Yeah, so they're pulling the rug out from under my rangers, in the form of a hefty class revamp that is basically taking a good chunk of everything familiar about Age of Conan's rascally rogues and tossing it out the proverbial window. I shouldn't be shocked by this, after all; spend more than a week playing in this genre and it becomes clear that MMORPG developers are the game-industry equivalent of George Lucas: constantly tinkering with their creations (sometimes to the dismay of their fans) and rarely leaving well enough alone.

While it's a truism that one of the appeals of an MMORPG is its malleable nature, that doesn't make it any easier to adapt and adapt again, particularly if you were happy with the status quo. All that said, I'm not dismissing Funcom's upcoming ranger revamp out of hand, as I haven't yet been privy to testing any of the changes. They may well turn out to be a blessing, but ten years of messing around with these games has left me a little leery of radical revisitations. Hopefully my reservations are unfounded this time around.

Read on after the cut to see what's in store for Hyboria's bow-and-crossbow crowd.

Looking at the ranger changes from a broad perspective, the revamp seems to make three major adjustments to the class: removal of most of the differences between bows and crossbows, removal of stances in favor of a new mechanic dubbed Advantages, and adjustments to class combos. These changes are so drastic that those of you used to the old method of playing your ranger (namely Leg Hold Trap, Pin Down, and Salvo until the target dies, with an occasional Heartseeker thrown in for good measure) will not recognize the class after the revamp goes live.

Bow vs. crossbow

"We decided, for a number of reasons, to go ahead and remove the gameplay differences between bow and crossbow. This includes normalizing the weapon speed and animations so they are the same, and also abilities that previously required a bow or crossbow may now be used with either. Buffs that buff one, will also buff the other. The first thing rangers should notice is that this greatly increases build options, and the usefulness of cross-tree feats," says Age of Conan Lead Systems Designer Ilaliya.

As it stands now, rangers normally spec their feats for bow (faster attack speed and greater range) or crossbow (AOE effects and greater damage). In theory, homogenizing the two types of weapons will allow for more varied feat builds as opposed to players investing almost exclusively in either the Sharpshooter or Waylayer trees.

We designed [Advantages] to be situational, and this creates a choice and the ranger can then use them to be responsive to what's going on during his fights.

Advantages

"Advantages are abilities that confer a short term buff and share a cool down. This creates the effect of being entirely exclusionary. There are feat options to improve all Advantages, as well as feat options to pick up new ones. Because they share a cool down, we were able to make them quite powerful because the ranger can't simply click them all at once. We designed them to deliberately be situational, and this creates a choice and the ranger can then use them to be responsive to what's going on during his fights," Ilaliya says.

I'm on the fence about this mechanic. Some people will no doubt love it, as it adds a layer of complexity to a class that was heretofore pretty straight-forward. Personally, I've always enjoyed the simplicity of Age of Conan's ranger, as it is the epitome of a class that takes very little out-of-game research to play well. Post-revamp, there will likely be a lot of head-scratching and forum sifting just to make sense of it all (as well as to separate the inevitable favored Advantages from the also-rans). That's great if you enjoy theory-crafting, but not so great if you just want to log in and pew pew.

It's also worth noting that this particular change seems to be in keeping with Funcom's new mantra of choice and consequence, which Craig Morrison talked about often while making his rounds on the Rise of the Godslayer publicity circuit. From this perspective, it's definitely a good thing that Funcom is looking to offer more diverse options and theoretically prevent players from cleaving to identical class builds. How it works in actual practice is something we'll keep a close eye on over time.

Combos

For this one, I'm going to break with tradition and just copy/paste Ilaliya's example from the official forums. Frankly it's so far beyond what my simple brain can handle that any commentary I might offer is likely to be nonsensical at best, and wrong at worst. I'll leave it to you guys to digest and analyze as you see fit. In a nutshell, there's something in there about building your own combos.

  • All combos granted to the ranger are now "naked finishers" (0 stage combos)
  • Upper and Lower directional attacks now apply an Upper Attack Bonus or a Lower Attack Bonus buff, that is "read" by the combo.
  • All Upper directional attacks (UR, UL, U) apply the Upper Attack Bonus
  • All Lower directional attacks (LR, LL) apply the Lower Attack Bonus
  • These bonuses are the same regardless if whether they are applied by a melee or ranged directional attack.
  • The Attack Bonus buffs last for 6 seconds after striking a target, to prevent pre-loading.
  • Upper and Lower bonuses do not stack with themselves. (they merely get re-applied). This means at most, a Ranger can have one Upper Attack Bonus and one Lower Attack Bonus active at any time.
  • When a combo is performed, it "reads" the presence of these buffs to create improved damage or additional effects on the combo.
  • Note this means a ranger can perform directional attacks before he chooses the finisher to apply.
  • Finishers can be applied after 0, 1 (Upper or Lower) or 2 (Upper and Lower) directional attacks
Core combos, feats, and other changes

Finally, the revamp is going to bring us a number of changes to core combos, feats, and traps. Perhaps the biggest change here is the removal of the ranger's bread and butter, the Salvo combo. Any time a combo inspires forum-goers to write odes to its magnificence, you know it's got to be pretty integral to the class, and playing a ranger without it is going to be mighty strange.

Ranged combos that have survived the cut and will return after the revamp include Armor Ripper, Bleeding Puncture, Penetrating Shot, Pin Down, and Quick Shot. I hear that a couple of melee combos survived as well, but honestly what self-respecting ranger uses melee at this point? For a full list of what the combos, feats, and traps will look like after the revamp, head on over to this invaluable forum post.

Conclusions

So that's about all we know about the upcoming ranger revamp at the moment. While most of the changes look good on paper, I am a little hesitant to get excited due to the sheer volume and complexity of the new systems being introduced. I'm betting that most veteran rangers (who've likely been at 80 and bored for over a year now) will embrace the changes. Newer rogues, and those still leveling such as myself, may not be as thrilled at having to throw out everything they've learned in the middle of their grind.

At the end of the day, it's great that Funcom is so obviously committed to expanding and improving Age of Conan over time, and whatever happens with rangers, it will be interesting to watch. And hey, if it sucks, at least we've still got the greatest concept art ever:



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.
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