Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Age of Conan: Installation, Races, Classes

I picked up Age of Conan last night on a whim, and thought I'd write about my first impressions. First off, this is probably going to sound unnecessarily negative. AoC does a lot of stuff well. For example, the servers were up, running and pretty solid, which, sadly, is an accomplishment for an MMO. I really only glitched out once (I died once and the dialog to resurrect didn't come up), so technically the game--so far--is smooth. My issues are almost entirely design-driven, which I suppose is progress for the MMO industry.

A general warning, the technical requirements are pretty steep. I wouldn't pick AoC up if you have less than the recommended specs.

I'll start with the install process. When we talk about Blizzard games, we often throw around the word "polish". Whenever someone asks for a concrete example of polish, I point to the installation process for World of Warcraft. When you install WoW, the installer plays a noticeable sound (an orcish drum sound, I believe) when it is ready for the next CD. This allows you to do something else while the game is installing, and still be alerted when it is time for the next CD. Then when you insert the next CD, the install process automatically picks up from where it left off. (My guess is the autorun of the new CD communicates with the installer.)

That is polish. Taking the time and effort to clean up the little details that other people would leave undone. AoC's install, in contrast, worked fine. But you had to manually check if the installer was ready for the next DVD, and you had to click the OK button after putting in the DVD. It's a small thing, but it really symbolizes the difference between WoW and AoC, between Blizzard and the rest of the gaming industry. AoC works, and is serviceable and fun, but WoW is polished.

On to races and classes. There are three races: civilized good guys, who are white; noble barbarians, who are also white; and evil bad guys, who are black. Gotta love the casual racism of the gaming industry. These racial distinctions are enforced in the game. If you roll a Cimmerian, you cannot pick a non-white skin colour. If you roll a Stygian, you cannot pick a non-dark skin colour.

And the good/evil divide extends to classes. The black people have a single neutral class (the Archer), and all the other classes are outright evil (Demonologist, necromancer, Herald of some elder demon god, priest of Set). Meanwhile the white people have mostly good or neutral classes (there is one evil class, the Dark Templar).

Of course, Funcom probably justifies being racist by claiming to be "true to Conan's lore." Yeah, well, Howard was pretty damn sexist, but I don't see AoC imposing any but the most cosmetic differences between males and females. There aren't any stat differences between male and female characters, and either gender can be any class. But then I guess Funcom is European, and therefore, "Racism good! Sexism forbidden!"

Funcom will probably react to this by trotting out some token black NPC who they claim is a good guy ("See, not all black people are totally evil"). But actions speak louder than words. In Age of Conan, if you want to play a good, heroic class, you make a white character. If you want to play an evil class, you make a black character.


  1. But then I guess Funcom is European, and therefore, "Racism good! Sexism verboten!"

    Perhaps you might want to expand on those comments, lest people get the wrong idea.

  2. SCV's are worker units and are black, while the rest of the Terran forces are white?!

  3. You do know that Europe is bigger then just Germany? Funcom is from Norway, they don't even speak German...

  4. You do know that Europe is bigger then just Germany? Funcom is from Norway, they don't even speak German...

    Heh, I was actually using 'verboten' for its literal meaning. I didn't mean to imply that Funcom was German. I've switched it out for a regular English word.

  5. Meanwhile, in other news, GTA 4 is deliberately training your children to be cold-blooded killers. You heard it here first, folks!


  6. I think the same issue has popped up for World of Warcraft once or twice like when there was a big stink over the trolls being portrayed with Jamaican accents. In general I think games are a new form of media and are less careful about being politically correct.

    On the other hand my views on political correctness tend to match Carlos Mencias.

  7. Can humans in WoW be black?

  8. Can humans in WoW be black?

    Yes. There's actually a fair variety of skin tones.

  9. Wait, wait...what about the black dwarves? Black dragonflight? Black orcs?

    Those guys are pretty evil.

  10. And let's not forget the evil Dark Iron Dwarves :)
    I just wondered, because I don't recall ever seeing a black human PC or NPC or mob in WoW. But then again, I typically don't pay a lot of attention to that sort of thing.

    It was said that there aren't stat differences between the sexes in AoC (which appeared to be used as an argument that sexism is absent); I doubt that there are significant stat differences between the races either.

    Rather, I would guess that the charges of sexism in AoC would be based upon the female lack of attire and a charge of the use of the well-endowed, bare-breasted female body to sell product.

    Trivia - anyone happen to know the meaning of the word "Stygian"?

    The picture at of the race didn't strike me as depicting 'black people'; the one on the left is yellowish and the one in the middle doesn't seem overly 'black' -- given that everything I've seen, and reviews I've read, depicts the whole AoC game is dark and gloomy. The Stygians don't seem to have 'black' features (their facial features appear to me similar to the lighter-skinned Cimmerian and Aquilonian races).

    I also noticed that Stygian are the only race with magic / mage capabilities.

    Given that the Stygian society seems to be based upon the caste system, it is just as likely that the dark-skinned depiction is based on Indian / Persian look and culture. (I know and work with several Indians, and they are very dark-skinned.)

  11. I think it is quite silly to draw these parallels. I wholly disagree with these thoughts, I think you are really grasping at straws here by making such connections. But to each his own, perhaps because I am white I don't see these things jumping out at me as "clearly" as some people might.

    I'll further state that the connection to Persian or Middle Eastern dark skinned people. Even the music in Stygia is middle eastern. The North American style racism parallel is way off in my opinion.

    Also, I thought I was critical of AoC, but your critique of the installer makes me feel very forgiving of them in contrast. It just goes to show how some people are completely unbothered by things that may irritate others.

  12. Also, I thought I was critical of AoC, but your critique of the installer makes me feel very forgiving of them in contrast.

    It wasn't actually a critique of the AoC installer. It's perfectly fine, and most companies follow the same format. I was just pointing out how Blizzard goes that extra mile, puts that extra layer of thought and polish into things.
    Also, if you want to substitute "brown","non-white", or "dark-skinned" for "black" in the post above, you can. The point still stands.

    Stygia appears based on Egypt (Set, Thoth-Amon). I sort of expected Aquilonia to be based on a Babylonian-style culture (given that Mitra is an Indo-Aryan god), but it appears to be more Roman-British.

  13. Aquilonia is pretty heavily English-based; the one actual Howard Conan novel was serialized and written for the English.

    The Stygians are based on the Egyptians.

    There weren't any real Black civilizations that I recall from my last reading. There were plenty of Blacks around, but they were individual immigrants, not part of a civilization.

    Howard's writing was not at all politically correct, though compared to the times it wasn't especially bad.

  14. Choice of good or evil should not be based upon your skin colour.

    If you read enough Conan stories, you will see most characters are a range of good or bad, irrespective of where they came from.

    You could say the Picts were pretty evil people, and they are definitely white.

    Yes, the Stygians worship Set, and human sacrifice is commonplace within the temples of Set,but that does not make every Stygian an evil person.
    Anyway, what about the Nubians?

  15. Well seeing as Conan lore has been around for decades, your pokes at the racist themes in AoC could be true. The european devs that decided to make the world into an mmorpg could be huge racists.
    However, the lore goes that the Stygians were based on egyptians, who are not exactly black. They have evil classes because in the lore, if you used magic, you would be outcasted. The Stygians took all those people in and treated them well because no one else did.
    It seems to me like you are just looking for things to complain about regarding the game. When Conan lore was originally written, there was no massive racist movement towards the egyptians, it just happened to be the culture that Howard chose to base that race on.
    Keeping in mind that one of the main goals that Funcom has was staying true to the lore, I'm going to have to completely disagree with you on that front. If you played a stygian, it would be overwhelmingly apparent that the race is based off of egyptians. If you have a bone to pick with the game, this is just weakening your arguement. Judging Funcom as racist just because a race has black skin makes you sound like the racist one, sorry to say.

  16. Man ok I cant change someone's mind on antyhing even if i dissagreed or not with you. I just do have a question for you.... You are talking about Blizzard ( and dont get me wrong. i love blizzard and their work ofc )how can you tell me about THEM knowing what polishing means? When even after till 5 almost years and when already over 8million subscribings they didnt even care to put the game into the goddamn dvd? You care about the drum sound? I don't since it still has me waiting next to the computer for a huge installation. add the expansion cds... Add the huge patches either small ones that you have to keep checking over and over... No. Blizzard knows nothing about polishing. The sound thingy exists in many even way too low production games. Sorry but i had to respond since I was always too bugged from WoW's installation progress...

  17. Are you freaking serious?! You are calling Funcom racist because they stuck to the lore instead of making the game politically correct? Get a life dude.

    Also, a .wav file playing on the games installation is not "polish". Polish is a pretty broad term but it most definitely is used to refer to game play and not the installation wizard. In any case, WoW was complete shit at launch and was far from polished. The game barely ran and the servers crashed constantly. The original WoW retail box came on CDs, I believe there was 5 discs in total. The game took well over an hour to install as well. When you have to switch discs 4 times then playing a sound is a bit more relevant. You only have to change discs ONCE during the Conan installation, if you can't be bothered to check your installers progress every 5 or 10 minutes then you are just lazy.

    Also, many, many installation wizards play a tone when a new disc is needed, in fact you can set Windows to do this yourself. Since "insert disc X" messages are pop-up dialog boxes, you can set windows to play a noise when these come up.

    In all honesty though it's a petty thing to complain about. In fact all I can get out of your little shpiel is that you are desperate for something to complain about. You couldn't find anything inherently wrong with the game itself so you began grasping at straws.

    What did you ultimately find wrong with the game? Nothing. Your complaints are in fact not about the game but about yourself. You realized that you were too stupid and lazy to look at your monitor and needed a sound to tell you when to change discs and that you are a moron who sees racism in everything but decided to blame it on Funcom so you wouldn't have to admit to yourself how stupid you were.

    This game is not racist,and you are completely ridiculous for thinking it is. This is the lore of the game's universe (which has been around for a very long time), and what you deem to be "evil" is subjective anyway. Just because you find a class to be "evil" doesn't mean a damned thing in the grand scheme of things. Your racism argument is even more pathetic than the people who tried to argue Capcom was racist for setting Resident Evil 5 in Africa.

    Get a life dude and get off Blizzard's dick. Blizzard is an awesome company and they have made some great games but they are far from perfect. Blizzard has made games so bad that they canceled them weeks before launch to save themselves the embarrassment. Again I want to point out that WoW was complete crap at launch. It had less than 10% of the content it has now, was highly unstable, completely unbalanced, and had a slew of other problems not including the horrible servers.

    Oh and before you even attempt to say so, I am NOT a WoW hater. I love WoW, I have multiple 70s including my main Resto Shaman who has full tier 6. So don't even bother trying to say I just hate WoW, but it's pretty obvious that you hate anything that isn't WoW.

  18. But then I guess Funcom is European, and therefore, "Racism good! Sexism verboten!"

    Isn't that a racist comment in itself?

  19. So... AoC is racist huh? Gee wiz, have you actually read any of the Conan novels? If so, you'd realize something. In the world of Conan, there are damn few good wizards. And only one area even allows magic users.

    Cimmerians are basically proto-celts. They revere strength and stamina, and generally hate magic. The fact they get a magic using class at all is amazing. The average cimmerian is too busy trying to survive to worry about being good or evil. And yet, they can be both. At age 15 Conan was part of a raid which destroyed a outpost remember.

    Aquilonians... They are many and varied. And yes, they can be brown skinned too. So, there goes the argument that all the 'good' races are white. These people can be good, evil, or indifferent. Depends on the person really. The only thing they don't do is arcane magic. And I'm not sure why. BTW, how do you explain an assassin being 'good' by default? Both Aquilonians and Cimmerians can be assassins.

    Next we have the Stygian. I can't honestly say their evil as a race, although their rulers might be evil. One of Conan's longest friends is a mage from there. While the mages might seem evil on the surface, it's not the source of one's power that determines good or evil. It's how it's used.

  20. Faerie Knight, I'm talking about the game, not the novels.

    There are no non-white Aquilonian skin tones available to the player. Cimmerians cannot be Assassins. No matter how you spin it, Demonologists, Necromancers, and Heralds of Xoltli are innately evil classes.

    Oh, and for the people claiming it's okay because Stygia is based on Egypt, Egyptian mythology isn't evil by default. Where is Isis, Osiris, and Horus?

    Not one of you have refuted my earlier assertion: If you want to play a good, heroic class, you roll a white character. If you want to play a black character, you pretty much end up with an evil class.

  21. Sorry mate but I just happened across this while searching for more lore information.

    I believe, and I will be as nice as possible here, but you are just plain wrong. I usually accept other peoples comments but this I cannot stand. How in your right mind can you claim this to be racism? How? Are you black? Does the game offend you that the only class that can be played as a black character comes from Stygia, a country based "losely" on Egypt who themselves are dark skinned? There is no Isis, Osiris or Horus, just like there is no Athena, Jupiter, Thor or Danu. Why is this? This is a fantasy world based on one man's imagination from the 1930's and quite frankly your hint at racism is offensive in itself, along with your ending comment.

    The Demonologist, Hearld of Xotli and Necromancer, along with the Tempest of Set, Assassins and Rangers are the classes Stygians can play. Both Cimmeria and Aquiliona despised magic. Stygia practiced it. The word you are looking for is culture, not racism. The Aztecs were practicing human sacrifice while Europe was waring with themselves and others. Were the Aztecs evil? Maybe. To them they weren't. For reference, my first class in Age of Conan was a black Herald. Did I choose that because I wanted an evil character? No I didn't. As a white man I chose it because it was a fun class. And Aquilonians and Cimmerians can be assassins, which by your account is "evil", so think again before posting your stupid slander.

    A piece of history you may wish to know as well, human sacrifice was practiced in Egypt as well, if you want to say "Egypt is Stygia".