The Anvil of Crom: Sex, violence, and the solo gamer

Jef Reahard
J. Reahard|02.06.11

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The Anvil of Crom: Sex, violence, and the solo gamer
OK, those of you who clicked on this week's issue of The Anvil of Crom hoping to read a sordid expose filled with tawdry, titillating screenshots from Funcom's M-rated Age of Conan MMO might be disappointed. I know, I know, a headline like that is a dastardly writer trick. Blame it on the fact that I happened across an old Natalie Wood film with a catchy title while scrounging about for this week's topic.

At any rate, I will be mentioning violence, as it's hard to talk about Age of Conan without it. Hopefully that will earn your forgiveness. Really though, I'm itching to spend a bit of virtual ink on the solo gamer, particularly as he or she relates to Funcom's sword and sorcery epic, so join me after the cut for a look at how the lone wolf fares in Hyboria.

Regardless of your views on whether or not solo gamers are the bane of MMORPGs, we can all probably agree that they're here to stay. Gone are the days when any and every piece of massively multiplayer content required a full party (or a guy with several macro-driven healbots following him around). I daresay that many (most?) of my friends and colleagues play solo more often than not, and my own Age of Conan adventures have thus far been relatively free of any Imperial... er, sorry... guild and group entanglements.

Just how is Funcom's Hyboria when it comes to soloing, then? Well, it depends on which Age of Conan you're talking about, as there are two very distinct versions of this game. One version is that with which most casual players and observers are familiar: the 1 - 80 game. The other version is the endgame.

1 - 80

Solo progression to Age of Conan's level cap is something of a breeze. I don't mean that in a derogatory manner, either. On the contrary, I love the fact that there's at least one themepark MMO out there that doesn't require months of hard grinding prior to capping out. AoC's 1 - 80 curve has lost some of its repetitiveness as well, thanks to Funcom's continual expansion of the game world in the form of new zones and of course the Rise of the Godslayer Gateway to Khitai content.

Depending on your class choice, your facility for figuring out (or researching) optimum feat specs for leveling, and your general familiarity with the dos and don'ts of MMO progression, it's entirely possible for an Age of Conan rookie to hit level 80 inside of two months (and that's playing casually, which for my purposes is a couple of hours a night). Most newbs will probably take a bit longer, both because of AoC's combat mechanics (which take some getting used to) and because Hyboria itself offers a number of tempting distractions in the form of scenery, PvP, crafting, etc., all of which you'll probably want to try at least once.

Solo demoPost-80

The level cap is where things start to unravel for the solo player, and this is really no surprise if you played World of Warcraft or any of the other DIKU games that Age of Conan has taken to imitating. Whereas 1 - 80 was all about pleasant and consistent XP gains, post-80 is considerably slower paced and will likely drive solo players to join a guild, roll an alt, or quit the game. Yes, post-80 is a keep-subscribing grind, a raid-for-gear-to-raid-for-gear grind, or whatever kind of carrot chase you'd like to call it, and for my purposes it's rarely palatable unless I've got someone to share the pain with. I've spoken about the endgame grind at length in the past, so I won't rehash that here, and to be honest, I still vacillate back and forth as to whether I hate it or am willing to deal with it.

PvP

Solo PvP in Age of Conan really isn't fun, at least when you're starting out. On the one hand, certain classes (and feat specs) excel at it -- and good players make up for most class shortcomings -- but regardless of your build and mad skills, you won't find any post-80 PvP success until you grind a) raid gear, b) Khitai faction gear, or c) PvP gear. Technically b) and c) can be done solo, but I wouldn't wish such a lengthy grind on my worst enemy, let alone someone asking me about gaming and entertainment options. A) will obviously require grouping, and while Tier 1 raid PUGs are plentiful pretty much around the clock, the success (and drop) rates vary, so it will still take you quite a long time to obtain the armor and weapons necessary to hold your own in PvP.

Pre-80 PvP would seem to be a logical choice for the solo/under-geared player, but two factors have arisen which make this an unrealistic option. Number one is the fact that you simply can't compete with 80s on the open-world PvP servers or the PvP-enabled zones on the PvE shards. Number two is the fact that level-appropriate PvP minigames rarely pop in the under-80 brackets. Whether it's because people are more interested in leveling up or because the player population is skewed heavily towards endgame folks, pre-80 minis are a rare occurrence these days.

Conclusions

In the end, a good portion of AoC is very friendly to the solo player. With the large number of quests, soloable dungeons, and various levels of grind-friendly mobs available to players upon graduating from the Tortage tutorial, it will probably be several months before a newb runs out of things to solo. Additionally, Funcom is preparing even more solo-centric content in the form of the Refuge of the Apostate (a level 80 solo instance designed to provide challenge and appropriate rewards) and The Breach and Forgotten City dungeons. The latter two are riffs on Age of Conan's famed Tarantia villas, level-scaled instances where many players spend a good portion of their post-40 grind. Despite the efficiency of the villas, they do get a bit stale after your third or fourth run-through, and I'm anxiously awaiting the new Khitai-flavored solo content that Craig Morrison outlined in his last development update.

And that's about all I've got for you this week. If you're hovering around Age of Conan's periphery and doubting whether you'll have time to enjoy the game as a solo player, let me assure you that it's definitely doable. You won't be getting much enjoyment out of the level 80 Khitai zones, nor will you be able to compete in endgame PvP unless a year (or more) of solo gear grinding appeals to you. You will be able to see almost everything else the game has to offer, though, and that's quite a lot given the expansive nature of the zones and the high-quality dungeon and quest content.

Until next time.



Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via jef@massively.com.
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