Tenfold Hate

Posting for Posting’s Sake (Kind of)
June 4, 2008, 1:15 pm
Filed under: Age of Conan, MMORPGs

I’ve neglected posting for quite some time now. Not one to blog for blogging’s sake, there just hasn’t been much in the gaming world that’s captured my interest. The last few weeks have been beautiful in NYC, so I’ve taken advantage of the great weather before spring gives way to oppressive humidity and I get really cranky and hole up in air conditioning until September.

I’ve been tinkering with Age of Conan now and again. I’ve hesitated sharing my views on it because several weeks in, I still haven’t brought myself to bring a character to level 20 yet. For those of you who haven’t tried AoC, level 20 is the point where you bid farewell to the single player element of the game and enter the proper world once-and-for-all.

The constant instancing bugs me a little. Walk into an inn, there’s a loading screen. Hop on a boat, there’s a loading screen. Leave a zone, well, you get the point. Guild Wars had the same feel, but for some reason I never found it to be quite so jarring.

AoC‘s combat is just fine–but personally, if I drafted up a laundry list of gripes I have about the current state of the fantasy MMORPG, lack of real-time combat would be really low on my list. I think there are a lot more things that need fixing across the genre and that’s where Funcom’s vision and my own diverge a little.

The early quests seem terribly directed, which IS one of my big complaints about most current MMORPGs. To satiate me, an MMORPG needs to allow players to stray off the beaten path (both literally and figuratively). I’m not seeing that quite yet in AoC. Much like my brief stint in Dungeons and Dragons Online I feel way too confined, like I’m on a journey but I’m not behind the wheel.

The graphics are nice, the music is great, I’m excited to try PvP (I’m holding off til 20 for that one), but again–it’s just not calling me to be played. Keep in mind I seldom play single player games anymore so that’s another personal bias I’m bringing to the table. I lost my zeal for them after experiencing the “living, breathing worlds” of massive multiplayer gameplay four years ago. So, I’m reserving final judgment of AoC until I plow through the solo segment of the game and move onto the more MMO-focused end of things.

I don’t want to be dismissive of AoC because it clearly was lovingly crafted by the Funcom team. They released a clean, playable product that is a treat to look at–and there’s a lot of hack-and-slash fun to be had right off the bat. It’s not a bad game. I just haven’t determined if it’s the game for me yet.

By Crom! A Light at the End of the Tunnel?
April 18, 2008, 10:20 am
Filed under: Age of Conan

I received my pre-order beta access code for AoC through Amazon.com this morning. I won’t have the full details until I plug in my order key to the AoC site from home, but from what I’ve gathered, you can start downloading the client now in anticipation of the mid-May release. If you’ve pre-ordered the game, you get access to the game three days prior to the May 20th release date.

I’ve been burnt one too many times from pre-ordering total duds, but there’s gotta be a diamond in the rough out there somewhere. Maybe–just maybe–it’ll be Conan…

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The Excitement is “Mounting”
November 30, 2007, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Age of Conan, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

Okay, worst play on words ever. But just as I was about to call it a week, what should show up in my mailbox but the latest monthly newsletters from both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Aside from the usual spin, hype-building, and non-information, there’s some stuff worth looking at in both publications.

The AoC newsletter provides some further detail on their mounted combat system that looks very promising. The WAR newsletter reveals another ‘hubba-hubba’ dark elf career (the sorceress) along with a beta update and some concept art for their own mounts (dwarf ale powered mount for the win!) Enjoy your weekend.

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The Savage Keyboard of Conan
November 15, 2007, 11:51 am
Filed under: Age of Conan, Fantasy, Gaming, MMORPGs

Funcom production director Jorgen Tharaldsen was interviewed at QJ.NET this week where he chatted about the much-anticipated MMORPG Age of Conan. One of the elements of AoC that has caused quite a stir is that the gameplay will be single player before introducing you to the “massive multiplayer” side of Hyboria at level twenty.

Personally, I’d prefer to have access to other players from the get go. For me, it makes the world that much more alive and massive. However, there may be something to letting players test out their training wheels and become comfortable in their pixelated skins before unleashing them on the general populace. According to Tharaldsen:

“We have changed a bit on the concept of the single-player aspect through our beta, as many MMO gamers gave us feedback that they wanted access to other players sooner. So now you will play alone all the way to the first city, but there you can meet other players for the first time and do ‘limited’ multiplayer group gameplay with them.”

Tharaldsen goes on to say that AoC players have the ability to solo to max level. Though I prefer the social, teambuilding aspects of grouping, the ability to flexibly enjoy a game according to your personal play style is not even a subject open for much debate at this point in time. Sometimes we simply don’t have the time to group.

There’s no reason players should not have the ability to PvP or dungeon crawl with a party for hours on end if they want to–and also be able to hop on casually in between real life responsibilities and still have some sense of accomplishment. After all, MMORPGs are about options, right? So why should this exclude the possibility of solo–or even single player content? As long as reward is relative to risk and investment, and there is a convincing transition from the single player to the multiplayer “chapter” of the game I don’t see too much harm in Funcom’s approach.

The benefits of grouping in a game so focused on player-built cities and siege PvP are pretty apparent. Plenty of games offer good, clean, soloable PvE, but I think it will be the group-oriented aspects of AoC, if they are executed successfully, that separate this title from the pack. Some argue that games that are too solo friendly breed a sort of anti-community that tend to be unacccustomed to group dynamics and lack social etiquette when they’re finally spit out at max level looking towards the raiding and/or PvP aspects of endgame–both of which are very socially focused, group-reliant activities.

Heck, Funcom is even introducing a mercenary option in PvP so guilds can “hire” other players to help them square off against their adversaries. Providing an outlet for the greedy, the antisocial, and those just in it for the blood and money is a great twist to incorporate into gameplay–actually adding to immersion if pulled off correctly.

But a mature gamer is a mature gamer, whether they’re playing Whac-A-Mole or Civilization, a Gameboy or Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Generally, the depth a game offers dictates the type of gamer it attracts, each with their own preferences, biases, and playstyles. In-game culture in effect is created by the players behind the keyboards, not molded by the play style of the game.

Players’ maturity levels, communication skills, and ability to cooperate with others are shaped before the first mouse click; they are not spawned when they boot up their comp, whether the game they’re fiddling with is single player or multiplayer.

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On the Horizon

I want to temper my recent rant about how disappointing 2007 has been game-wise with an optimistic look ahead. There are several exciting titles slated for the new year and beyond. Here are some brief notes on games to keep an eye out for, why I’m excited about them, and some of my reservations about how they could go wrong.

Age of Conan

Pros: I’ve always preferred Robert E. Howard’s testoterone-fueled pulp to fantasy swarming with prancing elves and unicorns. The glimpses I’ve had of this game so far have been visually impressive. Funcom may be on the road towards successfully interwining meaningful PvP and PvE for the first time in a top notch MMORPG. And c’mon, player-built cities and massive PvP skirmishes done right equal fun.

Cons: At Leipzeig and several other recent gaming conventions, Funcom seems hung up on stressing how “mature” this game is by talking about scantily clad women and decapitations. These things are all welcome components in a sword-and-sorcery style game, but they certainly don’t make a game mature. It will be complexity and depth of content that ultimately make this game mature, not throwing in gratuitous boobs and blood.

Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

Pros: Frankly, I can’t think of a better intellectual property for a first-rate MMORPG. The Warhammer universe is one I’ve been acquainted with since my pen-and-paper days in the mid-eighties and I’ve always admired the way they’ve blended traditional hoity-toity high fantasy (dwarfs, orcs, and yes, even elves) with the brutality and barbarism of the sword-and-sorcery genre. The screenshots and demos EA/Mythic have shown fans so far have been absolutely breathtaking, a near perfect visual transition from tabletop to computer screen. With Mythic’s experience with Dark Age of Camelot, I’m pretty much sold on the fact that they will deliver a winning PvP experience.

Cons: Instanced city sieges. I want my epic battles and PvP skirmishes to have some meaningful impact on the game world, not just be isolated, contained events. If my city is sacked by another faction, I want to feel the detrimental effects of it. If my guild sacks a city, I want it to impact the world in a significant way, rather than just receiving a “You Sacked the City” helmet +5. I have little doubt in my mind this game will be fun, but have my doubts as to how different it will be mechanic-wise from what we’ve seen already.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

Pros: It’s not just another fantasy MMO. There are naval battles and a player-built economy. Pirates are cooler than ninjas.

Cons: Avatars are important to me. Avatars and melee battles were added during a late stage of development prompted by fan outcry. I’m hoping off-ship activity in this game doesn’t have a “tacked on” feel, because I’m the type of player who will spend more time swinging around my cutlass on land than trying to sink clippers off the Barbary Coast.

Games in Development I’ll Be Following Religiously in 2008

A two-time World Series-winning pitcher, a popular fantasy author, and an acclaimed comic book illustrator and toy magnate form a game studio. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, I know. But I’m excited to see what 38 Studios and the brain trust of Curt Schilling, R.A. Salvatore, and Todd McFarlane have in store for gamers.

The CCP/White Wolf partnership is also bound to produce great things down the line. I’m not a fan of Eve Online, but CCP has certainly proven they think outside the box when it comes to game design. This coupled with the World of Darkness IP is bound to be good. I’m hoping for something akin to a Hammer horror movie that’s gotten in a train wreck with Blade Runner. Again, always good to see any studio stepping away from the typical fantasy fare and face it–werewolves and vampires take the cake over pirates and ninjas.

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