No doubt about it, with its existing tweaks and a new expansion on the horizon, Age of Conan is on the rise. It seems like every day, I am seeing more players in-game who are either starting out for the first time, or like myself are just now jumping back into the game. Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many “LF guild, I just resubbed” comments I’ve seen in Global Chat in the last month.
Adventure Historian’s post on Conan the Barbarian as well as his comments reminded me of my plans to talk about my experiences since returning to AoC. In order for me to write this post, I’m trying to remember why I quit in the first place. Well, there was the client instability, for one thing, not to mention the memory leaks. I can still remember the way whole environments would crumble before my very eyes. Gee, weren’t those happy fun times? On top of that, the game had the distinct feel of being incomplete. Only the first 20 levels in Tortage Island felt truly polished. After that, you had content becoming more sparse, NPC losing their voice-overs, quest lines going nowhere, and many mission objectives broken and/or bugged. The game play felt increasingly more grindy, and I made it to level 47 on my Priest of Mitra before I called it quits and canceled my subscription.
My Priest of Mitra, abandoned once, but claimed again.
More than a year later, I’m back in AoC and having the time of my life. Over the last month, I’ve been able to take my PoM from level 47 to just shy of 70. Game improvements are numerous and remarkable.
Client stability, to name one thing, is a lot smoother now. The graphics are certainly running a lot better and I’m getting higher performance, though the system resources required to play this game are still going to be very taxing on older computers. Even I prefer to run AoC on lowered settings on my higher end gaming rig, just to avoid the technological hiccups that sometimes occur when I’m playing it on the highest quality.
One such hiccup, a moment in which my character has suddenly become a blonde. And no, your eyes do not deceive you -- those bonedancers are wearing nothing but blue paint.
Overall, there is a more polished look and feel to the game. The immersion I felt back when I was playing the first 20 levels in Tortage, I’m getting that warm fuzzy feeling back again now. AoC had felt grindy to me before because the content had failed to engage me, but that is no longer the case. There’s a ton of things to do now, from helping your guild build up your city through gaining valor, to breaking out the old professional tools to partake in some crafting. And speaking of crafting, there’s actually stuff worth making now!
A lot more “savage, brutal, and sexy” content has been added since launch, and you’re immediately drawn into this gritty world of the Hyborian Age. The world around you is breathtaking and finely-detailed, from the harrowing snow-lined cliffs to the lush, green hillsides. Finding your way around in a particular zone can be a little annoying, as not all paths are clearly marked and you may need to poke around a little to figure out where you’re going. Not ideal for me, but those who are into that kinda thing will cream themselves. The game music is also phenomenal, and fits the setting perfectly.
"Grr, mountain climbing was NOT in the job description!"
Everything has context, from the many ancient and dilapidated ruins you get to explore to the shining majestic cities crawling with all manner of citizenry. You get a real sense of the history behind the land when you talk to the NPCs, receive their quests and hear the emotion in their voices when they tell you their stories. I’ve always liked the way you interacted with the characters in this game, through dramatic camera angles and dialogue options. Your character will also have his or her own story line, which begins when you start off in Tortage and continues well into the higher levels.
No wall of text when receiving quests from NPCs makes for deeper game immersion.
Moving on to combat, it’s as hectic and fast-paced as I remember. I play a priest class, which requires the casting of a lot of well-timed spells. I’ve also had some experience with melee on my Bear Shaman, which involves more real-time options in combat (and better fatality animations, which include 100% more blood splatter). The system is reactive and at times will require a great deal of dexterity on the player’s behalf. I wouldn’t say the game is overly difficult, but it’s no cakewalk either. AoC will have its fair share of challenges, especially in areas with high densities of mobs, or in later instances where you and your team will need to work closely together to come up with strategies to take down bosses. There will be moments when you’ll find yourself fighting your way through unending waves of enemies, eyes flickering nervously to your health/stamina/mana bar, wondering at your chances of making it out alive.
"Drat, I must have taken a wrong turn onto the set of Hostel."
One thing I haven’t done at all is PvP. I’m not into that style of play, and I rolled my characters on a PvE server. There are areas where you can duke it out with other players though, but what I’ve heard about the PvP isn’t all that great. It doesn’t sound like a lot of people are participating in it, and it also seems like combat between the classes is still a little unbalanced. That’s an area where Funcom is still hard at work, I guess. However, I won’t deny I am intrigued by the siege warfare system, and hope to one day experience it for myself.
The community is also very good, which I was initially surprised to find. You can always tell who the veterans are; they know people are checking out AoC and they’re always willing to help a newcomer out, and share their love for the game. I wouldn’t have made it this far in a month if it wasn’t for the kind assistance offered to me by guildmates and others. Server populations still seem rather healthy, most likely due to the merges that have occurred since launch, but I still have trouble finding other people to do group quests or instances sometimes. There seems to be a lot of level 80s as well as a ton of lowbies, leaving a perceivable void in between.
My character gets to meet King Conan himself.
Another clear sign that the developers are still working hard on this game — veteran rewards. They’re saying, we haven’t given up on AoC and neither should you! The longer you stick with the game, the more Veteran Points you’ll get, which will allow you to buy stuff from special NPCs in-game. Rewards that you can purchase range from convenience items like Riding Training to social items like vanity pets. You can even buy experience-boosting potions, which I likey very much! Also, once you get to level 50 with your first character, you’ll automatically get access to a one-time opportunity to create another new character instantly at level 50. That’s how I was able to create Breawyn, my Bear Shaman, to play with my husband’s lower level Dark Templar, now that he’s resubbed to the game as well.
My free instant level 50 Bear Shaman and my husband's creepy looking Dark Templar.
To sum up my AoC experience, I have to say I’m quite impressed. My month with this game has given me enough information to make the decision to stick around a little while longer. Oh, who am I kidding, I’m enjoying myself so much at the moment, I’ll probably stay with this up to the release of the Rise of the Godslayer expansion and beyond. My goal now is to reach level 80 before it comes out, and seeing as it has yet to have a release date, I would say the chances of that happening are pretty good.