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The Anvil of Crom: Deconstructing the dev update - PvP Edition

It's been quite a while since I devoted an Anvil of Crom entry to deconstructing one of Craig Morrison's monthly Age of Conan development updates, and what better time to resurrect an old tradition than on the heels of one of the lengthier producer letters in recent memory.

The end-of-July document took a decidedly pro-PvP approach, and since I've been spending the majority of my game time on the new Blood and Glory server lately, reading between the lines on the bossman's latest state-of-the-game manifesto seems like the thing to do.

Join me after the cut for a bit of discussion on PvP, the future, and a bunch of interesting bullet points.

Age of Conan - Khemi
First off, yes, you read the preceding paragraphs right: Age of Conan is going to see some PvP updates. I know, stop the presses. Despite the lingering outsider perception of the game as a PvP-centric MMORPG, such hasn't been the case for a good two years now. In fact, prior to Blood and Glory, the only game update even remotely focused on PvP was the Jhebbal Sag minigame introduction last winter. Other than that, it's been all PvE all the time, and server populations on Tyranny and Cimmeria (recently merged into a single shard) reflected the lack of love.

So, hooray for the PvP crowd. It's not usually my thing, but I have been enjoying my stay on Deathwish and even were that not the case, bringing in (or bringing back) players is never a bad thing.

So what does Silirrion have to say in terms of PvP specifics? As it turns out, not a whole heck of a lot, though he does hint at ten bullet points that Funcom is currently discussing.

Age of Conan - statuesGeneral system and balance updates

Perhaps the most disappointing portion of the update falls under the very first sub-heading. There's simply no information here, but Morrison does say that specific class balance concerns are an ongoing priority.

Minigame rezzing

The introduction of timer-based respawning sounds like a good idea in theory, but it also will cut down on the amount of time that players get to actually engage in combat. Personally I get quite annoyed at having to wait a few seconds to continue playing a game, as my time is limited and I'm generally there to accomplish something pretty specific.

That said, I'm all for the change if it allows Funcom to deal with the folks who AFK their way through minis (for no real benefit other than to spite others, mind you), and I'm also curious to see how the devs manage to "close all the loopholes" inherent in AoC's minigame systems.

Ranger tracking

Morrison spends a paragraph pontificating on the need to adjust the Ranger tracking mechanic, and even though he doesn't say it in so many words, it's clear that a big ol' nerf is coming down the pike. If you're not a Ranger or not possessed of limited PvP skill like me, this is probably great news. If you are a Ranger or someone who takes his PvP in small, decidely softcore doses, it probably warrants an eyeroll as you'll (I'll) be that much more vulnerable to the professional killas running around on Deathwish and Tyranny.

Tracking is invaluable if you're looking to avoid getting ganked repeatedly by campers that you have no chance of defeating, and though Funcom hasn't released specifics on the nerf as of yet, I'm not really looking forward to it.

Siege performance

The siege performance section is interesting, but ultimately dances around what many players feel the actual problem with the mechanic really is: a lack of worthwhile rewards. Morrison's prose is heavy on technical details and nods to networking performance (which is fine, that stuff does need work), but I can count on one hand the number of times I've sieged since AoC's release. It's not because I don't want to but because there's no real point to it.

Consequences (and maybe increased XP) would be nice.

Age of Conan - RangerStamina and aggro

This is a pretty short section, and really falls under the aforementioned general balance updates. Stamina in AoC is a long-running joke, and every time the topic comes up I'm reminded of a player forum signature that reads "hold down shift to sprint drain your stamina."

Animations

This is a really interesting section despite the brevity. If you're new to Age of Conan (or if you're not privy to combo-skipping, combo-molding, and the various and sundry exploits surrounding the phenomenon that have plagued the game since launch), you're probably wondering what all the fuss is about.

Suffice it to say that gaming AoC's animation system is very beneficial for certain classes, to the point that doing so has become an accepted playstyle and in some quarters, the mark of a skilled player. I'm looking forward to seeing Funcom's solution to this problem almost as much as I'm looking forward to the Savage Coast adventure pack with which it will debut.

Targeting

Morrison drops some cryptic maybe-next-year hints on this one, and there's also a bit about nametag color changes that seems like a welcome change. Otherwise there's a not a lot to talk about here until we get some more info.

Stealth

This bullet point is a big one, but much like Ranger tracking, we don't really get a sense of what's going to change. In fact, Morrison goes out of his way to solicit player feedback here, so it seems like Funcom isn't exactly sure what it wants to do.

In my mind, there's nothing really wrong with the stealth mechanic, as it's just as goofy in AoC as it is in every other MMORPG (i.e., if you invest enough points, you can vanish in broad daylight). Don't get me wrong, I'd hate to lose it since, like tracking, it's great for avoiding unwanted PvP or picking your way through a zone without fighting all of the mobs.

Age of Conan - DemonologistI would like to see a change when it comes to stealth in minigame PvP, though, as it's quite ridiculous that Assassins basically spend the entire match unable to take advantage of their primary ability. In a nutshell, you can't enter stealth if anyone in your group is engaged in combat, so most of my Sin-focused minigames are an exercise in me running around and CCing all the soldier archetypes because I'm never in position to get off a good attack combo.

Blood and Glory

Funcom is really onto something with the new server ruleset, and I'm not talking about FFA PvP or corpse looting. The actual rule changes pale in comparison to the fact that the devs are allowing Blood and Glory to be a player-directed experience. While all of the aforementioned changes will be rolled out to AoC's traditional servers as soon as the development work is finished, Blood and Glory players will get to choose whether they want the upgrades or not.

"So what we will be doing is formulating the changes that are coming up for that system, explaining them to you (they will roll out on the other servers anyway as they will improve that system), and then we will have a poll as to whether the Blood and Glory community would like to have the new improved system or have it disabled," Morrison explains.

This is a fantastic approach that will not only result in a custom-tailored server but also gives hardcore players more of a feeling of investment in the game's direction. I only wish that more MMO companies would follow Funcom's lead.

World bosses

This one has generated a bit of rancor (Star Wars pun intended) on the official forums, particularly among PvP-focused players who are deathly afraid of another Bori-like grind-PvE-for-PvP-XP scenario.

While I think most of the reaction is, well... rather reactionary and a bit over the top, it seems to me that Funcom thinks too hard when it comes to PvP. Satisfying your average AoC PvP fan is as simple as making an arena and maybe a ranking system. All these guys really want is a flimsy excuse to beat on one another and a way to keep track of how well they measure up. Boss fights really aren't on their radar (except as they're required to get competitive gear), and adding them in is more evidence that AoC's design mentality is PvE first and PvP second -- if at all.

Don't get me wrong here, for a guy like me who is primarily PvE-focused, the world bosses sound like cool new content. I understand the hardcore PvPer frustration, though, because it seems like wasted development time to a point. If the devs are looking to get really crazy and spend time and effort on PvP, implementing a meaningful world PvP system would go a lot further toward making the current playerbase happy than throwing in a couple of world bosses.

Conclusions

All things considered, Morrison put together a pretty interesting update. There are a lot more questions than answers of course, but that's pretty typical of game development as a whole. No company is going to tip their hand and risk irritating their hardcore base by laying out exactly what's coming. That said, Funcom has earned the benefit of the doubt in my book. If you look back over the past year, it's easy to see that AoC has changed dramatically for the better. Best of all, the future still looks fairly bright.


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.