I realize that I’m not usually the one here at MMORPG.com that writes the hardware reviews, but when these items showed up at my door, they piqued my interest. You see, I am one of those no-frills gamers. I’ve never owned a gaming-specific keyboard, but that’s what I was faced with: An Age of Conan Zboard keyboard showed up at my door (along with the standard Zboard package including a standard and gaming keyboard), I jumped at the chance to try it out.
Zboard - Basic and General Gaming Keyboard
It’s not that it’s anything new. Zboard has been around since 1999, providing specialized keyboards for the gaming public. I wanted to say a few words about the base model (what you get in the first box you buy) before going on to talk a little bit about the Age of Conan Keyboard specifically:
For those of you who might not know how Zboard works, it all starts with the body: a blank series of sensors provides the base for whichever keyboard you want to play with.
In this case, there’s the general keyboard (your standard letters and numbers deal) and the gaming keyboard.
It should be noted that the keyboard base offers a number of little bonuses, including a USB hub and easycontrols to help out with volune, video, internet and the like. Since this is universal to Zboard and not specific to a keyset, we aren't going to focus on it.
Standard Keyboard - 4 / 10
I can’t speak very highly of the standard keyboard attachment. Using it, I found that half the time, my shift key, space bar or various other keys simply wouldn’t work. I thought at first that it may have been something that I had done. Maybe I had attached it incorrectly, after all, I don’t think I’ve ever detached one keyboard from a base and added another, but after consulting the instructions (Insert into left side of keyboard, press down, unfold keyboard, clip at right side) and repeating the steps a number of times (and having different problems each time), I have to give the Zboard standard keyset a big ‘ol thumbs down. It has been collecting dust on a shelf in my apartment.
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Gaming Keyboard 8 / 10
This is where the Zboard premise really shines. The Gaming Keyboard, which has an area on the left meant specifically for gamers with a d-pad and easy access to the buttons that you need to do things like switch weapons quickly in a fight, jump over obstacles and the like.
I have no complaints about this key set, as I really did find that it improved my gaming experience considerably, making it a little bit easier and improving my reaction times in games like Battlefield 2142. I had no problems with the installation and everything went well. Throw in on top of that the fact that the software comes equipped with key mapping templates for a wide variety of games: Battlefield 2142, Call of Duty 4, EverQuest II, City of Villains, World of Warcraft, Bioshock and others (there are over 50 in total).
Having tried the kayboard with a number of games, I can confidently recommend the gaming keyboard to pretty much anyone. I feel that the usefulness of the gaming keyboard makes buying the package worthwhile, even if it does come with what was, for me, a lame duck standard keyboard.
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Age of Conan Keyset 3 / 10
Releasing game-specific keysets is nothing new for Zboard, I can’t seem to walk into my local Best buy without tripping over one. Today though, I’m only going to talk about the Age of Conan Keyset. At first glance, it has a nice look to it and even a bit of added Conan feel. To the right (taking the place of a standard keyboard’s number pad), you will find the Conan-specific keys. There are specific keys for: Say, Shout, Tell, Reply, Follow, AFK, Invite, Kick and Auto Run as well as the standard arrow keys, home, delete, and others.
The main keyboard actually functions better as a keyboard than did the standard keyset and the letters and numbers use the Age of Conan font (Which I have to admit, made the geek part of me pretty happy). Of course, the hotkey function of every key is helpfully printed on the side of the relevant keys.
Sounds good, right? Well, it would if all of the functions on the keyboard actually did what they were supposed to do. The follow key, for example, unless there’s something I’m doing wrong, doesn’t do anything. I don’t even think that there is a follow function in the game. Same goes for the emotes that run through the F-series keys. There are 24 listed, and of that, only a few actually did anything. The rest gave an unknown command message.
This was a pretty consistent problem for the AoC keyset and on its own would be justification for a low mark. I also know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking that Funcom should share in some of the responsibility for, for example, the missing emotes. The truth is though, Zboard really shouldn’t have released a product that doesn’t synch up with its game. In the end, it’s Zboard’s responsibility to make sure that the keyboard matches the game that I’m playing. As it is, I feel like I’m playing with the wrong game’s keyset. It still works for the most part, but is still off in a number of ways.
I also have to say that Ideazon really missed the boat with this keyboard. I was honestly surprised when I opened the set to find the right hand side inhabited by the invite, kick, inventory, etc. keys. It seemed like a no-brainer to me that an Age of Conan specific keyboard should capitalize on the game’s unique combat system. Instead of having those fairly secondary keys on the right hand side, the designers could have placed the specialized keys on the left hand side and incorporated movement and attacks into a more comfortable configuration than WASD and 12345 currently offer. Directional attacks at the very least should have been represented with specialized keys. They weren’t. Boo, hiss Ideazon, boo, hiss.
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