Age of Conan PvP Weekend Preview
There's a little less than a month left until Funcom's new MMORPG Age of Conan is released, and players are getting antsy. Billed as an alternative to games with elves, gnomes, and orcs, Conan still has that fantasy action - casting spells, firing arrows, healing your group members - but does it in a way that the developers say is more chaotic (like the books that the game's based off of) and much more mature. And that's the right word, too, because Age of Conan will be rated M for its more realistic violence than what's been seen in just about every other MMO game out there. The developers put together a PvP Beta weekend recently that I got to check out, and I can say that I'm pretty impressed with what I've seen so far.
Age of Conan starts you off in a single player game where you learn how to play your character before meeting up with other people. The story is that you start out as a slave on a ship that wrecks off the cost of the island of Tortuga. You're one of the few survivors on the ship, and while you now have your freedom, you're still lying in your skivvies on a hostile island. From there it's pretty much like most MMORPGs, where you fight, gain levels and points to spend on abilities, and get better and better gear. In this PvP weekend, you'll get to somewhere around level 5 and are about to enter the first town when the game whisks you off, bumps you up to level 20, gives you gear, spells, and pre-set talents, and tells you to go PvP.
And PvP I did. I tried several of the classes, all of which are available for this event, and had a lot of fun with each. Combat is different in Age of Conan than other games, as you select from a few swings - the basics are left, right, and forward slashes and bashes. There's no auto-attack here, and by choosing several swings in a row, you put together a combo. Melee-based characters can also set up bigger combos, but must still execute them by putting together the right swings. This gets even more interesting in that you can actively block attacks on the same sides, allowing you to defend yourself. This creates a cat-and-mouse game of switching up your attacks while simultaneously trying to anticipate your enemy's. If you think about it from a more abstract point of view then most MMOs play pretty similarly, but in Conan you're dictating things like attack and defense numbers rather than having the game dice-roll it out for you.
Dodging is also controlled by your own movement rather than by a number on your character screen. You can double-tap in any direction to dodge, and much like an action game, if an enemy swings and you're not there to receive it, no damage is done. Again, this is a major departure from how the basics of melee combat work in most MMOs, where you can't actually unleash any attacks unless you've got an enemy standing in front of you.
The healers in Conan all have offensive abilities as well as the capability to restore health to themselves and their friends. At the level we play at in this preview, it makes the game more focused on offense than on just keeping your guy up front alive as long as possible. There aren't any single-target direct heals that can be repeatedly cast; instead, heal-over-time spells along with cone-firing heals that require you to position yourself more carefully are the way to keep players alive. It remains to be seen whether this focus persists through the endgame and whether less healing makes for better fights, but after looking through the talent trees, it seems to me that this will wind up being something where all healing classes can do damage and will be doing it more often than in previous games.
Casters work much the same here as they do in other games. You've got pets (for the necromancer, several at once) and various direct and area damage spells. Just like in many games, starting up a spell brings up a casting bar and it launches when the bar fills up, or in the case of things like sending fire out in a cone in front of you, an immediate bit of damage with a cast bar that counts down instead. The special effects for your spells and the kinds of damage you can do are impressive, although I do want to say that despite this being more of an action game, I wasn't able to dodge incoming enemy spells. Much like arrows, they hit you whether you move out of their way or not.
This PvP weekend only includes one map, but it is an interesting one and it actually presents a totally different playing field for the two game modes. In Team Annihilation, the teams are placed at opposite sides of a large, symmetrical courtyard with quite a few hiding spots and nooks and crannies, and there are bases at each side near the middle of the map too; capturing one of these middle bases for your team means they can now spawn closer to the battle.
And yeah, these smaller PvP matches allow you to respawn repeatedly if you die. In the case of the included Capture the Flag matches, respawning is pretty standard, and it works fine here - the battle's over once one team has gotten enough captures or time runs out. In the team annihilation matches, you have a Resurrection Totem in your base that can be destroyed by the enemy; if they take it out, your team can no longer respawn. None of this is really that new to an online gamer who's played a bit of CTF and/or Guild Wars, but in Age of Conan, small-scale PvP at level 20 is not the ultimate goal. There's much more to the game after that.
As far as performance goes, I can say right now that if your computer can barely play World of Warcraft, that's not likely to cut it for Conan. The game has some pretty challenging performance issues, and while the graphics are really good, the number of pauses and skips as the game loads this stuff up can get really irritating. From the talk of other players in the chat, feeding Conan super-fast CPUs, gobs of RAM, and dual $500 video card setups helps somewhat, but it won't eliminate the issue. I hope that these issues can be ironed out for release, and in the case of MMO launches, this has happened in the past as debug code has been turned off and final optimizations went into place.
Unfortunately, that's about all I have to talk about. This PvP weekend is pretty limited in its scope, and while all the classes and tons of abilities are here, there's only one arena with two gameplay modes, the talent trees have barely been touched for these characters, and the gear is pre-set. It's already quite a bit more interesting than World of Warcraft's rather bland arena battles, and this should get much more interesting when everything opens up on release day. Age of Conan is set for launch on May 20th, and those who preorder can get a code to jump into the game a few days early.