The case

Age of Conan

Monday, May 19, 2008 | 01:13 AM | by
I'm always amused, on MMO forums in particular, when upset players start tossing around threats of petitions and lawsuits, as if they haven't thought at all about how ridiculous they would sound if they ever had to actually present their cases in court.

"I'm mad Blizzard because my WoW server was down today, and I had the day off and wanted to spend all day pasted to my screen and now they ruined it! I'm going to sue for the $0.50 out of my monthly subscription fee that that downtime represents!"

Or even better are the online petitions. Does anyone thing these things actually change opinions or policies? In fact, is there any record at all of these having an effect anywhere? How seriously do they think people take these petitions when they see John Smith's name next to "Butthole McFartLulz"?

Aaaaanyway... I've been seeing a lot of this sort of thing on the Age of Conan forums the past week or so. Apparently what happened is this: As part of the bonus for pre-ordering AoC, customers were to be given a chance to purchase early access for $5, which gets you into the game three days ahead of regular launch.

I say "a chance to purchase" because Funcom said from the start that Early Access spots were limited. The primary problem here is that not all retailers relayed this little message about "limited space" to their customers, and it seems most people assumed that pre-ordering automatically equaled early access.

So last week rolls around and the early-access registration opens up, and apparently the interest in the game and the early access was much higher than anticipated, and the limited available slots sold out really fast. And that's when people started to get cranky.

Now to be fair, I don't begrudge these people being upset. Especially now that they have to listen to people who are in early access talk about how great the game is. I understand, it sucks. However, the extent to which some of these people take their disappointment is laughable.

To be clear, all that they bought with their pre-order was the game, and the pre-order special level 40 mount. Early access was an extra $5. So while it is unfortunate that they didn't get into the early access, they were not charged for something that was never delivered. There's no fraud going on here.

And so what does it come down to? Waiting three days longer to play the game. I mean, seriously, people.

Personally I applaud Funcom's approach to a limited early access program. By limiting the number of early access participants they are able to control the number of people hitting the servers in the first few days, which allows for last-minute tweaking and tuning of the servers before the floodgates open. And you know what? So far the launch has been incredibly smooth.

The first hour or so that the servers opened, there was some trouble logging in, as the authentication server was getting slammed. But as people started getting into the actual game, and the stress on the login server eased, things picked right up.

My original plan for the early access launch on Saturday, based on my experience with the stress test, was to jump on for an hour or two, fool around, and check things out. I figured there would be lag and bugs and server downtime, and I'd take a peek and then go do other things.

I jumped on at 4pm and didn't stop until 3am. I had to tear myself away just to take some food breaks. As I said earlier, I cannot even believe that this is the same game I experienced in the stress test.

After the stress test I said I was reserving judgment until the retail client was out and live, because it's silly to judge a game based on a beta client. Especially a stress test beta client. And so I expected some improvement with the retail client, but this... this is like night and day almost. There is such a level of polish here.

I could go on and on about all the things I'm loving about Age of Conan, but I'll just touch on some of the cool details that are really making the game for me so far.

All quest and NPC dialogue is presented with conversation choices, similar to KOTOR or Mass Effect. So you can flavor your conversation with the NPC depending on if you want to be helpful or be a jerk. The conversation eventually leads to the same quest regardless, but letting you choose how to get there makes it so much more immersive. I find myself following the stories more than I have in other MMOs, partly because they're so well written, and partly because you can participate in the conversation, instead of just being assigned a task.

As a bonus, all of the NPC dialogue is voiced by some pretty decent actors with a variety of accents and demeanors.

There is a large single-player portion at the beginning of the game, that is integrated into the first twenty levels or so. If you play during the daytime, you can do standard quests in the world shared with everyone else. During the nighttime you can follow a rich single-player questline that delves into your character's background, and allows you to take part in the world in a way you can't do with thousands of other people around. I won't spoil anything, but it's pretty fun.

Combat is a nice change of pace. Some of you have probably seen the videos. Instead of just hitting a button to attack and then sitting there while you character auto-attacks, you actually swing your weapon in different directions. You can use the different directions to perform combos, fatalities, and to exploit weaknesses in your enemy's defenses (if they leave a particular side open, stab it!). The novelty of it wears off pretty early on, but it doesn't really become a chore, you just settle into "okay, this is how to fight". It ends up being more interesting and captivating because your weapon actually damages stuff it hits. Meaning if you're fighting two guys, and you have a big sword or polearm, you can aim in between them with a horizontal strike, and you'll damage both of them.

For a while I was worried that, as a spellcaster, I wouldn't get to experience fatalities (decapitations and such) that the melee fighters do (on account of not getting any melee combos). That is, until I saw my first spell fatality. As a Tempest of Set, I deal with electricity a lot. At one point I called down a strike of lightning on my foe, and rather than the regular hit, his skin suddenly lit up with a blue glow and began to crackle with electricity as he stood there convulsing before he finally collapsed. I've also seen fire spells actually char and sear the flesh of their victim. It's pretty damned cool.

The early access launch wasn't completely without issue though. There was a glitch with /claim and some people (myself included) being unable to claim their pre-order items. However the servers went down for a few hours today, got a small patch, and while I can't speak for everyone, my problem was fixed. It was a minor inconvenience, but it was nice to have to remedied so quickly.

So far I'm very impressed with Age of Conan. Obviously the next 3-6 months will be the true test, to see what kind of updates the game gets and how Funcom handles continuing development on the live title, but thus far I'm pretty excited to see what comes next. If you canceled your pre-order or decided not to check out the game based solely on the stress test experience, I think you'll be doing yourself a great disservice not to give the game another look.

Just make sure your check out the system requirements first, the graphics require a bit of oomph and I've seen some people having trouble running it with older computers. So if you're barely squeaking by running World of Warcraft, you may want to wait for an upgrade before checking out AoC.