Monday, May 12, 2008

AoC Beta Impressions: Part II

I had expected to get a few days to play around in the AoC beta after the boost to level 20, but, apparently, this was a one-day only event (thanks for letting us know ahead of time Funcom!).

So here are some various extra observation snippets to go along with my Initial Beta Impressions post.

Open PvP - Funcom has some serious design flaws if they really plan on having open PvP as it was on Saturday. In addition to the numerous zone-in campers (which is easy to do since there is so much instancing), and the res-point camping (which is also easy to do since you get a friggen loading screen everytime you res, even if you died only 3 feet away!), there is also the oh-so-fun, kill you while you're in a cut-scene dialog with an NPC! Not only can you be attacked while you're forced into this meaningless multi-stage conversation (while you are given lots of conversation options, it ultimately all boils down to either accepting or rejecting the quest. None of the other options matter one bit.), but because it is a pseudo cut-scene, you cant even tell that you're being attacked until you finish the conversation and find yourself dead. Very poorly planned.

PvP is fast and furious. Most of my PvP experience involved dealing with the zone campers. Luckily, I had maxed out my hiding skill so as long as they were attacking someone else when I zoned in, I could quickly hide and move away. I jumped in and helped to fight the bastards when I could, but I still died every time, even when I managed to kill someone, resulting in a net experience gain of 0. As with my experiences in the battlegrounds, I felt like I had very little control over the result of the combats. Of course, this was all involving level 20-24 characters, so the ability options were limited, and I didn't get much time to practice, so my player skills were sadly lacking as well.

The best method of leveling seems to be by doing quests that involve killing NPCs or venturing into areas with hostile NPCs. A lot of the in-town, go talk to so-and-so quests didn't give much, if any experience. They do have quest hooks that send players to the various main towns for each race.

Traveling between the three major towns is as easy as finding the appropriate NPC and asking for a ride. There was no time limit or cost that I saw. The first secondary town in Stygia also had an instant transport from the main city. I didn't see anything similar in Cimmeria.

I ran into numerous terrain and graphic bugs. From seeing my avatar sink halfway into the ground to jumping into a river expecting a swim, only to find myself walking along the river bottom. And then I had to recall out of the river because the terrain was too steep for me to climb out. At times, my screen would suddenly become a mishmash of screwed up textures making the game completely unplayable. Luckily, I could alt-tab out and back in to fix the problem, but it could have easily resulted in my death if I had been in a fight or someone/something had wandered along and decided to attack me. This happened to me several times in Stygia.

I will give Funcom credit for allowing me to alt-tab out and back into AoC with no problems. Something a lot of other games don't handle very well (TF2 locks up my machine if I try alt-tabbing).

As of Saturday, my client was still throwing errors everytime I hit the esc key. Graphics lag and loading times were still about the same for me.

AoC either has some serious memory leaks or does an extremely poor job of offloading unused textures and graphics. Framerate and responsiveness start to seriously deteriorate after a while. Seems to be especially noticeable after changing zones a few times.

Res points seem to be few and far between, which makes for lots and lots of annoying running. At times, I was reminded of the old WoW days when there was no graveyard in the southern half of the Barrens.

Skills UI. I had numerous lines in my skill list that had no text, but allowed me to put skill points into them. Were these actual skills or just a bug?

I see there being a problem with competition over quest objectives in the early days after release. Not only did I have trouble finding the right types of mobs to kill at times, but I had one quest in town where I was supposed to climb a tower and steal a jewel. After suffering through the awkward, figure-out-the-one-spot-near-the-wall-where-you-can-climb mini-game, I got to the top of the tower to see that the jewel was gone and another player was also already there waiting for it to respawn. I sat around for a minute or so before logging off. When I logged back in later, the jewel was there, so I grabbed it and moved on, but when you have hundreds of players trying to do the same quest after release, its going to be a nightmare.

Didn't get to see any part of crafting aside from finding a couple of pieces of leather on critters I had slain.

I found no method for returning to the character selection screen without going back to the main login screen. And getting to the main login requires the user to hit escape, select exit game, then wait 30 seconds. What year are we in again? How such a simple and expected feature could be missing from a top-end game is beyond me.

In summary, AoC has potential, but it looks like it is being released too early (something that no MMO, including WoW, has really managed to avoid in my experience). And nothing about the game or gameplay made a strong impression on me. I haven't pre-ordered and I don't feel any special need to play at launch. I may pick up a copy later in the month, or I may wait a while to see how they do with the patches and updates, or I may not even play at all. Only time will tell.

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