The Anvil of Crom: On Age of Conan's 'bad launch'

The Anvil of Crom
I recently ran across an internet discussion featuring the worst MMO launches of all time. Age of Conan was in there, of course, and while I'm not going to tell you that the title's debut was perfect, I feel that there's quite a bit of misinformation stemming from the game's early days.

Some of you may disagree and interpret this week's column as a fanboy defense of Funcom, but if you've been reading The Anvil of Crom for more than a month, you'll know that I take the devs to task far more often than not. The stark reality is that AoC's launch simply wasn't as bad as some people make it out to be.

The Anvil of Crom About Age of Conan's 'bad launch'
How do I know this? Well, because I was there playing every day from the start (prior to the start, actually, given beta and the early release weekend). I got an AoC Assassin all the way to 80 before jumping ship to Warhammer Online in October of 2008. I mention this because one of the inaccuracies often leveled at early Age of Conan is that there wasn't enough to do.

The Anvil of Crom On Age of Conan's 'bad launch'
If you want to say that there wasn't enough to do at 80, I'm fully on board with that. That's why I left, in fact, as 2008-era AoC endgame was a brain-numbing gear treadmill on par with the worst that EverQuest and World of Warcraft have to offer.

The Anvil of Crom About Age of Conan's 'bad launch'In terms of the leveling process, though, let's examine the facts courtesy of an Anvil of Crom leveling guide and a glance back through the game's patch notes.

If you look at the guide, you can see that I've broken down all of the game's solo content areas into 10-level chunks. Go ahead and omit all of the Khitai areas, which were added in 2010's Rise of the Godslayer expansion. Do the same for Ymir's Pass and Tarantia Commons, which were added in late 2008 and mid-2009, respectively. You're still left with a sizable chunk of release-day content that covers the complete 1-80 range.

Now, you can argue that one zone apiece for levels 50 to 60 (Eiglophian Mountains) and 70 to 80 (Kheshatta) isn't ideal, and I'd be inclined to agree. But "not ideal" is a far cry from "no content." Keep in mind, too, that we're talking only about solo content.

Yes, I know that many current MMO players live and die by solo content, and so they're inclined to think that any game that doesn't have solo content coming out of its ears is an inferior MMORPG.

I disagree, though, and in addition to the 1-80 solo content listed in the guide, launch-era AoC also boasted a respectable amount of small group instances over much of the level range.

So in a nutshell, AoC has always had plenty of content. It might not have been readily apparent to casual observers, and it certainly wasn't all fully voiced or story-driven like the Tortage and Destiny Quest lines, but saying that it wasn't there is simply incorrect.

The Anvil of Crom On Age of Conan's 'bad launch'
The other 800-lb. gorilla in the room when it comes to AoC's launch is "bugs." I put that in quotes because whenever I hear the term bandied about in relation to 2008 AoC, it's almost never accompanied with any examples of what those bugs actually were. People just expect you to take their word for it when it comes to the supposition that AoC's launch was any buggier than your average MMO.


"If Age of Conan was one of the worst MMORPG launches you've ever experienced, you haven't experienced many MMORPG launches."

Now, there were certainly bugs. Horses disappeared when you zoned (which still happens to this day, unfortunately). Relatively serious doh moments like gem exploits and lengthier-than-normal female combat animations were observable. The animation thing was truly gamebreaking, too, but to be fair, Funcom fixed it in short order. Some folks with systems at or near the minimum requirements reportedly had trouble with memory leaks and the associated CTDs as well, though I can't speak from experience there.

Then there was the DirectX10 brouhaha, which involved a bunch of belly-aching about the fact that the game didn't ship with support for the new tech despite its being listed on the back of the box. In this case, a little bit of perspective and some experience with the realities of both game development and the MMO industry is in order. If you want to label the DX10 mishap as "false advertising" and angrily dial up the Better Business Bureau, OK.

In my opinion, though, DX10 was one of those features that simply couldn't be polished to an acceptable level in time for launch. This happens in large-scale project management; it's the rule rather than the exception. Unfortunately for Funcom, it happened after the boxes had gone to print. DX10 did eventually make it into the game, though, which is more than you can say for many of the MMO features that languish on the cutting room floor in today's less-is-more development environment.

Ultimately, "bugs" and "gamebreaking" are entirely subjective, but I tend to think that if Age of Conan was one of the worst MMORPG launches you've ever experienced, you haven't experienced many MMORPG launches.

The Anvil of Crom On Age of Conan's 'bad launch'
When forum pundits scream about AoC having a bad launch, what they really mean to say is that AoC didn't live up to their expectations for whatever reason. And that's perfectly valid, but let's call a spade a spade.

I submit that AoC had an acceptable launch. In fact, I'd say it was more acceptable than some of its contemporaries and all of its predecessors. I don't discount the notion that some people had technical issues, but those people are a disproportionately loud sample of the total population because clearly plenty of players didn't have issues (or plenty of players found them minor enough to keep the game profitable for four years and counting, whichever).

And hey, even if Funcom did kick your dog, sleep with your mother, and commit the unpardonable sin of releasing an MMORPG with bugs, at least it also gave us the world's greatest piece of concept art.

The greatest concept art ever
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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 jef@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.