Passing on AoC for the moment

The Age of Conan pre-release access started today, and despite hearing good things about stability and performance, I don’t feel compelled to check it out again.

I’ve given Age of Conan and my mmorpg preferences a lot of thought since playing the AoC open beta. It’s not that Funcom has made a bad game. In fact, there are definitely things to like about it. If they can manage a stable launch, I think they’ll be complimented for trying to push in a few new directions. They definitely took some risks, and I respect what they’re doing. The active combat model is certainly creative. The 1 to 20 solo quest idea is a departure from industry conventions. Making the game bloody and mature takes guts, so to speak. Emphasizing PvP, especially world PvP, takes commitment and courage.

So if I can respect all those ideas, why don’t I want to play Age of Conan? I’m glad you asked ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been asking myself the same thing, and here’s what I’ve come up with. Disclaimer: If Keen and Graev keep raving about the game, and I walk by Gamespot with $50 in my pocket next week, I could find myself in Hyboria. It’s not completely out of the question. That said, here’s why I think I probably won’t buy Age of Conan.

First, I’m underwhelmed by the graphics. I’ve got a pretty decent last year’s machine (with a gig of video RAM in SLI, dual core, 2 GB RAM, bla bla bla), and the world only looks so-so to me. Maybe if the release client really is super-stable, and I could crank up the quality, I’d see what the game was designed to look like, but I’m sure that wouldn’t fly in open world PvP. I’d have to downgrade pretty heavily to handle PvP lag in big battles, and I don’t think non-stylized graphics degrade gracefully.

Second, it felt like aspects of the game were unfinished. I was so very disappointed to find an entire area outside the gates of one of the main towns to be totally un-itemized, with roads that led to zone walls, with no way to pass into another area. I’m too impatient to endure that when I’m already on the fence about whether I’ll enjoy the game or not.

Third, as much as I think Funcom should be commended for their emphasis on PvP, it felt like that comes with a price. I never got the feeling that I was entering a world in Hyboria. It felt like a game, too much like a game. That’s totally not a drawback for some people, but to me, there are other aspects of mmorpg’s that I enjoy as much as PvP. It felt like Funcom wanted to differentiate themselves from WoW (smart) by offering a more mature, PvP-focused game. I didn’t get the sense that there’s an economic element to the game that makes it feel more like a world, instead of just a game space. I could be wrong about that; the beta certainly didn’t give me enough time to check that out. Even if they skipped that element, or didn’t emphasize it, I don’t want to pitch it as a fault. It’s something I’m looking for in a mmorpg, and if Funcom went in another direction, it doesn’t mean they made a mistake.

I want a game with DAoC’s RvR and SWG’s economic opportunities. I don’t know that I’ll see a game that mixes those two things in this upcoming generation of mmorpg’s. Since WoW nailed so many elements of mmorpg design, it seems developers are narrowing their focus so they achieve the required level of polish expected in a post-WoW world. Again, I think that’s probably smart, and I don’t think AoC will suffer for having a limited economic model. It’s likely that I’m a small minority of people who enjoy that sort of gameplay ๐Ÿ™‚ It does, however, contribute to my lack of desire to invest time in Hyboria.

The final reason I don’t think I’ll play AoC is because I played two nights in WAR this past week. AoC and WAR are two pretty different games, and they both feel like potentially successful games, but there are gameplay elements in WAR that make me think that’s going to be a better home for me. I can’t talk about ’em because I’m under NDA, but I can say that I’d be missing some of the things Mythic is doing as I ran around Hyboria. There are a lot of “If only’s” when I think about AoC.

All that said, I think there are plenty of people who will really enjoy AoC. I’m certainly not trying to convince anyone that Conan is or will be a bad game. My decision is entirely personal, based on a long history in mmorpg’s and knowing what I like and want in a game. I’m looking forward to reading about everyone playing AoC and seeing how they enjoy what Funcom has built. I respect Funcom for the choices they made, and for sticking to their vision. I really hope they’re successful, and I hope it opens up the mmorpg market a bit. It’d be exciting to see AoC and WAR meet success this year, pulling away from the WoW paradigm and proving that innovation isn’t a recipe for disaster. Shoot, someone’s got to advance the industry with new ideas so Blizzard can rip ’em off and polish ’em for WoW 2 or Diablo Online or something, right?

So, if you’re on the fence about buying AoC, and if none of the admittedly arcane reasons I’m not buying AoC don’t matter to you, then I encourage you to check it out. If it stays stable like Keen says it was today, then it should be a fun game for most mmorpg fans.

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6 Responses

  1. Well said.

    Funcom is definitely worthy of praise for pushing those two or three concepts that really stand apart from other MMOs (by which I mean WoW).

    That said, I’m not going to play it. My reason, is that the Conan universe simply does not appeal to me at all. For me, I guess I need a bit of high fantasy action. It just feels like… age of empires or something… except with more blood.

    The new concepts really don’t do anything for me.

    Good luck Funcom. AoC will stand as a reminder that people can push the envelope a little as far as content. A little breathing room in design is a good thing. Thank you for breaking the WoW mold in a few places, but it’s just not for me.

  2. Great post! I actually am not playing for the exact reason Nick said! Wow, Age of Empires, you hit the nail on the head, I didn’t even think of that.

  3. I’m by no means an AoC fanboy, I’ve ripped Funcom over some of their beta fiascos. But I have to say they pulled off what seems to be quite a comeback from open beta to now. Playing in the early access has been like playing a new game from a performance standpoint. If you played during open beta I highly encourage you to try retail, it is vastly improved. If you have the cash and some time to spare it will probably be worthwhile.

    With that said, I wish I was in the WAR beta. That game appears to have many more of the gameplay elements I like. I also thought “right on” when you mentioned looking for a game that had DAoC RVR and SWG economy. One of the few things SWG did pretty well at was crafting, and DAoC RVR is nearly legendary at this point.

    Anyway, good read and I’m glad I found your blog! You are in my blogroll now. You can see my review of the past 2 days of the AoC early access at my blog if you are interested as well:

    http://textwall.blogspot.com/2008/05/age-of-conan-early-start-is-resounding.html

    /peace

  4. I’m happy to hear Funcom’s had a good pre-release so far, and I still haven’t ruled out a drive-by on the local Gamestop this week.

    I posted a while back that I was suffering from MMO fatigue. I’ve been having fun playing single-player games I’ve missed over the past 8 years, during my mmorpg adventures, and I still may just continue doing that until WAR releases.

    It’s good to make the decision based on my own feelings about MMO’s, though, instead of Funcom’s failure to deliver a good product. I really enjoy so much of what they’ve created in the game industry, and I wish them lots of success.

    Thanks for stopping by ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. You can just live vicariously through my blog until you give in, Rick. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. That’s pretty much what I’m doing!

    I’m not sure about the giving in part, though. Part of that has nothing to do with AoC; I’m busy in RL for a bit. Part of it has to do with what Tobold was talking about, how it’s not “worldy” enough. That was my sense as well, but it’s still not a well-formed opinion in my brain. I think I’ll be posting something about that later today, or this weekened, whenever I get enough spare minutes to hash it out.

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