Revisiting PvP in Age of Conan

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Revisiting PvP in Age of Conan

Fantasy MMO Age of Conan launched to one of the most successful MMO sales sprees in recent memory. People were hungry for a new MMO to deliver something different and Age of Conan seemed to offer just that. After record pre-orders, huge launch sales and a month or two of what seemed like solid performance, the game suddenly took a turn for the worse. Players left the game in droves and reports of the game's quality turned into poor reviews and negative blog posts. What happened was simple - the game wasn't finished. It was released too early and once most players left the polished and irrefutably high-quality starting area of Tortage, their game experiences were usually ruined.

Back when AoC launched, I got a good taste of its PvP and wrote an in-depth article comparing its PvP system to EVE Online's. It's now been over a year since AoC was launched and with talk of huge new developments in the game, some of us at Massively have decided to avail of their free two-week re-trial offer. With a year of post-release development under the belt, what's changed in Age of Conan's PVP and what is it still doing wrong? Join me for this hands-on opinion piece where I examine Age of Conan's PvP system, how it's changed in the past year, what it does right and what it still fails at.

Big changes?:

After re-downloading the latest game client, I logged into my reactivated account to see what had changed. The starting area of Tortage was comfortingly alive with players, a side-effect of the free two week re-trial offer. On the face of things, the game didn't seem to have changed that much. Performance seems to have increased thanks to the introduction of better level-of-detail strategies, although something about the way they load in resources now causes the client to intermittently lock up for up to 30 seconds at a time. Needless to say, in PvP that gets you killed. The big thing that struck me was how similar my PvP experiences were to those I had last year. I was still fighting in a fast-paced fantasy deathmatch, playing games of cat and mouse with those I wish to kill and those I wish to avoid. Groups still reigned supreme and coming across two players fighting only to kill them both was still awesome.

Individual class balance had been noticeably improved but the biggest changes were a new PvP XP system and something called "murder points". After a lot of fruitless searching to try and find out what this was about, I finally stumbled across a blog post explaining murder points, a system which hasn't been entirely without problem. All in all, the fundamentals of PvP in the Tortage area hadn't really changed at all. For all my expectations of big game-transforming changes, what I found was a series of tweaks and a few features that had a negligible impact on gameplay. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as I always very much enjoyed the PvP scene around Tortage.

Itemisation and customisation:
One of the big issues I had with Age of Conan at launch was the complete lack of meaningful character customisation options. Beyond the cosmetic changes made at character creation and the choosing of a class, there's almost nothing to differentiate one character from another. Feats didn't even work at launch and now that they do there's still no major impact on a character's abilities. My level 21 Demonologist has the exact same set of spells and abilities as any other level 21 demonologist, does almost exactly the same damage and has almost identical stats. Selecting skills, figuring out character builds and building an effective character is an integral part of any MMO but AoC has completely missed it. You can't build a specialised character around a certain combination of spells and equipment like you can in other MMOs. While the story may be different at higher levels, I for one didn't stick around with the game long enough to reach those levels.

One of the recent major changes to the game was a revamp of the item system. My character's staff now gives them 150 mana rather than the 15 it gave before and I have a total of 5% resistance to various damage types rather than the laughable 0.03% I had gave at launch. Even so, those bonuses are so ridiculously low in terms of usability that in an actual fight, they aren't enough to make a difference. The key factors that determine the outcome of PvP are the number of people on each side of a fight, what class they all are and their levels. The tactics employed and your number of hitpoints are secondary considerations that also make a big difference.

Read on to page 2, where I look at the "Age of Tortage" effect and deliver my final verdict on how the game's development has changed PvP since launch.
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