To start with, I get a couple of extra prompts when I log into my veteran account. First is obviously the big "upgrade to premium" button at the bottom center of the character select screen. The other thing is the "you can unlock seven slots" message at the top of my character list.
I thought the matrix said that F2P accounts get access to two character slots? Well, Funcom
has done the decent thing here and decided to honor the fact that I bought five extra slots several years ago. As a result, I'm allowed to unlock a total of seven characters. Don't worry, though; the warm fuzzies were temporary.
Anyway, I went ahead and unlocked two of my level 80s and the lowbie Ranger I was playing last winter.
Next I was curious about offline levels. These caused something of a brouhaha
when they debuted a couple of years ago, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I used them on two of my alts back before my early 2012 sabbatical. I also managed to stockpile quite a few of them (88 currently), but I was fairly sure they wouldn't work unless I resubbed. Surprisingly, after I unlocked my level 40 Bear Shaman, I found that I was able to give him one of my offline levels as a free-to-play member, so there's that.
What about Khitai, though? I paid full retail for the Rise of the Godslayer
expansion box when it came out in 2010, so I figured that I'd have access to something I already bought, even as a free-to-play member, right? No such luck, as I was greeted with a "premium zone - choose your way to access" cash shop page when I tried to use one of my porting abilities to get to the Grasslands.
There's nothing specific in all of Funcom's
free-to-play literature about Khitai or former players who have already purchased it. The closest thing I could find was the following blurb from the free-to-play FAQ
that came out before Unchained
debuted. "Accounts that were previously active are still there, but you will be limited to two character slots, and the other restrictions on free play unless you become a premium subscriber," it says. Those "other restrictions" apparently include being limited to the game's old world zones, even if you've previously purchased the newer ones.
While Funcom is well within its rights to restrict access to something I've already purchased, it's kinda shady, and it's another reminder of how consumers have no real recourse when it comes to the stuff we
rent in the digital age.
What about veteran reward tokens? Of course I didn't gain any during the four months after my subscription lapsed, but I was surprised to learn that I couldn't spend the ones I had already accrued at the rewards vendor.
I was curious about mounts too, as the F2P FAQ says that the advanced riding skill is off limits unless you sub or pay 1500 points for it in the store. Happily, though (and unlike the expansion), this isn't retroactively taken away from you.
Finally, there's the banking and inventory downgrades. These are the big ones that, along with Khitai access, caused me to sub immediately on my experimental EU account even though I have little inventory and even less money (since I'm still a true newb across the pond).
Bank space in Age of Conan
was an absolute nightmare long before F2P, and now that my veteran account has had its inventory capacity halved, playing those high-level characters has become an exercise in frustration. I can't even manage their gear at this point. My net worth has also been reduced to two gold (down from nearly a thousand total), so my characters are extremely limited when it comes to purchasing consumables in bulk, or Crom forbid, decent gear.
Looking back at all of this, I realize Funcom clearly believes that AoC
is still worthy of a $15 monthly payment, and as such the entire Unchained
offering is little more than an extended free trial. Don't get me wrong; it's a smart business move, and it's a pretty good free trial to boot. It allows access to all of the game's original playfields as well as max level, literally for free.
But it's still a trial. Age of Conan
without alternate advancement, bank space, and the Godslayer
content is like a Coke Zero. It tastes OK, and the caffeine kick is still there, but you know that quite a lot of what made it worthwhile in the first place is missing.
Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran as well as the creator of Massively's bi-weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via firstname.lastname@example.org.