Tuesday 24 May 2011

The past is a foreign country, they drive on the other side of the road and have funny food

A while back Melmoth rather splendidly captured the feeling you get when you pick up a high level character you haven’t played for a long time, something I’ve been experiencing in Age of Conan after Funcom sent out a nice mail saying that old accounts have been reactivated for the rest of May to celebrate the 3rd anniversary.

As I remembered it Age of Conan looked very pretty, had some interesting features like dynamic weapon-swishing, combo abilities and an involving single player story at the beginning, then petered out slightly into Generic MMOsity (from reading Richard Bartle’s blog it sounds like Rift completely avoids this trap by having some machine-things to activate now and again). Worth another look, especially with three years of additional content.

Wary of leaping straight into the 747 cockpit I started up a new character, and was slightly surprised by how quickly it all came flooding back; chained up woman, defeat mob, get key, free woman, defeat more mobs, get another key, open gate, check. Walled town, talk to guard, directed to blacksmith, get rocks, kill demon-thing, shackles removed, check. (Sorry, I forgot the spoiler warning, I may have just ruined the first seven minutes of Age of Conan for you there.) Emboldened by my triumph and indeed huge success in the tutorial, I dug out the Conqueror I’d played during my first stint to see how things looked around level 50. My first quest was to think of a new name, as there’d been a few server consolidations in my absence resulting in him being shifted to a new server as Zoso45234727; it felt a bit like hiring a car in a strange foreign airport…

“OK, just a leetle paperwork first, Monsieur; what registration would you like ze car to ‘ave?”
“Oh, I hadn’t really thought about that… erm, DF344RT?”
“Sorry Monsieur, zat one is taken”
“Ah… JW879BT?”
“Let me see… non, also taken”
“Oh, well… LL119WD?”
“OK, great. ‘Ere are ze keys, enjoy!”

And off we go in the unfamiliar car. The basic controls are in the same place so you can just about get going, albeit with a bit of grinding and you’re not sure where anything past second gear is, and the windscreen wipers come on when you try and indicate and the air conditioning is blasting cold air at your feet and hot air at your left shoulder and you can’t get anything on the radio except Plastic Bertrand, but y’know, you’re moving, albeit not quite optimally.

So on the Conqueror I could run forwards, run backwards, swing a sword, activate a couple of combo attacks I’d left on hotbars, enough to get going; not exactly optimal, with a bunch of refunded talent points sloshing about, and frequently trying to open Bags instead of the Inventory or the quest Log rather than the quest Journal, but enough to run around and hack up the occasional mob.

Back in the hire car, the unfamiliarity is exacerbated by the fact that you’re in the middle of a foreign country, unable to speak the language, with no maps and only a vague idea where you need to go. Locals whizz by complaining bitterly about tourists (or complimenting you on your taste in Belgian pop-punk, it’s hard to tell), you try and decipher the road signs and eventually give it all up as a bad job and decide to stop at a nice little cafe that turns out to actually be the local cement works.

If I was familiar with the rest of the game and it was just the character I hadn’t played in a while that would be one thing, but though I remembered the basics of the first 20-odd levels none of the finer points came back to me at all; I was standing in one of the zones where guilds could build their own cities and remembered a guild get-together with extensive use of /emote hugefish_m to express great joy as the first walls of The City of The Guild Whose Name I Can’t Remember were built, but the guild was left behind a server merge or two ago, its city with it, and I was standing outside somebody else’s walls. I think I’d been in the middle of some crafting, as the quest tracker was suggesting I should make several bits of armour and take them to the smith, but I had no idea how the crafting system worked. I ran around, found some stone and successfully hit it with a pickaxe (eventually, once I’d found how to toggle out of the combat stance), but that was as far as I got with the art of armoursmithing (“Have hit stone with axe! Got smaller bit of stone! Put stone on head! Strong helmet!”) Setting off towards what looked like a zone exit I pitched up at a village with a bunch of crafting trainers and had a brief conversation with an armoursmith who was most uncooperative and refused to accept a piece of stone in lieu of a full set of intricately crafted armour as proof that I was ready for the next level of training. Chucking the rock at him in disgust, I set off looking for a way out of the zone, and found a wagoneer offering transport. Just the thing! Except after handing over seven silver he presented a list of destinations, and I had no idea where any of them were, so picked one at random and found myself dumped somewhere in the far south of the zone next to some dungeon entrance. Not very useful.

I think I’ll go back to the new character in the introduction; there might be a few hours of rehashing familiar content, but at least I won’t be stuck listening to Plastic Bertand… ca plane pour moi moi moi moi moi, ca plane pour moi…

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