Friday, May 23, 2008

Age of Conan: Odds and Ends

Tharok has challenged me to note some things that Age of Conan does better than WoW. I'm going to try to do so.

*crickets*

Umm, the water is really, really pretty. Seriously, the reflection, refraction, and diffraction is superb. Simply putting my toon in the water ups the graphics quality by an order of magnitude.

The use of positional effects such as knockbacks is very nice. My Priest of Mitra got this spell Repulse, which flings all enemies close to you backwards, and does a fair bit of damage. It's a lot of fun to use, and is a great spell for a priest type character.

The melee combat is more reactive than WoW's combat. Where WoW tends to fall into set routine, AoC combat tends to make you push buttons in a unique order each time.

Quests are a lot easier to do as quest objectives are marked on your map, so you can just follow the arrows.

I think the LFG system is better, but I haven't actually used it yet.

Well, that's done, and I can go back to pointing silly design design decisions. This is just going to be a quick list of stuff, not really in any significant detail.

Melee Combat. I personally find melee combat to be awkward, and not really that deep. Hit the guy on the side with no shields is not the height of strategy. Maybe it will get better if you can start identifying when a combo has been started and what moves are coming up.

Death Penalties. When you die, you essentially "respawn" at a graveyard. You have a penalty to your stats, which will go away if you reach the spot where you died (or after 30 minutes). Of course, if you die far away from a respawn point you have to run all the way back to your body, and there are normally respawned mobs in the way. So you have to kill these mobs all over again, only this time it's harder because of the penalty.

Quest tracking. As far as I can tell, you can only track one quest at a time. However, if you pick up a new quest, the tracking automatically switches to the new quest. So what ends up happening is that I'm following the arrow to a quest item and I see someone who has a new quest. I pick up the quest, look at the mini-map to find my bearings, and realize that I have to open the quest log and re-select the old quest I was working on. This behaviour is supremely annoying.

Chat Window. Here's the general rule of chat windows: Chat windows are for communicating with other players, the rest of the interface is for communicating with the game. 9 times out of 10, the player does not need to see an actual message from the game if the UI has been designed properly. AoC shows too many messages. As well, by default you can only see 3 or so lines in the window. The worst is when you sell loot after adventuring, and every transaction is posted. I'm not really sure it's even possible to carry on a conversation while doing something using the default chat.

Instancing. AoC doesn't really feel like a world. It feels like a collection of instances strung together. The instancing tech to balance loads and over-crowding is quite clever, but I'm not sure it was a good idea. I quite clearly remember my first griffon flight in WoW, and realizing that I could see other people and they could see me, that I was still part of the world. That was amazingly cool. In fact, I think Blizzard's decision to instance off the Blood Elf and Draenai starting areas was a mistake, and AoC is making that same mistake on a far larger scale.

Balanced areas. I was doing a green (low-level) quest that involved killing level 5 monsters at about level 8. However, to get to the correct area I had to get past a level 11 monster that killed me every time. I finally waited for a higher level to come by and kill it, and followed him through.

Graphics. I don't really like the graphics. Technically, they may be better than WoW (more polygons, more insert-CG-buzzword-here, etc.), but I find that Blizzard makes much better use of colours, contrast, and shapes. But I'm not really a fan of "realistic" graphics. I find that games that go for realism are not as "vibrant" as real life, and that more cartoony games are more likely to achieve that vibrancy. Your personal taste may differ.

Inability to switch characters. If you want to switch to a different character, you get to exit from the game and log back in again. I cannot fathom how Funcom decided this was a good idea.

Company logos. Yes, Funcom, when I start your game, I really want to see all 100 logos of every single company that had a hand in the game, including the pizza shop down the street, as well as the opening movie. Seriously, every time you launch the game, you get to sit through all the opening movies (or more accurately, hit Esc a whole bunch of times). Please, for the love of all that is holy, gaming companies need to stop doing this! Play all the movies whenever you make a new character, or the first time the game launches, but after that let us get to the actual game ASAP!

This isn't a negative for Funcom, but something that would have been really cool is if they had provided a set of "WoW default keybindings". Basically press L to bring up the Journal, B to bring up the inventory, C to bring up the character screen, P to bring up the Abilities/Skills and N to bring up the Feat trees. Just to make it slightly easier to steal WoW players. Similar to what Excel did to capture Lotus 1-2-3 users, by implementing all the Lotus "slash" commands.

All in all, AoC hasn't really grabbed me yet. There hasn't been anything that has really made me excited to play, and there are enough annoyances to make me not want to play. Admittedly, I haven't levelled very far yet, my highest character is my Priest of Mitra at about level 11. However, I have put in several hours on a bunch of different characters trying to find one that I liked. I predict that I will probably try to get my Priest through the starting area over the weekend, just to get my money's worth out of the game, and then probably stop playing it.

18 comments:

Todd said...

Rohan, I'm glad you're giving this game a fair shake. But it's ok to be a WoW fan, too. Warcraft has good reasons why they have so may subscribers.

I also think it's quite alright to criticize Conan in your initial post by calling it somewhat racist. Even if the game designers were trying to stay true to Conan lore, they wouldn't have had to make it so blatantly racist.

I'm glad you took a stand to begin with. But I feel like you're trying to defend it now by continuing to cover it. Let it rest. Let's go back to "Blessing of Kings"...an awesome blog for Warcraft pallys.

Warcraft rocks. Conan's racist. Enough said.

Peace!

Edge said...

Forget it - the reviews are coming in as "meh". Most agree that the realistic graphics are actually a little boring, and the lvling doesn't get any more interesting. Lots of blogs claim that after lvl 30 you get in real trouble - as in, you want to stop playing the game because of some disconnect in available quests vs your lvl.

Even Keen and Graev, who were hoping against all hope that AoC would be great, are bored already..and looking forward to WAR.

There is a huge market opportunity for a revolutionary new MMO - but mimicing WoW isn't it.

thrstn said...

About that quest tracking thing, you can turn it off in the options.

Alcaras said...

"In fact, I think Blizzard's decision to instance off the Blood Elf and Draenai starting areas was a mistake,"

Wait, what?

I'm not sure what you're getting at, because as far as I know, those starting areas have not been and are not instanced...

Rohan said...

Well, not in the traditional sense, but they're instanced in that you have to go through a portal/loading screen to get to them. They're not part of the world in the same way as all the other zones are.

It's like we say that Westfall and Elywnn forest are two zones, but that's not a physical limitation. The join between them is seamless, no loading screen or specific exit/entry point.

Tfx said...

While I agree with some of your jabs at the game, regarding the chat window and the instanced zones, I disagree with you for the most part.

"So you have to kill these mobs all over again, only this time it's harder because of the penalty."

That would be the idea of a death penalty, because, you know, most MMOs don't promote dying to mobs all the time. The death penalty is very small right now, and is easily playable with it. It also stacks if you die again within the 30 min. Funcom did this because in the opening days, theres bound to be issues, and if you are stacking death penalties because of a lag issue or game issue, it's not as much of a problem as it would be in a game like EQ where you lost exp.

"Inability to switch characters. If you want to switch to a different character, you get to exit from the game and log back in again. I cannot fathom how Funcom decided this was a good idea."

If you wait the 30 sec, you go back to the log in screen.

Company logos. Yes, Funcom, when I start your game, I really want to see all 100 logos of every single company that had a hand in the game, including the pizza shop down the street, as well as the opening movie. Seriously, every time you launch the game, you get to sit through all the opening movies (or more accurately, hit Esc a whole bunch of times). Please, for the love of all that is holy, gaming companies need to stop doing this! Play all the movies whenever you make a new character, or the first time the game launches, but after that let us get to the actual game ASAP!

This isn't a negative for Funcom, but something that would have been really cool is if they had provided a set of "WoW default keybindings". Basically press L to bring up the Journal, B to bring up the inventory, C to bring up the character screen, P to bring up the Abilities/Skills and N to bring up the Feat trees. Just to make it slightly easier to steal WoW players. Similar to what Excel did to capture Lotus 1-2-3 users, by implementing all the Lotus "slash" commands.


This combined with your pokes at racism in the game have really lowered my opinion on you that I used to have. Is it really that much of a problem? If you are really trying to defend wow here, this is not the way to do it. Funcom wasn't aiming to clone wow. The game is actually very different.

For one, you still haven't mentioned that it is a free-for-all PvP system (on the PvP servers). That alone opens up many many options for user content, such as massive PvP battles, or gladiatorial matches. You make it seem like its pointless to have a heal that's half as effective on the caster, but you fail to see that this is an entirely group based game. Every class has group buffs and most spells are AoE. The game actually is about to employ a system called 'Spell Weaving', where if several casters use AoE spells, they combine automatically to become a more deadly or helpful AoE spell.

What Blizzard did with WoW, is made it a solo game. Half the classes don't have group buffs, and grouping for questing is not nearly as fast as solo play. While this has its benefits, it took away the aspect of the MMOs that made them special to so many people. It took away the feeling of team play. WoW instilled in players minds that everything should be done in self interest. They even assisted in that, by making so if you decided you wanted to leave a guild with the loot they gave you, you could just transfer servers or get a name change.

Funcom is trying to bring back the idea that doing stuff in groups is always better than doing stuff solo. That is the basis of the game, and I think they are doing it very well. The only problem is many people aren't willing to make the next step of really sinking their teeth into the game without anyone or any game mechanic making them (i.e. battlegrounds).

All I'm asking, Rohan, is that you consider that this game is not supposed to be wow, and it is not directly competing with wow. It is aiming for a different market. I like WoW and all, but it is an entry level MMO that also has its share of problems. WoW is far from perfect, just as Age of Conan is. It just seems to me that you are turning a blind eye towards all the great things that Funcom is trying to do with Age of Conan. Let me also repeat that it is not meant to be a WoW clone, so comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. I'm not asking that you like the game, or quit wow, I'm just asking that you think about what makes the game good or bad regarding the game in itself, not regarding other completely different MMOs.

Alcaras said...

There's no loading screen for the Draenei or Blood Elf starting zones, unless you mean the boat from Auberdine and the portal from UC or EPL, which is just a consequence that those zones are part of TBC and are hosted on Outland's servers, not the old world's servers.

However they're not instanced, and it's a seamless transition b/t Azuremyst/Exodar/Bloodmyst and Eversong/Silvermoon/Ghostlands.

Rohan said...

alcaras, yes, that's the loading screens I'm referring to. I find it neat that you can run from the top of Eastern Plaguelands all the way to Booty Bay without encountering a loading screen. I find it adds to the feeling that you are in a "world".

I just think that being able to run from Silvermoon City all the way down to Booty Bay without a loading screen would be even nicer. I understand the reasons Blizzard chose to put TBC content behind the portal. I just think that on the whole it was a mistake.

Rohan said...

tfx, if AoC is entirely a group game, why does it have a "solo" mode? That's going even further to the solo-side than WoW does.

I do agree that the default of group buffs is very well done. The healing numbers just seemed unusual to me. Everything has an opportunity cost in terms of time, and healing simply did not seem worth the cost in time. And I'm not really sure how it being a group-based game is supposed to change that equation.

Finally, death penalties--unless very light--tend to cause death spirals. I find that's bad for gameplay. Additionally, death penalties tend to cause people to avoid doing risky things, which hurts the game experience. One of the biggest problems in WoW is the lack of tanks and healers in pick-up groups. And one contributing cause of that is the increasing death penalty in terms of gold for those two roles.

tfx said...

When you say 'solo mode', I am assuming you mean the night time mode during the first 20 levels.

You have to consider that Funcom designed the game to be two parts. The first 20 levels are more like an RPG than anything, but they also do something great. They teach you how to play your class. The solo mode is designed around each of the four archetypes. Being a priest, the quests in night time were designed around healing and crowd control. For example, I had to use Wave of Life to heal escaped prisoners being attacked, or towards the end of the destiny quest line, I had to use repulse to control a large group of mobs. Sure the first 20 levels aren't really 'group play' in the real sense of the word, but it provides a nurturing environment and it also provides a consistent learning curve, whereas the MMORPG part of the game really starts at lvl 20.

The reason I love this system is because in order to level in Age of Conan you need to know how to play your class. However, in WoW, there were so many people who could get to 70 without even knowing how to play their class. Hell, there are even posts on the warrior forums asking where they get defensive stance, because they skipped the quest at lvl 10. I'm not sure if you are familiar with that particular quest, but it has you attack one mob on an island, then he sends another one out to finish you off (you can auto-attack your way through the event). You could argue that WoW is supposed to be an easy, entry-level game, but is it really doing its job as that? Does that quest really sound like it's showing players how to tank? Would a warrior who was new to MMORPG logistics and who had no concept of tanking learn how to tank by the time they got to 70? The answer to both of those questions is quite simply, no.


I do agree that the default of group buffs is very well done. The healing numbers just seemed unusual to me. Everything has an opportunity cost in terms of time, and healing simply did not seem worth the cost in time. And I'm not really sure how it being a group-based game is supposed to change that equation.


Think about it, if you have two healing classes, both with groups heals that are twice as powerful as the corresponding self heal, then healer 1 gets healer 2's heals, while healer 2 gets healer 1's heals, making them more powerful then would be combined outside of a group. This is why I am saying it is a group game. Even the fact that all the heals in the game are AoE based, and not single target, should turn you onto the fact that it is a group based game. Even the basic directional attacks can cleave. In a group, healers are much more powerful than they would be solo because of the half-as-effective self heals. On top of all that, most of the time there is no reason to be concerned about self heals, because healers don't even get hit in groups because of tanks.

Finally, death penalties--unless very light--tend to cause death spirals. I find that's bad for gameplay. Additionally, death penalties tend to cause people to avoid doing risky things, which hurts the game experience. One of the biggest problems in WoW is the lack of tanks and healers in pick-up groups. And one contributing cause of that is the increasing death penalty in terms of gold for those two roles.

First of all, if you don't consider a 2 magic damage and 2 melee damage penalty 'very light', especially when at level 10 your spells' damage range is far more than 2, then I am not sure what you would consider to be a light death penalty. You can even go pick up your tombstone while sprinting away from those mobs, or wait 30 min to do that quest again, or even get another player to help you. The other thing is, death penalties should discourage players from doing risky things. If a quest objective requires you to click an object at the end of a line of 10 hard-to-kill mobs, and they could possibly kill you before you got to said object if you decided to run straight to it, then the death penalty could convince the player to use their brain to pull the mobs, rather than rush in to click the object. If the aim of a quest is to better a players understanding of the game mechanics, do you think the developers would prefer a death penalty or not?

Also, I disagree with you that most people in wow are deterred from healer or tanks because of the higher repair bills. The reason that most people don't play those classes is because it requires a person to be competent and do their job. When I raided in wow on my paladin, I could see that my healing directly effected the outcome of a fight, like when I land a nuke heal as a tank is about to die. Many people don't like the fact that their effort, or in most cases in wow lack of effort, can noticeably effect the outcome of a fight. In a 5-man, I could single handedly carry the group, and provide a positive outcome. As opposed to if I was a DPS class, and in a 5-man with a crappy tank/healer, I wouldn't be able to do anything about the outcome. I consider this to be a design flaw if anything, because wow rarely hinged fights on the DPS. Only recently have they made fights with tight enrage timers and high DPS requirements. Age of Conan attracted me, because every class can effect the outcome of a fight. Every class has strong group buffs or debuffs, and every class has 'oh-shit' spells. Every class can save their group from certain defeat.

In the end the death penalty and the group dynamics provide for a much more immersing and entertaining experience than any solo play ever could. Using your head is not a bad thing in a game. However, most of what I am saying could not be true if you prefer the tedious task of playing a paladin in a raid (which consists of clicking raid frames), or if you are humored by whack-a-mole. Maybe some people can enjoy wow because of that simplicity, but it is that simplicity that killed the game for many others. This post is not directed at the audience that your blog is aimed at, but rather the people that come here just to be persuaded by a WoW player's take on the game.

Rohan said...

Think about it, if you have two healing classes, both with groups heals that are twice as powerful as the corresponding self heal, then healer 1 gets healer 2's heals, while healer 2 gets healer 1's heals, making them more powerful then would be combined outside of a group.

No, I understood that perfectly fine. It's an interesting mechanic, though I don't really see how stacking healers is a good thing. I'm pretty sure that a number of games have shown by now that most people don't really like healing.

The healing numbers seemed too low by a factor of 10, and even doubling the healing wouldn't do anything. What's the point of 2 or 4 HPS when you're dealing with 40 DPS? That level of healing is nowhere near the opportunity cost of the cast time for the heal. You'd be better off doing damage instead of healing.

As for the death penalty, I'm talking about the unwillingness of existing tanks/healers to PuG. When every death costs me 5+ gold, I'm less likely to help a random group do something. And that makes it harder to find groups, which lessens the playability over all.

Of course, you could say "Find a guild, or group of people to regularly group with". And I suppose that's an option. I just don't find it a very attractive option.

As for risky things, whenever you have death penalties that are an actual factor, people start avoiding activities where they could die. Instead of doing yellow quests for experience they start grinding green mobs. But the threat of death makes the game interesting, makes you have to play well.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tfx said...

I see what you're saying now about the heals. While I thought that at low levels too, the heals become way more effective at lvl 25 on, like my priest's wave of life heals for 75 HPS and my emination of life heals for 40 per second. Not to mention my lance of mitra does an AoE heal for ~120 when it hits. So to be honest, it gets a lot better. Especially since you get talents that allow your heals to do other things like an AoE DoT or AoE mana/stamina return.

About PuGs not being fun, that's the point I was trying to make in my other post. Age of Conan is fun because people you find to group with have an idea of how to play their class because of the first 20 levels. In WoW, PuGs often suck so much because most people don't know how to play their class, bed. In AoC I can be confident that someone has a little bit of an idea how to play their class just because they are my level.

I'm not saying WoW doesn't take skill later on, but it's learning curve isn't consistent. It's more like a flat line from 1-70, then it darts up when you start raiding. I'm also not saying Age of Conan is perfect, because it is far from it. I'm just trying to convey my ideas and disagreements here, being a lon g time WoW player and having played AoC enough to form an opinion on it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Proudfoot said...

I have to agree with Rohan... So you play by yourself for 20 levels and that somehow makes you a better group player???

WoW slowly introduces you to new spells every few levels so that you can learn to use them without feeling overwhelmed. WoW is hugely popular and the average player is not an MMO veteran as I would assume AOC players are. Players knowing how to play their toon in AOC is no surprise IMO. I don't see what Blizzard could have done any better to teach players their role in groups short of FORCING grouping like some other MMO's have done. I don't agree with forcing people to do anything.

Anonymous said...

Like people want to pvp aren't forced to do battlegrounds? Oh...

Shaza said...

what i didnt like was my computer was better that the recommended spec but i am still getting an avg of 15fps. I spike up to 25 in some place and down to 6 in others. fog is a killer!! i need a 8800 card, getting it friday.

really better quest tracking

eldae said...

Chat Window. Here's the general rule of chat windows: Chat windows are for communicating with other players, the rest of the interface is for communicating with the game. 9 times out of 10, the player does not need to see an actual message from the game if the UI has been designed properly. AoC shows too many messages. As well, by default you can only see 3 or so lines in the window. The worst is when you sell loot after adventuring, and every transaction is posted. I'm not really sure it's even possible to carry on a conversation while doing something using the default chat.

Chat messages can be turned on and off if you rightclick the chat-windows name. There are even a few default chat settings to choose from (chat/combat/public etc).

And I'd have to agree, the first 20 levels are just to teach you how to play, the fun starts @ 20+ (besides, you can easily make level 25ish on a free saturday ;).