Last night I finally canceled my Age of Conan subscription. I’ve been on the verge of doing so since mid-June, but I kept waiting, hoping something would change. And the only thing that really changed was I found myself playing for shorter and less-frequent sessions. A pattern became evident. I’d boot the game, have fun for a while, then get bored and quit to go do something else. And as the days past, that “a while” period grew smaller and smaller.
I finally realized what was missing from my enjoyment of Age of Conan: a sense of progress. The gear my character was wearing looked pretty much the same at level 30 as it did at level 5. The stats on that gear were essentially meaningless (+0.2 defense, woot!). So getting better gear didn’t make any difference to either immersion (the visuals) or gameplay (the stats).
At level 1 I was fighting men and beasts such as crocodiles, which at the time seemed like a great idea. Too many MMOs have you fighting small snakes and insects at low levels. But at level 30, I was still fighting men and crocodiles (and bears and wolves) with very few ‘monstrous’ foes. Sure they were higher level, but so was I, so the fights felt about the same.
From level 1-20 I fought in jungles, on desert islands and in ancient crypts. Since then I’ve fought in…jungles and ancient crypts. While there are 3 zones to hit after you leave Tortage, they don’t really feel all that much different.
It boils down to the fact that whether I played a character that was level 32 (the max I got to, and to be fair that isn’t even half-way to cap, maybe things get better if you push past these doldrums) and then switched to a character that was level 12, the game didn’t really feel any different. So what’s the point of playing an rpg with progression levels if the levels all feel the same?
What’s worse, there are no ‘extras’ to help prop up the gameplay. I do enjoy crafting in these games, but here you have to be level 20 to start harvesting, level 40 to start crafting, and level 50 to harvest tier 2 materials. So you spend 20 levels gathering ore and wood to either donate to your guild (which will quickly bypass the need for low-tier materials) or try to sell them on the broker. Yawn.
There are guild cities, but no personal housing. The guild buildings just kind of sit there. Eventually they’re supposed to give buffs but those aren’t in the game yet. I guess right now they’re just good for bragging rights. There are no ‘hobby’ activities like fishing, or gambling mini-games, or any of the other little ‘time-waster’ things to do that make a world feel more real.
Last item is a personal one, and not a problem with the game per se. Apparently the crux of the high-end game play is guild vs guild PVP, besieging player-built battle keeps and so forth. Which sounds fun, but which really require a fairly substantial guild. I’m generally the kind of MMO player that joins a small, intimate guild, or no guild at all. This time I joined a huge guild (400 characters, I think at one point 135 or so players). This meant we got to build a guild city really quickly and all that but…I never really got to know anyone in it. It was such a large guild that the chat channel might as well have been a public channel. My contributions to the guild city consisted of handing over materials and gold to someone who handed them up the chain to someone who did the actual building. Essentially I was just a cog in the wheel. And ya know, I’m a cog in the wheel in the real world. When I’m playing a game I want to matter.
And yet a small guild won’t have the resources to do all the fun PVP stuff that is supposed to exist in the end game. This is a design decision on the part of Funcom and it isn’t wrong, its just wrong for me. I know other folk that love being part of something huge like this.
So, farewell Age of Conan. I’ll probably come back to visit now and then, because I had a blast for the first few weeks. I’m sure I’ll have a blast for another few weeks after I give the game 6 months to ‘rest’ and the combat stops feeling so familiar.
The guild stuff, though…now I’m worried about Warhammer Online, which seems to be equally large-guild oriented. Hmmm….