Age of Tortage:
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that the Tortage area is fantastic. It's not just the early storyline and smooth introduction players get to the game, on the PvP servers the PvP format in Tortage works particularly well. Tortage itself is a designated safe area with quests and some instanced locations containing monsters. The majority of quests, however, send the player into the nearby "Underhalls" dungeon or "White Sands Isle" areas, both of which are open PvP zones. Players may opt to play it safe and spend as little time as possible in these areas but doing so severely limits the quests they can do. In order to level up at a decent pace, players must put themselves in harms way and contend with the PvP folks in these two areas. For me, this transformed questing into a game of cat and mouse where I was the mouse. At later levels, I tried my hand at being the cat and found some of my prey as slippery as I was.
I had the privilege of chatting with one of the nicer players on my server, so noted because he was one of the few not spewing obscenities at me. He explained that going on from Tortage to the next area left him feeling like he was being booted from his safe and familiar home and left out in the cold. The areas he'd grown attached to and even the PvP format he'd come to understand were all now changed. Like him, the feeling of going from being one of the strongest players in Tortage to the weakest in Khemi was unpleasant. The new zones were uncomfortably large and open compared to White Sands Isle and the Underhalls, putting players at too much risk of being accosted while questing. The player I was chatting to revealed that he had run 7 separate characters from levels 1 to 20 because the game experience wasn't fun for him after Tortage.
Blogs and players universally praised the quality of the Tortage area and the early play experience, suggesting that the rest of the game should be redesigned to fit the same standard. Instead, Funcom have added more high level areas, worked on an expansion for a waning playerbase and desperately tried to fix the game's itemisation issues. I can't help but be disappointed, not because I expected more this time around but because the game's visuals and audio have been some of the best in the MMO genre. For the game to fall down on gameplay and mechanics after that achievement is a horrific shame.
This time around, I gave the level 20-30 areas another chance but still couldn't get past how wrong they felt. After an incredibly irritating time in Khemi and the Khopshef Province, all I wanted to do was go back to Tortage and set some people on fire. Every player I've met on my two week re-trial has had a similar story to tell and yet most of the game's content seems to have been engineered for higher levels and an endgame few ever stick with the game long enough to reach. With all of its initial success with the Tortage area and early gameplay, it's almost shocking that they haven't made a considered effort to analyse why Tortage works and replicate the experience in the rest of the game.
For all the negative things I've had to say about Age of Conan in its current state, PvP in the early levels is still a lot of fun and highly addictive. If AoC were to go the free-to-play route or deliver content in a microtransaction-like episodic form, I'd probably spend a lot of my time playing cat and mouse with the residents of Tortage. Ultimately, though, I wouldn't pay a full monthly fee just to access the one area of the game that I like. I have a feeling I'm not alone in that opinion.