It's certainly not a bad game as is; I've been traveling Hyboria for four years now (and writing about it for two), and you don't do that with titles you have to force yourself to play. Like most things, though, AoC could be better.
Funcom's unexpected update schedules have torpedoed many of my carefully laid column plans in the past!
Ultimately, I've come up with a few smaller items I'd like to see the devs tweak or add to AoC in 2012. This little list isn't exhaustive, though, so let me know what you think of my ideas, and of course share your own in the comments that follow.
Cheaper item store prices
I mulled this one over a bit before including it because on the one hand, I can see Funcom's perspective when it comes to selling optional accessories and trying to make as much money as possible off the relatively few people who bite.
On the other hand, it seems like lower cash shop prices would result in more sales volume. Let's not kid ourselves here, folks: Age of Conan has some of the highest prices seen in any MMORPG item store to date. We're not talking thousand-dollar Bigpoint territory, but when you're looking at $50.00 to get the 4400 Funcom points necessary to purchase a suit of level 80 PvP armor, it starts to add up fast.
Traditionalists will say, well, earn it in game, and I'm inclined to agree. The instant gratification cat is out of the bag, though, and I must admit to being tempted simply because I loathe the faction/dungeon grind that's required to get comparable gear for all my 80s.
At the end of the day I just don't get Funcom's thinking here. There are some reasonably priced items in the cash shop, but they're almost all social/fluff items, and nothing that free-to-play users would prioritize over the gear and bag space upgrades that are basically required to be on a level playing field with AoC veterans.
I've warmed up to achievements over the years. When I first ran across them on my Xbox Live account many moons ago, I scratched my head as to why anyone would want to keep track of metagame stuff. Then, as they became more prevalent across all gaming platforms, I tended to ignore them.
Now, though, I find myself drawn to the achievement-collector playstyle, particularly in games that I've played a lot and want to continue playing despite "beating" them for all intents and purposes. Case in point is the Assassin's Creed series. I absolutely adore everything about these open-world opuses, and I never get tired of throwing Ezio across Renaissance rooftops in search of collection pieces and bonus items even long after I've completed the story campaign.
In terms of MMOs, I'm currently stocking up on Global Agenda's various achievements (what else is there to do when you've got 3 level 50s and you're not in the mood for the crapshoot that is merc PvP?). I've also started to explore EverQuest II's extensive achievement list, and Age of Conan is sorely lacking anything similar.
I'm not a programmer, but it doesn't seem like it would be a cost- or resource-intensive project. There's no new content to build, and you're really just making a list of in-game items, quests, and minutiae and checking to see whether a player has met a particular milestone or not.
Similarly, some sort of collection-based lore codex would stave off boredom as well. One of my favorite things to do in Star Wars: The Old Republic is run around and discover lore clickables and read the associated codex entries. Admittedly, a large part of the fun there is due to the fact that I love the underlying IP (and I know more about it than is probably healthy). Unfortunately I don't have the same affinity for Hyboria or the works of Robert E. Howard.
That said, a TOR- or Mass Effect-style codex would go a long way toward highlighting the detail that Funcom has put into AoC, and it would also serve to both educate and entertain Howard newbs when they're burnt out on questing and PvP.
Finally, I'm going to advocate that Funcom pilfer an idea straight from EQII. Actually, I think I may have already done so a couple of years ago in relation to that title's peerless guild interface. Today, though, I'm talking about the Chronomagic system. For the uninitiated: The Chronomagic system allows you to basically pay a certain amount of gold to temporarily de-level your character. Why would you ever want to do that?
Well, EQII features such a wealth of zones and leveling content that it is absolutely impossible to see even half of it during the progression journey of a single character. Sure, you can roll an alt, but if you really love the class you've taken to 90, you can pay a bit of gold and chrono him down to say, 60, and experience all the level-appropriate quest and dungeon content that you missed.
Sure you could do the same in AoC, but the mobs would all be grey and you'd get no rewards (and no alternate advancement XP). As much as I've played in Hyboria over the years, I've still never seen the Pyramid of the Ancients, and I've set foot inside Black Castle and Sanctum exactly once each. I don't really feel like making another alt (and running through Tortage yet again), and it would be cool to take one of my 80s through the lower-level stuff without feeling like a god.
Anyway, those are just a few of the things I'd like to see Funcom explore over the next 12 months. I'm quite happy with where the game is in terms of new content generation, but AoC still has quite a ways to go if it wants to catch up with some of the quality-of-life features on offer in competing MMORPGs.