It was time to leave Tortage to experience the mid-level game, but before I left I asked if there might be a way for experienced players who wished to roll an alternate character to skip parts of the Tortage tutorial experience. Stone explained that Funcom was indeed contemplating a “fast track” through aspects of the tutorial which would be rote knowledge for experienced players.
I then found myself a level 15 rogue in the Acheronian Temple, an area that would easily resemble one of Dante's conical and downward spiraling circles of hell if not for the stoney, mountainous backdrop. The creatures inhabiting this area were certainly infernal enough. Pict shamans dressed like magically uglified gladiators of one of Rome's backwater provinces, not to mention a variety of bestial horrors, littered the landscape. For the first time, the other two players in the room had to work together to fight our way through tightly packed groups of mobs, and I soon found that despite Age of Conan's profound thematic differences, at least a few things about the game- most notably pulling mobs, controlling aggro / threat levels, and death – seemed to follow the standard MMORPG formula. For example, a “death penalty” (a.k.a resurrection sickness) was assessed after falling in combat and resurrecting at the zone-in point. Further deaths within the debuff period would compound the penalty. Failing to control threat and keeping the mob's fury focused on ill-suited combatants was a sure precursor to death, and as a high DPS but poorly defensible rogue, I had to be careful not to get so totally caught up in the joy of the slaughter that the mob would turn to attack me for any real length of time.
It seemed like no time had passed before Jørgen bade us load up the level 55 character, a demonologist. Offensively, this the character was pretty much a root and nuke type caster with some visually arresting spell effects that seemed to indicate electrical damage. We weren't able to see the pet control characteristics of this class, but Stone promised we'd see much more on this and the other pet classes at E3 in mid-July. He then showed me the spellcasting arc (which would soon change - “it's too decorative,” Stone stated) to give me an idea of how to position myself to cast. Just like a melee fighter, a magic user must keep his or her target in front and within a specified range for the spellcast to succeed.
|New renders from Age of Conan. Click here for the Pre-E3 Gallery.|
After the first battle, Stone showed me how to equip the “Bandage” and “Renew Mana” skills. While sitting, a player uses these skills to quickly regain health and spellcasting points. I hadn't seen a regeneration system like this used since my EverQuest days and, despite the seeming inconvenience, the process was fairly quick in comparison. For all but the most ardent acheivers, a little downtime could go a long way toward engendering socialization and resting the eyes (and fingers) from the maw of battle.
Jørgen used the downtime to show me some of the 200+ emotes used in the game. Most of what I saw centered around the much talked about drinking games, and it's worth noting that drunkenness and the many drunken actions are a state of being rather than just a straight emote. Before you operate heavy machinery, you'd better sober up! The many emotes are the result of Funcom's on-site motion capture studio, Jørgen explained. “If we decide we need [an animation], it's no big deal to go down to the basement and capture it. Within the space of an afternoon, we have it in the game.”
As the hands-on portion wound down, I spoke with Nvidia's Ken Brown as I tore down my camera rig. Ken was on-hand to discuss the partnership between Funcom and Nvidia's “the way it's meant to be played” program. After weathering a few grips about my SLI-configured 8800 GTX cards, Ken explained that in exchange for optimization for Nvidia DX10-capable GPUs and (of course) some splash screen advertising, Funcom gets a bevy of Nvidia products to use for game development. Given Nvidia's comparative lock on the DX10 market, the partnership seems to be a given (and the value of the extra Nvidia advertising inconsequential), but it's nice to see a talented independent developer get some freebies.
Expect some exclusive hands-on video later this week from my experience with Age of Conan, and feel free to discuss what you've read in the Ten Ton Hammer Age of Conan forums. Thanks to Jørgen Tharaldsen, Jason Stone, and the entire crew on hand at the recent pre-E3 Age of Conan event in Redwood City, California.
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