The Anvil of Crom: She's crafty, but not my type

Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. Thither came Joe Gamer, a crafter, a harvester, to grind the gems of Funcom's Hyboria beneath his sandaled feet.

Ok, so maybe I embellished Robert E. Howard just a tad with that last bit, the point being to illustrate that there's something a little off-kilter about the tradeskilling system in Age of Conan. As enjoyable as I find the combat, exploration, and various other aspects of Funcom's sword and sorcery MMORPG (not to mention the Rise of the Godslayer expansion), it's odd that I'm almost completely meh about the crafting system. Part of it has to do with being spoiled by more complex crafting mechanics in other games. The other part, well, I don't what it is exactly, but maybe I will by the end of this week's column.

Click past the cut for more.

Crafting and the economics game has long been the one aspect of MMORPGs that I enjoy more than any other, no doubt because I started in games like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, and initially expected future games to follow suit in terms of meaningful non-combat options. With the seismic shift in both demographics and feature sets that have rocked our industry since 2004, it's clear that hefty tradeskill systems have died a mainstream death.

Age of Conan's crafting system is a fine example of the type of simplified sub-game that seems to have taken over. It's technically there, and thus qualifies as a marketing bullet point, but the reality is that players can level to 80 without relying on (or even interacting with) crafters at all. Due to the game's standard auction house economic system and the fact that good gear is sprinkled liberally throughout the loot tables, crafting is more of a diversion than a necessity, which is too bad. All that said, let's take a look at how it works.

Start me up

First off, you'll need to advance your adventuring level to 40 before crafting becomes an option. Once that (mildly annoying) prerequisite is met, you'll be able to choose two professions from the fantasy staples of weaponsmith, armorsmith, alchemist, architect, and gemcutter. The first four function exactly as you would expect, with the architect existing solely to fashion buildings and construction materials for guild cities (as Age of Conan currently has no personal housing). The gemcutter is somewhat unique in that he or she doesn't actually craft an item per se, but rather fashions gem loot drops into power-ups that are then socketed into existing weapons and armor.

To get started, head to one of the game's three resource zones to find a trainer. Since my ranger is a red-blooded Cimmerian, I made my way to the Lacheish Plains and sought out an armorsmith trainer by the name of Khorion. Khorion was an amiable, if gruff, sort of fellow who agreed to teach me the ways of armorcraft in about thirty seconds. The process consisted of selecting a quest to make some basic cloth items, collecting the materials, and pressing the create button.

Canvas belts, the first item in my newly minted recipe book, called for basic thread and cotton. The thread is a vendor component and fortunately for me, there was a chap named Graehm just up the street from Khorion who happened to be a merchant NPC. I forked over a couple hundred copper for an ample supply of thread (there are lots of cloth and canvas items that require it), and then moved on to the cotton portion of the equation. It was here that I was introduced to what is quite possibly Age of Conan's most annoying mechanic, namely resource harvesting.

Blue Harvest

On the surface, harvesting seems pretty cool. The nodes are helpfully marked on your map (and are plentiful in the resource zones which include Lacheish Plains, Poitain, and the Purple Lotus Swamp). The nodes are also pretty to look at, in keeping with the rest of the game's gorgeous visuals, and the character harvesting animations are fun to watch. They even degrade as you harvest them (maybe it's just me, but I enjoyed the little touches like picking cotton and seeing the blooms and bushes disappear as I worked).

It was here that I was introduced to what is quite possibly Age of Conan's most annoying mechanic, namely resource harvesting.

The fun stops, however, the first time you're rudely interrupted by a Jealous Prospector, Zealous Druid, or any number of other NPCs who will pop out of the ground and attack you mid-harvest. The first couple of times it's surprising and even a little amusing, but as it continues to happen, you realize that it is nothing more than a clumsy mechanic designed to prevent AFK macro harvesting (which you will eventually wish you could do once you reach the higher and more tedious harvesting tiers). Combined with the fact that you're often competing with other players for the limited resource nodes in your zone of choice, harvesting becomes an exercise in frustration very quickly. You can try zoning into another instance of the same zone if all of your favorite nodes are camped, or even leave the zone entirely and re-enter it in the "epic" (as opposed to "normal") version which usually equals fewer players (but more dangerous aggro mobs).

Like crafting, harvesting is broken down into sub-careers, in this case miner, skinner, prospector, stonecutter, weaver, and woodcutter. Your character can master all of the harvesting professions, and I'd recommend doing so as many of the resources can net you some serious coin if you're willing to jump through the hoops required to obtain them. Early on in my crafting career, I naively thought about buying my materials off the auction house in order to dispense with some of the tedium in harvesting them by hand. Unfortunately, the majority of the prices were so far beyond my budget that it bordered on the absurd, so I resigned myself to a couple treks around the resource circuit of Lacheish Plains each time I logged into the game.

One further aggravation in regard to harvesting is the rare resource quest required before advancing past each tier. Like crafting, you level up your harvesting by obtaining a quest from the appropriate NPC and bringing him or her the materials you collect. For example, the first tier of woodcutter has you acquire 20 samples of ash wood from nearby trees. Simple enough, but upon handing them in you're tasked with gathering a sample of rare ebon ash. I spent approximately three hours per day for two days hacking away at ash trees without a single ebon ash drop. Finally, I went to the auction house and dropped half of my saved coin on a single ebon ash. Unfortunately, the game doesn't allow you to buy or trade for the rare resources. They'll show up in your inventory (and deplete your coin stash), but they won't count towards quest completion unless you actually harvest them yourself.

Ladies and gentlemen... a belt!

So, after all that, I finally obtained enough cotton to make my canvas belt. I re-opened my recipe book, pressed "create," and proceeded to watch my character perform a goofy little emote which culminated in said belt being placed in my inventory. Yep, that's Age of Conan's crafting in a nutshell: obtain resource, press button, get item. Crafting is also tied to your adventuring level, so you can't choose to take a break from combat gameplay and level up to master craft. As an example, my ranger is approaching level 48, but because the harvesting and resource tiers are linked to levels 40 and 50, I have to wait for two more levels before I can begin harvesting and crafting tier 2 items.

As you might have guessed by this point, the whole system leaves me feeling a bit underwhelmed. At first blush, the simplicity (when compared to older titles) seemed to be the primary offender. As I've continued to advance, however, I've realized that it's really the combination of small annoyances inherent in the system that make it something of a chore. I'm looking forward to playing around with higher level armorcrafting, as well as gemcutting, for a future column, but as it stands right now, Age of Conan's tradeskilling is a dreadfully average system that seems out of place in a game that is otherwise quite a lot of fun.

It's not all bad though, as linking my favorite concept art isn't liable to be interrupted by a Jealous Prospector.



Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via jef@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.