Hyborian Weekend

My first impressions of Conan left me a little indifferent: it didn’t look as pretty as I had expected, I found myself floundering with the controls somewhat and nothing during that time had grabbed me and made me say “wow!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing I came across so far in Conan that really stinks. It isn’t nearly as polished as Warcraft, but even Warcraft had teething issues. It does boldly plough into serious graphical intensity. SWG, Horizons and Vanguard all tried and failed to have it together and runnable at launch, AoC seems to do remarkably well; but then I happen to be the proud owner of a relatively new system, complete with GeForce 8800GT.

And yet, when I launched it, this is what presented itself:

The first thing that came to mind was Far Cry, but unlike Far Cry I’m seeing angles and hard lines.

Maybe that comparison is what kept it from impressing me. I noticed sharpness everywhere; the effort here was obviously high detail, but it lacks the low-fi finesse of WoW which tries to accommodate its own limitations and the artists invested a lot of care and energy into making things look like things.

The immediate impression I got was in the vein – but not as drastic – as when 3D games first started incorporating photo-realistic textures, like the late 90s early 00s Duke Nukem 3D demos, which I thought looked terrible because they were using photographs and simply stretching them onto object surfaces.

Conan’s starter zone also feels very constricted and compact like Kotor2. Having paid no attention to the beta at all, and oblivious to the development history, perhaps this was a late addition or was remodelled late in the development cycle.

Elsewhere they seem to have done a much better job of blending modelling and texturing, although there are still places where it seems like three people were involved in building some models/areas: one models, one textures and one slapping the latter onto the former, but overall it’s quite coherent and pleasant to look at.

But I still find myself seeing a lot of sharp/hard lines, stretching of textures, and so forth. I’ve got everything cranked up high (except anti-aliasing which still seems to bite into my frame rate a tad too much).

I think some of it is “fi-trast” – the contrast between different fidelities causes my eyes to take a step back and see the flaws in the otherwise higher-def images that would quite happily fool my eye. (See left image below). At other times it’s just a little too busy with … something missing that keeps me from noticing the quantity of detail and, again, breaking my immersion. (See right image)

After you leave the starter island of Tortange, the NPCs stop speaking during quest dialog. I find this makes the RPG style framing rather painful, especially since the NPC dialog easily gets lost in busy or bright environments, it could use some kind of opaque backing plate to make it more readable. I also wish they’d stop showing the “!” quest icon during these cutscenes.

My visual ill-ease with Conan largely went away when I managed to get Anti-aliasing to turn on. The first few times it sort of secretly turned it off – I think my client crashed and didn’t save the changes, or it conflicted with something and silently turned it off. With aliasing off, the grass and clutter is thick and bulky, and it looks ugly – like the WWIIOL terrain slapped hideously into their sumptuous world.

Turn on anti-aliasing, and the world suddenly looks quite delicious.

There are graphical oddities scattered all over the place, from this weirdness with water at Tarantia

To the their “sun” hack – it’s actually the moon but you’re not supposed to be able to tell :)

(Its a lot larger when it’s the moon, and shortly after the “sun” set, the moon rose, so I assume this was supposed to be the Sun)

And then there are textures which seem to have gotten clipped or something which adds to my sense of jaggedness:

I’m not sure why it is that almost every screenshot I have from an MMO recently is night time. I’m starting to suspect that when it’s lighter I am more absorbed into gameplay and don’t stop to think of taking a screenie, whereas when it’s dark I am concentrating on seeing/vision/etc.

I thought I had a whole bunch more screenshots showing the brighter side of Conan, but it seems like it stopped taking screenshots at some point.

So far the quests have been OK. None of them have been arduous and there have been several interesting storylines and several experiences that I would say are unique to any existing MMO because of their use of single-player storyline content.

It’s very easy to mistake combat for generic MMO combat, but it is subtly different because of the collider component: you can, and are supposed to, use the terrain to try and manage the impact of a group of NPCs whacking on you: you can stop them getting behind you, and if you back into a corner you can limit how many can attack you at once to some degree (although it does seem that NPCs have some kind of threshold that says “ah well, I get to hit you anyways”).

I had my first group last night and it was kinda fun; the interface is a little clunky and unpolished and we ran into a few minor issues that I won’t harp on because the game is barely a week old. I’ve played a Priest of Mitra (cleric) and a Barbarian (a sort of heavy rogue). Surprisingly, I’m more taken with the healer; Lungar, my Barbarian, is quite capable of fighting heavy mobs, whereas my Priest actually presents me with a challenge: single even cons, not a problem, but two or more mobs even 1 or 2 levels below me is definitely not a sure thing. The Priest is that sort of soft hybrid of mele/healer contained in the EQ1 bard class that I am so fond of.

Conan’s combat system is a little different than most stock MMOs; unfortunately, they chose some really crappy terminology that I suspect is the result of translation.

In short, each character has “shields”, which represent their defensive coverage. By default you are covering your left, mid and right equally. However, you can shuffle them around, e.g. to fully block any mid strikes or to doubly defend your left and singly defend your right. NPCs have shields too.

Instead of Auto-Attack, characters have 3 basic attacks – left, mid and right. The amount of defense the enemy has put in that sector dictates the amount of damage you do. If you keep mashing “mid” the enemy will move all his shields there and you’ll stop doing damage.

I would have called them “defenses” or something; “shields” is just kind of confusing with … shields.

The other component of Combat is the “combo”. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t a combo traditionally a move achieved by pulling off a combination? Not so much in Conan. There are a bunch of mele abilities you can use like regular MMO abilities; but the mainstay are these “combos” – which are probably so called because you have to hit the ability and then hit the direction the ability is supposed to go in. For instance, my Barbarian has an AOE called “Sweep”, it’s listed as “UR”, which means I have to hit the hotkey for sweep and then hit the Upper-Right attack.

I guess, in a sense, it is a combo, just not in one that makes sense to me ;)

Now, the shield system brings me to one of big obstacles to my enjoyment of Conan: the controls. For some reason, I just can’t get 100% comfortable with them. Definitely one of the biggest issues for me is the shield system, which is mapped to the control key and numbers 1 thru 4. If you press CTRL-1, CTRL-3 it will transfer shields from left to right. That’s very cool, but it takes away my CTRL key (although they use CTRL-combos for a bunch of stuff).

I find this leaves me struggling to operate multiple hotkeys. There are a bunch of hotkey combos that it tells you are reserved, even though nothing is using them. On my priest I tried mapping some of my spells to CTRL-Q thru CTRL-T, unfortunately this does weird stuff, including CTRL-W stepping forward and cancelling my spell, and CTRL-T periodically half opening the chat-buffer to send a tell but then somehow defocusing input halfway between the chat box and the game; if you type text, it doesn’t appear in the chat buffer, but your keys stop controlling your character. In order to recover you have to hit enter, wait a half second for it to fully focus on the “/tell ” and then hit enter. Or something like that. If you hit ESC it eventually brings up the game menu.

Another huge frustration is the tiny inventory you get. The developers probably thought it doesn’t matter because so much of the loot is worth nothing. But typically, during the newbie experience, you can expect to have filled your inventory about 1/2 to 1/3rd of the way to your quest objective.

The Thirsty Dog Inn, in the starter area, sells packs. One costs 50 copper (Conan’s lowest value coins are Tin, not Copper; it’ll take you around 15-20 levels to make 50 copper) and the other costs 5s (my level 22 Priest has 4s). I bought the 50 copper one with my Barbarian. I don’t wish to put into words my annoyance at discovering that it only has 4 slots (you have to buy to find out).

4 measley slots?

The trouble is that there’s really no good way to guess whether something will be valuable or not. Stuff that I figured would sell for 2-5x what the other loot would sell for sold for 2 tin, where the other items turn out to be worth 13 tin.

And speaking of items; it seems like Conan’s items suffered major dialbackage. I’ve seen loot drops on mobs upto level 40 featuring Sandals that offer “+0.1% damage protection”; and arm bands, gloves, etc. I guess it’s primarily chest and leg pieces that offer protection, and that sort of makes sense, but in an MMO it leaves you wondering: what’s the difference between this level 1 shoes +0.1% and level 40 shoes +0.1%?

Then there are items with “+0.02% Slashing Invulnerability”. What the heck? 1/20th of a percent? No wonder this level 14 item sells for 10 tin less than the same level 10 item without that one stat.

So far, the game has been entertaining, although it does drag in places; and you quickly get tired of the loading times which, though short, can happen a hell of a lot because the zones are all very small.

The “Destinty” quest that leads you off Tortange island was a lot of fun, a nice little single-player event. After that, though, I got dumped at Tarantia and found myself kind of wondering what to do. There were the obvious “familiarization” quests immediately after which it seemed to want to shunt me off to other continents. I found a lot of people scratching their heads at that, trying to figure out if there weren’t supposed to be quests in/around the area.

The Conan world isn’t meant to be contiguous, which if you’re used to traditional MMOs throws you for a loop because you expect to get all your city quests and then head out thru the gate. The gates are there, in Tarantia, but they lead you to NPCs asking if you want to go to the other starter cities – which is just downright confusing. Why the hell did I just do a half-dozen courier quests in Tarantia just to head to another continent, where the NPC is offering me a damn “get to know” courier quest?

There’s rather a lot of stuff that isn’t explained at all or explained poorly. At level 10 you get an extended skill tree system, “Feats”, which isn’t mentioned at all.

Character attributes are present and can be tweaked thru items with stats, but otherwise they tend to themselves. There is the inevitable “Skill Point” system for things like health/mana regeneration, run speed, recovery (think ‘meditate’), sneaking and … climbing.

At each level, you get 20 skill points, and each level all of the skills available to you raise their ceiling by 10 points. Aside from the 20 base points, you also randomly get points 2 at a time. With my Barbarian, this seemed to be non-stop, and he was easily able to keep several skill lines maxed.

My Priest, however, has gone numerous levels with little – if any – more than the 20 baseline. There are quite a few quests involving climbing, which she basically can’t do because her climbing is stuck at 50 unless I want to stop keeping vital skills maxed and waste the next 3 levels of points on getting climbing up.

One of the best things about this game has to be its mature setting: everything from drunken pirates visibly pissing off the dock in Tutange to NPCs threatening to stick a pike “up your arse” or decrying their enemies as “bull-buggering”; the game is rife with suggestive content (I found one quest which asked me to calm down a nuisance visitor to the town, and one of the options for my female toon was to offer him a quickie).

Incidentally, the Conan world actually gives women a remarkable amount of power – many of the most powerful and most important characters are women; unfortunately, the average spotty teen remembers the women slaves. There’s certainly practical looking armor for both genders to wear, but naturally, most of the women running around in AoC are rather scantily clad. While I have some reservations about the message that might give out, I have to say it’s quite easy on the eyes ;)

27 Comments

nice ass :D

I have to say I don’t much regret that my laptop doesn’t run Conan. I paid few bucks to try out the beta for a weekend, and I saw enough to not pay for the full game.

The game wasn’t smooth, or even playable, at the lowest of all settings and load times were the suck. Apart from that everything had a little “under construction” feeling to it. Nice to know the graphics glitches were not just because of the low settings :)

The other component of Combat is the “combo”. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t a combo traditionally a move achieved by pulling off a combination? Not so much in Conan. There are a bunch of mele abilities you can use like regular MMO abilities; but the mainstay are these “combos” – which are probably so called because you have to hit the ability and then hit the direction the ability is supposed to go in. For instance, my Barbarian has an AOE called “Sweep”, it’s listed as “UR”, which means I have to hit the hotkey for sweep and then hit the Upper-Right attack.

I guess, in a sense, it is a combo, just not in one that makes sense to me ;)

As you get to higher levels, they’ll start to require multiple directions to complete successfully. They’re just one shot combos right now. ;)

Still doesn’t feel like what I consider to be a “combo”. Maybe I’m just being crochety.

The forums are full of the usual “omg this is still beta” but I have to say, I’ve run into less bugs in 5 days of Conan than in 1 hour of Vanguard. Ok, that might not be saying a lot… Conan has been pretty reliable for me, but then I’m not putting in mad hours.

Tortage.
T-o-r-t-a-g-e.
No “u”.
No “n”.

Tuntage must be in the Rage of Bonan or something.

I’m sure that’s where Howard took the name. Tortuga with demons, slavers, volcanos, giant bats, panthers, apes and picts.

The question I asked with all new MMOLRPGs:

Has it developed enough new interesting stuff that moves it beyond a MUD with graphics and actually make it worth paying money to play?

I haven’t found one yet.

I had fun in Vanguard when grouped. The solo stuff put me to sleep. Sometimes I think it’s the company of friends that makes a game.

If I had to put my finger on one thing that makes a game thrive, is it’s ability to generate community and team oriented things. My first experience in EQ was with my two brothers, but then moved to guild play with battlefield communicator. After that, it was Air warrior, with Roger Wilco. Then, WW2OL/Sturmgrenadier and Teamspeak. The latest for me was Vanguard, with Ventrillo and a few good times. The point is, the ability to socialize is just as–if not moreso–important as the game itself. The game needs to provide a medium for group events, and there has to be a concurrent method of comms, be it archaic chat, or more modern voice coms. My bet is soon it will be pop up video coms (and I’d invent it if I knew how).

7 years for WW2OL/BE, not too shabby. Ups and downs, but I don’t see an end in sight. LOL @ Rage of Bonan!

The ability to socialize is kind of a given with any MMOLG, if it doesnt have it (Im looking at you exsteel!) then it’s going to die pretty quickly.

So what I’m looking for, and what a lot of other people are too once they tire of the whack whack level level paradigm, is a game with a ‘bigger picture’. This is in a nutshell what makes ww2OL the only game thats been on my PC for the last 7 years straight. As a flight/tank sim, or an infantry FPS is pretty darn mediocre but since absolutely no other game lets you do all 3 (whoops ok 4 if you count naval play.) in an environment with a overlaying strategic level (before anyone says BF1942) it wins out in the end.

Today’s MMORPG are still essentially single-player RPGs (roll not role) with a chat interface and pictures. You get to level 60 and then what? I just camped the ‘Tower of Lower Doom’ for the 15th time, how exactly is that fun? Christ I’ll go load up Baldurs Gate 2 again if I want some levelling RPG action or Arctic Mud if I want to talk to people while I do it and it doesn’t cost me 15 bucks a month.

The problem is that publishers lack the balls to create worlds where players can actually ‘win’ the game. Mind you if they look at the example of ww2ol and the vitriol that can exist between the two sides they might be put off going that route. Another way to look at it though is wouldn’t you want a game that excites such passion amongst its playerbase? (with the added benefit of yours players not being able to do research on the ballistic properites of the Fire Arrows +3)

exteel even

Hmmm Everybody is entitled to their opinion of course, but as a game artist, I have to say your’s sucks. :)
I would love to write dissertation concerning your critiques but I just don’t want to spend the time doing it. I’ll yell at you instead, the next time I see you in the hallway.

I haven’t heard nitpicking like this since Roger left.

Which “opinion”?

– That what I saw first and foremost and frustratingly when I first entered the game was lines and angles everywhere until I reduced the resolution?
– That the game looked pretty sweet when I dropped resolution from 1920×1200 and turned on anti-aliasing?
– That the skill-tree is broken (run speed doesn’t actually do anything)?
– That the KOTOR style segmentation of the world is a little confusing to a regular MMOer who might expect zones to flow into one another?
– That they don’t give you enough inventory space?
– That they based it on the classic RPG style of Morrowind/KOTOR/Mass Effect and segued it into a multiplayer-optional online game?

Or the one that there’s really nothing they’ve done so outstandingly well or radically different enough to make me feel like paying a monthly fee? I’m sure it’s a fairly good rendering of the Conan universe, and taking the single-player styling route was probably a good means to securing that; but I’m not a big fan of the storys so there’s little to tie me to go the game world.

Lets take a look:

. Inventory system: run of the mill 3 years ago,
. UI: faster than WWII Onlines but otherwise about on-par,
. Character creation: Flexible but mundane,
. Loot system: loot-in-a-bag concept rather than corpse looting, standard looting features like auto round robbin, rather weak implementation tho, probably a late beta addition,
. Grouping system: Retarded – tiny group member window, pixel-sized dots for group members on the micro-mini-map, unless they go out of range and then they grey out on your group window (possibly a bug),
. Combat: The element of collision isn’t new, Meridian 59 and Neocron both had collision, the shield thing I haven’t seen before,
. PvE Combat: Novel at first but becomes run-of-the-mill fairly fast,
. PvP Combat: Haven’t experienced it but I saw a huge amount of bitching about spawn camping,
. Multiplayer storyline: mundane,
. Singleplayer storyline: interesting, entertaining, engaging for a multiplayer storyline, about 4 years out of date for a single player game unless you really like the Conan universe.=,
. Quest Journal: Far too small,
. Chat System: There’s a really good reason they make the chat window tiny on startup.

Like I said – there’s plenty to like about Conan, but it’s just not doing anything magical for me which means I find myself seeing the set, so to speak, and not being impressed by that either.

If someone came up to me and said “I’m a huge fan of the Conan books, will I like Age of Conan?” my answer would probably be “yes”; if someone came up to me and said “I’m really tired of {insert game name} should I try Conan” – yeah, I think it’d probably be worth the $60 if you’re really looking for a new game, it’s certainly a better launch than some other recent MMOs; if someone came up to me and said “Are you gonna be playing Conan”, my answer is gonna be “probably not”.

Toto, you dont want to write a dissertation about it, but Oliver does.

Next time you see him on the hallway, instead of yelling at him, just kick him. This way he will learn. :D

I know huh? Jeeesh.

It amazes me how you can write such a beautiful review of a game that maybe you experience 5% of. Don’t get me wrong, I could care less if you like it, find it innovative or stay up until 3am playing it. I just wanted to point out that you sound a lot like a certain someone we both know/knew when talking about other games.

– AoC is one of the best looking MMOs on the market
– AoC combat is a step above other MMOs (IMO)…reminds me of what MxO tried to do (Neocron? You’re kidding me right?)
-AoC is based on Robert E. Howard’s fantastic Hyborea
-PvE….you made it to what level?
-PvP mini games suck…have you experienced the Borderlands?

hmmmmm

I might not be as sophisticated as yourself….trying out every casual and obscure game from any 2 man development team that’s located in Yuma Az. or other locales unknown, but I can recognize decent gameplay (for what it is) and outstanding visuals in a MMO when I see one. I’m a little less likely to just poopoo on something just because I don’t agree with the dev route.

So yeah, your opinion stinks…..all of them. ;P

I just wanted to point out that you sound a lot like a certain someone we both know/knew when talking about other games.

Who? Me? :)

lack of quote function in comments are lame!

Yes, one of the coolest features of Neocron’ was the collision-based (“FPS style” they called it) combat stuff.

I didn’t say AoC wasn’t pretty, I said that what greets you at the start Island looks very retro:

original post:
My first impressions of Conan left me a little indifferent: it didn’t look as pretty as I had expected,

It does boldly plough into serious graphical intensity. SWG, Horizons and Vanguard all tried and failed to have it together and runnable at launch, AoC seems to do remarkably well;

And yet, when I launched it, this is what presented itself

I even said:

original post:
Turn on anti-aliasing, and the world suddenly looks quite delicious.

I ain’t saying it isn’t pretty, I’m saying it turns up for your first date with it’s lipstick smudged.

I’ve seen the films and read a Jordan Conan book, but nothing about it has ever grabbed me. Now, that’s an opinion, and I know it’s not a popular one.

As a result, I can only weigh the game by and of itself; I miss out on the franchise aspect. I’m not deprecating the combat system because it somehow reminds me of Neocron or MxO – I didn’t play Neocron or MxO for long, either, rather I played both as long as I did because of the franchise element (Neocron was a post-apoc world that tapped into the cultures of several books I’d read).

I think I got a toon up around 25 or 28 or something – I’d seen Connail’s Valley, Purple Lotus Swamp, Kemi etc. The most impressive was Connail’s Valley, visually, but that was undone for me by how annoying it was to travel around all those hills and valleys.

But I still can’t shake off that first impression – not helped by the mis-cropped textures I posted an example screenie of above (look below the moon shots) – of hard lines and sharp angles when I’m looking at screens that should be impressive; I had the same thing when people were telling me games like Duke Nukem 3D were stunning.

Lastly, there’s the single-player emphasis – which I think was a good gambit but may cause sub-fans like myself to look at the game with regular box-game expectations and find it lacking.

Fortunately, for FunCom, there are plenty of Conan fans around and I think they’ll enjoy the game.

You boys stop that back there or so help me I will stop this car…

…@/

If you could run that car by someone’s apartment and bring them into the office too, that would be great.

OMG @/ is giving me terrible flashbacks from my childhood!

Man you were lucky, you got a warning. For me it was: Ow, why’d you do that for?

Reply: Shutup you know what you were doing.

I’m enjoying the game, although I’d recommend to anyone on the fence to wait 6 months.

My favorite mission so far was “South of the Phoenix” (or something like that). It’s a lvl 30 destiny quest which ends up with you going into a single-player instance that you can’t leave the way you came in.

I haven’t felt the grind, yet, since zones are limited to 50 players before it creates a new instance. You rarely have to wait for a particular spawn. I fear getting to lvl 80 will be too quick, though.

Aoc rawks..besides, I can look at painted on nipples while I am gaming if I want.

I want the harem skill.

Harem skill, nope, but they did add the “dance” ability…

The mature element is definitely one of the biggest plusses of Conan :) Played a bit last night, giving it another try, but they fixed the instance-swap -travel so Connail’s Valley is a total pain in the arse now.

They also seem to patch without any warning (in-game, anyway) – I get booted now and again and it says “please use version XYZ” and it seems like everyone else gets booted at the same time so … assumption.

Cimmerians dance like Russians.

If that starting zone isnt representative of the quality of the visuals the game has to offer, then that is a great shame and a poor choice.

It does look fairly meh. Pretty objects in their own right, but the overall look is lacking. The elements dont seem to blend to give one picture, sort of like the blue screens in old movies. The characters feet dont even look like theyre on the ground.

Pretty much what kfs saw really.

I think i might try this game out. Im fighting… fighting the urge to resub to wow but i know thatd be the end of my free will.

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