Age of Conan released its first expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, last week. I know I ragged on Age of Conan a lot when it was first released, but I confess that it has rather grown on me. Maybe it is because I now have a system that can actually run the game fairly decently.
The thing about AoC is that they are willing to try new things at a slightly deeper level than most other MMOs. They're not always successful, mind you, but it's good to see them try. For example, the melee classes all use these combo-style attacks, where you attack from a specific direction, and your enemy has shields which shift.
(I actually found a good key-mapping for this. I use the Numpad, with 4,5,6 being the basic directional attacks, and the top and bottom rows being the specials with their respective directions. This system has made a world of a difference in how playable the game is for me.)
Meanwhile, healing is completely non-targeted. It's Heal-over-Time based with a little bit of positional requirements. Targets that are being healed get coloured circles around their feet, allowing the healer to see who is being healing inside the game world, rather than relying on the group interface.
Anyways, you can now accumulate free levels over time, making it an interesting second MMO. If you don't play as much, you can keep your character moving up with the free levels if you want, or spend them on an alt.
What's interesting about Rise of the Godslayer is that it is a "horizontal" expansion, rather than a vertical one. The level cap didn't increase. There is a new race, but you still have to go through Tortage with your new character. So you don't get to see the new stuff until level 20. Of course, my highest level character is 26, so I've never even seen most of the old stuff to compare it too.
It's interesting coming back to a game after a long absence. I'd completely forgotten how to play the Guardian, and so I have been trying different character classes to see if there's one I might like better. I picked the Guardian in a "must-have-pure-tank-or-healer-to-get-into-groups" phase, and I've since rethought that stance. I think it's better to pick a class that you like, and worry about groups later.
(Sidenote: Kalanthes of Ibis is really getting on my nerves.)
Some of the classes have some neat mechanics. For example, Conquerors have a self-buff that lasts an hour or so. But they can also throw down a Banner, which converts the self-buff into an associated group buff for 30s. After the 30s, the banner disappears, and the Conqueror gets her self-buff back.
It's a really interesting system that balances individual ability with the ability to give the group a buff. With the self-buff, the Conquerer can be as powerful as a pure DPS class. Throwing down the banner makes the group stronger, but the Conqueror weaker. If there are multiple Conquerors, one can buff the group, and the others can remain as strong individuals. I thought it was a rather elegant solution to buffing in general.
Age of Conan actually makes a nice complement to World of Warcraft, I think. They're kind of similar, but different enough that you don't automatically compare the two all the time.