Having spent close to 20 hours in Age of Conan since coming back for Funcom’s returning customer program, it’s probably time to talk about about how it feels to be back in AoC’s Hyboria.
I’m not really sure why this didn’t annoy me before, but AoC’s launcher takes entirely too long to arrive at the point where you can launch the game. My system may not be state of the art anymore, but it’s still very respectable, and it shouldn’t take this long. It seems like it’s doing a scan of every AoC file every time it launches, and I can’t see why that’s necessary.
As noted previously, I made a new character – an Aquilonian Conqueror named Xenander – and started from scratch. When I left AoC, I figured on never wanting to play through the Tortage content again, but I’d been gone long enough that it seemed fresh again, and important parts of the Tortage questline are different depending on your archetype – and I’d never played through it with a warrior-type before.
The one very significant change that’s evident almost from the very start is that the whole game has been completely reitemized. It’s now much clearer what any given piece of gear actually does and how two pieces of gear compare. I like the original intent, which was to have a less gear-driven game, but this is better, becuase at least I have some idea of what that quest reward is supposed to do.
Character stats are supposed to now be more important as well; my understanding was that they always had some impact on play, but that this was very marginal at the beginning – too marginal, some felt. I didn’t feel, though, that the effects of this change were all that obvious by level 22, although I’m sure it’s more significant at higher levels with more powerful gear.
The well-known gaps in the content are alleged to be filled, but I’m not that far along and unlikely to get there in the time remaining, so I can’t personally vouch for it. The graphics are essentially the same as before, with fewer artifacts and miscellaneous issues, although there’s still a fair amount of clipping. I can understand not liking the look of the game for aesthetic reasons, but in an objective sense I think it’s an extremely good-looking game.
The virtues of Age of Conan that were extolled at launch are still evident: the starting character experience is extremely strong, the questing after that pedestrian but generally decent (and above average in places – there are indeed some novel quests,) and the combat is an absolute joy. It’s a pleasure to kill stuff in AoC, not (for me at least) because of the gore and fatalities (which are plentiful,) but because I feel in greater control of my character as he fights than in other games. I can use positioning and direct each individual blows, seeking weaknesses in opponent’s defenses. It’s flat-out the best and most engaging combat system in MMOs.
So too, the complaints levied by some against the game are still valid: the destiny questline is wonderful but the other questing is mostly old hat and you still need a pretty decent machine to run it anything like well, although performance seems a bit better and tweaking the settings seems to have a much more intuitive and significant effect on how it looks and performs. Hyboria in DX10 looks really very sharp. I have not seen any large-scale PvP or anything like that, although I’m told that it works better – and I can say that there’s a built-in graphics setting explicitly for raids and PvP.
Also (still) the character models are not “pretty” in any reasonable sense, although I personally find this to be a selling point; you’re playing, essentially, freebooters and cutthroats in a grim and savage age, in what is one of the two cornerstones of western fantasy – it’d have been asinine to have characters who look like Bishōnen. It is, graphically, the anti-WoW, and while I genuinely like WoW’s graphical style, I find AoC’s look to be a breath of fresh air.
So will I resubscribe? Well… now’s a bad time for me personally (recall that I am both unemployed and will be moving to a whole new city in a couple of weeks,) but after that stuff is settled, yes, absolutely. It’s improved, yes, but frankly this was a very good game even before, albeit with some serious issues which largely appear to have been cleaned up. But that kind of stuff is par for the course with MMOs, and games which launch without major issues are the exception rather than the rule. Age of Conan is a game worth playing, and worth the same sort of consideration that folks extend to WoW or EQ2 or whatever other imperfect game you’d care to name. It’s imperfect, and you hope it improves, but meanwhile it’s easily good enough to keep playing.