Age of Conan   -   May 21, 2008

Loading seems to be my theme for the week. I played some Age of Conan last night as well and it's plagued with lots of loading.. Starting with the 4+ hour install process. I'm not kidding. Two DVDs, 25.2GB on my HD, 4+ hour install. I killed the loading time by playing GTA4, which sadly also has lots of cutscene loading. Once the game was installed the fun started, but the loading didn't stop...
As I've read from others, I find the game is pretty linear (so far, lvl12). In fact, they did this strange thing where "day" is multiplayer and "night" is single player. The "single player" game has these somewhat elaborate but very linear storyline missions. Switching back to "day" provides familiar mmo style missions, other players, and groups. I'm sure the single-player night mode cuts down on traffic to their servers, but it kills the whole feeling that you are in an MMO. In exchange, they can put you in sequenced events to tell a story and you don't need to fight for mobs. Night storyline is riddled with loading screens as you move between locations for the storyline.

The main "inn" and many city buildings require loading to get in and out of -- I really hate this, especially when you need to visit that building very frequently as is the case with the inn. It reminds me of Pirates, where I became so tired of the loading that I avoided going in buildings, but of course there isn't any game left at that point.

When will they learn that loading screens are a big no no?

PVE wow does not have ANY loading screens unless you use the special hearthstone to teleport back to your inn, or you join a group and head into an instance. Hearth is saving you so much travel time that the "loading" feels like a speedup not a delay, and a group instance is a 30-150 minute commitment, that usually takes 5-30 minutes to assemble a group for so 30 seconds of loading doesn't really matter. People are really underestimating how much of WoW's success comes from not interrupting the player with loading (and ruining the feeling of "being" the avatar).

AoC's networking/server environment needs some work. During the "day" I saw lots of monsters in a frozen state. There is collision detection in player movement, which creates some challenges in crowded spaces -- though they seem to have handled it decently. I started on a PvP server, but it seems even worse than WoW-pvp as it seems like pretty much anyone can attack you outside of the city (instead of wow, where only the opposing faction can attack you). With a lvl 20 player being about 10-15x as strong as a lvl10 player, I don't see the point in letting them engage in world pvp. Needless to say, I'll be switching to PVE. I want PVP combat, I just want to have a chance.

The combat system is novel, I'll give them that. You have three slashing directions, however it feels very imprecise. It's not obvious what is happening when my toon is swinging away. Pressing buttons too quickly or too slowly results in him not swinging enough, and sometimes I feel like I hit a sweet spot, but I don't really understand why. We'll see if that feeling improves over time with their melee combo system.

The combat system also includes active defense, though I don't see how a player would practically operate his defenses at the same time as attacks. You have three defensive "points", which are normally spread evenly left/right/front. The default keybindings for these points are ctrl-1, ctrl-2, ctrl-3. You are also using 1,2,3 for your attack swings (left,center,right). My right hand is the mouse, so those controls are all to be operated with my left hand. It's pretty carpel tunnel inducing to hold-control and reach 1,2,or 3. TAB or caps-lock would have been a better modifier key, though I predict combat experts will use their right hand for defense on the keyboard or a fancy mouse. To move one of these points, you press where you want to take a point away from and then where you want to add it to. I simply don't see how this can be done "reactively" to the direction of oncoming player swings -- and in between my own attacks. Of course I'm only a novice, we'll see how it works out down the road. I'm sure there are some subtleties that I'm not aware of yet.

Posted by jeske at May 21, 2008 10:38 AM