Fool me once…

So as everyone knows by now, Funcom has invited ex-Age of Conan players back for two weeks. I like to give things (and usually, people) a second chance, so I happily signed up. I spent an evening getting everything patched (client was still installed) and then the next night I logged in my level 32 Scout and…found that I had not a clue as to what I was doing. Plus all my skill points/feats/talents/whatever they are called, had been reset and I had even less of a clue as to how to spend them. I didn’t last very long in that session.

Today I decided I’d start a new character to get used to the game anew. Started playing and noticed how nicely the game ran. I had the settings on high (making the world look sumptuous) and was getting 50+ FPS on the starter beach (I’ve upgraded video cards since I last played). Combat was fun and fast and engaging. I started to think to myself “Yeah, I can see re-subscribing to this for a month, while I wait for Champions open beta.”

Then I arrived at the gates of Tortage and remembered… I really loved the start of the game the first time I played it, too! By rolling a new character I’d stepped into a (probably non-intentional) trap! I really did enjoy Age of Conan from level 1 to level 20 the first time I played it.

Thankfully I caught myself before getting caught up in self-hype and re-subscribing. Tonight I’m going back to my 32 Scout and will take the time to get used to him again (a much easier task to focus on during weekend play sessions, in any case).

I’m still willing to give AoC another chance, but I need to play at the levels that caused problems the first time around, if I’m going to get any value out of the 2-week trial.

Farewell for now, Age of Conan

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….