In my 6 years as a game journalist I’ve had the privilege of playing more than 300 MMOs, and like so many others, I’ve spent most of that time trapped in the middle of an all-too-persuasive World of Warcraft inclination that has consumed a large portion of my life.
Which is why, when I look back at my most precious MMORPG experiences, I find it strange that they didn’t happen while playing WoW. I have thousands of brilliant WoW memories, but the ones I deem most dear to my heart were had while playing Age of Conan.
That said, I’ve come to realise that my personal opinion regarding which online gaming experience captivated and captured me the most is of little importance when it comes to deciding which of these games offers the best experience. But I’m going to give it to you all the same. For what it worth, Age of Conan is my favourite MMORPG. It unlikely that this will ever change.
AN AGE OF CONAN
This is largely due to my own personal attachment to the world of Robert. E. Howard than the accomplishments of Funcom, though I can say without a doubt that their efforts to re-create that world will never be forgotten. They truly captured the essence of Conan, both in terms of art design and game mechanics, offering a gorgeous recreation of the cities and environments and a savage combat system that accurately captures the style and heart of the Conan stories.
This was all true when Age of Conan was first released, however shaky the official release may have been, and remains true today with its transition into the world of Free to Play. I promised myself before I sat down to write the review that I wouldn’t digress into indulgence, but I knew then as I do now that I wouldn’t be able to resist. As far as MMORPG experiences go, Age of Conan is one of the best our world has ever seen. As far as Free to Play MMORPG experience go”¦ well, let just say that it even better.
THE SAVAGE COAST OF TURAN
But that not why we’re here today. As much as I want to talk about all of things that Age of Conan does right, and why now, more than ever, you should be giving it a try for yourself, we’re here today for a very specific reason: to take a close look at the new content offered in the latest expansion (sorry, adventure pack): The Savage Coast of Turan.
I like that they’ve called it an adventure pack instead of an expansion, because it accurately describes the content that been added: adventures. That is to say that they’re small, and as there has been no increase in level cap or substantial content added to the ‘end-game’, calling it an expansion would raise the expectations much higher than they should. Clever, Funcom. Clever.
In terms of content, The Savage Coast of Turan offers:
The Coast of Ardashir: a new playfield for level 50 characters (meant as an alternative area to increase your level, as opposed to the current playfields included within the game, and most likely added to offer something fresh for players who are on their second or third characters)
Dead Man Hand: a scalable solo instance that can be attempted at any level above 50, and will pose a difficult challenge regardless due to the level of the enemy encounters scaling to match your own (though, like the previous content additions before it, this does not take into account your class, so while a Guardian may find this area a breeze on his own at any level, a Ranger will have a much more difficult time managing multiple groups of enemies up to 4 levels higher than their own)
Isle of Iron Statues: Similar to Dead Man Hand however only available to level 80 characters and posing equally difficult challenges for certain classes (especially in the case of old players returning to experience new content”¦)
Fort Ardashir: A simple group-based instance for level 80 players, much like the 6 or so added in Age of Conan previous expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, except”¦ well, there only 1 this time.
Temple of Erlik: A raid instance designed specifically to bridge the gap between Tier 3 and Tier 4 raids, and as such, my favourite piece of content added within this pack, as the issues with raiding difficulty in Age of Conan have been a long-lasting problem that, would seem, may finally be somewhat resolved.
So, all in all, not a bad collection of content for $15 or so, and a nice additional to the Age of Conan world. But it not the greatest, and having recently stopped playing Age of Conan myself due to the lack of content provided in Rise of the Godslayer, I find myself needing to vent. Care to listen?
INNOVATION OR IMMITATION?
I was up all night waiting for the release of Rise of the Godslayer. At the time I was playing Age of Conan basically full-time, and like all MMORPG expansions, those waiting for their release are ready to give up just about anything to begin playing.
Initially, I was hugely impressed by the additional content added, but after a few days I began to feel differently. As a level 80 player, not a lot had changed between the release of RotGS and the many months before it. The new raid content was far too difficult to even consider challenging for those of us still struggling to finish Tier 3, and the new group-dungeon content was so insanely difficult that even the best groups on the server were struggling to finish it. Everything else? Well, as no new levels were added, it was simply a grind. New gear and new skills were available, but in order to obtain them you were simply required to complete quests and kill enemies, over and over and over, and the new PvP content was lacking at best.
It felt, overall, that in order to truly succeed in RoTGS, one would need to devote an obscene amount of time to grinding and failing group-dungeons in order to achieve any sense of progression. Coming from World of Warcraft, in which a new expansion has always meant that the next 80 or so hours were going to be nothing but pure, clean fun, this was something of a shock to the system.
Coming back to the Savage Coast of Turan, I don’t feel like Funcom have learned their lesson. On one hand, it seems like they’re saying: ‘Harden up. The content is hard for a reason’ but on the other: ‘We’ve just gone free to play, we want everyone playing our game.’ There a serious contradiction here. And it goes deeper, too.
The additional playfield, the Coast of Ardashir, has been designed as an alternative leveling area, meaning that there are already several other places you can go if you want to level from 50, and this is simply different. Now, if most of the players that are looking to experience this content have never played Age of Conan before, then who benefits from this? The level 80 players on alts? They just bought an expansion”¦ sorry, adventure pack! They’ve been waiting more than a year for new content, and now they need to play their alts again already? Something doesn’t seem right.
In fear of never finishing this review/reader digest, I’m going to summarise by saying what I said in the beginning, because that always feels like a nice way to wrap things up: Age of Conan is my favourite MMORPG. Their ‘expansion’ content was not a factor when formulating that opinion.
The lack of compelling story narrative, coherent quest chains, voiced dialogue (a trait of from the very beginning) engaging PvP and siege content and their stubborn resistance against adding additional levels and content to experience them with has left me sour and unhappy. I’m sure there are perfectly good explanations to most of my issues here, but I haven’t been able to find any of them. Age of Conan is still a magnificent game, and I still highly recommend it to any player; however, unless you’ve been playing for a while and are desperate for new content, I’d recommend looking to the adventure packs only as a last resort. There plenty of content in the original game, and it all much better anyway. – Cody Hargreaves