The Anvil of Crom: You must unlearn what you have learned

Hoo boy, circle-strafing. Basically I suck at it. However, with a little help from a new peripheral and an hour spent coming up with a rather meticulous set of key-bindings, I'm on the (slow) road to improvement.

This week's Bear Shaman-flavored adventuring featured a lot of unlearning as I've scrapped the traditional WASD/keyboard-turning approach to Age of Conan that I've been using since the game's release. It's not pretty right now, but once the awkwardness wears off, I'll likely be much more adept at both PvE and PvP.

As far as content goes, I got Mr. Oakarm into his mid-30s and struggled to find a group for Stygia's Black Castle dungeon (still trying to coordinate one as of press time, in fact). Craig Morrison also weighed in with his monthly dev update, and all of this adds up to a lot to cover this week. Join me after the break for the details.

I am the keymaster

First off, I need to qualify the following with a disclaimer of sorts: You don't need gaming peripherals to enjoy Age of Conan. A good old-fashioned keyboard-and-mouse setup is more than adequate, and you can do most of what I'm about to describe using traditional hardware. That said, nothing eases the pain of a learning curve like cool new toys, amirite? After repeating that mantra to myself a few times, I plunked down the cash for Logitech's G13 gameboard and set to work coming up with a "serious" AoC key-binding setup.

The impetus for this was the fact that you can't really play the game competitively without knowing how to circle-strafe. What is circle-strafing? It's largely a PvP tactic that involves running rings around your opponent using the strafing keys while simultaneously firing off the game's complicated melee combos. This last part is the proverbial rub, because frankly it's quite hard to pull off and requires a lot of practice. Keyboard-turning will technically work, but it's unbearably slow and will get you owned by all but the worst PvPers.

Circle-strafingIdeally, you need to be able to direct forward and backward movement -- as well as fire your specials and go through the associated combo key presses -- with your left hand while turning the camera and strafing with your mouse. Why circle-strafe, though? Mostly to confuse and/or irritate your opponent, and because it helps avoid AoC's directional attacks (but it also makes them more challenging to land, particularly when your adversary is also strafing and simultaneously bunny-hopping around like a crack-addled monkey).

Circle-strafing is not something I ever worried about on my Demonologist, but now that I'm up close and personal with both mobs and players, I'm at a real disadvantage without the ability in my bag of tricks. Also, I've played the game for well over two years of cumulative time and have largely ignored the main selling point of its divergent combat system, so... better late than never, right?

As I said, you can circle-strafe perfectly fine with a decent mouse-and-keyboard setup, and several people I talked to said that the main thing that needs doing is the re-assignment of your left and right strafing keys to the side buttons on your mouse (as opposed to the A and D or Q and E keys). My mouse was rather long in the tooth and didn't have side buttons, which was my admittedly silly excuse for the G13.

Interestingly, the gameboard came with some Age of Conan presets already (as well as presets for a few other MMOs and all the AAA shooters you'd expect). I threw these out, though, and using the nifty macro/keybinding software, I mapped out my own Bear Shaman layout (complete with customizable combo names -- nerdgasm!), which now sits next to my AoC screen for easy reference.

By Crom, my wrist...Eventually the muscle memory will kick in and I'll be able to close that particular window, but the first couple of hours were hysterically awkward as I glanced at the key screen and fumbled with my left hand and the G13's directional thumbstick.

I shudder to think how poor Oakarm must've looked to any onlookers who saw him staggering drunkenly around Conall's Valley, waving his club crazily about and generally relearning basic motor skills. The take-away from all of this is that if you're going to make a serious go of AoC, you'll need to practice circle-strafing however and whenever you can, and to do that you'll need to come up with a carefully considered key-binding arrangement.

Or you could roll a Demo.

He is the gatekeeper

Aside from my adventures in learn-2-play land, this week was notable for Silirrion's traditional month-ending dev update. In addition to some more cryptic mentions of lowering the faction grind (and lockout timers? eww), we got a look-see at two new level-80 group dungeons (the Ai and T'ian'an Districts) as well as a general time table for their release -- and the release of the new 80 solo dungeons.

While the new content will probably be a blast, I'm a tad concerned about the faction grind adjustments. It sounds good on paper, as all dev updates do, but the skeptic in me wonders why Funcom doesn't simply come clean with the details. Yes, we know that the grind is being "substantially" reduced, but what does that mean? "Substantial" typically has a very different connotation to players than it does to developers, particularly MMO developers who rely on carrot-chasing content to make a living. I'd love to see numbers that illustrate exactly how much the grind is being reduced rather than the vague exposition given thus far. To my mind, the only reason to be vague is that you're betting the reaction won't be positive.

Anyhow, I know we'll just have to wait for the test center update, but as the Khitai grind is one of the more frustrating and off-putting aspects of Age of Conan, I'm extremely impatient on this one.

So that's about the extent of The Anvil of Crom for this week. Last week's Choose My Adventure polling indicated that most of you prefer to see my Bear Shaman either engage exclusively in PvE or do a mixture of PvE, PvP, and crafting. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll focus on getting into some 30ish dungeon groups before moving on to the Field of the Dead zone (which is bursting with quests and a couple of 40ish dungeons). Add Oakarm to your friends list and join me on Wiccana to play along, and don't forget to check out this concept art.

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
This article was originally published on Massively.