Wednesday, 26 December 2012

This Machine Age ... Unchained

"So why blog about Age of Conan (AoC), and why now?"; "What's the appeal?"; "Isn't that game four years old?"; "Aren't there newer better games?"; "What kind of players are there?": these are some of the questions that gamers who happen across this blog might raise.  In fact, there are probably plenty more pointed questions out there than I could list here. 

For this inaugural entry, I'll address those aforementioned quips and I suspect a few more obvious questions will make their way into these initial entries in due time.

Why an Age of Conan blog now? First and foremost it fills a need. AoC players, as do most MMO devotees,  gobble-up information and enjoy discussion.  There aren't a lot of AoC blogs out there and the better known ones are generally for more experienced players.  The game's population isn't as large as bigger MMO titles, such as Eve Online, World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2 ... I'd be willing to bet that even Lord of the Rings Online and The Secret World have slightly bigger populations.  I suspect that AoC probably sits alongside Aion, Rift, or Invictus: all of which are niche games with smaller dedicated player-bases.  As such, the number of good blogs for our game reflects the population.  

AoC has plenty of casual players who are enjoying the game at their own pace.  Likewise, new players do join AoC all the time and many have questions.  Trying to get that info from the game's US and EU forums can be time-consuming considering that AoC has evolved and some info on the forums is out of date.  So this blog will comb the forums and try to consolidate some of what's there for the new and casual crowd.  I hope that this site might, in due time, function like a supplementary manual.

"Hang on, Old Man.   Where IS this bit covered in the forums?"

The fact is that AoC is currently making another leap in its evolution: it has opened up further options for free players; new quests and locations will be available in The Secrets of Dragon's Spine update series that's scheduled to begin in January with additional content to follow. Additionally, the game is turning towards a more systems-based philosophy with the advent of revamped and more dynamic crafting mechanic that will be part of the update.  Accordingly, this blog will attempt to help new and casual players negotiate that option for gear, as it becomes more familiar.

A Conqueror 'practicing his swing' in Dragon's Spine
An older game? Sure, the game is heading for its 5th year. As such, it doesn't have the novelty factor that GW2 has.  And yeah, the technology is aging; nonetheless it still looks better than most other older MMOs and visually is still astonishingly impressive.  It's also had over 4 years to mature: most of  the glaring bugs and all the content gaps that impeded the game after launch are gone (Are there still occasional bugs? Yup.  All MMOs have 'em.) With the launch of The Secret World, Funcom seems to have worked hard avoid rushing content to market.  The AoC game community has been nearly unanimous in urging FC not to serve the next course before it's cooked.  Personally, I like what Funcom's about: they make engaging MMOs and I want them to prosper.  When Funcom is at its best, it's when they deliver solid challenging content.  And the Player-versus-Environment (PvE) aspects of AoC are usually engaging.   

This is not to say they're perfect. Funcom isn't a huge operation like Blizzard or even Turbine, and indeed they are slower to deliver than most players would like (yeah, we MMO players are greedy: we want it all and we want it now).  Yes, the US server population is lower than that of the EU (hopefully Funcom's cross-server tech will help there); yes, improved player-versus-player systems need to be explored (in addition to a new mini-game, the game director has indicated that revamping sieges and/or a full PvP arena system are being considered) and yes, the development team is not always able to deliver updates 'yesterday' (few game companies can do this).  Most of these won't influence a new player, there's plenty to keep you busy for months. 

What's the enduring appeal? Conan, in his pit-fighter days relished, some oft quoted values ...

Take Conan's word 

(otherwise go read The Nichomachean Ethics.)

That's the AoC appeal.

Those better or newer games?  Defining what makes something the best is a personal issue, and likewise newer does not mean fully cooked.  If population is any measure of an MMOs quality, then WoW is hugely popular and despite a dropping population, retains massive numbers.  However, it's directed at younger folks and isn't really a mature player's game.  Players out grow the smurfs.  GW2  and SW:TOR are indeed newer. The buy-to-play, GW2, looks appealing (I really liked the original GW) but the smurf-factor is there.  SW:TOR has the fan-base and great appeal but, like so many MMOs, is now following the pattern Funcom established with Anarchy Online; it has moved to free-to-play to retain players.  Few games will hold huge their initial numbers for long, and they inevitably spend time adjusting to player-base preferences.  

This Machine Age is intended to be neither a soapbox for blindly praising Funcom nor for hurling invective at its decisions or its personnel.  I'm sure this blog will weigh in with the occasional wish list or post hoc analysis; but generally this blog will try to approach its topics from the perspective of the game as it is.  It will leave the back-seat drivers to offer any dissenting views on the official forums.  

So what are the players like? The vast numbers of dedicated AoC players are largely a passionate, thorny, funny, ribald, and easy-going bunch. We're delighted to see folks join in.

What this blog will try to do is offer constructive insights to new players and give a voice to the casual players.  So if you're wary or weary of the official forums, this blog might constitute a second option.

There's simply no other game like it.  Funcoms take on the Hyborian Age offers bloody brutality, wicked eye-candy, reasonable complexity, and a solid share of  MMO escapist high-jinx.  What it doesn't have is 'smurfoids', elflings, anime-inspired wu-shu Barbie-dolls, or snot-nosed 12-year-olds wholl trash talk you at every turn.  If these latter elements are your thing, then you ought to look somewhere else.  If you're a casual player looking to get a little more out of your AoC  time, then stay with This Machine Age.

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