Today’s Choose My Adventure column is about the groove.
I think some folks know what I mean in relation to MMOs (or even gaming in general). It’s that moment when the mechanics, the setting, the controls, and the general moment-to-moment of a game starts to take shape around you. It begins to become natural feeling. You get into the groove. In comparison, when things get routine, it’s kind of similar except it kind of wears you down instead of envelops you – like you’re being sandblasted by the game’s whims instead of being welcomed by them.
Age of Conan is right now kind of somewhere in the middle of those zones for me. On the one hand, I am becoming a bit more familiar with what’s going on and starting to feel the way things work. But on the other hand, it doesn’t really feel like I’ve fallen into the groove so much as weathered the goofy storm.
For one thing, part of that storm weather involved getting my sound working. I’m not sure exactly what it was that I did, but I think it involved the sound options that were in the launcher instead of in the game itself. I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising, since wackadoo launchers are Funcom’s stock in trade (Secret World’s operated similarly), but it was still a bit jarring.
However, at long last, I could hear the voice acting of the dialogue and listen to the music. And be underwhelmed in that way also.
Once again, I don’t have a lot of skin in the Conan fandom game. All of this is pretty routine and at times terribly written fantasy fare to me, so if the soundtrack gets the movie feeling right, then I’ll just defer to someone else’s more informed opinion. All I heard was the same leitmotif applied in some uninteresting ways and some generally annoying battle music. The voice acting was fine too, but not quite as memorable as, say, TSW.
But I digress. This isn’t about audio; this is about the experience forward, and that experience was pretty much where things began to feel like a groove was forming. The combat model started making a bit more sense to me, particularly after I ensured what combination of hotkeys to hit, the way I managed to work through enemy defenses started feeling alright, and even a couple of the fatality moves animated the way they were likely intended to. A couple of times, at least.
I also began to learn a little bit more about my character’s chosen proficiency with a two-handed sword, namely the fact that the weapon’s swings moved in cones. Suddenly, positioning started to matter, and while the combat model still kind of forced me to focus on 1v1 fighting as I navigated which way my target’s arrows lined up, it was still pretty good to cut through multiple enemies this time around. It wasn’t all quite so stellar, particularly in a couple of instances when I would get overrun by multiple mobs at once, but I was kind of feeling alright in fights.
Unfortunately, the groove never really felt like it formed, particularly when it comes to the way the Barbarian class feels. I am perhaps assuming too much of the archetype against what it means in the Conan mythos, but I sort of want my hits to feel much beefier than they do. As it stands, the big sword I’m using to slice up foes might as well be made of paper mache. I guess that’s more a failing of the game’s engine and its overall age than anything else, and I will contend that this just is how it is.
What also didn’t really help me find a groove (and made me feel sandblasted instead) was the questing I was taking up. As directed, I did focus primarily on the story questing that I had available to me, which involved my finding a scroll, replacing it with a fake, and then disrupting a ritual to cause the volcano on Tortage to erupt and burn up the villainous faction. I honestly couldn’t tell you who was doing what and why, and the fact that there were still some visual goofs really took me out of the whole thing. I’m pretty sure at one point I still an item I was meant to steal right in front of a villain, who was just sitting nearby wreathed in purple stuff while my character failed at not looking suspicious.
Also, escaping an erupting volcano managed to be boring somehow. That was a neat trick.
Speaking of weird events, one of the missions I had to take on also involved my doing stealth. As a barbarian. Again, I’m maybe connecting dots that just aren’t meant to be connected, but having a big and burly fighter character go semi-transparent and crab scuttle along in almost plain sight really just irks me. I know that this is part of what my character supposedly used to do before she lost her memory, but it still is wildly derailing to me. Once again, I was being sandblasted by the jank instead of being enfolded into it.
None of this really grabbed my interest despite this apparently being the apex of AOC’s experience, which actually has me really worried for what comes next when I hit level 20 and am ready to leave Tortage. Almost every single remark, both from players in general and in some of the comments I’ve read here, suggests that once Tortage ends, so does the game. And I’m pretty close to that event horizon right now.
I’ve still got a few levels to go, and I’ve got plenty of little side quests to take up in Tortage before I move along, but this does leave me with a nearing crossroads of sorts. Once I am at level 20 and am commanded to leave the island, should I press on with what happens next in my character’s starting city, or should I hit the reset button and play around with another class instead to see if maybe that livens up combat?
Basically what I’m saying is I need your help in the polls, friends.
Once again, polling is going to wrap up at 1:00 p.m. EDT on Friday, June 16th. I do apologize for having another 50/50 poll, but this really does feel like about all that’s possible in this game right now, and I’m squeezing blood from a stone at this point.