I purchased and played Age of Conan for the first time last night. I didn’t participate in the beta, so these thoughts come from the perspective of a totally new player. Here are my impressions, from 5 levels in to the game:
Everything between wanting to purchase the game and creating my character sucked. First, there’s no digital download option, so I had to drive to Best Buy and pick it up. Then, the install size is so huge (30 gigs) I took the opportunity to purchase a 1TB disk drive. After going through that irritating process the game install was very long (do I really need the intro movie in 7 languages?). Every time you start the game it plays 7 intro movies that I couldn’t figure out how to automatically skip. The patcher kind of sucks. I got stuck at the server list for a few minutes trying to find the server I wanted. Oh, and the game was completely down this morning when I tried to play.
Character creation is fun. You’re on a slave ship, and you pick your appearance there. Picking your race/gender gives you a random appearance, and then you tweak it. Body and Face are split up with different sides of the interface and randomize buttons. So, you can randomize your face until you find a good one to match the body you worked on. The part scaling is really comprehensive, and felt like a version of Oblivion’s that actually worked right. Random always seemed to give me an appealing character to start with for tweaking, as opposed to the soulless husks of ugly that Oblivion always seemed to generate. I ended up making Stygian Ranger.
I really enjoyed levels 1-5. The game feels very much like a single player PC RPG, to the point that I kept looking for the quick save button. There are cutscenes, voice acting, full screen dialogue trees, the whole shebang. The dialogue trees are kind of funny because they are completely inconsequential. Threatening to kill who you’re talking to seems to have absolutely no effect on game play or plot, but it does help get you involved with your character’s identity. As far as ease of use, I had no issues. The tutorial area is a mix of guided and unguided play, and useful but easy-to-disable tutorial popups appear and help you play. I never felt intimidated or patronized, and I think they did a great job with the first 5 levels.
The interface is one of the things I liked the most. It has a VERY useful and attractive mini map. You can dynamically zoom from global scale down to local, and the map has tool tips for all mission objectives, shops, and important NPCs. I liked the quest list UI because it displays the quest reward ahead of time, which lets you make decisions about what to focus on. Everything is extensively tool tipped as far as stats go. The possibly best part is that when you hover over inventory items, they spin around in 3d which is significantly niftier than it should be. Overall, AoC likes to give you information that is useful for gameplay, and does so in a functional and attractive package.
Presentation-wise, the game excels. One big part of their environments is that basically everything in it is dynamic in some way. The grass sways slightly, the water looks great, the flags all billow, and the corpses hanging from city walls look particularly dynamic. They’re all simple tricks but go a long way to sell the environment as alive. There’s some texture pop in and such, but it didn’t bother me. The lighting is pretty decent, and there’s an “Ambient Occlusion Quality” option that has a large effect. I’m not sure what they’re doing (are they actually doing real time occlusion?) but turning that on made the environments look way more natural and interesting. In addition to the solid graphics, the sound was univerally excellent. It has a good musical score, dynamic in-combat music, good sound effects, and even some solid voice acting. I have no complaints presentation-wise.
From what I’ve seen so far, Age of Conan is really promising. I’m not entirely sold on the combat mechanics, but my level 5 ranger is pretty fun to play. This has essentially no relationship to how the game will feel at level 80, so we’ll see when (okay, if) I get there. Age of Conan has the best, most polished early (but not pre-) game experience of any MMO yet made.