For an MMORPG that has been out for as long as it has, Age of Conan sure feels like an early access title. And I say this as someone who has bought, played, and generally found things to like about early access titles.
Now I should preface by reminding you all once again that the Choose My Adventure column isn’t meant to be a review or impressions piece, nor is it a love letter. Look at me tapping the sign. However, I will also admit that it’s really, really hard not to cast some initial aspersions against this game in the opening steps of this month’s adventure.
The problems first started with what appears to be a very common issue for the game: my sound not working. This was a really baffling bug that, according to my Googling, would require me to fiddle around with my sound device properties a bit despite literally – not figuratively, literally – every game on my system working just fine without doing so. I admit to being pretty grumpy about the apparent fix and elected to instead let the game run in silence; at the time Summer Games Done Quick was running and I had stuff to listen to, though now that the event is over I’m kind of out of options. Maybe there’s some podcast I could listen to instead.
After a quick bit of character customization to form my new Barbarian character, I arrived on the shores of Tortage with nothing but some rags and a big stick to bonk foes with. I vaguely remember some of this early portion of the game, but I also remember kind of leaving shortly after I arrived due to being kind of underwhelmed. Luckily, I had a bit more mental fortitude to stick it out and first got introduced to some of the game’s combat… after reading the manual, anyway.
For those who might be unfamiliar, the very first abilities my character received were basic sword swings that move in one of three directions. As I slowly started to learn, the point is to try to find an opening in a target’s defenses, which are illustrated by a series of white arrows that surround an enemy, in order to do maximum damage; if there are three arrows towards the left side, I should swing right, but if there’s a single arrow in each direction, I should focus on one side to force the enemy to defend that way and create an opening on the opposite side. I don’t know that I’m explaining it well, but I have to admit it was an intriguing combat wrinkle.
As I gained levels along the tutorial path, I started to slowly get additional abilities that would combo into directional weapon swings. What I think is the purpose here is to wait for an aforementioned directional opening, then use an ability combo associated with that available direction to do as much damage as possible. Again, pretty intriguing system.
Overall, though, combat just seemed to be a mad spamming of directional swings while openings felt like they did only slightly more damage. Exacerbating the problem was the fact that aligning my own defensive arrows didn’t really seem to be doing much, while sometimes my character would pull off some fatality-style kill moves that ended up being off-center and janky as hell, as my Barbarian would either lop someone’s head off while standing about three feet away from them or bury her sword into thin air then roar as she triumphed over physics.
Visual goofiness aside, I kept pressing on through the themepark MMO quest trail until I made my way to the main city. These quests were just a long conga line of boring and eye-rolling edginess that had me resting my head in the palm of my hand out of indifference. I don’t claim to have read the Conan stories or even watched the films, but I get that this is supposed to be a brutal and violent world. Even so, when it took me roughly four or five dialogue lines to get to the point where I could kill a slaver, reading droll internet tough guy-level banter along the way, the attempted vibe started to wear out its welcome in very short order.
About the only time questing kind of switched up for me was when I was invited to stay the night at the inn, which ended up moving me into solo-only quests in the same zone. This was actually a pretty neat bit of flavor, as the explanation of doing things under cover of darkness made sense. Still, quests here didn’t really thrill me regardless, as I was instructed to sneak but all I ended up doing was cheesing my way to objectives or loudly killing guards anyway, all for a reward of more stilted dialogue and some somewhat better gear.
Eventually my quests took me off Tortage into some adventure area with what seemed like a pretty wide spread of enemy levels. Things were going fine as I killed panthers and gathered coconuts, but then when I had to leave I had to navigate crocodiles that were four levels higher than me swarming the exit point. After failing to fell these giga-crocs, I instead tried to sneak by, failed, then bravely ran like hell to the rowboat to get back.
I am now about 11 levels in to Age of Conan, and I have to admit that its very first footprint is not great. As interesting as the game’s combat model might be, it lacks a lot of impact for me right now, both in terms of raw numbers and feel, while the quests bore, the dialogue exhausts, and the visuals ache. All while I play in complete silence. Fool me for thinking a game by Funcom that isn’t a survivalbox would feel well built, I guess.
Still, I want to give this one a little more effort and a bit more time to improve itself. As I mentioned before, this is pretty much a themepark MMORPG, but the day and night “modes” of the game world do at least provide me a sort of corssroads that you folks can vote on. I’m pretty certain I’ll need to switch gears from one to the other, but this is a question of primary focus all the same.
Should I focus on daytime quests or nighttime quests?
- Daytime. Clear the Tortage ledger and maybe find others to play with. (38%, 61 Votes)
- Nighttime. Might as well progress the overall story. (62%, 99 Votes)
Total Voters: 160
Polling wraps up on Friday, June 9th, at 1:00 p.m. EDT. Until then, this is another one of those games where some time away will probably help keep me refreshed. And who knows? Maybe I’ll fix the sound problem in the intervening days.