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The Casual Gamer

Helping put a perspective on the MMO genre from someone who doesn't have time to hit the maximum level inside two weeks.

Author: grimmbot

When Nothing Satisfies, Where Do You Go?

Posted by grimmbot Wednesday November 26 2008 at 11:01AM
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I started my MMO career with Ultima Online in 1998. Best 3 years I ever spent in a game.

Moved to EQ, but didn't dig their super-slow levelling system -- my friends all outlevelled me -- so I left that after 3 months. Asheron's Call lasted me two.

Anarchy Online? Not that good. Loved the instancing bit, but most of it annoyed me so that didn't last long. I tried Lineage and Lineage 2 and found both to be too grindy.

I had a beautiful 18-month run in Shadowbane, but 12 of that was in beta, and we knew after the first 6 months that it would fail at release. It was like having a fling with a married woman -- you knew as soon as the truth got out, it'd be over.

EVE never interested me. Planetside kept me busy for 6 months (easily the best system for newbies to jump into). FFXI sucked me in for a good year (despite my EQ hate, I had RL friends in the game). Everquest 2 kept me for 4 months, but left when the crafting system sucked me in so badly that my college grades were falling.

By this time, I had seen it all -- so when WoW came out, I got to 60 fast, then realized what the endgame was and I was OUTTA THERE. Left after 4 months because I'm so over 4-hour sessions at one sitting. LOTRO was decent, but after the 30s I had to group up too much for my casual playtime.

Age of Conan, well... heh. Do I really need to explain? And lastly, I played WAR for only 2 months. The game wasn't... BAD, but it did nothing to suck me IN. Nothing there to make me CARE for the game.

I took time off from WAR due to a bad work schedule and -- no joke -- it was the first time in my MMO career that I didn't miss it. There were even parts of Lineage 2 I liked enough to want to go to back, but WAR, as well-done as it was, doesn't have that intangible to keep me compelled. It was like someone swapped out my Marlboros for Candy Cigarettes, you know? It tasted nice, but there's no nicotine to feed the addiction I bought these things to feed!

And that leaves me... here. The only MMO-like game I play now is NHL09's EASHL league on the X360.

I took a long break from the genre before Age of Conan because of how dissatisfied I was -- and if I'm going to devote my casual-like playtime to one game, it dang well better be worth it. When both AoC and WAR predictably disappointed, where do I turn?

Darkfall? Ha. haha. No, really, stop it.

Like Smacking Into a Wall: Age of Conan Post-45

Posted by grimmbot Sunday June 1 2008 at 12:44PM
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So with my limited time, I got myself to Level 45 in Age of Conan last night. And it hit me, as if I smacked into a wall:

I'm bored with this game.

I have a thing about grinding. Granted, quests themselves involve grinding, but quests give direction and -- more importantly -- much-accelerated experience. As I marched through Field of the Dead, I ran into a rut where the quests in this Level 40-50 zone almost entirely run out at 44. At 45 I had one quest to do, and one or two others that I was too low a level for. So I head to the mountain zone next door, where mobs start at Level 50, and pounded on some of those hoping that the challenge would sustain me.

But it didn't.

When I have to essentially fend for myself for experience, whacking the same things over and over, with no quests to help speed things up, I feel like a hamster in a wheel. Even the fighting mechanics -- as great as they are -- don't save it here; I found myself using the same combos in the same order on the same mobs.

And according to many people, the entire 50+ game is like this, where zones only give you a small number of quests. Most in my guild who have gotten over 60 have done so while grinding half the time over 50. Unfortunately for me and my guild, I no longer find four-hour sits at my PC doing the same thing "fun".

And that's another thing: My guild has had hardly any reason to group up at all. Why bother? You finish the quests quicker, okay, but then you've still got to grind the rest of the way.

This wasn't a one-day decision, mind you. I had been skipping quest text for the last week because not much of it was interesting -- and the story was a big selling point for the game! It's ironic though because a story that stops for 20 levels is... not a complete story. I hadn't been truly engaged nor immersed for a while as it was. I was also extremely frustrated that I needed to hit Level 50 before I could harvest materials in the zone I was in, bashing mobs at 40.

My original plan as I approached 45 was, "Yeah, I'll have to grind... but the endgame will be worth it."

But is it? Nobody actually knows, because nobody was able to test it. That's an awful lot of time I'd waste on hamster-wheel grinding if the endgame also turns out to need too much work.

So I've made a decision: The guild I'm in can get the city up and running to Tier 3, yadda yadda, and go hit up the endgame. If it turns out to be worth it, I'll jump back in and do what I need to do to get there.

If not... no skin off my back. I'd be happy I didn't waste my time.

I've been burned far too often by far too many MMORPGs to put blind faith in any game, no matter if it's Sony, Funcom, Mythic or otherwise.

Instancing: Age of Conan vs. Guild Wars

Posted by grimmbot Sunday May 25 2008 at 3:21PM
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Instancing is the single biggest point of contention when it comes to Age of Conan, with many people being dissatisfied over what they call "linear instancing". Most of them have gone further to say that it's instanced, "like Guild Wars" -- which has been repeated so often that people are starting to believe it.

"Linear Instancing" is a two-headed beast -- "linear" and "instance" are really totally separate. I will only focus on instancing here.

Others are now confused out of their minds about the definition of "instance", and it's because of people trying to push this "Just Like Guild Wars" argument down their throats. So let's just set it straight:

1) Is Age of Conan Instanced or Zoned? And What Does "Instance" mean here anyway?

First of all, to clear this up: Zones are instances. Instances are copies of zones. There's no such debate as "Zone or Instance"; they're the same thing.

Yes, it is instanced. But No, not like Guild Wars. If you're reading for the comparison, skip to #2, below.

"Instancing" is the act of creating multiple copies of one zone in an effort to control the number of players in one area. This is done for several reasons, usually having to do with game performance, the size of the zone, and/or the way quests are setup. For example, having fewer people in a zone means less competition to defeat boss monsters (and gather resources) and less lag with fewer people at a time running around.

The drawback to instancing is the loss of complete immersion: The idea of having five "copies" of Conall's Valley and having to get to "the right instance" sort of breaks the feeling of a large world. Imagine raiding a guild city and knowing they're in "The Swamp", but not which instance -- not too easy to roleplay that!

People have gone far enough to say that the outdoor zones feel more like huge dungeons because of this. And, considering you can choose to zone into an "epic" version of Conall's Valley, it's hard to refute that.

But this isn't about whether instancing is good or bad, as that's all subjective.


2) So This is Just Like Guild Wars, Then?

No. There's a very important difference between Guild Wars and Age of Conan.

Guild Wars Instancing:
 -- Towns are "public", but have population caps that create instances
 -- All outdoor areas, dungeons... pretty much anything outside of a town is instanced exclusively for you and your group.
 -- To play with a group, you need to join one before leaving town in order to adventure together.

Age of Conan Instancing:
All zones, towns, outdoor and dungeon, are "public", but have population caps that create instances.
 -- To play with a group, you all need to be in the same instance (although you can invite someone who's in a different instance and they're free to switch), but you can join on-the-fly like any other MMORPG.

So while Age of Conan is instanced, there's a BIG difference in how the two games approach it, and how it affects your freedom of gameplay. The instancing in Age of Conan doesn't restrict your freedom nearly to the degree that Guild Wars does. There's still plenty of PvP danger in each AoC instance.

Again, this doesn't make the instancing good, or bad. Whether or not it is, is entirely up to you.

Yet, those who are saying it's "just like Guild Wars" are doing the game a huge disservice. There are enough valid things to complain about without having to make untrue comparisons. Really. I don't even have official forum access due to the bug in their system from the EA accounts.

Ticker: My Age of Conan Experience

Posted by grimmbot Saturday May 24 2008 at 12:32PM
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No, this is not a review. Just a few comments:

1) I'm part of the horde without official forum access due to the fact that when EA accounts were disabled, and the accounts upgraded, they were never turned back on. This is annoying, but I can think of worse that I've gone through. In most MMO launches I can't even play for half of the first week!

2) PvP server ruleset is too unrestricted. Spawn camping abound. Players aren't to blame -- they're only doing what they're allowed to. Funcom is, finally, planning to give resurrection immunity.

3) Combat is intense, engaging and -- dare I say it -- fun!

4) A game company finally figured out that chopping up 3 easier-to-beat mobs is much more fun than taking on one really difficult mob. Hurray!

5) Lack of NPC voice acting after leaving Tortage? ... bummer, man.

6) Group mechanic is too empty. I can't even find my groupmates on the mini map.

7) Resource gathering is restricted to their own zones. ... mmmkay. There are good and bad parts to this, but I want to wait to judge.

8) Death penalty is surprisingly small

9) As a result of #8, long-distance travel is now not as long as you may think: Just die.

10) Trader NPCs NEED to be in. Quickly.

11) Crafting starts at 40. Hmm. Well, if armor continues to scale up as it has been, then it's no big deal anyway because you wouldn't make anything truly worthwhile.

12) Crafting's long-term effectiveness worries me, because items don't suffer from durability loss. I will reserve judgment until I see just how wide open the crafting is.

I started at 8am on Tuesday (Launch Day). Right now I'm only Level 20, but that's after two days of not playing at all due to a real life. I'm actually quite satisfied with how things have been so far, but from what I've seen, my skill and spell gains will slow down tremendously as I level from here on out.

It's entirely possible that I'll feel differently at 40 than I do at 20. I'll let you know.