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Age of Conan: Day 3: A Different Kind Of Catastrophe

Day 3 of the Age of Conan early access was largely spent down. It began with a 5 hour maintenance period at 2pm PST. That was extended by 2 additional hours... then another additional hour... well, it was about 10:39pm PST before I was actually able to play the game again. Eight and a half hours locked out of the game in preparation for its release tomorrow.

By the end of the day, I'd have learned that Age of Conan was possibly irreversibly sabotaged from within.

When I did get into the game again, I found four other guildmates were online and ready to settle their Age of Conan withdrawals. On our mind was quick leveling prior to the release-day floodgates opening tomorrow.

Video Caption: Between ineffective walls or simple memory hacks, Age of Conan has found itself weakly enforced against exploits. Could this be the critical flaw that prevents it from reaching World of Warcraft fame?

To these ends, we formed a group and hit some dungeons. We were about level 23-27, we hit dungeons that were level 33ish (Black Castle) and 37ish (Great Pyramid). We only had about 2 hours to play because the servers went down again at 12:40pm. However, I think we learned something important in those two hours.

The Great Hyborian Glass Ceiling: Legend or Liability?

The first thing we engaged were tough dungeons about 4-8 levels above us. Progress was decent, but not great. I noticed I was only making 300 xp per kill on the highest level stuff we engaged in the dungeons. These were a tough fights, the enemies were difficult to kill, and we wiped out a couple times. Then we tried the "epic" level content of Khemi and discovered that this, too, seemed to give about 300 xp.

Avoiding either "epic" content or high level content was much easier. Quickly dispatching several small foes yielded about 178 xp each and they died ten times faster. There simply was no point to really doing high level or epic content in a group. I only made about one level in the 2 hours we were plugging away at the game.

Putting two and two together, there seems to be some kind of experience cap in place! However, the real significance is in what this cap means.

Sabotaged from within

If I had to guess why this crudely-balanced experience cap was in place, it's probably because of something a friend of mine told me over ICQ today. Apparently, some guild on the Tyranny server is already level 80 in 2 days of release. That's right, folks: exploits. Some would say it was from a repeatable sign quest, but I think the experience limitation was a stopgap measure to try to prevent things from getting further out of hand. It's even possible that the servers coming down two hours later were because they realized they capped the wrong thing.

Age of Conan is a pretty outstanding game, but it seems that the game balance has taken a major dive for the crapper before it has even really left the starting gate. What they need to do now are two things: Rollbacks and exploit caps. However, chances are that can't be done in a glamorous way, so they may choose to ignore it. It's a different kind of catastrophe than the one Funcom faced with Anarchy Online's near unplayable state at release, but in a way, it's just as devastating.

If I were to take away anything from this on a developer standpoint, it is that there's a phase of beta after the technical problems are ironed out that simply can't be skipped. Blizzard took World of Warcraft back to closed beta for an extended 6-month period of time specifically to find problems like this. However, an open beta that genuinely allowed players to access the entire game would likely have exposed these kinds of issues too. Skipping that phase of beta has not been without consequence for Age of Conan, and I only hope it can recover.
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