Saturday, May 9

AoC - is a radical shift in gameplay experience such a good idea a year down the line?

FC are currently testing the up coming patch for AoC, patch 1.05 promises alot of things, how much you are going to like those promises depends on your current definition of fun versus Funcoms future definition of what your fun should be.

AoC's stat system has always been vague (I would say deliberately so, those stats do nothing much worth worrying about), 1.05 sets out to address that, it also sets out to meet players demands for more meaningful itemisation. I guess when a player base is used to working towards gear that makes a big difference in other games then AoC's little to none approach seems kinda pointless, personally I'd be happy if the gear itself didnt matter except to suit your own personal aesthetic taste but what could be added to it made the difference to suit your play style and working build, AoC's limited gem system wont support that kind of specialisation although that too is getting a new face lift in 1.05.

As is their way, FC have opened up the whole kaboodle for you to go play over on their test servers, in the absence of a fully staffed QA team then I guess it's the next best thing, or is it?

Having this kind of public testing on such a radical shift in game mechanics brings with it a whole host of other problems, questions arise as to who the devs are listening to in those public test forums, should they even be listening? In the absence of any real dev involvement and Q&A on the test forums it turns into one flame fest after another as one player base rejoices in a nerfing of one class then bemoans the unfair nerfing of their class and the cycle starts again. There are thankfully a few players whose approach towards testing these new changes is mature and to the point providing solid, factual experience along with cold hard numbers. The l2p brigade and the 'if this comes I rage quit' brigade still provide the most memorable moments of forum drama but on the whole i find the reading there to be just simply depressing...

Fun is subjective, but if you've found your niche of fun with your class in a playstyle that suits you then all power to you. Since the last major class overhaul of June 2008 most people have found that fun and have been revelling in it ever since, sure class balance is skewed but isnt it always? It's part and parcel of any MMO's evolvement, balance always needs to be tweaked on an on-going basis as FotM builds take too much control or ways of playing not envisaged by the devs are discovered by an enthusiastic player base, it's all part of the growth.

Tweaks, nerfs, whatever you want to call them are a welcome sign that the game is still growing but a full blown rewriting of your classes purpose in the game is a little harder to deal with and a much more dangerous route to take, come 1.05 alot of players are not going to be happy about their new role, their enjoyment of their class either needs to take a radical rethink or simply dumped for something new, the latter I think has already been taken into account by FC's recent announcement of a free, one time, create a lvl 50 character option, it's dressed up as coming as part of the birthday celebrations but personally I think its damage control to account for all those players who just won't like what their class has become when 1.05 hits live. I'm gonna be more cynical here but I see that causing even more balance problems as everyone quickly latches on to what the new FotM in AoC is and creates a lvl 50 accordingly.

FC's whole balance thrust is for 'group PvP' and what each class contributes in that environment. I know FC has a grand vision of sieges and guild battles but seriously after a year I would have thought it might be time to take stock of what the player base actually is rather than stick so rigidly to their original vision and risk alienating vast swathes of their current player base, on the one hand devs shouldn't always listen to the players but in the same breath sometimes they really should. It maybe that FC manages to contain the damage a little by taking steps to ensure its current PvE and solo PvP players manage to have a class that is in some way viable to that players notion of fun, it will be a fairly steep learning curve for most though if current trends on the test version are anything to go by.

Personally it depresses me, the only enjoyment I currently get out of AoC (having exhausted the content on leveling 3 lvl 80's) is the team play of raiding, only then because the people in my guild are such great fun to be with. There are signs of further content coming for end game players, commons fills that last little level gap for those just getting towards 80 and weve been told that House of Crom is built and just needs populating with quests and raid content. I might suprise myself and find a new playstyle I like with one of my radically changed classes but without any new content I won't be tempted to try.


  1. You know. A long time ago, in an office far far away, SOE decided to implement a radical gameplay switch in their game Star Wars Galaxies. The famous Combat Update, or CU, which made the game more FPSy. By that change they alienated half of their then current playerbase and lost the other half. So some time later they naturally did it again with the NGE, changing Jedi's from a hard to achieve Prestige Class into a starter class and on the whole simplified and removed whole non-combat classes from the game. This cost them ove rhalf of their then current playerbase and made SOE's reputation infamous.

    I mention this to point out both the dangers of radical shifts in gameplay style and to explain my point of reference for the term radical shift in gameplay. From my standpoint, the gear stats of Age of Conan have always been broken. Or, to speak SOE-speak, not working as intended. I.e. They didn't really matter, but it's within the setup of the game, they should matter. Age of Conan has a classic Itemization Progression system in place except without actually mattering gear.

  2. While you know I'm more in favor of gear stats not mattering, or more realistically (as progression is a "must" for an MMO once level cap's been reached) seperate look and effect as much as possible I can understand AoC not going the way of games like City of Heroes/Villains or Guild Wars, both of which have appearance and Itemization but (mostly) seperate.
    CoX and GW both run on early Dx9 engines with the appropriate level of "texture complexity", meaning no mip-maps, relief and in GW's case not even PhysX of some kind. I'm not bashing either engine, both manage to do a whole lot more with less than some. But just imagine how large AoC's data packs would be if they truly had the variety of kit CoX or even GW has?

    AoC needs something that matters for their progression. So far they've had some kit for raiding progression from what I saw/heard from you, but I can understand them wanting to emphasize what was their main selling point (besides nipples & gore) at launch. Which is of course the PvP endgame. I get the impression that since launch they've more or less lost the core of their PvP centric players to such games as Warhammer and to a smaller extend Darkfall. Both of which feature more playable PvP/RvR sieges / endgame. Again this is bringing their game more in tune with the intended firection rather than a truly radical shift of gameplay.

  3. The question really is, should they do a truly radical shift in gameplay and start catering to the population they have left over, or aim at their originally intended audience of PvP play. or maybe they're gunning for the crowd of AoC 2.0, the Xbox360 version. This makes a certain kind of sense. No MMO has ever regained their playerbase after hemorrhage one like both Funcom and SOE have done twice now.

    Anarchy Online never truly recovered from its bad launch and SOE never recovered from CU & NGE. Vanguard will never again reach 100.000 players (half of launch) nor will a game like D&D Online ever be a major player unless it's relaunched by another company (and with the Forgotten Realms IP, which WotC won't do due to royalties owed in that case).
    So, aiming for a relaunch with the Xbox360's nmore PvP ortiented market might be a more feasible solution, with a better shot at a return on investment.

    Thier content gap when "filled" is still about twice as large as thier actual content. I say you won't have enough until there's a single content path for each race post-40. Right now you still go through the exact same content, doing the exact same things regardless of culture.

  4. Yes, apparently there's a max-length to comments :-(

  5. Yep, I agree, drastically changing how the game works will only chase away current players. It won't bring in many new ones. It is a nasty predicament they are in. Some of the great ideas they have do require these changes. But for it to work practically they also need quite an active user base. Without it these cool features don't really work. The current player base is probably not really the one that wants what funcom envisioned.

    I don't really know what is smart. I guess they don't really have a choice. AOC is still a beautiful game, but it has nothing to slowly pull in and keep new players. Hopefully for Funcom these changes will somehow create it. Even if that means I won't like it as much anymore. Without it they will have a growing number of 'players' like me that wish them well and have fond memories, but that don't bring in any money.