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Age of Conan - A Year Later Part 2

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Ten Ton Hammer is taking a look back at the Age of Conan of yesteryear and comparing it to the game that players log in and enjoy today.  Some things have changed and some have not, but we want to know: Will these changes may be just enough to woo back previously disappointed fans?

Age of Conan has seen an overhaul of nearly every major feature in game and some needed it desperately.  In todayÂ’s article, we are going to talk about the meat and potatoes of AoC gaming: combat, questing, siege, and PvP gameplay.  These are the features that attracted players to the game and are the features that initially drove them away just as quickly. But have they changed for the better?

If you missed it, check out last weekÂ’s Age of Conan article featuring technical improvements, gem downsizing, and the server merge.

Combat.  More than Just Blood Splatters.

I joke a lot about the gore of AoC being what keeps me interested, but like most gamers I do take my gaming seriously and combat gameplay is a big hook for me.  AoC has, what I think of as, extraordinarily interesting combat.  I like that when IÂ’m taking down a group of AtzelÂ’s bad guys that my position and combo choices are things I need to think about and attention is required to ensure my characterÂ’s safety.  The lack of auto-attack keeps me from alt-tabbing out of game incessantly to check my IMs, and this is a feat no other game has yet accomplished for me.  While interesting combat is good, well-designed and fair combat is even better, and this is where AoC has landed.

There are all sorts of patch notes that highlight changes and formulas that players come up with to calculate what is happening in game down to the last hit point, but none of that interests me.  All I care about is how the class feels when I pull out my sword and hack at things.  Combat continues to hold the same dazzle as before, but a returning player will definitely feel the benefit of a year of tweaks.  The most notable change is the boost to survivability.  All classes have been granted health point increase and damage alterations, all of which means that you can kill more, kill quicker, and live longer when taking on appropriate enemies.   My once flimsy Barbarian is actually making it through reasonable multi-target combat without dropping to the ground like a nut-kicked sissy.  My Dark Templar once again feels useful after having been tossed into the “too frustrating to play” pile for a long, long while.  My Conqueror has always been my bad ass favorite, but she too is plowing through mobs like a hot knife through butter.

Now some may think that these changes make the game easier, but I believe it puts it more on par with where it should be.  AoC has a freakish aggro range on social mobs so it has always been highly important that any player roaming soloable lands is able to comfortably take on more than one enemy at a time.  Combat is NOT fun if you walk into a camp to complete a quest and die repeatedly before you give up and decide to tackle it in another couple of levels, when really you should be outgrowing that area.

All these changes have balanced challenge with fun making them some of the best updates this game has experienced since launch.

Questing – Beyond Wanted Posters

In my many, many (shut up, IÂ’m old okay?) years of gaming IÂ’ve noticed one thing.  Gaming companies always under estimate the speed and ferocity in which fans will consume content.  This was apparent when shortly after Age of ConanÂ’s launch, mid-level players were left standing around wondering where exactly the content was.  Levels 50 through 70 ended up looking like a vast wasteland of mob grinding which is just about as appealing as peeling off your own fingernails.  IÂ’d stake pennies that many players walked away from AoC in this level range just out of sheer boredom.

The quick fix shortly after launch was the rash of wanted posters that went up in mid to upper level zones.  The wanted posters didnÂ’t even pretend to be interesting and even though they provided some experience and a bit of coin, I started avoiding them entirely every time I walked into a town. 

While I applaud the desire to give players more to do, I think gamer tastes have expanded slightly beyond “kill ten rats” making these wanted poster quests nothing more than companion quests to “real” quests.

Has the quest been put back into questing?  Yes it has!  As I ran through level 50, 60, and level 70 zones, I found tons of beautiful exclamation points on my map signaling me to all the new quests available.  I stumbled upon new areas within original zones that gave storyline quest series that were interesting and fun, yielding worthwhile rewards. The Eiglophian Mountains now have a nice crop of new quests (yes, all the wanted posters are still there for those who enjoy them) and YmirÂ’s Pass, which is one of the newer zones added as free content, had quite a bit to do for players in their mid 50s through the mid 60s.  I spent a couple of days questing in YmirÂ’s Pass and havenÂ’t even touched upon the bulk of the zone! 

For overland adventurers, the addition of these quests means less grinding and a far smoother progression without those annoying content gaps.

Sieges and PvP.  People Still Do Those, Right?

Before launch, Age of Conan appeared to have an amazing focus and a solid grip on player versus player gameplay with Border Kingdoms, PvP mini-games, and large scale sieges all being prime features that had PvP fans dying to get in and give it a try.  Unfortunately, many of those fans got in-game and declared PvP in AoC to be completely broken.  So what needed fixing and did it get done?

Sieges are such a cool concept.  Guilds can battle it out on an epic level for fame and glory using their wits and skills.  The trouble with sieges ended up being that siege weapons didnÂ’t always work right, random crashes happened just a little too often, and the game stopping bad lag rendered sieges useless for a whole lot of players.

Luckily, most of these issues were easy fixes once they were finally attended to.  Sieges work quite a bit better now, though the lag can still be painful.  Of course there will likely always be a struggle with no bugs and exploits, but like with any game, these will be dealt with as they crop up.

Mini-games, also another good concept, just never gained a whole lot of attention.  I didnÂ’t even hear about them myself until I had been playing AoC for many months.  The mini-games have been completely reworked and promoted bringing in interested players to enjoy various games, like capture the skull or annihilate opposing team scenarios.  The bones are there to make this a well used feature, but players still seem to want a little more meat put on these PvP encounters.  A great solution would be creating cross-server mini-games to promote not only interest in the scenarios, but also a fun and healthy rivalry between server populations.  It may not be completely feasible, but anything that would get players into mini-games would put to use a very good aspect of the game that is being completely missed by many.

IÂ’ve always thought that open PvP in AoC was quite good.  Aside from class imbalances and lack of players joining in, the PvP system had a lot going for it but growth continues for this feature as well.

Consequences are extremely important in PvP and this is something that Funcom has taken the time to address with the Notoriety system.  Being marked as a murderer or a criminal for stepping over the line of kosher gameplay goes a long way in enforcing the play nice policy.  Of course there will continue to be players who enjoy these tags, but at least they come with some forewarning and griefers will receive fewer benefits for their troubles.

WeÂ’re Not Done Yet!

Check back with Ten Ton Hammer next week as we cover Age of Conan updates to itemization, classes, and crafting!

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