But Jef, how interesting could it be if it's taken you over a week to write about it? Well, you got me there, and I could throw in some excuses about needing to get something Turan-related out last week, as well as the fact that I was doing the DragonCon shuffle, but I won't.
Anyhow, holy shitaki mushrooms! Funcom mentioned AoC's tradeskills! Join me after the cut and bring the smelling salts.
Before I go any further, let me just say that those of you prone to opining that crafting doesn't matter, that AoC is about combat, and that blah-de-blah-blah-I-hate-crafters should simply do everyone a favor and pipe down.
I've been ranting about AoC's abyssmal tradeskill implementation for over a year now precisely because crafting does matter, at least if you're looking to play (or produce) a real MMORPG and not one of these feature-challenged combat lobby MOBAs that all the kids are into nowadays. Yes, Hyboria is a dark, brutal, and violent world, I get it, but the key word there is world. There are things to do in most worlds that don't involve decapitation or watching your topless female avatar do the Stygian sexy dance, and it's about bloody time that Funcom acknowledged as much.
More content in 2011
Anyway, Craig Morrison dropped a mammoth wall o' text on us and called it a development update. As development updates go, it was pretty good. There was a lot of "we can't talk about that yet," of course, but ultimately Age of Conan seems to be headed in an exciting direction. I've talked at length about all the new content released thus far in 2011, and Silirrion's latest monthly spiel shows us that Funcom isn't done yet. The "massive" House of Crom dungeon is coming prior to the end of the year, as is the long-awaited conclusion to the tier four raid cycle in Khitai.
2012: AoC becomes a complete MMO, world ends
Once Morrison's prose starts to meander into 2012 territory, though, things get really interesting. First up is news of a new adventure pack (which is basically a not-quite-the-size-of-an-expansion content drop like the newly released Savage Coast), and apparently pre-production on this new game area has already begun.
Then there's a bit about the new single-server tech that the Dreamworld team is developing, and Morrison says that the implementation will "allow us to have [a] much more dynamic grouping of players, and also allow for the much-requested cross-server grouping and minigame queues." Could it also allow for specific rulesets that cater to diverse player types like roleplayers, PvPers, or those wild and wooly permadeath enthusiasts? Who knows, but the technology is certainly something to keep an eye on as AoC development moves forward. Current estimates put these new systems on the test server by the end of the year and on the live shards early in 2012.
The tradeskill revamp
Finally, the most exciting reveal in this particular update is the fact that Funcom has begun the arduous process of revamping Age of Conan's crafting game. Morrison says that "while tradeskills were never a huge selling point for a game with a license like ours, they are a key part of an MMO." To be honest, truer words were never spoken, and as much as I've bashed Funcom for omitting much of what makes an MMORPG an MMORPG over the past couple of years, I'm now climbing the walls in delighted anticipation.
Apparently I'm not alone, either, as Morrison also says that despite the game's laser focus on combat to this point, crafting "is the source of many questions from the community, and a lot of requests for change." Despite the boohooing you'll hear from the PvP crowd, there's really no downside to broadening the game's focus. As I've mentioned before, AoC does have unique combat and the best visuals in the business, but it comes up woefully short when matched against the robust non-combat feature sets of other themepark MMORPGs. Steering the title away from pure combat simulation and toward something approaching a virtual world (still with great combat, of course) can only add years to the game's lifespan as well as new players to all of the servers.
Morrison goes on to say that he envisions the new crafting system going live "at some stage in the first half of next year." Given the fact that he also describes the revamp as a substantial undertaking rather than a band-aid, and given Funcom's full content pipeline over the next few months, I tend to think that the tradeskill update may slip towards the latter half of 2012. If I'm wrong on that, fantastic, but I'm more than willing to be patient for what Morrison describes as a "deeper, more involving system for people to enjoy."
Will it matter?
Finally, this wouldn't be an Anvil of Crom column without a bit of naysaying or at least a brief concern or two. That concern is really more of a wish, now that I think about it, but it's also key to bringing in new players who may not have given AoC the time of day prior to a crafting revamp. In a nutshell, yes, the tradeskill mechanics need to be blown up and redesigned, but the major factor keeping many crafting fans away from Hyboria is the fact that the in-game economy is a horrible joke. Everything of value is looted aside from city resources, and really there's no reason to be a crafter at all unless you've been tasked with the thankless job of guild architect.
A worthwhile tradeskill revamp will place crafted goods front and center in the game's economy, and while I realize that there's a certain segment of the MMO-playing population that doesn't want to deal with crafters (and instead just wants to raid 24/7 and watch the welfare epics fall from the sky), augmenting this playstyle with crafted gear that is actually usable and desirable would do wonders for both gameplay variety and population. I'm hopeful that Funcom is considering this, and I suspect that it is because a huge revamp like Silirrion describes is simply a waste of resources if it's only going to serve those players who care about cosmetics.
Anyhow, I think that's about enough on this particular subject until we get some more details. Same time, same time channel for next week, and until then you should check out this rendering of the pro-crafter celebration currently underway at the Thirsty Dog Inn.