Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
Share your impressions of Age of Conan beta

I am not going to post a full review of Age of Conan before I have played the release version for a while, as apparently the open beta version doesn't have all the latest improvements. But I'll post some more impressions from the open beta here, and I'm inviting you to do the same in the comments section of this thread. Did you like the game, will you buy it, and what parts did you like best and least?

I filled out a survey by Funcom today, asking me about my AoC open beta experience, but they were mainly concerned with my system specs, my framerate, and whether I experienced what they call "stalling": the game hanging for a second or two while loading graphics. Unfortunately in spite of a E6600 dual core processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a Geforce 8800 GTS 512 MB graphics card I experienced a lot of that stalling. It is rather annoying, because you can't do anything for a while, but your keystrokes are remembered, so if you were turning while it stalled you end up turning far more than you wanted and facing in a completely wrong direction. And of course as combat doesn't happen if you don't press keys, being unable to do anything for 2 seconds in combat can be bad for your virtual health.

Besides stalling my biggest "technical" annoyance with AoC are the loading screens. There are a lot more loading screens in AoC than in WoW, and the wait time on the loading screens is rather long, even with a good broadband internet connection. The many loading screens are due to most buildings and adventuring places, even those for soloing, are instanced. I can understand why you need loading screens for an instanced game, but I can't understand why they need to be that long. With things like caching and better coding it should be possible to limit loading screens to seconds instead of minutes.

Another place where I would wish it was better coded is the way Age of Conan handles obstacles. In many cases even small obstacles act like invisible walls. I can't tell you how often I already got stuck on the inconveniently placed 1-foot high bench in the Thirsty Dog tavern. I'm supposed to be a powerful barbarian fighting against tyrants, witches, and monsters, but I can't even step over a low bench?

What I did like in Age of Conan are the destiny quests in the single-player part of the game. For my first character, a Tempest of Set, they were not very class specific, I just had to kill stuff. But for my Barbarian, which is a rogue sub-class, I had several sneaking quests. The destiny quests are also more interesting most of the time, while the general quests in the multi-player part of the game are often of the "kill 10 foozles" variety. I like the idea of receiving new skills as quest rewards instead of buying them from a trainer.

I wasn't too much bothered by it, but Age of Conan isn't doing all that well in explaining its features with tutorials. The only available tutorials are videos you have to download from Fileplanet, and a loading screen explaining the keyboard layout. You need to watch that one closely to find out for example that at level 10 you can press "N" to distribute talent points, otherwise you might just level up without talents because nobody ever told you of them. Likewise I know there is crafting in AoC, but have been unable to find out how to do it, because the game isn't telling you.

So how did your Age of Conan beta go? Anything you'd like to share?
I can only agree, the game has its merits but it needs to run smoother and with a lot less loading time.
I loved the environments, the animations, some of the story, the differences in classes and whatnot, but you know ... I feel underwhelmed somehow. I wrote a detailed post talking about my general feelings and impressions, but here's the overall thing:

I’m not enchanted with Age of Conan but I didn’t really expect to be, seeing as how it’s a beta and all. Still, with so few days left until release, I am a bit concerned about my general feelings about the game. I think what bothers me most is that the game doesn’t grab me — it’s … well, it’s a little underwhelming. I’m disappointed that I’m not more enthusiastic about it. I do understand that it’s a beta I’m playing (and I’ve gotten through only the first few levels at that), but just exactly how long does someone need to play a game to feel immersed and/or awestruck by it?

“Oh, but it gets better at level 30″ (or 40, or 80) doesn’t inspire my confidence. I fell under WoW’s spell in the first ten minutes; EQ2 took about half an hour; and EVE Online smacked me over the head with its brilliance about an hour into the tutorial.

Maybe I’m being overly critical of AoC, because I do enjoy it. It’s not like the game is the only MMORPG to garner a more or less ‘meh’ feeling from me. Other MMO games I’ve played during the past five months have all induced the same reaction, despite the fact that I’ve immensely enjoyed them before. Maybe it’s just me feeling slightly burned out by the genre, I don’t know.
Just wanted to add: aside from a few crash-to-desktop occasions, I never had performance problems. I'm lucky in that regard, I guess. I'm running a hybrid of medium-high settings on an AMD Athlon dual core with 2gb of RAM and a 8600gt, so you can see that my rig isn't all that special.
one of the things im having difficulty with is that unlike wow and lotr the 2 mmporgs i have played the level of the enemies was very clear cut and defined to certain areas with aoc i always seem to find myself facing enemies much too high for me the game has atmosphere and if i were to buy it i would probably view it as a single game like say neverwinter nights it runs very badly for me as well which doesnt help
I loved the customization in character creation, and I really enjoyed the ambiance, feel, and graphics quality. it is such a welcome change from many of the current MMOs.

Combat is fun, different and very cool, but I would not call it revolutionary.

The classes are distinctly different, and they are all a blast to play. Quests also seem well thought out as well as meaningful.

I am slightly concerned about the launch, and I also am not a fan of the loading screens (this does get better with more RAM though). However, I will definitely buy this game!!
Well I don't think it's a secret anymore that I love the game despite it's "quirks".

My main concern is that the Open beta client being used was so out of whack and this is giving the people in the OB a skewed vision of what the game performs like.

In the CB it runs like a dream (for most, as there are still people who have some serious issues with decent systems that can't be explained), and the combat in my book is far more engaging and fun than any MMOG past.

I know a lot of folks love their highlight and auto-attack, and I do think it works well enough, but in my eyes the combat in AoC improves on that tenfold.

Oh, and Tobold you don't know about crafting because as of right now it doesn't begin until level 40. That's been published in a few previews now. Why? Because it's meant mainly for the end-game and siege warfare as well as for gear in the mid to high level game.
The Good: Great Graphics, engaging combat system, fun gameplay experience.

The Bad: Graphics stutters, game lock-ups, very buggy compared to other MMO's I've beta tested this close to release.

Overall: I will definately not be playing AoC when it is released because I feel the game has a lot of major issues still to get fixed. Just last night (two weeks from full release) I was falling through terrain, finding NPC's who'd fallen through terrain, locking up, crashing to desktop, and experiencing all of the graphics stuttering others have mentioned. I'd give AoC a month after release to fix issues before I'd even consider trying it again.

System Specs I'm using to play Beta:
* Intel® Core™ 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz 12MB Cache 1333 FSB
* Dual Graphics Cards - Dual 512MB NVIDIA® GeForce® 9600 GT
* 4GB Patriot EP+ Low Latency Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
The only way Funcom can recover from their Open Beta PR disaster is to push out a client that is ready. By that I mean, rip out any debugging code, optimize the graphics/code, and put a mad push on fixing any known critical bugs.
A wise decision to wait on the reviews if you ask me.

Any MMORPG you can't really know what it's like until you've hit endgame for awhile and the devs have had a chance to correct any gameplay issues (not even talking about bugs and/or server stability).

There's also the community too, which is often overlooked but a deeply important part of any MMO.
Oh, and crafting btw, requires level 40 to start. Which IMHO is nice, it neatly avoids low-level crafting alts, plus gives everyone a chance to get into the game before feeling pressured to craft whilst they level.

I don't think crafting is going to be super polished though, Funcom has redone their crafting system multiple times, but they have indicated that it will likely be very guild-integrated like a lot of other things.

Here's a crafting preview, though it's not super rich on data:
For all intents and purposes, it's not a 'Beta'. There isn't much they can fix in a few days, so WYSIWYG.

And I remember playing WoW for 10 minutes and thinking that I was in serious was just that good.

The next time I find a game that gives me that thrill, I'll play it. Not until then.
I hate the Age of Conan Beta because I'm not in it. Damn you, Funcom! Damn you all to Hell!
I think restricting an MMO preview to a mostly single player part of the game is a mistake.

I like the difficulty. Maybe its just because Ive been playing a Herald of Xotli, Bear Shaman, and Guardian. Its very easy up to Tortage, which is good because you can blow through it. It ramps up alot around lvl 7 or 8, especially in the volcano area.

I like the combat. The directional attacks are fun, but not revolutionary. What I really like are the momentum and evasion "buffs." Double tap W to get momentum, which gives you a high chance to stun at a mild stamina cost. Double tap S to hop back and gain evasion, cutting your chance to be hit in half. Combos are nice. Casting is the usual, with spellweaving looking interesting though we cant use it yet. No complaints.

I dont mind MOST of the loading screens, because that is all that allows for the lush vegetation. They would have had to cut back alot if they made a seamless world. Tortage would look like STV in WOW. That isnt bad, but AoCs jungle looks alot better.

I like the linearness of Tortage Isle. Its allows for better story telling and gets you out of there into the real game fairly quickly. They need to add a 2h edged drop to the pre-tortage instance. I had a hard time on my herald because my combos were usless without a 2h edged weapon. Everyone else seems to be catered to.

As for things I dont like, they have a bit of ability queueing. I dont like ability queueing because it causes a discontinuity in the combat. It is well done though, so it doesnt feel too bad.

Performance is fine on my machine, after some tweaking. I have C2D E6600, GeForce 8600 GTS, 2GB RAM, and Vista. I dropped shaders 3.0 to 2.0, changed AoC.exe to only use the 2nd core, and reduced the view distance to about 200 for everything ( cant see farther than that on the isle anyway). I have AAx4 on, and all textures on high,with all blending on, and bloom off. Looks great and runs great.

The few long loading times are probably my biggest complaint atm.

And a final note: I love that all of the classes seem interesting and give me a reason to want to play them. On the other hand, we have too few slots to actually play them.
The "magic build" excuse has been heard before. Whether it's true or not, all it does is convince people to hold off, and let someone else pay to play test.

I hope Age of Conan does well, but if the system specs are as severe as I think they're going to be (even after debugging), I see this game stuggling - badly.
I was in the PvP beta weekend, so my experience is a bit different. We could only do the intro quest up to level 5, and then we were sent to level 20 and PvP land.

First off - I had very few graphical problems or performance issues. It ran really well on my rig (nothing fancy, Intel quad + 9600GT + 3GB), but I had a couple of crashes over the weekend.

The graphics really are massively better than WoW's. I enjoy the art style in WoW as much as the next guy, but that game definitely feels dated compared to AoC. AoC may not look as good as some single player games, but it looks a LOT better than the other MMOs I've played.

Character appearance and customization options are great. Tons of sliders if you're into heavy duty appearance customization, and a nifty little body type matrix if you just want to get it done. The female models are hawt, and the males look vicious. The gear on the level 20s looked decidedly cool, and the materials looked believable.

I like the AoC universe - it's dark and gritty and brutal. The intro quest tells you right off that you're not in happy fun land. No killing rats and crap to get your first level here.

The combat system is good, for melee classes at least. Moving around intelligently matters hugely in PvP. I'm worried that spellcasting is going to be rather lame in comparison, but I like the direction they've gone with healing (at least at level 20, healing was all about AoE spells).

All that said, I have some doubts. 80 levels seems like an awful lot, and I have no sense for how long the higher levels will take. Loading screens definitely suck, and you get them all the time - death in the PvP minigames sends you through a loading screen before you even resurrect. There are also a ton of unknowns that only the closed beta folks know the answers to, and they're still not able to tell us about them. I also wonder what role PvE gear is going to play in PvP at the higher levels - we know there will be 24 man PvE raids, which I find horribly disappointing.

Despite that, I'm glad I pre-ordered. I'm still really looking forward to this game.
I really liked the character customization (more sliders than CoX even). You can make them big and powerful, but not "chiseled", like you'd imagine a big huge barbarian would also have a good amount of fat on him since it's not like they did cardio and ate low carb diets back then.

The graphics are really great. The animation is some of the best I've seen (I remember watching a developer interview where they talked about how they spent time on all the transitions, unlike LOTRO where my guardian instantly snaps between his crossbow and his sword).

My system is e6600, 3g Ram, 8600GTS (256 m ram) and Vista. I can play it pretty well on Medium, and very choppy on high.

I haven't played enough to really comment on the combat mechanics. But so far (up to level 6 as a Bear Shaman) the game hasn't really "grabbed" me yet. It's different. It's good. But I'm going to try a dual-wielding class next, since Darren said that made a huge difference in his perception of the combat.
Oh sorry above in the sliders, I meant you "can" do that if you want. You can make chiseled guys too. Or anything you want. But of course like always I want more hair options. Never enough hair options.
I was one of the lucky cusses with a system that could handle the game.
I actually have 3 total systems in house that I tested on.
I had one issue with a system with a 3870 ATI card...but, I resolved that one...and I have had zero crashes and issues..

My true test though is my wife...a majority of games I play will also be if my wife will play..EQ2, WoW, Guild Wars were all winners to her...she is an original Diablo woman...(and hot to boot...hehe)
Luckily she is no prude, and rather enjoys playing the "hussie" if you will. The mature content is a winner in her eyes.
She was thrilled when she did her first decapitation and the blood flew on the screen ("My, my...that was...satisfying")
When she arrived in Tortage after walking through the tutorial with ZERO deaths (yes...ZERO...I kept dying over and to play..)
She was tickled over the fact she could flirt with the female characters...with her female (I kid you not...)
Her only complaint...?

No shinies...

I will combat will get old, unless the story keeps evolving. But, something hidden away treasure or something else to do besides kill, kill, kill
Tabula Rasa did that...and quit that after a month..

Here is hoping more fun awaits...and some type of shinies please (like let us collect something, or find some books...etc...)
I've not been playing the beta for all that long, but so far my impressions are:
- The game is absolutely beautiful to look at.
- It's easy to make different looking characters. The males generally look mean and grizzled (more Daniel Craig than Keanu Reaves, ladies) and the women are well... lovely. I haven't tried to make an ugly character yet, but I'm sure it's possible.
- The intro sequence is good, but could get old very quickly for altoholics like me.
- I've mostly played casters so far and the gameplay seemed very basic. One or two button spamming: a bit like WOW at level 6, but through all the levels. I suspect this is because spell weaving hasn't made it in, but right now it's very disappointing.
- The game feels very linear and constrained, with little flexibility on where you go. To an extent that's a compromise they've had to make to get the good graphics, but I fear it will limit the longevity of the game.
- It's impressively low on bugs in the client, although it still dies horribly when the servers go down. Surely a timeout isn't that hard to code?
- I like the lack of emphasis on gear in the current beta. It means I can pick stuff to suit my RP image rather than min/maxing stats all the time. I understand that this may change before launch, though.
- Overall it just feels like a console game. Pretty, but lacking depth. I'd expect to be bored with it in a few months. It's a good break from WOW in the short term, though.
I've now tried the tech test, pvp event, open beta, and closed beta - to the tune of 3 different 13Gb downloads.

Sum total of that - 15 minutes playtime and 1 character to level 5. The rest of my time has been looooong loading times, only to hard lock 20 seconds after hitting tortage. My friend has a PC with the same specs that we built at the same time and can play with no problems - it's incredibly frustrating. I hope todays patch helps.
Just an FYI on system lockups / crashes -- In WoW, my wife's machine used to lock up all the Shattrath, then in all of Outlands, and then even occasionally in Azeroth.
Turned out it was the TrendMicro virus scan. Switched to free AVG, and she has never crashed since.
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