I've had a few days now with the Age of Conan beta to get a taste of what the game is like. I've played more than half of the classes from level 0-13 and tried several of them out at level 20 during the pvp weekend. So here's what I've learned.
You really can't judge how a character is going to play at the later levels from how they are at the start of the game. More than any other MMO I've played the low levels are not at all representative of a class at higher levels. Even from 13 - 20 many classes develop an entirely different approach to the game becoming much weaker or stronger in different aspects. My suggestion for choosing which class to play is to pick something that sounds like it will fit your style of play and then hope that they will develop in ways that suit you. You will have to resign yourself to spending many, many hours with a character to find out if you like it or not. You will run into periods where your character becomes underpowered and difficult to play but all you can do is try to push through and hope things turn around later without any guarantees.
The world is beautifully crafted and the graphics can be very impressive. The few regions of the game I was able to see were well designed and had a much more natural layout than most of the games I have played before. Unlike WoW or EQ the world doesn't feel like pockets of monsters attached one to the next and seems much more open once you get past the early levels. Although the world looks and feels more like the single player worlds of Gothic or Oblivion the execution is flawed. There are invisible walls or barriers surrounding each zone which prevent you from exploring wherever you like. There are places a player can see but will never be able to reach. Crossing zone lines is also cumbersome. Although the zones are frequently very large allowing for many hours of play without crossing a zone at all load times when you do have to change regions can be very long lasting 30-60 seconds or more and (on pvp servers) the points where characters first appear when entering a new zone are often camped by children looking for easy kills.
The combat system is fantastic, by far the best I have ever seen in any MMO. It even exceeds what can be found in the vast majority of single player RPG's. The system is simple enough it shouldn't take any gamer too long to get the hang of it and deep enough that the skilled player will find many ways to excel beyond the norm. It is very interactive and has no auto-attacks. This keeps the player completely engaged in the fight. The combats are fast and brutal. You will rarely be in combat for more than a 10 seconds at a time but you will definitely feel like you were in a fight. Death occurs often and the level of challenge presented by NPC's is much higher than what you would encounter in any other MMO. Recovery between fights is very quick even without using the 'rest' ability. The system has a variety of offensive and defensive maneuvers. In addition to choosing which direction to attack from and what type of attack to use players can also dodge with quick double taps on the direction keys or attempt to stun the opponent with a quick double tap forward. Players can also adjust their defenses with another key combo in response to incoming blows to try to mitigate as much damage as possible.
Leveling goes by fairly steadily. In the early levels you are probably better off finding monsters to kill for advancement but as things progress quests provide a greater return of xp over time.
There are few hints I can offer.
- Do not try to level up in the public quest areas initially. Do the solo or night-time quests until you are at least level 10. This should take just a couple of hours while letting you avoid the worst of the congestion and competitive spawn camping for the initial quests.
- As soon as you are able get out of the Tortage region and into the outer parts of the world to avoid the massive influx of players in the first few days.
- To get better equipment look for a merchant on the docks of Tortage at night. He has several high quality items for sale for each class that they can use at level 10. This will make the next few levels that much easier.
- As always it is a good idea to grab every quest you can find as soon as you see it. Chances are you can complete more than one at a time and this will save you the time it would take to go back and revisit areas you have already completed.
- The world is heavily instanced. Even the public, outdoor and city zones are instanced. To move from one instance to another look for a small \/ button between the clock and the minimap at the top right of your screen. Clicking this will bring up a menu that will let you select which instance you want to be in. Changing instances is often a good way of avoiding harassment as well. If someone is camping the quest area you need, or spawn camping your rez point change to another instance and hope for better luck.
Finally a few notes on PvP. I don't know for certain that the PvP rules we saw over the final beta weekend are the same as what will be implemented when the game goes live but, having nothing else to go by, I think it fairly safe to assume they are. The rules we saw allowed PvP to occur everywhere except for some areas of the main city. There were no restrictions on when, how, or who could be attacked. World pvp degraded to the point where the only fights that occured were where the attacker perceived their opponent to be at a serious disadvantage even to the point most people would consider cheating or at least unfair. This means players will camp rez points, zone points, npc's*, and quest areas waiting for a helpless or wounded victim. They will attack when you are unable to defend yourself or when you are already weakened and have no chance of reprisal. There is nothing in the game mechanics to discourage this, in fact the game goes a long way towards encouraging this behavior by rewarding gankers with just as much pvp experience as players who engage in stand up pvp combat matches or mini games.
I greatly look forward to playing this game next week and hope everything turns out for the best. I am very wary of how the pvp environment will develop and although I will start out on a pvp server I can always re-roll on a pve server if the kiddies get out of hand.
- Although players cannot attack quest givers when someone speaks to an NPC their camera moves to a different angle and they loose control of their character while they negotiate the dialog tree. This is a favorite time for the ganker to attack since the victim cannot fight back for several seconds at least if they can even see that they are being attacked at all.