Category Archives: Age of Conan

Battle Bards Episode #10: Age of Conan

What pleases the Battle Bards? To crush their enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their husbands. We were off to a rough start this Battle Bards episode #10, realizing that 66% of the bards don’t actually enjoy the much acclaimed Age of Conan soundtrack nearly as much as they should. Oh well, with much help from Steff we still did our best to pay homage to Conan, Hyboria and Knut Avenstroup Haugen in what proves to be our sweatiest and dampest podcast session yet!

Episode 10 show notes

  • Introduction (including “Northern Grassland”)
  • “Hamlets of Aquilonia”
  • “All Heroes Unite”
  • “Memories of Cimmeria”
  • “Villages of Khitai”
  • “Ambush from Three Directions”
  • “The Sands of Forgetfullness/Tortage Beach”
  • “The Damp Barachan Nights”
  • Speakpipe: Reply to Axel Grimwulf
  • Mailbag: Reply to Kuter
  • Outro

Feel that we didn’t include your personal holy grails? Let us know and as always, we hope you enjoy this latest BB episode!

[TESO] Holy Trinity and Healing Mechanics Revealed

So yesterday the folks at Zenimax dropped the ball on some long-awaited and much speculated combat details over at the TESO development Q&A. In the wake of titles like Guild Wars 2, many players have had the same big question on their mind: will there be a holy trinity in TESO? – Will there be a tank and healer?

Both questions were addressed in the Q&A although to varying degrees of my satisfaction. Let’s start with what has been revealed on the holy trinity so far:

Q: How important will the ‘holy trinity’ be in PvE endgame/raids?
Will dedicated tanks and healers be required, or will lighter armored
characters be able to utilize the dodge system well enough to serve as
competent tanks? Will healers need to focus entirely on healing, or will
a more offensive spellcaster be able to sustain his group via spot
– By Lynx
Q: A: “Yesterday in the lunchtime dungeon test, our group of four (all at level 12) included: – 1 Templar with light armor and healing staff, abilities focusing on healing – 1 Templar with light armor and dual wield, Templar abilities focusing on healing – 1 Dragonknight with light armor and destruction staff – 1 Sorcerer with heavy armor and dual wield This was with no real consultation with each other while making characters, other than ensuring there was at least one healer. For the sake of the dungeon we really could have used a true tank (the closest we had was the sorcerer wearing heavy armor and using unstable familiar to get the monster’s attention, with no real “keep myself alive” abilities), but as a group we were (eventually) able to take down the Fungal Grotto bosses. More to the point, with four players making independent choices in abilities and gear, three of the four made builds that defied the standard templates – and yet felt perfectly viable in actual play. The players were each able to build a character to their own taste with class abilities as a supplement, rather than the rigid defining aspect to the character, and have effective characters. So in summation, we’re pretty happy watching the progression system allow people to play the way they want in the groups they want to play in.”– By Lynx

I am getting the impression that the tests on group settings and mechanics are either not very advanced yet or that the developer is beating around the bushes in his reply. The very concrete question, namely how significant the holy trinity is for endgame/raids and how exclusive the role focus of certain classes will (have to) be, doesn’t get a straight answer. So, Zenimax’s testing team basically used two healers in a group of four. They made sure they had “at least one healer”. They also “could’ve used a real tank” in the Grotto but, errr….this wasn’t really a planned run and it’s wonderful if players can make “independent choices in abilities and gear”. Are we still addressing role setup questions for raiding here?

The reply ends on a similar note that tries to emphasize player freedom, mostly for spec and gear, but does in fact never truly answer the original question. At best it gets clear that there won’t be rigid cookie cutters for any class. I can’t shed the feeling that TESO will in fact feature a more classic holy trinity but that Zenimax are too careful and reluctant to call it that at this point. After all it could potentially alienate a big part of their potential audience. Anyone else get the same feeling?

TESO’s Healing Mechanics

Another more revealing part of the Q&A are the details on how healing is going to work in TESO. While I’m not a fan of dedicated healing in MMOs myself, I’ve explained in the past that one big part of my very vocal holy trinity dislike stems from the fact that healing in WoW was this over-the-top-exclusive stare-at-healthbars-job. MMOs like Age of Conan have offered some more refreshing solutions in that department: healing in AoC was overall weaker, more diverse and AoE/cone-based. Such an approach to healing mechanics can dramatically change the overall playstyle of healing classes. And it appears that TESO is going to follow a similar path –

Q: I have a question about your targeting system for combat, from
what I’ve heard there will be a soft targeting system. My question is:
How does this system work in raids/large PvP groups for healers? Will
healers have a hard time finding players, and keeping track of their
group’s health?
– By Jacob Avila

A: “Soft-lock targeting doesn’t really affect healing because you don’t have to find your target to heal them. You don’t target allies. Most of our heals are area-of-effects (AoEs) or cone effects. To be effective, you might want to stay in the middle of your allies for AoEs or face them for cone effects. Healers will need to be aware of their environment of course, and pay attention to the battle.

The most important part of the reply is no doubt “you don’t target allies”. That means no cycling target frames and certainly no clicking healthbars. The healer’s focus lies on the whole encounter and environment, just like it does for everyone else in the party. Healing will be about correct placement and timing of area and cone effects which can be a great challenge. It’s a take on healing that has also gained some speed in WoW since Cataclysm and that many players out there should enjoy, sworn healers included.

I do welcome this approach to healing in TESO. That said, I do believe there will be dedicated healing and healer and tank roles in this game – certainly a lot more dedicated than in GW2. Zenimax do their best to emphasize playstyle freedom but nothing they’ve stated so far is a big break-away from the classic fantasy MMORPG formula. I wonder how die-hard fans of the Elder Scrolls franchise feel about some of the current combat revelations.

Which MMOs are you holding on to?

A comment by Telwyn on Syp’s most recent topic got me thinking of all the MMORPGs I currently got installed on my PC. I used to be such an exclusive WoW-player for some time, but gradually when things changed in that department, I returned to older games or started to pay new titles more serious attention. There used to be a time when religious “MMO fatalism” forbade such unfaithful practices, but these days a great part of any MMO player base will actually leave and come back, re-sub or sneak around several online worlds simultaneously. The big, dramatic quitting gesture is more and more becoming a thing of the past. And a good thing too.

There are currently five MMOs linked on my desktop, vying for my attention. And I realize that there’s no common pattern (or in places no sound logic) in why I choose to keep them installed on my PC (which is rather desperate for space) for that long. The reasons why we hold on to some MMOs can vary greatly (apart from actually playing them actively); sometimes we genuinely believe we’ll be back, sometimes we’re just too lazy to uninstall…but in other cases?

 MMOs I keep installed on my PC

  • Allods Online; Allods is my secret MMO crush. I’ve long decided that I cannot play Allods due to its forceful RMT concept and I do not intend to go back and retry in fact ever again. Still, I cannot bring myself to uninstall this MMO, I just love the Arisen so, so much! Call me a weirdo, I will hold up my Allods torch for some while to come, damnit!
  • Age of Conan; I re-subbed to AoC a few months ago when I was still deluding myself that it might fill the dark days of November and December and take my mind off the GW2 wait. Going back once more and testing the new PvP server was fun for a while, but it didn’t last as long as I hoped it would. Too much of the old concerns are still very much alive in Hyboria and they don’t get less vexing the second time around. I’ve no idea why I haven’t uninstalled the game yet – I think I should do that now.
  • Rift; I’m actually playing Rift again at the moment, after having been un-subbed for a very long time. I always meant to re-visit the bard class and lo and behold ended up enjoying the rogue path! The moment I re-subbed, I was instantly reminded of all the things I liked about Rift initially; this time around I am actually more relaxed about it, exploring and leveling up in peace together with my partner. We both know that Rift is just a temporary distraction, but I am very glad I decided to give it another chance. I guess that shows that not every MMO needs to fulfill that big, all-encompassing purpose.
  • Minecraft; Okay, not strictly speaking an MMO, but the way it can be played on private servers comes close. MC is one of those online worlds I will hold on to for a long time – if only to see how things progress in the future, what features will get added, new biomes or creatures to find and explore. I still feel very new to MC and its initial fascination has not diminished, while it’s also the perfect game to have as your “casual backup plan” whenever you want to go unwind. I’m an on-and-off guest there and the place I’ve built for myself is magical and special to me. Not uninstalling this one in any foreseeable future.
  • WoW; Yep…I have not uninstalled World of Warcraft up to this day. I can’t say why I’m holding on to it, certainly not because I harbour any secret wish to re-sub. I don’t. I’ve long learned that lesson. And yet, somehow it was too painful to get rid of the game entirely. I’ve gotten so used to the icon on my windows task-bar over the years…it’s almost as if WoW has become “desktop furniture”. I’ve cleaned out most folders to free up disc space long ago, but a part of me dreads the finality. It’s complete utter silliness, but there you have it. Maybe it will have to wait until I feel I’ve found an adequate replacement. A game that will put an end to the homesickness, maybe. Oh, to be young again and foolish!

Time for truth (lots of questions): 
How do you decide it’s time to dump an MMO?
Are you among those who hold on to MMO installs for purely sentimental reasons? 
Can you imagine not uninstalling a game despite no intention of returning?

Maybe you’re a frequent re-installer? Or still of the rare, MMO-monogamist persuasion?
Is there any symbolism in the “mighty uninstall” or is it generally overrated (and silly)?
Any MMOs currently “rotting” on your PC (fess up!)?

It would actually be very interesting to know how long WoW players (veterans?) take on average, before ever choosing to uninstall, if at all. I’d wager that in this particular case, my own hesitation is not so unheard of.

Oh noes, I used the item shop!

In my last post I mentioned that I have picked up Age of Conan again to test the new PVP server – there’s not an awful lot to play for me at the moment, and I must admit that Hyboria’s setting holds a special place in my heart. Already, the horribly flawed UI, quest or AH functionality frustrate me again (how hard is it to fix these?), but the world in general has that feeling of “home” that I’d otherwise only get in Azeroth.

PVP starts early on and I’m having a great laugh with it; I soloed quests in the starter dungeons and got my ass kicked around every corner until I finally learned how to make proper use of my hiding skill, questing in sneaky mode, what a thrill! Once you’ve lost enough items to some rogue lurking in the shadows (I promptly lost my first blue item that way too), you begin to play a lot differently, making use of walls and corners, always minding the nearest exit. The look of the outside towns and quest hubs is hilarious too: entirely deserted, not a soul around. You think! In fact, they’re all around you, as you realize when a player suddenly drops out of stealth next to you or two start dueling in the middle of town, with more and more players popping out of nowhere and joining the battle. I love it!

That’s not the only novelty in AoC for me though – there is now the item store and yes, the vanity window. Sigh. A fatal combination for somebody such as myself! I had to do it of course, I had to browse what social armor is up for sale. To my defense, the standard armor in the game is very lackluster and looks hardly ever change until you reach max level and go for instances. Who wants to wear an orange plate mail and cow-hide skirt forever?? Just give me one nice set that I can keep wearing the next weeks and months, mkay.

Now, the item shop is pretty sneaky and I blame Funcom for everything that happened from there. I meant to buy ONE set with real money and maybe a bag for more item storage. But of course, the armor is displayed so badly in the shop (and there’s no wardrobe feature) that you basically need to buy in order to check what it really looks like. I didn’t do that of course, I was smart (muaha!) and browsed the net for previews. After 10 minutes I had still found zero screenshots and that was when I really lost my temper. “10 Euros, who cares?? Let’s do it!”

So, I did it. And again, and again. The first set was shockingly bad and then I bought a wrong one by mistake (it was called Transcendence, what can I say). So I bought one more that I finally liked. And since I have 2 characters I play on different servers, I bought another for my high-level priest, too. This is my story on how I spent 40 Euros on virtual wardrobe until I was out of cash to even buy that bag. Had I not read Syncaine’s story on his micro-transactions bill for League of Legends just this morning, I would still feel a little guilty…..but, I don’t! Not really. Lalalala…!

Real-money transfer is coming, friends. Like to learning how to manage an allowance, it takes some self-discipline at first, yet I’m really starting to endorse all the pros of this business model. The times of paying for a pig in a poke are over; here’s your chance to play MMOs first before agreeing on just how much you actually intend to spend on them long-term.

…if you can handle it, that is. Honestly though, can you really blame me?

How I spent 40 Euros in Age of Conan

A good weekend to all of you, the well-dressed and those still running around in cow-hide!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Or: the fastest way to rekindle your WoW passion

The good old pre-expansion blues is taking its toll on guilds and WoW players all around the globe. Bloggers struggle to find topics to write about while waiting for new content (or argue a lot more than usual), gamers run the same old 5mans on their alts or hunt for the last achievements they can possibly do. This is the twilight hour of the MMO: the old sun is setting as we wait in darkened shadows holding our breath, longing for the new dawn. But Cataclysm is still a good 2 months away, if we want to believe the optimistic voices.

For some it’s been too long a wait already. They take their leave from the game or website communities, some to take a hiatus, others with the firm intention never to return. Some question if they still got any future in the world of warcraft.

Well I have good news for you: if you feel your passion for the game dampened, if you doubt whether you should even bother to play Cataclysm, there is a very quick way to make up your mind. You can do what I’ve done the past few weeks, if you’re hooked to the genre like I am, knowing that you’ll always want to play an MMO because it’s ruined all the single-player games for you anyway.

It’s simple: go and check out the other MMOs out there. Get a trial subscription or try some of the free MMOs that are supposedly “not too bad”. There is NO better way to rekindle your WoW spark than by looking at what alternatives the market has to offer you.

Believe me when I say I’ve tried

The past few weeks and months, I have tried, tried real hard too, to give another MMO a chance. Even if I’ve played and loved WoW since the beta launch, I am not a fanboy, I’m generally equally positive as I am critical of the game which makes it hard for more extreme Nay-sayers or Yes-sayers to place me. I don’t love WoW unconditionally, I have too many comparisons for that. It’s still the best game I ever played and the one that has changed me the most, so that counts for something. I can discuss pros and cons of games in a dispassionate manner and I am open to new things. I am also frankly bored of WoW, so I took some time browsing general MMO sites and talked to friends to make my picks.

The games I eventually opted for were Allods, Age of Conan, Everquest 2 and Rappelz. I also meant to try FF14 at some point but alas, that ship has sailed. I intended for a mix of MMOs that complement my previous experiences and chose some of the more popular ones as much as a few free games with a small, die-hard player base. I’m not a big fan of micro-transaction MMOs but I’m still interested to see what some of them have to offer in return.

It was a dizzying and ultimately enlightening journey through the jungle, or should I say “Black Morass” of the MMOs out there. Not that I expected much in the first place, but there were a few surprises along the way, even if the painful experiences outweighed the positive. I am fully aware that I am not the most forgiving customer: if you have a strong WoW background, you’re basically spoiled, you take a lot of features for granted. Many of these MMOs have got between 50’000-100’000 subscribers. For 2010, EQ2 is said to sport approximately 200’000 and AoC around 160’000. That means the vast majority of MMOs has plus-minus 1% of the player base that Blizzard can work with.

My final judgment can still only be from a very personal and biased viewpoint. This is how new MMOs will have to convince new customers to switch over – they will be measured by what’s considered a standard in 2010+. They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to copy WoW (they shouldn’t, in fact), but they will have to deliver good reasons to play them instead of WoW. They will have to deliver a ‘package’, because that is what Blizzard really achieved: neither the best graphics, nor the most content depth, nor the best or most complete features, but A LOT of everything! It’s a well-rounded and coherent world we play in, with a high playability and variety that caters to more than one or two types of gamers. Even if it’s not perfect in every respect, it still achieves to be good or very good in most. When we criticize WoW, we’re criticizing on a very high level.

So I’m not gonna be particularly forgiving or aim for completeness and fairness when presenting my experiences. I’ll be short (kinda..) and selective in retelling what impression the games I picked made on me during my very first hours of gameplay, because that’s when most of us decide to continue or not. The average MMO player does not grind his way up in hope for entirely different or better endgame and that’s usually not what you’ll find anyway. I am also personally not so interested in the endgame raiding aspect anymore, like I used to be. I’ll try and be specific about why I stopped in each game’s case.
(Continue reading via the link below)
The Good…

As mentioned earlier, I was positively surprised once or twice during my ventures, namely by Age of Conan and Allods Online.

Like Rappelz, Allods is a gpotato deal. I chose to play it because it’s a rather remarkable WoW clone graphically and I was intrigued about the Russian team behind it. As expected the game has huge polish from the second you enter the character creation screen. I loved the style of the different races and even if Allods looks a lot like WoW, it shows originality in character design and other cosmetic aspects like armor and world atmosphere. I absolutely loved the Arisen, this gotta be the coolest race ever! You start your journey in a sort of intro scenario, fighting your way out of your homebase and the game controls are easily handled and intuitive.

That’s when the grind begins… keep doing the same fetch&delivery quests we got bored of in vanilla for a very long time and combat is slow. At some point, even though this is one of the best free MMOs out there, you ask yourself “why am I doing this?”. Why play an MMO that looks like WoW when you can play WoW without the micro-transaction deal and in the company of a lot more people?

Allods doesn’t only look good, but managed to copy many good aspects of other MMOs while still retaining its own style and unique feel. It runs smoothly and should appeal to a more mass market audience. But it ultimately fails to deliver enough reasons to switch over from WoW. Also, most gamers want to pay subscriptions rather than dabble around with ingame shops all the time.

Age of Conan
While Age of Conan drove masses of players away at its launch in 2008, Funcom have continuously improved the game since then. I spent several weeks playing (and paying) it, before I rested my lvl 60 priest for good. AoC manages to provide you with a coherent world and lore like WoW does, with its unique style and graphics that succeed to create an immersive atmosphere of High Adventure set in the more barbaric and rough world of Conan (there will be blood!). After a very elaborate character creation, your journey begins with your character washed up at a shore, trying to remember his past from there. You’ll spend your first 20 levels more or less following your own ‘destiny quests’ before you get tossed out into the actual world. The zones are beautiful and of an epic scale, I loved exploring while listening to some of the wonderful tunes. The pseudo real-time combat is fast (especially for melee) and the solo features in the game are great.

I had a good time with AoC, but I was surprised at how little care was given to the UI and controls which are highly inflexible. Features like the clunky quest log and grouping tools make it very hard for beginners to find their way around. I was also baffled that an MMO wouldn’t even bother to provide you with proper friendlist functionality. The skills and talent system are rather complex and it took some reading up to work out specs.

But these are things I can deal with. What really discouraged me and my friends from playing together, was the horribly imbalanced group mechanics and at stages dubious difficulty levels for certain dungeons or zones. It was impossible to group up without an exact number of people and classes present (even for dungeons you should out-skill) and once you managed to find the right pugs to join you, it still ended in a very frustrating experience. The tanking mechanics are supposedly better at max level, but aggro control and CC are hideous when trying to level or pug. And while the healing approach in AoC is really refreshing to a WoW healer, it leaves you tearing your hair out due to the broken group mechanics and balance. Apparently this is also a big issue on the PVP side of the game.

So while AoC is possibly the most mature and unique MMO besides WoW and should cater to a more grown-up audience too, it is not quite there yet. The good aspects outweigh the bad, but it’s still a trade-off in parts. I might re-visit it at some point though.

…the Bad…

Rappelz is one of many asian, free MMOs that regularly pops up in respective top 3s. While the overall graphics and character design look okay (if not slightly hermaphrodite) compared to others, the world and game play are horribly stale. The maps are boring and the music is either dull or annoying. That’s just the more superficial aspects of a game but they shape your first impressions nonetheless and are rather significant when it comes to atmosphere and immersion.

The game play does nothing to improve things: you start grinding your way into the first town with two basics skills on your hotbar. 10 levels later, you’re still grinding boring mobs on a boring plain, pushing the same two buttons (attack and smite, yay!). When you finally get to ‘upgrade’ your talent tree and chose a more individual skill path, you get rewarded with a shocking number of 0 new skills or abilities. I kept going until I received my first supposed ‘elite-quest’ and went all “Yay, finally a challenge!”, looking for a group because the NPC told me I’d need one. On my way to find people, I accidentally killed a mob which turned out to be the ‘elite mob’ for my quest…

But that wasn’t the worst about Rappelz, really. The worst is the controls: no mouse-control or WASD, Rappelz is one of the CLICKY-games! If you want to move your character, point and click the environment is all you’ll get. It annoyed me no end and I cannot fathom why some devs still think this is a good idea in an MMO – gawd what were you thinking??!

…and the Ugly

Everquest 2
EQ2 marks my grande finale. I am still utterly baffled about those that told me EQ2 was “that other game beside WoW” or allude that it’s somehow similar. Now I’ll be fair and say the free-to-play feature of EQ2 is currently in its beta but still, the game was released in 2004! That makes it as old as WoW maybe, but definitely not as good.

Yeah I care for things like character creation and looks, you know what, it matters! And EQ2 is HIDEOUS!!! I went temp-blind trying to customize one of the TWO available character models for humans and apparently they’re one of the more agreeable races. Seriously Sony, seeeeeeriously??

Maybe I shouldn’t have chosen the green-violet starting area of the silly fairies, but the optic aspects of the game didn’t improve from there. At least you can run the game smoothly, even after you fought and scrolled your way through the gazillion available ingame menus and submenus to max performance. The gameplay wasn’t so bad, it was easy enough to find your way around the UI and first quests which are rather similar to WoW; the beautiful zone map (…) assists you there. Also, EQ2 makes up for all the skills and abilities Rappelz is so reluctant to distribute: for every level gained, you get at least 2 new spells for your hotbar. At level 14, I was already half-way to filling my 3rd, losing track quickly of what each of those buttons do and when I should use which and why. The skill and talent system is equally confusing: 3 different tabs on ‘alternate advancement’ that give you no hint whatsoever on where to start, while the game keeps reminding you that you got unused skill points lying around!

The game is kinda big for letting you know stuff like that…It also tells you that your two bags are full, after which you will have no peace and won’t be able to loot anything until you found the one vendor NPC that lets you sell trash items. You’ll have to make your way there at reduced speed because apparently walking gets harder after you picked too many flowers and mushrooms.

And then there’s that pesky annoyance of a pop-up that you’ll get to click away every 10minutes, telling you to upgrade to the game’s “silver version”. Apparently that’s Sony’s subtle way of encouraging their free-version players and trialists to buy the upgrade. I’m sure that works really well……not.
There’s actually a GOLD version popup following that silver one, I hear!

If you’ve played WoW for years and decide to test EQ2 nonetheless, I wish you good luck. At least you won’t have to wait for a long install and patching procedure, because the game is smart enough to download most of its ugly maps while you’ve already started playing. That is, if you can get the launcher to run without issues, depending on your windows version. ^^

A look ahead

I give every game a chance but I’m merciless if it manages to annoy me already at the start, fails to meet the most basic standards or doesn’t manage to motivate long term game play after several hours. If you want to hook players or lure them over, you better create some motivation quickly! I don’t think I’m harsh, but I got a clear focus on things like overall atmosphere, coherence and playability when having my first look at an MMO. After that, I’d like a new title to feature something unique instead of just copying WoW: it’s not enough to be as good, you’ll need to be better and different! Try and excel where WoW is lacking, have a good look at how the fathers of the genre created content depth. And make sure you’ll deliver a package, because you’ll be dealing with WoW players with a low tolerance for bullshit.

I would love to give another game a go but looking around, I doubt 2011 will change a lot. Very few games of the past years have shown promise, but they aren’t quite there yet. I have the same feeling about upcoming titles such as SWtoR or The Secret World, even if I’m probably going to look into the latter.
However, most of the current MMOs out there, free or sub-based, are a waste of space, time and nerves. It’s something Blizzard ultimately benefits from, aside of WoW being the king of MMOs for many other reasons.

Before I agree to settle for less, look like some ugly hobbit on steroids or move my character around like a unit in some freakin RTS, I pre-order my Cataclysm copy and let it be known: it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely your best bang for the buck folks!