Age of Conan impressions

After starting up Age of Conan and making my necessary multi-core adjustments, I actually got to play for a little while this evening, without memory leaks, without gameplay degrading, without crashing.

Well, that’s almost true. The first time I logged in, appearing in the Inn in Tortage, I had graphic artifacting and I had to restart.

The second time, things went fine. I finished up one quest and started another, replacing a vial of blood atop the volcano outside Tortage. It’s another step in the storyline/single player progression, and it’s the first step I’ve been able to complete without laggy, stuttering gameplay.

I think there are some aspects of the 1-20 solo play that are attractive. It’s a pretty good way to learn the AoC combat system. Combat is quite different than other mmorpg’s, and by the time you’ve killed your way through a couple quests, things start to make a little sense. I could have stealthed my way through a lot of the volcano quest, but I think I gained some good combat experience.

The quest line is fairly simple, but I’m enjoying it. I don’t think I’ve seen a mmorpg put this much effort into a story, and breaking it out into single player sections is a good introduction to some of the factions in Hyboria. I don’t know how well Funcom will continue telling the story through questing once the single player portion is over at level 20, but so far, it’s a nice change of pace from your standard mmorpg conventions. I don’t think every mmorpg has to do this, or should do this, but Funcom should get some props trying something different.

Unfortunately, at the climax of the quest, when I stealthily exchanged a vial of blood to ruin a ceremony, the game switches to a cut scene, and the cut scene hung. I’m watching myself crouched before an altar (in pretty cool armor, another successful design point that I hadn’t been able to appreciate before today), with soot and ash from the the volcano falling behind me, waiting for something to happen, but I think I have to restart the client. I know I have to, and it’s a bummer.

I’m curious what prevented Funcom from finding problems with cut scenes in earlier betas. It’s possible that I’m expecting too much, but it feels like a bad sign that your scripted events, just switching to a movie, is breaking this late in development.

There’s a lot of talk on various message boards about the state of the game, and you get a couple points of view. Some people overreact and say they’re not going to buy the game (and people of course ask for their stuff, in this case their beta key), and other people overreact and say things like “I guess you don’t know what a beta test means”.

The truth is somewhere in the middle, I suppose. Sure, it’s a beta, and sure, it’s rough on various people at the moment. There’s a germ of truth in each reaction. But I think there’s a good game in here, if Funcom can overcome their obstacles. I do think it’s worth testing, bug reporting and feedbacking, and I don’t think overreacting and claiming the sky is falling is an enlightened reaction.

That said, I am concerned about all the problems I’m seeing, and the types of problems. I’ve been in a lot of betas, and I’ve been in a lot of games at launch. There are two extremes in experience. The first extreme is games that launched fairly smoothly, and probably includes WoW, DAoC, LoTRO…hmm, that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. There were server load issues, queuing, problems related to figuring out how to handle retail traffic. Those kind of problems, I really don’t mind dealing with. There’s no way to realistically test your game to scale, and if your game is successful, you’re going to have issues you have to deal with while the game is live.

The second extreme, in my experience, was SWG, Anarchy Online, Shadowbane, L2 (in beta for me, didn’t buy it). When I look back at those games, either in beta or at launch, I realize in hindsight that I probably knew subconsciously that those games were in trouble in one form or another, long before I admitted it out loud. See, I want games to succeed. I want to enjoy them, to experience a new world, a new place to adventure. But when a game goes bad, you kind of feel it. You see quests not finished, mobs falling through the ground, design choices that aren’t intuitive or don’t fit together smoothly, gameplay elements that feel tacked on or not well-integrated. For whatever server load issues WoW, DAoC, and LoTRO had at launch, they were coherent gameworlds; well-designed, the developer vision was communicated to the player and most of the gameplay elements just worked.

I’m not sure how I feel about AoC yet. There are things I like about the 1-20 storyline. I like that they tried something new with combat. The graphics are growing on me (although I haven’t been too excited about either WAR or AoC). I’d like to see more of Hyboria, and I’d like to see it while I have a solid framerate and no stuttering.

That said, I worry about the problems I’ve seen. I worry about a gameworld that allows players to climb down into areas, but not be able to climb back out of them without recalling or killing themself. I’ve found far too many dead ends, and that’s really frustrating. I don’t like that I have to mess with my cores to get the game to run stably. Whether Funcom fixes it or not isn’t really the issue; the decision to go with an older client that requires some people to disable cores, without communicating that clearly, was a bonehead move. I’ve had a couple BSOD’s today (display-related), plus the artifacting. The load times are still fairly significant, although much better with a core disabled.

I’m in the middle today. I’ve seen enough to hope that there’s a WoW/DAoC/LoTRO launch and future for AoC. Funcom has a lot of work to do between now and the 20th, but I prefer to hope, rather than hate 🙂 Even if they fail, I give them credit for their ideas, their creativity, and for taking risks. I suspect we’re going to see some major fixes in the next week; just the fact that the PvP weekend code was newer and more stable gives me hope that the multi-core and load time issues can be addressed.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed, and hope that I move from cautious to enthusiastic about AoC. We’ll see!

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3 Responses

  1. I can’t stress enough at how much nicer the Closed Beta is, Rick. I know I can’t prove that, but take it for what it’s worth.

    This is the kind of game that could really succeed both critically and commercially if they can get it working right and in a timely manner. There’s plenty of potential there and it’s in better shape than most MMOGs I’ve beta’d (minus LotRO and WoW of course which seem like flukes in the industry).

    But anyway, I’ve prattled on about that many times now.

    Do you think you’ll still be buying it?

  2. I’m not sure.

    Unless Funcom patches the open beta with the closed beta code (or a new stable build), I feel like buying the game is risky. I may have missed an announcement from them, but there has to be a reason they’re subjecting the majority of their testers to bad code. Who’s to say that problem won’t exist in the retail copy? Why do only the closed beta testers get the good build? Something smells fishy.

    I don’t think I’d pay for a game that isn’t stable in an open beta. To quote you, you said “working right and in a timely manner”. For me, timely manner means the next 7 to 10 days. If they don’t have things nailed down by then, AoC will likely miss my attention window.

    I’m going to write up a new post and quote you about the shape of the AoC beta, it sparked a thought.

  3. […] signs leading up to Age of Conan’s launch — the Open Beta was extremely buggy and nearly unplayable for some, the system requirements are pretty demanding, and now it appears that players who paid $5 extra to […]

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