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Age of Conan and other related half-finished endeavors

I played a couple more classes in Age of Conan, but by the time I reached the Assassin, my earlier worries were confirmed. Normally, I can pick up a pretty good vibe of a class based on the first 10 levels alone. However, due to the fundamental way in which Age of Conan was designed, this level 10 comparison really wasn't going to work.

Thus, much like Age of Conan itself, my class comparison project will be left half-done before release. Too subtle? Let me say that again: Age of Conan's release should be delayed to fix this and other problems. A list of reasons follow.

Why the 10th level class comparison didn't work

The trouble is that Age of Conan's character progression has mutated, and the artifacts of the previous system are still in place. In 2006, their plan was to have a tiered system similar to old school EverQuest 2: choose a basic class type at level 5, and then choose your final class at level 20. Also like EQ2, they eventually abandoned that idea, and tried to compensate by shifting skill levels around.

Sitting a level 10 Barbarian and Assassin side by side, there are some differences: The Barbarian can wear cloth and light armor where the assassin is limited to cloth or silk. The Barbarian can use two-handed swords while the assassin is limited to daggers. The Barbarian has some DoT combos, while the Assassin's DoT comes from a stance. I think the foes fall faster to the Assassin's attacks, perhaps dual daggers do more damage than the two-handed sword.

Other than these minor differences, the classes are too similar at level 10 to be compared. The tactics of playing a level 10 Barbarian and Assassin are essentially the same: Sneak attack if you can, otherwise open up at range, then melee the foes to death. Like all melee-capable classes, they share the pre-level 5 "Sweep" and "Slam" attacks. Like all Rogues, they share the "Cunning Strike" anti-taunt line. They're both essentially sneaky damage dealers at this level.

I'm left with a simple conclusion: Prior to level 20, or even 30, I probably wouldn't get a very good impression of any individual class. Prior to that level, Funcom has yet to adequately branch their classes to be separate enough to matter. The opening sequences in the city of Tortage, which blatantly refer to the players as their subclass instead of their actual class, only reinforce the problem.

Should I Buy A Half-Finished Game?

This is just one of the main fundamental ways in which, Age of Conan feels half-finished. The loading and stuttering problems, while awful, are just the most obvious problems. What about the cut scenes which don't play out right, such as the Dock Master who stands as though held with a knife to his neck by an NPC who has warped several feet away? What about doors that the client and server disagree about being open? What about the vital access quests that are suffering from bugs that prevent them from being completable, such as the Fighter's "Awakening II" line? Why is it that, every time I load up the character screen, I can see my character assembled, piece by unrealistically presented piece? These are the hallmarks of a product rushed to market too soon!

I don't have to play the full game to know, with absolute certainty, than this game will be riddled with major snags as players work to progress from level 1 to 80. They can't even get the first 13 levels right! If you think the other 67 are going to go smoothly, you're deluding yourself.

The "Beta" Argument

I've heard enough people tell me that "this is a beta client and release client (which releases in two weeks) will not have these problems" that I want to throw them, bound and gagged, into the nearest wood chipper.

Video Caption: This video was taken from the "closed beta" client that GameSpot PvP players got to play with last week.

Listen, I've been in dozens of open betas, and each time I heard people (sometimes even developers) saying that a holy grail of a release client will come out. It never happened. Oh, there might be slight improvements (Tabula Rasa was certainly much better in the last week or two of beta) but they were always fundamentally the same game. A few weeks is not enough, and the developers are not hiding some super client from you.

The Inevitable Ultimatum

Now, before you go jumping to conclusions, I want to mention that I'm still seriously considering buying Age of Conan. The combat may not be as innovative as I was hoping, and in many ways the RPG mechanic is as half-finished as the rest of the game, but at least it's not yet another clone. I still think MMORPGs are a neat concept, and to find one that's not a clone is interesting enough to make the purchase enticing.

Yet, an immediate purchase comes with a stiff price: If Age of Conan is released on May 20th (as is the plan) then it will continue to be a half-finished game for a long time. In immediate post-release, I can expect to be paying $15/mo for a game that isn't all there for months. In a worse case scenario, it may never truly reach a well-implemented state, as it's not uncommon for damage control in post-release to paralyze a MMORPG company's development talent. For anyone who would purchase this game, they either accept that risk, or walk into this situation with absolute ignorance... and I promise you, true ignorance is never blissful.

Were I in Funcom's shoes, I'd seriously consider delaying the game another couple months with a focus on finishing it. It's a good investment: Think of how many of World of Warcraft's millions would have strayed if the game was released in anything less than a well-finished state.

Comments

Pixels said…
It's been this way for awhile...but these days it seems even more prevalent. Game developers for MMO's just do the best they can with the money-related time constraints they have. It's runing the genre. You know...it's all about money, though.

That's the way it is and always will be. Investors want that money back asap and to hell with the health of the game.
It's true, it always comes down to the money. Investors wanting the game out before it's ready so they can get their investment back. Investors wanting the developer to make a clone because they are hesitant to invest in anything that's not tried and true.

However, I'm not willing to settle for this being the way it is and always will be. Call me a game art freak (and you probably wouldn't be far from the mark) but I think that kind of thinking has lead PC gaming down the road of ruin. It's about time games start being made to forward the artform, and if that means we have to start making games with smaller development budgets, so be it.

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