Though that's on the to-do list, I may not get around to it this week either, since a few mails and some forum discussions brought up a couple of interesting tangential points that I hadn't considered.
Surprisingly, I got email from folks who aren't really looking forward to the big tradeskill upheaval that Funcom game director Craig Morrison hinted at in the August development update. Even more mind-boggling was the fact that these folks aren't even crafters.
Age of Conan to change much at all. Now, I sympathize to a point, as it's rare that an MMORPG occupies that sweet spot for me where all the stars are in alignment and all of the features that I want are present and functioning.
That said, on the few occasions that it's occurred, I've always welcomed proposed additional gameplay functionality while hoping that the current mechanics make it through the update patch unscathed. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but I don't think there's ever been a time where I've been like "hey, freeze it right here, this is perfect." MMOs, by their very nature, evolve over time, and if they last long enough, they usually evolve into complete worlds with a lot of things to do for everyone.
After a couple of years of spinning its wheels, Age of Conan has started down that path, but to hear a few people in the community tell it, you'd think Funcom was blowing up the game and replacing it with a sequel to Habbo Hotel.
I assure you, that's not the case at all, and despite what may happen with the crafting changes, nothing is going to stop combat-focused players from continuing to lop heads off in raids, minigames, and PvE dungeons. Combat, for better or worse, is AoC's reason for being, and while the game may morph into something more interesting if Funcom puts some effort into making tradeskills matter, the game will not suddenly cease to feature raucous button-mashing, blood, and bewbs.
In terms of specific complaints, a couple of readers took issue with the fact that I proposed placing endgame consumables, armor, and weapons firmly into the player-crafted camp. Why, they collectively asked, should we be bothered with going to a crafter to get things the game has been giving us for three years now?
I could take the easy way out here and simply say "because it's an MMORPG," but I won't do that because the question deserves more than a flippant (though truthful) answer. So why should anyone have to deal with crafters? Well, for the same reason that people should have to deal with any class when it comes to raiding or other group content: It's more fun with others.
I grok the solo playstyle, trust me; over the last year or so I've explored AoC almost exclusively by myself aside from the occasional 6-man Khitai PUG. Most of the time I enjoy it, but I also know that it could be so much more. There's simply nothing in all of gaming that is as pleasurable as interacting with like-minded players in a full-featured MMORPG. Whether that interaction takes the form of PvP, downing a dungeon boss, or chatting up your local armorsmith and pimping out a suit of custom gear, the people are what bring the world to life.
Don't misunderstand me; I love me some SRPGs, but every time I play one I'm constantly saying to myself, "Wouldn't it be awesome if this were an MMO and there were people about?"
Speaking of people, I'm now aware that there are some out there who really think a major crafting revamp will drive away existing AoC customers. Supposedly this will happen because epics may no longer fall from the sky, and Crom forbid, you may have to talk to someone to get the equipment you need. I know it can be scary when geeks go to converse, but come on guys, really?
Having an actual crafting game in addition to (not in place of) the cool combat is a bad thing? The systems are not mutually exclusive (in fact, ideally, they each feed off the other), and I guess this feeling of noooooooo emanating from some quarters is due in large part to the fact that we've been conditioned to expect watered-down gameplay and toothless feature sets from our MMORPGs in recent years. And that's a pretty depressing thought.
I even saw some talk of AoC's crafting revamp (that we know nothing about as of yet, mind you) being Funcom's version of the infamous Star Wars Galaxies NGE. I actually had a good long laugh here for two reasons. One, AoC's NGE already happened (it was called 1.05, in case you haven't been here from the beginning). Two, neither 1.05 nor any sort of crafting revamp could ever begin to approximate the gutting of a game that SWG fans experienced back in 2005.
I won't go into the reasons why because it's well-documented elsewhere, but if you actually experienced pre- and post-NGE, you'll know how utterly ridiculous that kind of comparison really is.
Anyway, I guess at the end of this particular column, I'd simply like to pass out a few chill pills. For one, I suspect we're pretty far from even hearing the first concrete details about the new tradeskill system. For another, Funcom isn't stupid, and it's not going to jeopardize AoC's second wind by borking the combat and turning the entire proceeding into a Hyborian version of A Tale in the Desert. That said, deep crafting and deep combat can (and should) coexist, and if we're lucky, Funcom will meld the two and create the genre's premier fantasy title in the process.