Age of Conan has been out for quite awhile but I am just now giving it a shot. Because it has been out for so long, I am not going to go in depth with a lot of the features of AoC but, instead, give my overall impressions of the game. I downloaded the demo version just a few nights ago and I am currently level 17 on my first character, a Bear Shaman. I am almost done with the Tortage area, I believe, and should be heading to Cimmeria soon.
I had done quite a bit of reading while I waited for the huge demo to download and had pretty much decided on a Bear Shaman. A big brute that uses a huge two-handed hammer and calls on the spirit of bears to heal and strengthen him? Come on, how can you go wrong with that?
After the download finished and I got into game, I found a decently deep character creation system. You find yourself on board a slavers ship, where you pick gender and race first. Bear Shaman can only be Cimmerians, so that was an easy decision and since I rarely play female characters, this decision was easy as well.
From there you pick a basic face type and body type, as well as body and face “markings” (think of the warpaint in Braveheart!), to go with it. After that, you are able to choose eye color, hair style, facial hair and hair colors. All very standard but it works well. You also get to pick body type, so you can be short and fat or tall and skinny or anywhere in-between.
Next comes even more individualization, as you can tweak every aspect of the body and face type you just decided on. Sliders for making your arms more muscled, your cheeks more pronounced or your nose more crooked. By the time you are done, you have a pretty unique looking character. My end product looks like a metal guitarist on steroids, with long black hair and big, thick sideburns.
Done with that, I named my character and headed off into the world of Hyboria. And what a world it is! You are initially treated to a cut-scene, which shows your character stranded on the isle of Tortage after your ship is caught in a massive storm. Washed up on shore, you are greeted by some old dude who tells you the basics of the where/when/why of the story. The story is actually decent and the voice-acting is superb, surprising for a MMO.
The first thing that will catch any new player of AoC a bit off-guard is how amazing the graphics are in the game. I messed around with the settings quite a bit and played in both DX9 and 10, at various detail levels. It doesn’t matter where you set it, it looks amazing. Interestingly, it also ran well at every setting, though on max in DX10, I was only getting around 40-60 FPS. I finally settled on DX10, with a few of the options set down a bit.
The detail in the game is stupendous. Textures are convincing and look better than any MMO I have ever played. Rocks, trees and water all look breathtakingly real. Diving below the waves is a real treat, with light rays fracturing as they hit the surface of the water and diffusing down below. It is all almost overwhelming.
Just as important, if not more so, than the technical side of the graphics, is the art-direction. Technically good graphics do no good in a game if the art-direction is not there. For an example of good art-direction, one only has to look at WoW. WoW certainly does not have the best graphics engine in the genre but their art-direction is phenomenal and makes up for it. I still remember walking into Stranglethorn Vale and being amazed at this jungle environment. It felt like a jungle, not because every tree and leave looked real but because the art-direction was so good it felt that way.
AoC has both. An amazing graphics engine, coupled with great art-direction. This is the most realistic jungle I have ever traversed in an MMO. Bar none. Everything about it screams quality and talent. Funcom outdid themselves with this game graphically. They really did.
But, who cares about graphics if the game is not good? Not me, I will tell you. Well, I am happy to say that, so far, AoC is not disappointing me in that area either. The game plays much different than any MMO out there. The combat system is truly unique and adds a “freshness” to the game that I have not experienced lately in MMOs. At its core it is still a “button-smasher” but the idea is fresh enough to make you forget that.
Combat is combo based and every swing in combat is controlled. No auto-attack here. You decide when you attack and from which direction your attacks are going to be aimed at. At the start, you have four swing attacks; a high-left, a high-right and a overhead swing. Your enemy has “shield” icons around him, denoting which side he is concentrating his defense on. Your opponent guarding his left side? Then swing to the opposite side or overhead and do more damage.
As you level you will get additional abilities that add to your melee arsenal. These abilities normally consist of combos that must be “chained” together to complete the combo. For instance, one may require the starter and then a swing to the left and then it will go off. At the beginning the chains are short, two keys at most but later turn longer and more complex. This makes for a high learning curve but also an involved experience.
No more going through your “rotation” while watching your character auto-attack. Yes, you are still hitting buttons, just like you would in WoW or Warhammer but there is a difference in feel that makes all the difference. In WoW, if you miss a spell in your “rotation” its not too big a deal…you will just lose a bit of DPS. If you do not get your combo off correctly in AoC, the entire ability does not fire and bad things can happen.
There are other intricacies in combat that I have not even begun to master. In addition to your enemy having “shields” that he can move around to different sides, you do as well. This means if you notice your opponent concentrating his attacks to one side, you can adjust your defense to that side to compensate. Of course, this leaves you open on another side, so you have to really watch whats going on. This makes for a very intense combat system and one that, I imagine, is very, very difficult to master. I would assume that there is a huge discrepancy between the really good player and the mediocre ones in this game.
Adding to the combat is the visceral feel of it. The animations are superb and blows land with satisfying smacks. Wading through multiple enemies feels like something out of a movie. Many fights involve you against multiple enemies and it is a lot of fun wading in and decimating three or four enemies at a time. Finishing with a fatality is even more satisfying.
This post has went a lot longer than I intended for it to be. I will post more tomorrow about my impressions of the UI, quests and the all important PvP.