Age of Conan Hyborian Adventures (AoC) launch date is looming just over the horizon. With the NDA lifted for journalist, the Age of Conan Ten Ton Hammer staff, and stars of the popular AoC web-comic "Lost in Hyboria" sat down to give a glimpse into their time in beta, and how the game has evolved and stacked up to the hype.
Machail: So... beta... I've been playing since January. You guys?
Martuk: I got selected in the draft last year and have been enjoying its evolution since.
JoBildo: I was actually waiting desperately until a few weeks before I started with TTH.
Machail: I gotta admit, back in January, I wasn't too sure how things were going to turn out. I realized it was still beta, but launch was only a few months away. The game was fun, but the graphics and mechanics weren't what they were publicizing. I changed my tune drastically though, once the beta servers got updated to a closer version of what they've been running in house. I was literally stunned when I logged in at that point. The graphics were amazing. The animations were fluid. It was breathtaking.
Martuk: Agreed. When I first logged on I wasn't sure what to think, but it turns out we were all playing on an older client. The graphics were a lot lower quality and not very impressive, but I can say without a doubt, the graphics and game I experienced from last year and the ones of today are very different and much closer to what Funcom was plugging. It is truly a beautiful sight to see as it stands now.
style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan is graphically beautiful.
JoBildo: Definitely. Though when I first began in February with the Technical Beta tests, I was still running on an old as heck computer. It didn't work that well for me then, but performance improved drastically over the coming weeks and now... this is by far the prettiest MMOG I've played.
Machail: By far. I agree.
JoBildo: And now... now especially, on a good video card (the 9600GT from Nvidia)... it's just too pretty. I find myself staring more at the action than paying attention to my dying character.
Machail: So.. I guess we can all agree that the graphics are second to none. But what about performance? JoBildo commented that his old PC had problems, and I have to second that. I'm running on a pretty old box myself (my new PC is arriving next week), but I'm finding the performance a little harsh on this rig. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone running an AGP board.
JoBildo: That's one thing that did worry me initially though (the graphics). A couple months back you couldn't run a lower-end system and play this game effectively. That's one thing I've noticed for sure has been improved upon though. It's far more open to lower-end systems now... though it'd still better be 7000 series card or later in Nvidia terms.
I was running a pretty top end PC with an Nvidia 7950 GX2 when I joined and the performance to begin with was a little choppy at times, but such is beta. I will say that the client running in closed beta right now is much more stable than some of its previous versions. I was amazed at how little lag I did have when logging on after a few recent patches. Funcom has improved the stability aspect greatly.
Martuk: I would also like to add that combat, from a melee standpoint, and I play a guardian mostly, is certainly more engaging than your average MMORPG. You really do have to use your combos effectively if you want to come out on top.
In regards to Tuk's statement about engaging combat... nothing could be truer about Conan. If it's remembered for one thing and one thing only in my mind it'll be just how much more fun fighting is in Age of Conan is than in any other game. The only one that comes close is Tabula Rasa... and even it's got nothing on the depth in AoC.
Not to mention being able to sever your enemies head or curb stomp them if they get in your way.
Definitely Tuk. What worries me is that the Open Beta client is an older less stable version than what people in Closed Beta experience. Because the game even just a few weeks ago had its fair share of memory leaking issues and crashes... now though? I'm stoked for the 17th and that's about all I can say on that aspect.
Yeah so if your in open beta, trust us. It is a lot better than it looks right now.
There's no doubt about that. I can't stop fighting. It's just too fun. It's also as complex as you make it. Sure, you can run around and swing your weapons all willy-nilly, but once you add in dodging, active blocking, well-timed combos and abilities, plus the plethora of stances, commands and formations from the conqueror and mix up the classes, the possibilities are endless. I think this is
really a game where GOOD players will shine. It will be obvious who's a veteran and who's still learning.
Skill will play a big part as will strategic combat.
Try to PvP by just hitting that random swing button and you will get cut down faster than one of Machail's come on lines.
*cough* worked on your girlfriend *cough*
Martuk: I could retort with, "You should know, she is your mom." But I think I'll just call truce. Every joke, every pun, done to death. :p
Machail: Good enough. Truce it is.
JoBildo: Oh definitely, Mac. When I first started, I was super-pleased with the fun of the combos and the no auto-attack but then it seemed maybe that it was a one-trick pony... until about level 10 or so when I had enough skills to really throw in some tactics and when I found the active block button (x these days, right). Very fun stuff. Combat is usually the worst part of these games and it's always
the part you do most... so it's a shame that it's never that engaging. But not in Conan. I'm always actually bored when I'm not fighting. It's a great stress reliever. Nothing like lopping off a head to make you smile and picture your boss' face (Machail).
Or that early skill of bludgeoning them to death.
Over the head repeatedly? Yeah that one had me laughing maniacally for a while. I sought help.
Seeking help at the Bearded Clam isn't exactly what we had in mind for you.
style="font-style: italic;">The lore ties into the stories of old well.
Very good point about it being the thing we do most in these games too.. but that lends itself to another topic - the questing and lore. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't very brushed up on my Conan lore when I started playing, but the depth of these quests and the scripting for the events and quests is just amazing. It's really gotten me interested in the REH world of
Martuk: That's one thing the Devs were meticulous about. If you were a fan of the books, you will find small (let's call them easter eggs) of lore related material in the world. Not only does it have it's own story, but you will find little relevant topics relating to the old stories as well. This has a great effect of not only making you feel immersed in a world using the Conan label, but the world of Conan itself. Immersion ftw.
JoBildo: Definitely. It had been ages since I picked up the books or comics... but guess what I'm going now? I really didn't expect the PvE to be so good. I always thought of AoC as a PvP game with PvE in for leveling purposes and as a drawing factor to a wider audience... now, it's the thing I've spent the most time doing. I know Tuk disagrees but the Tortage intro area (level 1-20ish) is by far the
most engaging intro of any MMOG I've played. Right up there with LotRO's shorter scripted events.
I mean, these are the makers of "The Longest Journey", we know by now that they can tell a solid story in a game, and this time they've got a very wide range of material to draw from.
Martuk: It's not so much that I disagree, I'm just not sure how many times one might wish to make the Tortage run. Tortage is certainly an excellent level for newbies to get familiar with the game on. Whether it will have that lasting power of say Blackburrow or Crushbone from Everquest for example, will remain to be seen. Tortage however, is a well designed and excellent starting area. There is nothing wrong with it and it is enjoyable. It's just somewhat limited by being the only start point. That is not to say there isn't plenty to do there. There certainly is.
For sure! It doesn't boast the huge massive world like games such as Vanguard, but boy is the content rich. Everywhere you go feels as if it's a real world. The AI is ingenious, and the characters all take on a personality of their own. There's no wasted space in this game. It all fits in and it is obvious that the devs have painstakingly added every detail to every part of the world (at least the
parts of the world that I've seen).
Just wait until those Nordic fans out there first set foot into Cimmeria,
Conarch Village... or fans of the Stygian way see those sprawling sands and lush vistas so harmoniously intertwined. I mean... it's hard to believe it's an MMOG some times because we're all so used to dummed down visuals. True, you need a decent rig to enjoy it... but in my video-phile eyes it's worth it.
Cimmeria is one of my favorite areas thus far. I guess it has to do with my love of all things Barbarian. And for some reason when I see snowy mountains, I think barbarian.
Machail: I'm a big fan of Khemi myself. It's got that real egyptian/desert feeling to it. Sands and clay buildings. It's gorgeous.
We really should stop gushing about the visuals though, they're going to think that's all we've done is stare at our monitors. Which I have done on occasion.
Machail: Well that's almost all that I do lately. But true enough. Visuals = a win. Scripts and quests = win. Sound?
To sum it up I think we can all agree it is a visually stunning game and we would be hard pressed to say there is a part in the game we have seen that we did not enjoy looking at as it stands today.
Verily, Tuk. Mac. Definitely. Lore and PvE = Fantastic. Visuals = Best bar none.
The sound is one of the best I have ever heard in any game. The ambients are well done and the music is (to use a BattleStar Galactica Term) Frackin Awesome!
style="font-style: italic;">The look and ambient sounds make for an immersive mix.
Sound? In my eyes, and maybe I'm biased since I've already professed love for this game but that's also a win for me.
If your reading this Funcom, give those responsible for this excellent sound system a raise. They earned it.
JoBildo: What strikes me about the sound more than any other part is the many different effects for combat (which makes sense given the nature of the game). I mean, the first time I performed a bludgeoning fatality and I heard the enemy's skull crack... it was a bit jarring and in a totally good way. Then there's the ambient environment sounds. The birds, the leaves rustling, the rivers flowing. The sounds of feet on wooden planks, of drunken men and women babbling... it's great really. My only qualm is that a lot of the voice-over material stops post Tortage. There's still some, but it's fewer and less frequent than in Tortage.
Martuk: And similar effects play in with all attacks and fatalities. To hear your enemy scream and the combat music amp up is quite well done as an experience. The ambients make this game even better because you actually feel like your in the environment when you hear it.
I expect additional voiceovers will be patched in for launch likely. Everquest 2 did a lot of voice over patch ins during their road to launch as well.
One thing I wanted to bring up too was the mapping system. Now this is both a plus and a minus in my books. The world map leaves a little to be desired. It's got the main areas easy to figure out, but you can get lost pretty easily if you don't know where you're going. However, the plus side is that the region maps are fantastic. These are in great detail and are not dissimilar to Google maps satellite views.
Aye, the world map has some room for improvement, but zone maps are top notch. My first real impression of that was in White Sands Isle when I was there with about 6 active quests. This is an area really early on in the game. You get there via a boat and a lot of quests are in the area.
But anyway, I was amazed at the way the general quest areas can be highlighted and are shown on the map. I half expected to see little flags pop up, like Google Maps as you said Ben.
It's great idea without giving TOO much info away, and they can also be completely ignored for those who prefer a spoiler-free quest.
Machail: True. And maps can be disabled entirely.
Machail: Ok, so we're sounding like fanbois now. What parts of the game could use improvement?
JoBildo: Oh! Call on me!
I love this game. I truly and honestly think it'll wind up being my new "favorite" in the same way that Iron Man is now my new favorite comic movie... BUT!
The performance still needs a lot of tweaking I think in order to reach their highest possible audience. It's far better now than it has been, but still I'm still feeling the pain of an occasional crash, and there are still memory leaks but they're far lesser of a problem than they have been. I only hope it can be iron out before launch or at least mostly.
Gameplay wise, from what I've experienced, it's been the best PvE I've seen. Top o da line.
Agreed, that said, I think that is going to be a growing pain even post launch. I believe the game is very playable right now as it is, but it will of course need a little more fine tuning.
Machail: Yes, those are the most obvious to me too. I'm hesitant to bring it up as I do know that Funcom is working overtime getting the game ready, so I know they're working on it; but if the crashes and leaking aren't fixed before launch, it's going to be a serious problem. Gamers will tolerate bugs, for the most part, but not frequent crashing.
JoBildo: The general consensus from most people in the Open Beta is : Great game, needs performance to be better. So they should take pride knowing they have peoples' attention, but they'd better have the thing smooth for the 17th. It's close now in Closed Beta, and I'm actually thinking they can pull it off given what we've seen in the past few months. I've got my fingers crossed.
Martuk: I think my big gripe is that we only have Tortage as a starting area. While it is well done and well designed, I think some players will probably get tired of it after the first few times through. And while you will probably be able to skip the island entirely, Some players just like that newbie experience and may find the one area a little limiting.
I know I'm tired of Tortage after about a dozen times through, so yeah, I can agree there Tuk.
Very true, Tuk. I mean, I love the place and after a dozen times I can still do it, but it is limiting.
Maybe something for another day, as Tortage is a result of their earlier idea to make the 1-20 experience an offline single player game entirely.
True Bildo. I've been amazed and surprised with what Funcom has been pulling out of their hats. Just when you start losing a bit of hope in something, BAM, 5gig patch that makes the game feel almost entirely new.
Very true. they have done excellent work in their patches and have improved the game by tall leaps each time.
It's true what they say... us beta people are always weeks behind. It's hard to swallow, but obviously true after all the beta tests I've been in.
Even now though, The dev's let us know when logging in that the client we are playing is not the launch client. So you have to have even higher hopes after reading that.
Aye, I've been involved in plenty of betas, and for the most part, what you see in beta is usually pretty close to what the devs have in-house. Not in the case of AoC though. New builds that are put out have clearly been worked on for quite some time before they've been deployed on the closed beta servers.
And I will say that in all the betas I have participated in, this is one of the more smooth in transitioning new content and updates. Grant it, they still have had their share of need a hotfix problems, but the transitions have been pretty smooth in the grand scheme of things. And it has been one of the best running betas I have participated in, so that tells me that Funcom does have their stuff together.
Definitely...there hasn't really ever been much downtime either. It almost feels like a live experience. But then again we're just a few thousand, not hundreds of thousands.
JoBildo: Now one thing that I wish we could all talk about but can't is sieges and city building. I've not gotten far enough to experience either, and if I'm not mistaken sieges aren't in the closed beta. They've only been tested internally. That part does scare me. They'll be in for launch, but what if they're borked?
Good point Bildo. I haven't done much PvP myself either. I'm sure we'll be seeing some stress testing of it within the next 2 weeks (at least that's what I gleaned from Gaute's recent interview) but I do think they're going to need to test them hardcore before deployment. This isn't something you can just test in house, unless of course they happen to have hundreds of QA testers.
If so... how do I get a job there?
Very true, but I will say this. Planetside managed to pull off huge scale PvP battles so I think Funcom will be able to nail it as well.
AO's PvP was fantastic too. They know how to do it, and I'm sure it'll be great, but I'm expecting a few road bumps. Just the cynic in me.
Growing pains, likely, but I think it will all work outin the end.
Well I guess that part remains to be seen. Like I said, I have faith in the development team; moreso than any other MMOG I've played and/or tested. I'm anxious to see how it turns out.
I'm anxious for the TTH guild to get into the Border Kingdoms myself.
I know I'll be there,
and dying... a lot.
Martuk: Guess I'll have to add an after battle report to the Border Kingdom Cryer. Overall I think the game has developed nicely and is well on its way to a good launch. There may still be a few things in need of tweaking, but the overall current product is well done and a lot of fun.
JoBildo: When Age of Conan first was marketed, the hype went into full effect (not unlike WAR). And the masses (myself included) want to always believe said hype. That each new game is going to be the messiah and deliver us from whatever game we're currently sick of. AoC brings to the table two main things: 1.) The best combat you've ever experienced (with a learning curve to boot)
and 2. The some of the best visuals you will see. The rest of the game is very much a traditional MMORPG. They didn't reinvent the wheel... they just went from goodyear to Kumho.
And that's a good thing.
Excellent closer mate.
With those last words our three heroes ventured back into the lands of Hyboria. Join them later this week as the adventure continues in "Lost in Hyboria."
- You have our thoughts, now tell us yours here.
- Please continue to observe the NDA as it has only been relaxed post level 13 for the media.
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