cancels (or in this case chooses not to continue paying a monthly fee after their first free month) over whatever issue they were having, or whether they decide to give the developers the benefit of the doubt and stick it out.
Good customer support leaves the player feeling as though the company cares about their issue. Even if it can’t be resolved immediately or easily (as is often the case), it is important to have an easily accessible ear to complain to so that we, as players, feel like something is being done.
If I can’t reach customer support, or if they are rude and dismissive (which wasn’t the issue at all with AoC, I should point out), you’ve probably lost my business and I suspect that I’m not the only one.
I wanted to take this section to talk about a few things that didn’t come up in the other categories.
First, I wanted to talk about the social tools for the game. While at face value, they aren’t terrible, they don’t feel top of the line either. In fact, they felt a little bit tacked on to the game. If you look at the friends list page, for example, it is incredibly bland and to be honest, it isn’t all that easy to tell at a glance who is online. It’s operable, and not so different from the friends panel in any other game, but I think that AoC, especially in the early levels where there is such a high emphasis on solo play during your destiny quest, could have used something to draw the players into the co-operative aspects that become much more important beyond Tortage.
I also really missed the presence of a follow tool (if there is one, I couldn’t find it easily). The ability to follow your group mates allows you to do things like manage your inventory or adjust your skills without slowing down the rest of your group. As it is, I felt like I was always asking my friends to wait while I tweaked with one thing or another.
Second, I want to talk about the instancing issue that has caused such a stir since the game’s launch:
The public zones in the game are divided into large instances, meaning that all players in the same area on the same server won’t necessarily be together in the same instance. This has caused quite a stir, especially amongst long-time MMO players and I can understand their point. They want the game world to be open and available to all players at the same time. They want to be able to see the other players on their server and feel as though they are in one single, complete world.
Funcom has told us that the instances are necessary to accommodate the stresses of the game’s high end graphics.
While I have to be honest and say that I didn’t really notice the instancing in my 1-20 experiences. When grouping up with a friend, we had to switch from one instance to another (the process is very easy and simple) and I didn’t find it disturbing.
I think the problem that many people are having comes from the fact that MMORPGs seem to be changing. Less emphasis now seems to be put on creating a world, populating it with players and letting the world be their oyster and more emphasis is placed on guiding players through their MMO experience. Again, this isn’t an Age of Conan problem (and it isn’t even a problem for everyone), it’s a problem that many players have with contemporary MMOs.
I don’t really have an opinion on this instancing, but I thought that it was worth mentioning for those who might mind it. To me, it’s a logical evolution of the path that MMOs in general seem to have taken (and that the overall market appears to support). That being said, it is a departure from more traditional MMOs. It’s a matter of taste.