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Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures - Review #2 - Levels 20 - 39

June 16, 2008

Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures - Review #2 - Levels 20 - 39
by
Michael Lafferty
 

Gamezone's first review of Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures talked about the first 20 levels of the game. The following continues to the initial review, but focuses on levels 20-39. The ratings remain the same. This "rolling" review looks at the current state of the game and what players may find as their characters advance.

When GameZone first received Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, it was decided – in order to do justice to the game – to break the review down into several segments. Each of the segments would correspond with in-game milestones.

For example, the game’s first 20 levels can be viewed as a tutorial to the game’s mechanics, while also giving a startling first-hand perspective of the underlying story arcs that will permeate the game moving forward. The Tortage levels take place on an island in the Barachian chain and give a glimpse into the effects of Atlantis and Acheron on the world, the mages that seek to conquer it using dark forces (can you say Thoth-Amon) and those defending the world from conquest (the titular Conan, who sits on the Aquilonian throne).

Rather than reiterate everything in the first review, you can read it for yourself here, and this review will move into the next 20 levels of gaming. Two main elements come into play in the level 20 to 40 range – guilds and resource gathering. You won’t be able to craft until level 40, but you will be able to train to begin gathering the resources you will need for hitting that golden level.

And from level 20 onward, you truly begin to see your character’s development, get a sense of how to play that character in a world that certainly has challenges.

But before getting into that, it is only fair to note that some of the aspects of the game that are a big buggy tend to show up stronger as you leap into the world of Hyboria, albeit in a limited sense. Funcom has been addressing the issues and patching in as quickly as possible. One of the problems with the closed beta was that the game seemed to have a memory leak (in that it would cache all the zones and completely fill up the available memory on a machine thus crashing the client when you tried to move into a new zone with more resources – the error message you would get is that the machine you were using was out of memory). That seems to have resurfaced, but will – more than likely – be eradicated by the time this review is published.

And make no mistake about it: AoC is a game that will tax your machine and your graphics card. If you do not have a machine that meets the minimum system requirements, you won’t be able to play it. And even if you do have such a machine, that just meets the minimums, you may find the experience to be less than satisfying with frame rates that hit single digits and render out graphics that are choppy or come to a standstill. Those can be frustrating moments in the game. On one occasion, within an instanced zone, while traveling in a diverse party, the amount of spells being cast seemed to finally overload the rendering capabilities of my nVidia 8800 GTX card and the graphics bloomed into texture-less flairs of white with an fps at 1-3. The only way to correct it was to log out, and then log back in. Doing so took the frame rate back up into the 50s and 60s for the zone.

Your character …

After level 20, new combos do not fly into your character at the same rate as they did during the first 20 levels. Back then, in Tortage, you tended to pick up new combo abilities every odd level gained. At level 20 and beyond, you might go (what seems like) a handful of levels without getting a new combo ability. But when they do drop, they will replace the last iteration. For example, you might have Vicious Cuts I in your hotkey bindings, and then, somewhere between levels 20 and 40, you pick up Vicious Cuts II.

No need to go find it in your list of combo and abilities and drag it to your hotkey slot. It will drop in and replace the last version you had. Yes, if you want you can load up your hot keys with all the previous iterations of the combo, but that seems a little silly. The mobs (NPC monsters you face) are tougher and require more “fire power,” which is provided by the new combo skills. But the cost of using the skills is also higher.

And as you tackle stronger mobs, you begin to get a real sense of the weaknesses of your character. For example, the assassin can do a great deal of damage, but is a ‘paper tiger.’ That means that they can deal it out, but can’t really take it. Why? Because of the armor type they use. Barbarians have some of the highest damage output, but can only wear light armor, thus making them susceptible to damage received. Get in with an elite mob and your health bar can fall faster than a barrel over Niagara Falls. However, have a great healer with you and that health meter won’t budge even as you are taking a lot of damage.

The mob AI, though, appears to be moving up a notch here as well. The mob will tend to gravitate to the character that is providing the most mayhem – which could mean a rogue class, even though a soldier class has max’ed taunting and is throwing everything he or she can. What that translates to is reading the game and judiciously using your skills, making for a more tactical or strategic experience. As a class that is referred to as a “dd” class (damage dealer), you might not want to throw all your combos at a mob right away, especially if the fight may take a bit to resolve. Hit with a combo, then use standard attacks to make sure the mob does not focus on you. Tactics like that seem to work – as long as the others in the group know what you are doing.

You can also be apprenticed, meaning that a higher level character can pull you up to within one level of theirs. This means your damage output goes up, your hit points, mana and stamina points increase and you get experience commiserate with your level. Once you leave the group, your level returns to what it was before.

This is a good way to allow players to team against elite mobs without having to grind up. And speaking of …

The grind

Every massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) has grind. The grind is the level process that occurs in which you are running quest after quest, killing 30 rats or spiders, et cetera, to achieve the next level when more storyline material appears and you feel like you are part of the breathing, vibrant world.

What separates the good MMOs from the bad ones is the way that the grind is handled, or disguised.

On recent patch notes, the Funcom dev team remarked that they were working to make the grind of the mid-30s (and 50s) easier and smoother.

While that is very much appreciated, if one reads the storylines, the continuing sense of the evil tainting the world is apparent. The grind is not merely running this delivery mission, or killing this mob – there is an actual story that weaves into the fabric of the whole game and moves the overall story arc forward.

At this stage of the game, there are three main populaces – Cimmeria, Aquilonia and Stygia, all with outlying provinces but threaded together by delivery missions that will move the players from location to location within the world.

To move from one area to another, you find either a wagon master or boat caption who offers to zone you to the next area. It’s that simple. What you find there is a wealth of new quests, a different look and feel to the game, and new excitement.

If you began as a Cimmerian, you are dropped into a valley that is war-torn. The Vanir are pounding at the gates, the land bears the markings of conflict (burned huts, dead bodies and such) and the very air permeates a war-torn nation. You start with missions to kill the Vanir and disrupt their efforts, but soon you will begin to encounter the power driving the Vanir – the Ymirish (tall, powerful and elite beings that are kin to the Frost Giants). The Ymirish tend to pop into the picture when you get close to level 27. Tackling one alone can be suicide. They hit hard, can take a shot and have a lot of hit points. Welcome to grouping – if you want to succeed. Or, if you want, you can wait until you are a bit higher in level and then come back to run the quests involving the Ymirish. Ok, hop over to Aquilonia; the folks there are always looking for mercenaries to take on the work that would dirty their hands.

Before you know it, you are embroiled in the cleansing the madness tainting another kingdom, up to your eyeballs in new quests and seeing sites completely different from what you saw in Cimmeria. One of the crowning areas in Aquilonia (you should take a group) is the Sanctum in the Wild Lands. This is an area with ties to Acheron, and has some pretty nasty monsters and some pretty good loot drops. The payoffs can be solid as well, with some quests in the place yielding 10,000 experience points. There are approximately five bosses in the Sanctum and the battles can be fierce.
A couple of the quests seem to be bugged, such as the Wandering Child quest, but – again – these are problems being addressed by the dev team. As of the last update, though, the quests could not be completed. And when you are talking about a quest that runs through a Stygian pyramid and rewards the player with 10k experience, that’s a fair chunk of a level to be missing. But regardless of whether you are battling in Cimmeria, Aquilonia or Stygia, all these quests serve to give a more robust overview of what it taking place in this world.

While in Tortage, you began the efforts to recover the memories of your past, torn from you when the Mark of Acheron was placed on you. These are part of a quest series that is tied to the Phoenix Medallion. At level 30 you receive your next quest to recover the second part of the Medallion. This is a solo destiny quest that felt a little short and lacked the intensity of the Tortage experience. Still, for what it was, it did a fine job of advancing that quest line (the next piece comes into play at level 50).

Guilds

At level 20 the guilds tab opens up and players can create guilds (you can be a younger level to join a guild, if you wish). To create a guild, you simply open the tab, type in the name of the guild, select the form of government you wish to have and hit the create button. Few things could be simpler. The forums contain a post that will provide a script for guild advertising in the game.

Guilds can be a hit-or-miss proposition. You can have a guild of one, or if you are looking for a guild to join, you can go into social tabs and do a search for a guild.

There are some benefits to joining a guild. One is the ability to open a new chat box that is for guild members only, so that no matter where a guild mate is in Hyboria, you can still talk to him or her (the /ooc channel, which is the ‘out of character’ world channel is only active for the zone you are in; the game has since added a regional chat channel as well - such as one for Cimmeria, or Stygia, etc.). Other benefits to being part of a guild is the guild bank (traders are working again – they were not for part of the initial review due to some players finding exploits) for sharing loot and being in a guild can eventually lead to the foundation of a guild city (level 40 is required and 24 guild members). The cities are located in three areas, which just so happen to also be the central resource training areas (Lacheish Plains for Cimmeria, Poitien for Aquilonia and the something-something swamp for Stygia).

Each government form has ranks and certain ranks allow for certain abilities within the guild. These abilities can include the ability to recruit others, promote or demote, or even kick from the guild. Funcom does need to work on the interface a bit, though, and should consider a tab to open up the guild roster – in the vein for what EverQuest II does, perhaps – to make it instantly accessible.

The checks and balances in the guild are fine, but seems to be a rather cursory look at what could be a deeper experience. Still, as it stands in the framework of the level 20-40 aspect of the game, it is a nice addendum, and because you will need groups to successfully venture through some of the dungeons in the level 20-40 areas, this provides an easy way to get in touch with people.

The guild interface, though, does need to be reworked. It is a bit cumbersome and as a guild leader, if you go to promote someone from within the guild, as of June 15, the pop-up would ask if you were sure you wanted to promote “NoName.” It seems that Funcom has big plans in store for guilds and guild interaction. If that is the case, then the interface will need attention.

Resource gathering

When you hit level 20, you can search out trainers and learn to collect resources. There is no limit to the amount of harvesting skills you can train (you can have all gathering skills) but not all the resources have animations associated with them. You can take up skinning, but rather than have an animation or skinning, an animal killed may drop loot in the form of its pelt. This is automatic.

For wood collecting (forestry in some games), though, you cannot run out and simply harvest every tree you see. You begin with ash and improve your skill, returning to the trainer for new assignments and to step up your level. Harvestable items within the environment are usually highlighted, but it needs to be noted that while you might see a node, unless you have the appropriate skill, you won’t be able to harvest. And while some skills may seem related, such as mining and stonecutting, they are not. You have to train at different NPCs to get both skills. Each of the training NPCs will offer quests, which essentially entail collecting the entry resource for the skill.

Do not expect to find a lot of fields where there is a bounty of harvestable resources. You will have to hunt for the resources and will find them scattered throughout the world.

Levels 20-39 overview

While new combos do not happen very often, what these levels do well is define the profession you are while revealing a greater portion of the world. You will start to look more critically at armor and weapons and associated buffs they may have. While one piece of armor may have a higher defense rating, sometimes the better piece of armor for you will be lower in defensive rating, but have a high stamina rating, or constitution rating, or even increase several stat categories.

The patches, now up to twice a week while the idiosyncrasies of the client are ironed out, do present a few problems. The most recent patch seemed to create a couple of crash situations, including the dreaded “out of memory” crash to desktop.

The 20-39 levels, though, do begin to offer up a robust view of the world while revealing deeper game mechanics, such as the grouping aspect of the game, which requires players to team up to defeat certain mobs or achieve quest goals.

The storylines are still pointing in a specific direction but you do start to see more of the individual NPC stories and get a feel for the world.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is a multilayered MMO that reveals gameplay layers as you progress and explore the world. This continues to be a rich and varied gaming experience. The hint of evil threatening not only Conan’s realm but all of Hyboria is ingrained into the fiction of the game and as you build upwards, you begin to sense the textures of the painting that is slowly revealed in this game of high adventure.

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