So where have I been for the past two weeks? Playing Age of Conan and it is awesome. Yes, it has its flaws. Yes, it still has bugs to work out. And yes, it could use another coat of polish in some areas. But this game, above all else, nailed immersion. You want to see what the heck I’ve been harping on about? Play AoC for the first 20-30 levels.
Even the character creation process is part of the immersion. From the get go you feel thrown into the middle of a story, and better yet, the game does this without making you feel confused. There’s no “Super Mario Bros.” Hellgate laziness or “Hey, I’m standing in the middle of a camp and have no idea how I got here!” nonsense we have in WoW.
As I mentioned previously, the game is single player for the first few levels. My big question before release was, “Will this work?” The answer, I’m happy to say, is an emphatic YES. In fact, you won’t even notice it’s single player. Let me say that again, because this is no small feat that Funcom has accomplished. You won’t even notice it’s single player. How? Storytelling. You start out on a beach in the middle of nowhere. Your first five levels are spent running through the jungle to reach the nearest town where all the people are. Why is there no one around? Because they’re all near the town! And where does the multi-player area begin? Right where you’d expect to start seeing people, a few minutes before reaching the town. Very well done.
Once in town, the game splits in two for the first 20 levels. Running at the same time, we have our multiplayer quests, and our heavily involved single player “destiny” quest line. Once again, Funcom bats this out of the park when it comes to immersion and making the mechanic feel organic.
The biggest problem with heavily involved single-player story lines in MMO’s is simple: other people. Here I am, reading a lore-heavy quest line, trying to get into it, but nope, I can’t. Why? Because some nearby jackass is getting off on the noise his character makes when he’s standing on an open fire. This is where some hippie/troll shouts, “Just turn off your speakers, move the camera, blah blah blah!” But you know what? I don’t want to turn off my speakers and I shouldn’t have to.
The solution to this, of course, is to instance the single player area. But how do you do it? Usually, the developers make it a cave, or a house, or an island. So what does Funcom do? The instance is the same, player-filled town you’re in… but at night.
Ready to do your single player quest line? Great! Simply head into the tavern and tell the bartender you’ll be hanging out there until dusk. When you leave the bar, “Presto!” It’s night-time, the streets are empty, and it’s time for you to get to work. Need to meet up with your friends again? No problem! Just head back into the bar and the tell the Bartender you’ll be hanging out until dawn. When you leave the bar, it’ll be day again, and the streets filled with players.
It’s stuff like this that impresses me. The idea is so simple. So obvious. And so much better than a boring cave. This is how games should be done. The mechanics, which make the game playable, are carefully hidden beneath a layer of clever storytelling. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a game like this, because you’re not constantly being reminded, “Oh yeah, it’s just a game.”
When players reach level 20 and finally leaves the beginners’ zone, they are taken to their race’s capital. When I arrived in my people’s city, I was greeted by “that NPC”. You’ve all met him. He’s been in video games since the early 80’s. Who is he? …He’s the guy who gives you your map. He’s a staple. You have to expect him– But let’s step back for a moment. Who is this guy? So he just stands around and gives maps out all day? When my character spoke to him in AoC I actually double-taked. The guy offered me a map, and there as one of my options was the response, “Wait… so you just stand out here all day and give people maps?” To which the NPC responded, “Yes, I’m being punished and I’d rather not talk about it.” Nice wink, Funcom. You actually made the map guy organic.
Age of Conan is worth the $50 and at the very least the first 30 days you get for free with the game. I myself have started a subscription and plan on playing the game for quite some time. Before you get it though, take note… it requires A LOT of power to run properly. If your computer yawns while playing Oblivion at max settings then you’ll probably be fine. It’s definitely worth the upgrade if you considering one though. The game is gorgeous, especially with the ansiotropic filtering turned on and cranked up a bit
I’ll finish with this. Age of Conan is the best immersion I have ever seen in an MMO. It’s now the high-water mark, and for that reason alone you should give it a look.