Saturday, January 28, 2012

Slith's cheesy exploration guide ep. 9

"Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars (...) But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west." - The Nemedian Chronicles 

If you wanted to explain to someone what the exploration is all about in Age of Conan THIS is the place to show. I have decided to open my own "Cheesy Tours" agency and I have taken two tourists on a wild trip to the hidden city outside the Old Taratnia. We had Morgothday (Demo) and Vehl the Conqueror. It turned out to be vital that Vehl was present because we were constantly abusing his resurrection ability whenever Morgoth had slight issues with making the jump. Yes, you can resurrect someone up the building or even cliff :D.

The first part was easy: it was same route that I used in ep.4. Then we have managed to get on the other side of the buildings and finally reached the end of the wall. Here is the tricky part: you have to be absurdly precise to land in just the right spot. If you can make the jump you will survive with 600 HP left, if you miss the stone you are supposed to land on - you get splattered. Needless to say both of my companions were shortly no more than two mangled corpses. Then I have came up with devious idea: I ran to the guild city, bought death charms (1g per pop), climbed back up, made another (luckly) successful jump and resurrected the Conqueror with the charm. Once the Vehl was up Morgothday soon followed. I gotta say that getting to this spot back in 2009 was absurdly easy because all you had to do is jump into the river near the docks in OT, swim up and you could freely explore. Since then Funcom patched up that place TIGHT so I am very humbled that I could see whole map again and even show it to others.
After short ride we have reached the hidden city (old, unused content from 2008). Sadly we got foolishly stuck in geometry soon after so the rest of the screenshots are from my personal collection.

The Hidden City

Difficulty: ****

Very hard to perform due to the jump at the end. A lot of opportunities for mistakes. Great journey to take with your mates.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My player versus player evolution

Seeing how close I am to pure, mini game grown pvp lvl 10 made me think about my own, personal progression as an active pvp player in Age of Conan. Did anything change in my style, tactics, builds - the works? Well, it most certainly has. 

The controls
I am still using same setup which is G110 gaming keyboard and MX 518 mouse (known as G400 now). Right off the bat: G110 keyboard is a gimmick. I haven't found a SINGLE useful application of this gaming gear that goes beyond what regular "trash" keyboard can do. Perhaps "Microsoft key" locker is a nice feature, but I am always pulling those keys out of any keyboard (yes, with a dagger!). The MX 518 is no gimmick thou, it is quite essential to my gaming. So much that I have 2 spare, mint condition mices in my drawer, just in case (TM). Yes, I have broken one MX mouse before and can't imagine playing AOC with anything else. That is the curse of veterans you see, our brains are so wired to "tried and true" gaming gear that I don't think I could have switched to anything else and not bitten my own hand in frustration at the same time. I am using mouse buttons to execute all my combo steps plus some other stuff. Logitech software really allows for total customization of buttons. Over the years I have tried the legendary Nostromo gaming pad, but it lacked the essential "alt" key under my thumb.I have returned the pad to the store and got a refund. 
Few weeks ago I have tried to swap some abilities with another with same key setup, but it has proven itself to be inefficient. I am quite sure that I have a solid key setup and I am not missing anything. 
As for my UI I am using standard AOC UI. Weird huh? I just find it very clear and see no need to mess around with other UIs out there. The unique thing is that  I have put one bar in vertical position in the right corner of my screen. I have put all my abilities, CCs and miasmas there so I can quickly glance over what is available to me in a given scenario. I think this one change made the biggest impact on my performance many years ago.

The tactics
I think I have matured as a player over the years. My goal in minigames now is to win and not slaughter for the most kills. Optimally I can do both. One big change is that I am constantly trying to grab the flag, something that I have despised in my younger, salad days. Having both accelerated and lotus overdose can grant you unparalled speed and massive stamina boost. No other class can measure up to that. Sadly I am using avatar based hybrid, but still taking advantage of that accelerated buff. Assassins should go more for the flag. Really, nothing feels as satisfying as you rushing with the flag to your base only to see enemy tank already in progress of picking up your flag. What do you do? From the darkness that fucker and during your charge animation you will score. Happened to me several times. Great stuff. 
I often encourage scenario in which I am dueling the opponent during the minigame. As you can imagine more often than not his team mates will come in and not be very respectful of our dueling. This is one of my weaknesses. The weak spot is epeen. 

The behavior
I have defiantly more relaxed, laid back, but still competitive approach to my gaming. I will always try to do my best, but I have learned to accept that sometimes you will end up with a group that might slightly underperform and thus get.. murdered. When it is only a disadvantage and the difference in performance is not humongous I will fight the good fight to the end. If it is a slaughter? I will leave the minigame rather to be frustrated by it. You have to keep your sanity. I am also more "troll-proof" for I have mastered the fine art of ignoring. I try not to get into any chat-fights and if someone whispers me with something obscene, insulting or just rude I will kindly inform them that I don't want to talk to them, and that from now on they are on the ignore list. Yep, my ignore list is quite long. Corpse jumping is a behavior that I simply cannot accept, but it no longer gets under my skin. It is all about sportsmanship. Yes, it is a game, but also a competitive environment, so I cannot see why I should behave differently here than in other competitive scenarios I get thrown in. My real life job is set in very competitive enviroment where very clear win-lose scenarios are happening on a daily basis. In this job virtually no team work is present (or needed) and it is you that either win or lose. Could it be the reason I am naturally drawn to the PVP? Well, we all know what is best in life, right?

The builds
I am not alternating my builds anymore. Current state of the assassin doesn't really support vide spectrum of viable choices and so I have settled for the avatar based hybrid. I have learned to pick and play only the build that gives me confidence. For example Lotus based build with 6 points in general tree just makes sense: it is rich in power and anti CC. But the avatar hybrid is a power horse and one that runs from no man. While lotus hybrid might struggle with soldier class the avatar knows no bounds. Sure, avatar is not without its flaws, but assassin is about efficiency - not cloak and dagger bullshit and gimmicks. Yes, we all like to maintain that romantic image of assassin jumping out of the shadows, doing what the Brittle Blade worships "the clean kill, the silent kill, the untraceable kill". Bah, that is rarely true in cold day-to-day pvp and when virtual metal hits the pixel flesh you better have the tools you need to make it bloody, loud and fully traceable your dagger wielding ass in the kill score.
I have also decided to specialize a little more and changed my stance on pvp perks and went from damage assassin to critical hits assassin when in comes to perks. 
So there you have it: 30% more to ding pvp lvl 10 and I am fully ready to embrace whatever future PvP content that is coming down the pipe. One thing is sure: I am here to stay. Old love never rusts.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

[Guide] Shadows of Jade Sanctuary

Shadows of Jade are no mere thiefs and so their hideout "the sanctuary" lives up to its name.

Apart from being visually stunning this place is really well "guarded" by the walls and cliffs so the only way to gain access to this place is via "official" entrance. But finding the entrance can be a feat of itself. I remember how I used to pull my theeth in frustration trying to get inside the sanctuary. However once you have figured out the easy way to do this you will be suprised that you ever had troubles with this. Checked the video for details.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What makes your character yours?

I am constantly amazed with how many different approaches people have when it comes to MMOs and and their characters. Everything from naming to color of the skin is usually well thought out...or not since the player might just not care. I want to talk a little about my personal style and what I have seen so far:

Number of characters: It is very common for MMO player to have several alts. By several I mean 2-4. This number allows people to play different classes, but at the same time to have decently geared toons. On the extreme side there is me: I only have 1 character and 1 only. Regardless what game I am playing I am feeling that every minute of playing counts and should be accumulated towards further progressing your character (AA system that came with Khitai rewards this behavior). If I have 2 characters that means I have to split my time and for some reason I am very uncomfortable with this.There is also a condition called "altisis" which is a state in which player creates alts almost compulsively. I personally know a guy that has 2 accounts so he can store his absurd number of alts. Ever thought about having two guardians: one for raiding and one for pvp? No? Me neither.

Name: I simply cannot play character with poor name. One could argue that "Slith" is not a master pice, but you can hiss it nicely through the teethes and people seem to remember it. On the extreme side people will go with most absurd names "for the heck of it". Usually on the RP servers players will go with name that don't mean anything, but sound "kinda fantasy". Ever met Shadror, Akhen, Melkal, Budhr, Jeale, Zaihe,  or Kaile? I could keep going with those name since I am pulling them straight out of my ass. You come up with first 2 letters to get your going and then fill the rest with random letters. Works like a charm.

Appearances: Players tend to create idealistic versions of typical fantasy hero. Men are tall and muscular beyond belief and women and beautiful and slender. I really like more realistic approach. My characters are never too tall or buffed. I also like too add, if possible, some kind of flaw to the general appearance: with Slith I went for scared face. For some reason my MMO characters have blond hair. On the extreme side I have seen very few "freaking ugly" characters. Age of Conan really allows to create some hideous faces, but very few people dig abusing that. From what I heard back in beta very fat toons were possible to made, but FC changed that (same story is true for WoW).

Sex: Male. A lot of male players create female characters because they want to "stare at something nice when they are playing" (digital butt). Since I am treating my character like a kind of an avatar it would weird me out to be playing as girl. Do girl gamers create male characters so they can stare at them? Somehow I doubt it. Prove me wrong?

Race: First and foremost it is human in all games. Second thing: it is white human. Again it the "avatar" factor kicks in and it weirds me out to be playing as Khitaian or Stygian. The character must "reflect" me in some ways.

For those reasons I am feeling very attached to the character, more than to the game itself. I
f I have lost my toon I doubt I would have continue my journey in Hyrboria.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

[Guide] Golden Perks

There are 3 corner stones to assassindom: choking powder, cover of the dusk and master assassins. What say you? There is no such a word like "assassindom"? Urban dictionary thinks that too, but I say that you NEED all of those 3 perks to truly unlock the potential of assassin class. Perhaps then you will get the whole meaning behind "assassindom".

In this guide I will go over those perks and, based on my experience, give you few hints on their application in solo PVE, group PVE and PVP.

Before we go any further I want to make one thing clear: my criteria for perks are "what does it do" and "how well does it do it". There are other perks that will perform extremely good in their own niche (for example castration does wonders for you shard management), but I am looking for perks that are so universally applicable that become the very core of you assassin. You see, each time when I have had perks like the Sins of Flesh or Castration it felt like having extra finger: it was great when I needed know what, this analogy is going nowhere so I am cutting it short: those combos are poor replacement for what you already have (Swift Strikes) and what you have doesn't really needs replacing. The other crap is so underpowered it is not worth even mentioning here.

Without further ado:

Choking powder - a lot has changed since my last guide. Choking powder is no longer instant, the silence is extremely short and what is left is interrupt.

Solo PVE - I have found choking powder to be irreplaceable for solo PVE. There are many mobs that are, in fact, casting spells and abilities (Yun, Children, Scholars, Scarlets are all casters). You can DPS your target right till the end of his casting and then deny the mob the damage he could have done to you. It also have nice cone damage so you can affect several mobs at once. With this perk I am able to slaughter the mages in the Refuge of Apostate and even pull whole room of them (the one after maze). This also works wonders on solo bosses. The big ape and spider bosses in the Isle of Iron Statues can be interrupted with CP and, considering the ape hits hard like a truck, you will be glad to be having this perk with you. Besides, I am finding the mobs to be already dieing fast enough and I need that little extra something to keep my character alive when going toe-to-toe with the more hard hitting ones. This is my solo PVE perk of choice.

Group PVE - not many applications here. Sure, it is nice to interrupt instance/raid mobs here and there, but the bosses are resisting choking powder thus making it useless in group PVE scenario

PVP - I have been using choking powder in PVP for a very very long time. Hell, I haven't seen another assassin with choking powder as I recall it. The problem is that this perk is extremely situational. Interrupting DT/Barbarian stun feels great, but I can remember games when I hardly used the CP for either lack of spare shards or lack of good moments to drop it in. If I didn't have master assassin then I would have been still using CP in group PVP and I would think twice whether to bring it to a duel or not.

Cover of the dusk - hands down the coolest perk there is when it comes to visual effect. It turns your character's body into black shade and there is also neat, pulsating dark aura. Not only this perk lowers your own aggro output, but also helps your tanks to keep it.

Solo PVE - this perk gives mere 7,5% evade chance (apart from aggro management) which is way to little to be viable in any solo encounters. Perhaps if it was around 30% I would consider it as a CP replacement.

Group PVE - amazing addition that will take any assassin from "DPS monkey" to a silent professional that keeps aggro where it belongs: with tank. This perk can be used in 3 ways. Preventive aspect of COD is using it before you hit the target with your biggest guns. Reactive aspect is helpful when you get aggro and you want to shake it off. If you have cat's paw + expanded sidestep then even without considering your gear's stats you are looking at around 60% evade which might just be enough to save your hide one more time. The last usage is activating COD when someone else catches too much aggro: you won't be able to lower it, but with COD's aura your tank will generate much more aggro than he would have been normaly able to.This is my group PVE perk of choice.

PVP - no applications whatsoever

Master Assassin - took me a while to finally recognize the power of this beast. You see Rise of the Godslayer brought in Khitai gear and PVP +5 gear. Those have 1 thing in common: critigation stat. Critigation = mitigation of critical hits. This stat is absolutely vital for PVE progression in Khitai and it makes ocean of difference in PVP. To combat this stat "tenacity" has been added as well. Tenacity stat gives percentage of added damage from your critical hits that cannot be mitigated by your opponent's Critigation Amount. With my minigame PVP set and Master Assassin perk I have 105% Tenacity making my critical hits always sink in, rather than be soaked up.The perk itself gives 50% tenacity so you gotta get the rest from your gear, but it is well worth it.

Solo PVE - I have read people's posts swearing that its "helpful" in solo PVE, but as far as I know mobs don't have critigation. Therefor tenacity doesn't affect the mobs in any way. Period.Proof? Only PVP gear has tenacity stat.

Group PVE - I have read people's posts swearing that its "helpful" in solo PVE, but as far as I know mobs don't have critigation. Therefor tenacity doesn't affect the mobs in any way. Period.  Proof? Only PVP gear has tenacity stat.

PVP - Master Assassin (that is freaking cool name too) is passive so it is always there for you, in the background, working it's magic. I can really tell the difference when I am fighting anything above Barbarian, but even cloth users can be softened up. My character, for example, has almost 33% critigation amount and if you take that away what is left is just fancy "paper" armor with 14% mitigation.
This is my PVP perk of choice.

Friday, January 6, 2012

1 year review - 2011

Another year went by so it is time to get savage with 1 year review of Age of Conan development.

First lets go over the most important patches:

Update Notes 2.1.2 - 18th January - the so called guardian mini-revamp. Guardian still does absurd amount of burst damage so I don't really see big difference there.

Update Notes 2.1.3 – Dreamworld Technology Update - this update brought many bells and whistles when it comes to visual eye-candy, but performance is not the name of the game. Hell, I am still stunned that my computer, despite of having card advertised as "the card to be playing AOC on", runs the game worst than it did pre-dreamworld update. This patch also introduced us to "Improved PVP mini-game & matchmaking balancing" which to this day is a joke.

Update Notes 2.1.8 - 7th of April - The refuge of apostate is introduced to Kara Korum zone. Delicious solo experience and one that I am still enjoying.

Update Notes 2.2 - 4th of May - The Ai District and the T’ian’an Distric went live. Visually very pleasing, but overall needlessly hard and thus not really all that popular.  Faction Progression system in Khitai is revamped and upgraded from "this is retarded" to "it should have been like this since day one". Very positive change, but implemented way too late to keep large chunk of players interested in ROGS.This update also brought Crowd Control Revamp with tweaks to duration, cast time, range, immunities or max targets of each CC ability. These changes also included an additional step for most combos which has been added to the starter step.

Update Notes 2.6 – 30th of June - Age of Conan goes free to play as Age of Conan: Unchained. The model, for my taste, is well balanced and implemented. I have stayed as premium subscriber and will continue to buy subscription in the future. Cash shop has wide variety of items and I am often buying small buffing pots. Long awaited "vanity armor tab" makes into the game. I consider it a SMASHING success and no 1 addition to AOC in 2011. Solo dungeons called “The Breach” and “The Forgotten City” are added to Gates of Khitai zone. Khitai faction item's prices are reduced further making ROGS content more enjoyable and accessible.

New PvP Server Ruleset: “Blood and Glory” - 7th of July - complete and utter failure of B&G server due to players going after PVE rewards to gain an edge in pvp. For example freshly dinged assassin would go and farm KK hard modes to easily gain 6 epic armor pieces, 2 epic daggers and a loads of mastery points. On max level people were rather looking for more PVE than engaging in PVP. Lack of solid pvp content on max level also played huge role in that. Seems like B&G just came in too early. Interesting idea, but very poorly executed.

Update Notes 3.0 (Savage Coast of Turan) – 31st August - first addon pack for the Age of Conan:Unchained. Seems like it will be the new model for the Funcom since in Q2 of 2012 we can expect another addon. The Turan zone looks very well done, but making in lvl50 zone rather than max lvl was not the best idea. The pack also brought Iron Statues Isle solo instance (superb quality and gameplay) and group PVE content in a form of Tier 3.5 raid. The high light of this patch was the complete combo revamp and combo skipping exploit fix. This was really game braking exploit for a very long time and many welcomed it with open arms. This exploit fix also, as a consequence of melee damage nerf, made casters and rangers the best killing machines in PVP scenarios.

Update Notes 3.1 - 13th of December
- another engine & data base patch. Not only this patch took for ever to go live, but it aslo has brought bugs that are still haunting players in 2012.

And now the regular "1 year review" template:

 Crafting - crafting stood still in 2011. Nothing happened. Funcom wrote that the whole crafting system is getting teared down and build up from scratch. It is 1/10 for me since what we have now is beyond bad, but there is a hope for the future.
Rating: 1/10

Itemization - Big improvement. With Refuge and Iron Statues solo dailies everyone can get their hard mode tokes and build up their armor sets. The Khitai progression revamp also made MOAs more available without extensive grind. One can only hope for more open world, random drops so it is not at 10 out 10.
Rating: 9/10

PVP minigames - no changes. Still you cannot sign up with a group, still you will get ticked off by afkers and as a result of mergers there are more and more players that doesn't know a word in English. I was enjoying minis LESS in 2011.
Rating: 5/10

PVP XP and progression- With the addition of cash shop players can not only catch up with others faster (with pvp xp pots), but also can instantly obtain pvp lvl5 armor buy paying for it. Now I know that a lot of people are upset by this, but seriously you can get better armor buy doing less than 2 weeks of Khitai (yes! It is that easy) and if someone wants to just jump into the pvp with their under geared alt this is the way to go. I am taking 1 point away because no changes to Bori were made.
Rating: 9/10

Class balance - the combo exploit fix was pretty awesome and I cannot imagine how the hell I was enduring (not enjoying, enduring!) this game pre CC revamp. Definitely a solid improvement. 
Nerf rangers -_-' .
Rating: 7/10

Open world PVP - Bori is here to stay. I am bumping the rating because Funcom disabled Bori on B&G server (not that it helped much...) and added looting system. Your opponents can now drop money, Bori tokens, rare potions and even armor pieces. With this system I got almost 1.500 Bori tokens out of minigames alone.
Rating: 3/10

Sieges - Still a feature that was supposed to be iconic for AOC ("experience epic siege battles!") but turned out to be poo on a stick.

Guild diplomacy tools - There are none. There is no support for guilds and server politics in AOC. Come on! Alliance system! Where is that?

Guild city - Nothing really happened in 2011 in terms of guild cities. The new renown levels are needed. I am taking away some points for slacking.
Rating: 7/10

RP support
- Hard call. On one hand Funcom added vanity armor which made whole Hyboria more live-a-like, but at the same time the devs trashed every RP server and merged them with Fury and Crom. I haven't seen people RPing in the streets or taverns after merges. I miss that vibe.
Rating: 5/10

80lvl content for non Raiders
- With 5 new solo instances there is plenty to do. With this 2011 addition Age of Conan became very casual friendly and more suited for it's population: people with jobs and responsibilities that want to squeeze some playtime here and there.
Rating: 9/10

Updates - Pretty good year with a horrible ending. At first we had constant stream of updates, but then we have hit the post Turan bottle neck with the database update. Definitely better than 2010, but still somewhat disappointing.
Rating: 6/10

Client improvements - the client improved a lot. The crashes, at least for me, are very very rare now. The performance leaves much to be desired thou.
Rating: 5/10

So to sum it up:

The good: the things that improved the most in 2011

- combo exploit fix

- CC revamp

- Khitai revamp

- vanity armor

- free to play model

The bad: the things that Funcom failed miserably at in 2011

- engine updates

- B&G server

- server mergers (putting together communities from couple different servers)

- Conan movie tie-in (but the movie was kinda horrible so I cannot blame Funcom for not making anything better that they did).

The ugly: the things that are still in game to haunt me

- poor crafting system

- non-existent player driven economy

- bugged sieges

- no group pvp content