Thursday, May 22, 2008

Concentrating the Newbie Experience into one Area

Those of you who hadn't read my last couple of posts might be surprised to find out I actually changed my primary focus from World of Warcraft to Age of Conan. I've been experimenting with other MMOs since last summer and it was only a matter of time until I found one that would also appeal to my friends. It's not like I'm not going to avoid talking about World of Warcraft since I still consider it to be the sweet spot of MMO development. In fact I'll probably continue to use it as a primary example in my writings until someone makes a better game though I doubt that will happen this decade.

One of the things about World of Warcraft that made it so attractive was that right away it started impressing players with well designed starting zones. Quests were simple and they provided you with a linear progression path to move through the area while picking up your initial abilities. The environments were even varied enough that you ended up with a slightly different experience for each race. Blizzard was able to fine tune this process in the Burning Crusade and made the new player experience even better by including easy reputation rewards and group quests.

One has to wonder if the Ghostlands and Azuremyst Islands are better starting areas because Blizzard has gained experience since classic WoW or if it's just easier creating good content for a smaller amount of zones. Age of Conan seems to think it's the latter since they've concentrated on just one starting area for players. It would normally be a horrible idea but since they are overly dependent on instancing they can actually pull it off without crashing and lag. In general Tortage has been one of the least crowded starting areas I've ever come across. I know that there are probably 200 different versions running on my server but I almost never see more then 20-40 people. The load balancing of players is very good.

There are a lot of distinct advantages that Age of Conan gained by going with a single starting area for all players. One is that it greatly increased the amount of time and focus their developers got to spend on the newbie experience. Almost right away you get to see impressive jungles, ancient ruins, volcanoes, and a sprawling pirate town. It definitely beats the pants off any other game in the quality of graphics. In fact it makes my recent forays into the Gloomingdeep Mines in Everquest look like a Commodore 64 game. I've always stressed game play over graphics but Age of Conan proves that sometimes you can have both.

Tortage does have one big weakness and that happens to be its replay value. I'm ashamed to admit that I really only listened to all that expensive voice work on my first character. The very next time through I interrupted everyone, except for Sancha of course, and just grabbed the quest. I still found myself enjoying the area on my third character but I've been hearing from alt-a-holics that after the sixth time running through Tortage you really just want to escape as fast as possible. Also it obvious that the quality of content dips a bit after Tortage since the voice acting dries up and the quests become less unique. It’s not as bad as the 30+ content that Lord of the Rings released with but it's definitely a step down.

Luckily from what I'm hearing the initial end game is supposedly fleshed out with some interesting raids along with the PvP in the borderlands. Also we can't forget the PvP mini games which some people have been enjoying even at the low levels. I'm still too busy trying to master the combat system at the moment to join in but it should provide a similar experience as the World of Warcraft battlegrounds. In general it seems that the decision to concentrate on one starting area is working out great for Funcom. Tortage is convincing people to stay in the game and the replay quality seems to be okay for at least a couple of alts. The real test will be as the game starts to age and players find themselves going through Tortage for the eighth or tenth time.


Viet said...

I don't know if Tortage necessarily is convincing people to stay in the game, it actually might be that everyone gets the 1st month free!

I can imagine Tortage becoming like the Barrens in a few months: full of dumb-asses talking smack and shouting out C.Norris jokes on their alts.

Captain Angry said...

There is some additional replay value that you didn't mention in that the "destiny" quests are different for each archtype. While I've only played the soldier classes, I understand the destiny solo night quests are a different for each archtype.

For example, my friend told me most of his rogue destiny quests were primary stealth focused, while mine were mostly spent just cracking skulls.

While all the action takes place in the same areas, the objective is different and should prove interesting if your alt is a different archtype.

I'm still not quite ready to tattoo the AOC logo on my arm yet, but so far its looking to be a decent contender.

br3ntbr0 said...

Another good read Relm. It would sure be nice that once you got a toon past 20, it would unlock the ability to skip tortage and start at 20...wishful thinking I guess :)

Relmstein said...

Yeah that's a valid point though I have heard anyone say Tortage is a horrible experience in general. It does apparently get wearing after going through it the 10th time.

Captain Angry:
That's right it does add some differentiation to Tortage. I've really been enjoying the storyline in it so far and hopes it goes all the way to 80.

Yeah I'm honestly wondering if they will eventually make it so you can skip past Tortage. I think Funcom will stay away from that option though and jsut release a new starting area eventually.