Stop looking at me that way. I know, I know. In my defense, I was only curious because it comes from the same developer as The Secret World.
The first thing I noticed is that AoC has the worst character creation screen I’ve ever seen. Not the worst character creation — it has a huge number of customization options and is generally an awesome character creator.
No, the actual screen itself is the problem. The story of the game always starts with your character as a slave aboard a galley, and the character creation screen takes place on this galley. I like the immersion of that in theory, but the galley is so blasted dark you can hardly see your character.
How bad is it? I didn’t know my first character was black until I logged in.
Now, I don’t mind playing a black lady, but that’s not the character I thought I had designed.
Otherwise, it quickly became clear this was a fairly standard MMO. Kill this, collect that. The quests are a little more story-driven than in your average Warcraft-clone, but not enough to make a huge difference.
Boobs and blood. Also boobs. Did we mention boobs?
Funcom seems to have established its niche as the provider of mature MMOs. They’re sort of like the HBO of the massively multiplayer scene, I suppose.
One of the things I really appreciate about The Secret World is that it is quite mature. I don’t mind the family-friendly nature of games like World of Warcraft and its myriad clones, but I do find it quite refreshing to play a game that doesn’t shy from blood, cursing, frightening monsters, and sexual content.
Age of Conan, though, is mature in the way a fourteen year-old boy would think of the term. Now, when it comes to the gore aspect, I appreciated it. I’m invariably disappointed whenever I play a game that has swords but not dismemberment mechanics.
All female characters spend their first five levels in lingerie. Not armor that looks like lingerie — actual lingerie. Just about every single female NPC I’ve met does nothing but flirt with me and make suggestive comments. And that’s without my playing a male toon.
It’s rather hard to take a game seriously when one of its core selling features is, “BEWBZ!1!”
In fact, I’m not sure if AoC is even meant to be taken seriously. It is entirely possible Funcom meant the game to be ridiculous, in which case I’m laughing with them and not at them.
Hopefully that was their intention.
Now we come to the combat, which is a strong point of AoC. Rather than an auto-attack mechanic, AoC gives you access to several buttons that simply swing your weapon.
Yes, several. You can strike from the left, the right, or from above. This is important because enemies have different levels of defense against attacks from different angles.
For example, if a pirate favors his right hand, his defense will be strong on that side. Hitting from the right will barely tickle him. But if you strike from the left (for example), where his defense is weak, you will deliver a punishing blow.
What makes this really interesting is that enemies can adapt and alter their defenses based on your actions. This makes combat very reactive and engaging.
If I have any complaint about this system, it’s that it needed to be made more a core component of gameplay. Reacting to enemies is really, really fun, and I wish they’d made enemies more intelligent and reactive.
Maybe they get harder at higher levels. I don’t know.
Another somewhat unique feature is the combo system. By activating a combo and then using specific weapon swings, you can trigger a very powerful attack.
It’s simpler than it sounds. Maybe more complex combos are unlocked later in the game, but the ones I got to play with were very basic. They were more akin to a slightly dressed up version of the chain skills found in Aion and Guild Wars 2 than anything.
Still, I like chain skills, and pulling off several powerful combos in a row is quite satisfying.
The only thing that sucked a bit of the fun out of AoC’s combat for me is that it’s very immobile. There’s not a lot of need for movement, and movement interrupts all your skills.
Coming from playing The Secret World, this feels jarring. One of the things that makes me love TSW’s combat so much is how much movement there is. I’ve really enjoyed how my Templar can dance just outside an enemy’s reach, hitting them with wheel of knives and shotgun skills before running in to finish them with a brutal Call for Eris hit.
None of that in AoC. If we could combine AoC’s reactive gameplay with TSW’s mobility, we’d have just about the perfect MMO combat system.
To hear da lamentation of deir women:
The classes in AoC are also something I enjoyed. There are no less than twelve classes — three for each core archetype — and some are pretty unique.
I’m going on record as saying that the Herald of Xotli might just be my favourite interpretation of the mage archetype to date. It can breathe hellfire, wield greatswords, and turn into a giant Demon.
AoC also has an actual ranger class. A real ranger, not one of these damn beast masters MMO developers keep ramming down our throats.
(Insert Tyler’s “WoW doesn’t have an archer class” rant #24601.)
The only detracting factor from the classes in AoC for me is that a lot of them share abilities and combos — my ranger and my Herald both had slam as their first combo — which can cut down on class identity.
Those of you who miss class quests in WoW will also be interested to know AoC has some pretty interesting class-specific content. Well, archetype-specific, at least.
The most fun part of the game for me was a ranger quest that had me sneaking around the rooftops of Tortage City, assassinating enemy guards one by one before spying on a meeting between the bad guys.
Aesthetically, Age of Conan is a solid B+. The graphics aren’t the best I’ve ever seen, but the game looks pretty good, and would probably look much better on a more powerful computer.
Like most aspects of the game, the music can be a little overly bombastic at times, but mostly, I found it pretty enjoyable. It’s got a unique exotic flair, and it suits the setting very well.
The voice acting isn’t so stellar as in The Secret World, but I’d still rate it as above average as video game voice-overs go.
Age of Conan is a solid game — good but not great. I’d rate it as about on par with games like Rift or Aion.
I saw no evidence of the game-breaking bugs and unfinished content that has given the game its terrible reputation. To be fair, those supposedly don’t come up until much later in the game, but to continue being fair, I’m also told that most of those issues have been fixed, or at least mitigated, since release.
I’d recommend Age of Conan to those looking for an MMO that’s different… but not too different.