Funcom has sent me a few emails trying to tempt me into buying the new Age of Conan expansion pack, Rise of the Godslayer, which will be released tomorrow. I won’t be buying it, nor playing the game anymore, even though it looks pretty good. There are three main reasons for this which I want to set down now. AoC’s three weak points, as far as I’m concerned, are:

The combat system,
Funcom itself.

Lets start with the PvP system. I’m not talking about the mechanics of it, or the class balance, or anything like that. The thing that really confused and then annoyed me about PvP in AoC was the reasons to PvP in the first place. In short, there aren’t any. There are three human races or factions or civilizations I suppose you could call them, in AoC: Aquilonians, Stygians and the good old fashioned barbarian Cimmerians. But there isn’t any form of political background going on. Maybe one race doesn’t like the other, or one has a breakfast cereal that another takes offense to, but you wouldn’t know it as they just throw you all in together. So the first time I was in a PvP zone on an island just outside Tortage, two other players ran down the beach towards me. I stopped to say hello, and they calmly killed me and continued jogging up the beach. Now, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t got a big problem with being killed in the morning when I stop to say hello to people, it’s all part of your day in a rough and tumble fantasy MMO world. But being killed in this situation just didn’t make any sense. Why was I being killed? I had no idea. So the next time I saw other players coming along I did what any other reasonable person would do in this situation – I hid behind a bush and waited for them to go. So much for playing in an MMO, eh? Lots of player interaction here.

In WoW, you know where you stand. There is the Alliance and then there is the Horde. They are at war. If you are an elf and you see an orc then you know that some shit is going to go down and more importantly, you know why. AoC has none of this. The entire social interaction and PvP system in AoC makes no sense whatsoever. I got killed again, and then again and I still had no idea why and I still had no idea who was going to kill me next. I still have no idea now.

The combat system has lots of moves. There are some great finishing moves where you can literally remove your opponents head from their shoulders. The problem is that there are so many moves, and all their icons look the same. Same colours, just some lines or something in a different direction to diferentiate between them. So after you hit level 12 or so and your combat bar is groaning under the weight of all your abilities, combat becomes simply a matter of pushing every single button you can that isn’t on a cooldown. Trying to logically think through it and work out to use this one or that one in this situation is just too much. You can do it, don’t get me wrong, but I just couldn’t be bothered. I still killed my opponents just by hitting every button imaginable, so why bother going to the trouble of trying to learn every single combat move that you have. They all look the same, they seem to do the same thing. It was like having 20 different flavors of Swiss cheese. At the end of the day you say, oh just give me the one with the holes in it. Cause there are a lot of holes.

Lets talk about Funcom. I like to think of them as Failcom. A few months ago my best friend was out visiting me from Australia. My AoC account was still active and one day I asked him if he wanted to have a look at AoC. I hadn’t been on for a few months, so we sat for an hour downloading all the crap that I had missed out on and then I went to log in. Nope, my password or username or something was wrong. After many attempts to get it working I decided to just change my account settings. So I opened their web site and tried to log in and it worked. That’s weird, I thought. Oh well, I’ll change my password anyway. So I changed my password, logged out and logged back into their website. Yep, all good. I checked my email and they had emailed me to tell me my password had been changed. All good there as well. So I hit the AoC icon on my desktop, up popped the login screen, I entered my new details and …

A big fuck all. I tried again, I changed my password again, and then I looked at my friend and said; you know what? Fuck this. And I logged back into their website and suspended my account payment. If Failcom can’t even get the login right, what else are they managing to fuck up? The screenshots from the new expansion look amazing but I wouldn’t trust this lot to organise a piss-up in a brewery.

” … Between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis, and the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of. And unto this, Conan, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!”

[que awesome music with big drums: Bom! Bom-Bom Bom!]

I have always loved the Conan novels. I first discovered them as a tormented 13 year old. I read the lot, all of them, every single one. I love the films, even the crappy second one. It might be shit, but it’s Conan! And then they released a MMO based on all of this. You could ride by Conan’s side!

The other week there was a free seven day trial of the game. This usually means that things are going bad fast, but I thought that I would give it a shot. After 37 hours of downloads later, I was good to go. A shame that I had to go to work by that stage. So I got home and logged on. You can only play a human, so I chose a human. A Ranger. I would slay my foes from a distance. And this works very well, until said foe gets to within a few feet of you and then you’re seriously screwed. Lets get right to the heart of it; the graphics are awesome. They are much, much better than WoW. But unfortunately, graphics alone do not a gameplay make. I was having a weird time the first few hours playing this game. It was really, really good. So good in fact that I thought that I had definitely found a replacement for WoW. The starting area was sensational; the first NPC you run into that wants to hang out with you is a scantilly clad hooker. What could be better than that? Lucky that I was playing a male character, I suppose.

Things began to get a little confusing, however. First off, the combat system. Your enemies put up shields of varying strength, so you hit them where their shields are weakest. Fine, but … where are my shields? Do I have any? I never found that out. Next, new combat moves. They were never introduced, they just sort of appeared, and sometimes you could miss them. And you had to press bizarre key combinations in order to activate each one, that I could never remember. I had them written down on a sheet of paper so that for most of a fight i was not even looking at the screen. Then I read on a Conan forum that you could just keybind them. So if you can keybind them then why …? oh, never mind.

I was in the starting zone and there was a lot of story. I was a slave, washed up on shore and had to fight this and that, and it was really well done. Then I got to a town and there was night and day zones. In night zones I could run around by myself following my own personal lore progression, a nice touch. During the day you were thrown in with all the other players. And here is where it started to suck. I had chosen a RP/PvP realm. I wanted to have the full expereince. Now, I know what a PvP realm is, you kill anyone of the other faction. But here’s the thing in Conan, there are no fucking factions. So anyone can kill you at any time for no reason at all as soon as you step out of the town. And they do. A lot. So much for role-playing. But I am dumbfounded at their decision to not have factions. This is just nuts. Hell, maybe there are factions, but i can’t see any, everyone just looks the same – busty women with swords. Am I the only person playing a male toon in here??

I spent time on Conan help boards as I went along. None of it made any sense. They have copied 90% of the WoW interface. It’s almost all the same. So why not just copy 100% and be done with it? Would sure be easier than making the sideways movement buttons S and F or whatever the hell they are. But the worst thing by far, the biggest heachache-inducing pound-your-face-into-the-keyboard-in-abject-frustration factor of them all are the action bars. They suck. You die, you come back to life … and your bars that were horizontal before are now vertical. Or they’ve disppeared. Where have they gone? I don’t know, hey look, what if I die again and come back will they be there? Yes! Oh great, then I’ve solved that one. I can get action bars, I can expand them, I can even move them around. But bind a key to a spell on an action bar, can I do that? After hours of experimenting and toiling around the internets trying to find a solution, I gave up. Maybe it’s there, I’m sure that you can, but the thing is, even for an experienced MMO player it’s impossible to find. So my gameplay devolved to me being a clicker. And I really hate clicking.

So with all the clicking and mindless ganking, is the game any good? It could well be, I’m not sure. It was hard to tell as I spent most of my time either being ganked or scouring the internets trying to work out how the fuck you unlock commands, and them my seven days were up. It’s like they copied all the WoW layout but left out the most usefull and important bits. Which is like designing a woman, Weird Science style and forgetting to put on the tits. Which is ironic, as running around the town, all you get in this game are big busty women being played by awful teenage male gankers.

Would I be willing to pay the money for a 30 day account, reroll on a PvE server and give it another shot? If anyone can help me out with the action bars I might.