The benefits of an imaginary chemical dependancy

Like any minor torture, one becomes desensitized to the pain inflicted by the various bugs in game being rushed to market. So it is that I, like many established Age of Conan players, found myself looking forward to the release despite its many flaws.

However, in many ways, desensitization is a problem. People need to pay attention more in all aspects of their life of they are to live it well. Take my class expectations in MMORPGs as they were overgeneralized to Age of Conan, for example.

I want a character who is fun to play but has some powerful choices to pull out when the going gets tough. Perhaps the primary reason I enjoyed City of Heroes' was because of the inspiration tray (which allowed a great deal of emergency flexibility) and a power balance that would often result in a good deal of choice in a given character.

Influential choices are a main thing I want from any MMORPG's game balance, and my expectations of Age of Conan were no different. Unfortunately, during the past week I've been dabbling with it, it was becoming increasingly clear that Age of Conan was heavily lacking in the "choice" department.

Of all the classes in Age of Conan I tried (about 10 out the 12 of them) the Priest of Mithra was the most interesting set of choices: they can heal, nuke, buff, and even do a bit of crowd control. Really, the healing and nuking were enough, the ability to exert myself for added offense and defense when needed was nice. However, Priests of Mithra couldn't do much in melee, and that was unfortunate because the melee system is really the best system Age of Conan has.

It was a nasty catch 22. I wanted a character with emergency contingency flexibility. Yet, the only adequately versatile character I could find was not very melee-capable, and melee is the best part of Age of Conan. If only they had Final Fantasy XI-like "two hour abilities" rigged up to every class! (There were interesting "three minute" abilities on the Herald of Xotli and the Necromancer, but I question their effectiveness.)

Then I started taking healing potions seriously. Previously, I had learned to ignore healing potions because, in the past Western MMORPGs I've played, they were usually balanced to be weak and ineffectual. However, in Age of Conan, potions are cheap, readily available, and not much less effective than actual healing. They weren't balanced to be instant-healing "as long as you have healing potions you can't die" devices, but healing potions were worth using.

Suddenly, everybody could heal themselves when the going gets tough. Thus, the apparent emergency contingency flexibility I had found in the Priest of Mithra was more widely available than I thought. That choice, at least, was always there, if only I had paid attention more. The offensive/defensive lever I enjoyed so much about the Priest of Mithra was actually fully enabled for all classes.

Perhaps Age of Conan offers has more choices after all? I'm not so sure - it seems to me many of the classes seem to be balanced to have abilities that do little more than inflict extra damage. A game without meaningful (read: adequately powerful) choices is a game that plays you instead of allowing you to play it. As a gamer, I can't enjoy a game that doesn't allow me to play it for long. Further research is neccessary to really determine which side of the fence Age of Conan falls on.

So far, I've taken the Priest of Mithra and Herald of Xotli to 13. (I've also another 5 or 6 characters in the level 5-10 range.) At this point, I'm thinking I'll pick a Rogue and Fighter type to 13 and call it good enough for the May 10th event mentioned in the previous entry.


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