Age of Conan - Beta Weekend Hands-On
Ok so, here it is my first article for MMOwatch and it has come about by chance via a lucky dip at Gamespot for the beta weekend of Funcom’s Age of Conan. I’ve had my eye on this game for a few years now (I remember the first web-site with the very ambitious looking screen-shots), and with all the current hype leading up to release I was looking forward to this glimpse pre-release. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see as much as I’d like but I’m more than willing to share what little experience I had of Hyboria. Thankfully, Funcom allowed a sneak look at the actual game, the character creation screen, and Tortage Beach - the first adventure region for levels 1-4 (A costal stretch of serene beaches and lush jungles).
Character creation starts on a slave galley on the open sea, it’s raining, and a battle rages. Options are good here, though hair is unrealized and female bosom options don’t seem to stretch below ‘unracked’. Not a whole lot to criticise but I don’t think the ‘you will recognise everyone by their face’ hype will stand. It’s quite possible this has been cut down for the pvp beta client, and is certainly something that can always be enhanced in the never-ending dev cycle of MMOs. The system has a lot more flexibility than character creation in World of Warcraft (not saying all that much); however, you’ll only be able to play a human in Hyboria’s low fantasy setting. This will be seen as both a positive and a negative aspect I’m sure, depending on your taste.
As soon as you’ve finished creating your character your slave vessel is hit and you’re shipwrecked, (almost) the sole survivor, on the isle of Tortage. An in-game cut scene ensues and you are greeted by Kalanthes (Hyboria’s wandering priest of Ibis) he tells you to get to the city of Tortage and that the slaver from your ship has headed up the path ahead of you. You’ve suffered memory loss (of course) and must find out about your past. Here the game starts, and the graphics and landscape are impressive, the music sounds like it came straight from one of the classic Sinbad movies (sound is well done in general). The slow rolling waves are a nice touch to this serene introduction. There’s wrecked ships, wreckage, dead bodies, scavengers and crocodiles are scattered around for early combat practice.
You start with three attack buttons (upper left attack, overhead attack, upper right attack) each start the animation for said attack. This will escalate to 5 buttons/swings at later levels. Combat is certainly one of AoC’s main priorities and brings a fresh feel to the MMO genre. The animations are well done (not just in combat – the Demonologist pets are particularly impressive) and each class has fatalities distinct to their combo moves (Assassins will slit your throat while the Dark Templar class will take your head clean off). The combat can be a little fiddly (even finicky to whom it should be hitting) and whether it’ll remain fresh or fun to level 80 is anyone’s guess. After the death of scavengers and/or crocodiles you’ll soon earn your first level and combo attack. Sweep for melee classes, an attack that hits multiple targets (most handy), these combos use up stamina that I’m sure will get more costly as you progress through the full game (low stamina gives you an exhausted debuff that’ll lower your evade and concentration abilities as well as make you unable to initiate combos). Landing some of these in the fast paced pvp games is easier said then done – making it all the more satisfying when you do. It’ll certainly take more practice to master pvp than pve and will make or break the game for the individual player. Casters play is more traditional (no spellweaving was available in this beta) and seems quite powerful from the one cast-one kill I was able to perform at these early stages of the game.
After exploring the beach and getting to grips with the combat I started up the path towards the city. Instantly ahead is the second friendly face you’ll meet, Casilda, a lady in quite a situation. Tied up by the scavengers scouring the beach you head back to find the one holding the key to her chains (the one that has now been spawned). These NPCs have some dialogue choices not all of which need to be met for quests to be activated (redundancy that gives Age of Conan more scope for the future – at least that’s what’s hoped). As you beat your way to Tortage (the path is rather packed with hostiles) this becomes more apparent when you find your slaver (Saddur) where multiple-choice insults lead to different responses. With no saving options and the possibility of choice and consequence in AoC’s quests, this is pure speculation but I thought an interesting possibility (I’ve only heard that you can talk your way out of some quests so far).
After beating (the rather low quality looking) Saddur to death with an oar from one of the slave ships (someone has a sense of irony at Funcom) you’ll be tackling Picts, Demons and Apes on the path to Tortage - all with the rather annoying Casilda cheering your beatings and combos along the way. At a gate just past the lava flow of a nearby active volcano (yes I tried walking into the lava and yes terrain damage is definitely in) the single player demo ends – before getting to see Tortage. So a few NPCs and quests is all that was to be seen, but then, this was the pvp weekend. I wasn’t so interested in the low-level pvp mini games as in the actual start of the game.
Technically I thought the beta a success. The client seemed to run well and stable for me. I had one crash all weekend and was able to run the game well on high with my 3800+ single core CPU (for large amounts of time) – which I wasn’t expecting. Latency wise, I was constantly running less than 60ms – how this gets affected when entering the real open world of AoC remains to be seen. However, some of the textures were somewhat muddy in places and the character selection screen had trouble loading textures also (sometimes the actual characters wouldn’t load). Inside the pvp mini games there is a slight loading time while you are teleported to a spawn point that got some criticism from the players. Many questions are still to be answered about AoC, but what I saw and played of Hyboria I enjoyed and look forward to seeing more on release.
Information aboutAge of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2008-05-20
· Publisher: Eidos Interactive