Dark or Light

Return to Hyboria Part 2

Phil James Posted:
General Articles 0

Be sure to read Return to Hyboria Part 1.

The secret of comedy is timing.  The other secret of comedy is recording a loved one falling off a trampoline.  I don’t think you can condense the magic of mmos down to one secret, but I’m betting if you could, it wouldn’t be trampolines – except for the one in World of Warcraft.  However, timing is still pretty important.

I’m in week two of my month’s sub to Age of Conan, and so far it’s been a week of bad timing and mis-steps, some of them committed by Funcom, some by me.  I set myself a goal of reaching level 30 this week. Easy enough, except for the fact that I made it harder for myself.  Before moving on to the world at large, I finished the starting zone, the Isle of Tortage.  There’s something about unfinished quests that gnaw away at me.  I like everything neat and finished off before I move on, so I just had to mop up the last few tasks.  This slowed my level 30 plan down considerably.  I had already passed level 20 which is what the isle is designed to take you to, so my quests involved cutting down foes of a lower level, sometimes taking on mobs that were grey to me, doing nothing for my xp gain.

Turning in quests had now become my main source of xp income.  In theory, by taking on easier quests I should have been racking up mucho experience for turning them in so fast.  However, the last of my tasks involved travelling all over the island from one tip to the other, again making progress rather slow.  I had also picked a tank class to play.  Yeah yeah, I should have picked a dps character to burn through content as fast as possible, but recently I’ve been on a real tanking kick, and I can’t see that changing soon.

I stuck with it though, glutton for punishment that I am.  Once it was done, I was free of that island and zoning in to Khitai for the very first time.  Khitai is the new (ish) far-east style land that was added to the game with the Rise of the Godslayer expansion.  Having seen some of the old world when I first played, I wanted to get a feel for how the game had moved on since then.  The first area is imaginatively called Gateway to Khitai – how do they think these things up?  Gateway is a bit misleading though.  While it is literally the first zone in that land, you’ll have to wait a long time before experiencing the rest.  Gateway is designed to take characters from level 20 up to 40, after that you have to travel back to the classic zones as the rest of Khitai is aimed at level 80s.  Still at least I could get a taste of what was to come.

One word: stunning.  Once again, the folks at Funcom have outdone themselves graphically.  When I played as a Cimmerian I thought the views in Connall’s Valley were something else, but Gateway to Khitai cranks things up a notch.  It seems the devs haven’t lost their flair.  How they create beautiful lands with such an impressive draw distance, I’ll never know, but I’m glad they do.  I found myself climbing hills just to take in the view.

The main story continues once you leave Tortage, but you can’t continue it until level 30, hence my reason for making that my target.  The other reason is that AoC has offline levelling, which becomes available at 30, and I had 11 levels available for me to spend.  Normally I wouldn’t be that bothered – you know, experience the game at its own pace, enjoy the ride.  But I have articles to write, damn it, no time to spare at the lower levels.

Another way I had slowed my progress was by dying.

A lot.

Gateway to Khitai is bustling with mobs.  Sticking to the roads is fairly safe but once you strike out into the wilderness, you are surrounded by baddies.  But I’ve played many games before with healthy mob populations and I’ve never died anywhere near as often as I was doing in AoC.  I had joined a guild by this point, and I thought I’d risk sounding stupid by asking if it was a difficult zone or if I was just useless at the game.  The general consensus was that Gateway is a harder zone than the equivalent areas in the old lands.  This was pretty surprising; it’s almost unheard of for an mmo to make a game harder with an expansion.  Most games get accused of dumbing their content down – WoWification if you will.  Funcom have clearly planted their flag in the opposite camp.

I suppose I should mention what I mean by difficulty.  Most of the time, when somebody mentions that a game is hard, they have to be prepared to be flamed by someone else stating that all mmos are easy.  I’m going to stick my neck out and say that some mmos are difficult.  Not in the way that twitch games or strategy games are hard.  Usually we mean how awkward a game is or how much time investment you need.  Everquest was hard before xp gains were super-charged ; Final Fantasy is hard.  Both those games get you by making it difficult to solo – again, modern EQ has fixed this by adding mercenaries.

Age of Conan isn’t hard to solo, but they don’t like to hand you everything on a platter.  During my absence from the game, alternative advancement was added.  This works in pretty much the same way as it does in many other games: instead of a raise in level cap you get new abilities to earn.  In AoC you earn prowess, mastery and expertise experience.  So far I’ve been earning mastery xp as this is what you get for PvE.  Prowess comes from PvP and you gain expertise for earning either of the first two points.  The rate of gain is slooooooooow.  I’m sitting at 12,000 xp which sounds pretty healthy.  I wondered how much I needed to get my first point to spend.  The text on the aa window is pretty fine so I had to use the cursor to count the zeroes.

1,000,000.  That’s one million.  A one and six noughts.

Freaking Hell!  Once again I turned to my guild for advice thinking that maybe as I level up the rate of gain would speed up.  Nope, from start to finish it’s a pretty slow process.  One guy had maxed out his mastery tree and it took him a year to do so.  Well, if I wasn’t before, I guess I was in it for the long haul now.

One thing I can’t figure out is Funcom’s thinking behind the crafting system.  I can’t speak for the actual crafting itself yet as you need to be level 40 to make anything.  I found this strange, but I’m prepared to play along.  However, for some reason, they allow you to gather resources from level 20.  I know this as I received a pop-up tutorial message telling me so once I hit 20.  I was still in Tortage at the time so I didn’t have access to any harvesting nodes, but once I reached Khitai I was surrounded by them.  I tried to gather up a bit of sandstone, but was told that I lacked the training.  I would have thought that the lack of a pick axe would have held me back, but it turns out it was just the know-how I needed.

I would like to have been in the developer meeting where they hammered out this crafting/harvesting system.  I might have had a thing or two to say.  I might also have mentioned that putting a new zone in the game is a great idea, and allowing players to harvest there is good too.  But in order to train up in resource gathering, should it really necessary to travel across several areas to the old zones?  Might it not make more sense to put a few extra npcs in Gateway to Khitai to train me up?  I guess I’m just a layman, not wise in the ways of mmo development.

Anyway, despite this, I’m having a blast playing Age of Conan so far.  Week two has just drawn to a close and I’m already planning what to do in the long term.  I’m even looking forward to reaching that 1,000,000 mastery mark so I can spend my first point.  Now that’s dedication for you.


Phil James