MMO Nostalgia Trip

I loaded up the World of Warcraft Burning Crusade 10-day trial the other night and found that, to my great surprise, my WoW characters were still available after over 3 years of inactivity.

I also discovered that I had no clue how to play my Hunter anymore.  I didn’t know what all the buttons did on all the hotbars, and it took me an embarrassingly long time just to call my pet owl back (I had to find and turn on an option to display some extra hotbars, and the Call Pet action button magically appeared – God knows where I would have found it without the hotbar).  Everything’s weird and unfamiliar.

Much has changed since I last played.  My talent points were reset so I had to spend them all again, and I think there are a bunch of new Beast Mastery talents that weren’t there before.  For example, there were references to something called “Aspect of the Dragonhawk” which I don’t remember seeing before.  There was also a mysterious “Glyphs” page that I didn’t understand.  And there are apparently new riding options that I can’t afford, and most puzzlingly I found some kind of penguin in my mailbox.

I was surprised at how (relatively) primitive the WoW graphics looked.  (Graphics are considered primitive when I can max out the settings on my old P4 and still have good frame rates.)  It’s more cartoony than I remember.  I guess that goes to show that photorealistic graphics aren’t enough to make a hit game – it needs to have, you know, good gameplay.

There is one major benefit of the primitive graphics, however:  WoW runs tolerably on a 1GB netbook, so I can run around killing mobs while watching 24.  (The only other MMO I’ve found that runs on my netbook is DDO.)

I’ve also loaded up the Warhammer Online 10-day “re-enlistment” trial to see what WAR looks like these days.  And I started downloading the Lord of the Rings Online free trial, too.  I figure WoW, LotRO, AoC and WAR are the Big Four* of fantasy MMORPGs – well, more like the Big One and some others.

I wonder if my Asheron’s Call characters are still around somewhere? 🙂

* I don’t count EverQuest II because I never liked the original, and I don’t count Asian games like Final Fantasy, Lineage II and Vanguard because, well, they’re foreign.  I also don’t count Aion because I hear it’s strongly PvP, but mainly because there’s no free trial.

Age of Conan Upgraded

I enjoyed the Age of Conan trial enough to plop down the measly $20 to upgrade to the full version (which gets you 32 days of playing time).

I can now report that each class still starts with a shipwreck on the same beach on the same Tortage Island.  So the first 5 levels are exactly the same for each class, which is tedious and painful when trying different classes (especially since the real class-specific stuff doesn’t start until you reach level 10).  So do some research and choose wisely to minimize your frustration.

Fortunately, it only takes 10-15 minutes to blow through that first part in the jungle.  Then once you enter Tortage City at level 5, the “destiny quest” (aka. single-player campaign) starts to diverge and the nighttime quests are different for each class (or at least, for each archetype).  It’s still the same story, just told from different perspectives.  Of course, if you prefer hanging out with other people, you’ll find that the daytime quests are all the same.

So after finishing with Tortage City at around level 20, you’re sent to your “homeland” (one of three, depending on your race), where the destiny quest disappears, not to return again until you reach level 30.  The result is that you have to stay in the level 20-30 area of your homeland questing and grinding like a normal MMO.  (At least, I haven’t figured out how to go anywhere else yet.)

My main character is Cimmerean, so I went to this place called Conall’s Valley.  It was very cool at first (the scenery in this game is really nice), but at level 27 I’m starting to get tired of it, especially since you have to keep running back and forth through hordes of mobs.  What I mean is, in order to get from the quest giver to the quest area, you have to run through a bunch of hostiles, and then after you’re done, you have to run back through the same hostile mobs (which have respawned by then) to complete the quest.  It’s kind of annoying.

On the plus side, melee combat continues to be very cool.  It’s definitely the best part of the game.  Did I mention it’s cool?  Watching the animations is half the fun.

Age of Conan Free Trial

I downloaded the Age of Conan free trial a while back and played a character through level 18 (which doesn’t take very long). This is a game I’ve always wanted to try, but never got around to it until now.

What’s good about it:

  • You start out in an instance, so there are no annoying noob vultures hovering around at the starting area.
  • Adventuring “at night.” These are essentially solo quest instances for solo adventuring. Awesome!
  • Melee combat is kind of fun – you can adapt your swings to your opponent’s defenses to do more damage. It’s a little more interactive than your typical auto-swing combat system.
  • The quests seem a little more “deep” than WoW or WAR, which could just be my imagination. Still, you don’t really need to read or listen to the quest text.
  • Nobody is playing it, so there is little competition for quest resources.

What’s bad about it:

  • The loading time when you start up the game is horrible. You have to wait for it to verify the game files EVERY TIME you launch it. Yuck.
  • All the different character classes have the exact same starting point, which makes it tortuously repetitive to try different alt characters. (This might be a limitation imposed by the free trial.)
  • It’s basically the same as any other MMO. Ie., Same gameplay, just different intellectual property.
  • It’s basically the same as any other MMO. Ie., It’s a huge time sink because it takes forever to run places and kill things, etc. Success in this game is still directly tied to the amount of time you can play.
  • Nobody is playing it. 🙂 FunCom could give up and shut down the servers at any moment.
  • UPDATE:  I forgot to mention that every second or third time I run it, it wants to verify the resource database which is a process that takes a good 5 minutes.  You really need to just leave this game running on a dedicated computer.

Beware that it takes forever to download the trial… somewhere around 8GB of data is required to play.  It took me about 3 days to get the thing up and running.

UPDATE:  The trial is designed to run out of content around level 20, just so you know.  At that point you’ll need to upgrade unless you want to wander around Tortage Island with nothing to do.