Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hyboria is in peril !

Did I say Hyboria? I meant Funcom. Yesterday we have learned rather troublesome news about Funcom studio re-structuring.If your business model isn't working then I guess it is a good thing to "mix it up". What is NOT good is Age of Conan: Secrets of the Dragon's Spine and crafting update getting sacked for another few months (at very least 3) and the carefuly set schedule is going to hell. I really want Funcom to be successful so they can make more content and keep the game rolling. Bad things tend to happen to AOC.  However every single time when I am thinking: "things are looking up for AOC" Funcom will fail in a major way and it's like watching a retarded bear. No one wants to see that. Want a recent example? FC doing great job on energy/sprint revamp and then a bad job with......fucking up servers for over a month. But this post is not about Funcom and them dropping the ball, it is about AOC. For the first time I am actually afraid that in near future AOC might be gone. MMOs come and go and recent events show that even successful ones can get sacked. People (me included) get upset about Age of Conan and the change in the schedule and so (that is just bullshit), but no one would like AOC to simply go away. I wouldn't want that for sure. All this "re-structuring" and FC's financial situation is taking out the wind out of my sails when it comes to Hyboria. Should I continue to play this game? Should I dedicate any more time at all to this blog? Should I marry of the the devs? (ok I wasn't considering that...yet).  Monthly Development Update - January 2013 says that "All the stuff we have mentioned at the end of the last year, the new Dragonspine content, and the trade-skill revamp is all still in progress. In fact the team has taken pride in finishing up as much as they can to take over to the new team. The new team fully intends to ensure most, if not all, of those content updates are released this year. The schedule however will of course be affected by this change, and the new team will need a little while to set their new schedules, and get things in order. Expect to hear more in next month's development update on that front". This is hardly ideal. SDS update series were supposed to come in summer of 2012 and it seems like it will be early spring of 2013. Yes, we already got SOME of SDS on live server but it turned out to be "all show and no go" type of content where you can do the quest line in one day and then REALLY there is no point in returning to the Spine as it offers little to no repeatable content. I have to admit that AOC real chance to make it "BIG" again and to attract new and old players is a SMASHING crafting system. From what we have already seen on preview video FC actually managed to create such system and it is highly anticipated.
However AOC is largely perceived as MMO "with little development and constant delays" so one can only hope that new team will change that. Re-structing is of course a good thing as the cash flow must be maintained, but more delays on a content promised ages ago is just wrong.

 The crafting, for the sake of AOC's future, better be best thing since sliced bread. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Assassin armors in Age of Conan - the good, the bad and the ugly

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about assassin armor design in Age of Conan. If I had to point to a good design in other classes I would say.....Barbarians. That is some good, class fitting armors from old world, pvp lvl 10 to T4 raiding. Assassin lacks certain class identity and for a good reason: it is actually a class made from two other scraped concept classes being called the lotusist and the defiler. But that is an ancient history now and we are stuck with what we have: an inexplicably complex character that can't really make up his mind whether he is lotus enhanced ninja or unholy something something with bullshit dark powers coming from souls shards. Well enough about that, lets talk a bit about armor design and what it should be (TM). Shall we set something straight? Assassins are NOT ninjas. Not only historically the role of ninjas was espionage, sabotage, infiltration, but also it is so strictly Japanese concept as a whole that it simply doesn't translate too well into Hyborian scenery. So I am really against deliberately creating ninja-a-like armors with face covers, just for the sake it of. More so I will be the first one to say that I bloody miss a GOOD HOOD in Age of Conan! Just slapping something on assassin's face (a VERY overused theme) doesn't make his garments "assassiny". There is a certain mystique that is attributed to a hoods and I think fans of both Thief and Assassin's Creed series would agree with me on that one.

Classic Midnight hood that simply screams "assassin"
hood and face bandanna? Stylish!
yeah well.....not so much


Looking back at the assassin armors I think we have to start with tier 0.5:

the Midnight

OK, this is probably not really looking all that menacing on a female and it is suffering from the fatal flaw called "being made pre 2008". When comparing this to the rich and detailed PvP T3 or T3 armor the Mindnight looks like it was made for Everquest or other prehistoric mmo as it lacks both the attention to the details and the finishing touches (the hood is not connected to the armor, pants are not connected with the boots etc.). Sadly this style of armor was never again recreated and the concept of assassin armor shifted heavily towards "ninja" looks. In recent crafting podcast game director mentioned that FC have updated the looks of the old armors so perhaps the Midnight set will make it triumphant return at some point. I still have this complete armor in my bank and I am putting it on  from time to time just to do the*sigh* at it's outdated, low res textures and crappy finish..






Tier 1,2 and 3


Might as well put all 3 of those here since they are one model with few different details.  I think this not only one of the best assassin armor, but also one of the best armors in the whole Age of Conan. Perhaps it would have been even better without the face mask, but it also adds a lot to the set as a whole so probably it's for the best to have it there. The problem is that this heavily stylized look makes it almost impossible to have any matching daggers that are not the original T3 metallic ones. If I had to find any flaw it would be the over usage of nails which remind me of Gothic style or bondage. Other than that this is a prime example why people have fallen in love with AOC and assassin class in particular.

Crafted armor


Bossonian and Dark Fate armors are the example of how pretty much same armor can look awesomely better with a hood or classic ninja mask. Their is certain realism to those armors (sadly lost in later designs) which I find fitting. The Bossonian set looks like it would be something someone would actually wear while stalking those damn Picts beyond the Thunder river .

PvP armors



I am really torn on this issue. PvP lvl5 "nipple set" stood the test of time in my opinion as it still looks pretty decent, even when it's visual features are compared to top tier pvp armors. I know that I have said many nasty things about *ekhm* nipple set in the past, but it is one of the few assassin armor that look like someone might actually wear something like that. Compared to pvp lvl5 both lvl8 and lvl10 armors are over-stylized and sadly  - not really fitting the Hyborian setting. Especially pvp lvl 10 armor, while it's details are indeed impressive, looks like it was made for a different game than Age of Conan. It is simply not clear to me how some craftsman in Hyboria would even make such clothes as pvp lvl 10 armor since their look is so advanced and complex. PvP lvl 8 armor had some potential, but that "thing" you are wearing on your head is supposed to be, believe it or not, a hood which it is totally not.

Khitai sets


 Even thou Khitai had it's very unique look (which only makes sense in the context of this weird land) there is a certain charm to those sets. The Brittle Blade armor looks clunky and heavy, but it simply cannot be mistaken for anything else. At the same time Shadows of Jade set has that raw and rugged look which makes it almost realistic. Definitely I would like to see more SOJ-alike armors in the future.


The House of Crom and the rest
The release of HOC is where assassin armors went sideways BIG TIME. First on the chopping block: the Lunacy set.

This armor is so crap that I haven't seen a single person wearing it. In this picture my assassin is missing a chest but trust me that pice of armor adds nothing to except bunch of feathers. I am of the impression than a well know comic book character by GoŇõcinny & Uderzo (who is also blond like Slith) might or might not have been something of an inspiration for this set...at least for the head wear. Lunacy, compared to the awesomeness the soldier classes got out of HOC, is simply insulting. Since HOC assassin's head pieces got weirder and weirder.

Turan armor is a prime example how head wear can mess up otherwise good looking armor.But Turan add-on was all about wierd hats..


Khitai Tier 4
The biggest slap on the face for assassin players since...well since ever. Those unimpressive looking garments are topped of with a head wear that one might only consider putting on for Halloween party (and still be regarded as "freak"). I don't know what the FC artist based this armor on and quite frankly - I do not care. This is overly simplistic, unattractive and clunky looking...best armor in the game. Nice. Comparing T4 to T3 is like comparing asian style MMO to, well Age of Conan I guess. It is unbelievable that such great, original design of  T1-3 got, after all this years, perverted into a joke that is T4. Bad bad move.



What is on the horizon..

I will be honest: I am not a big fan of the theme set for latest add-on, as my dream add-on is a big city, or something related to Aquilonia. I guess "you gotta push with the cock you got".

All the signs (mainly: the pieces bought from NPC in SDS and the ones dropped in Wyrm dungeon) are pointing to the conclusion that this is the new assassin armor. While all that Stygian and tribal mix doesn't really appeal that much to a western assassin I have to say that face bandanna/mask is pretty neat even if the armor got skulls on it (as pointed out by Scythie on EU forums). The return of vital "assassiny" mask/cover/bandanna is of course welcomed, but it is far from what I wish I was wearing.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sand and Jagged Rocks ep.2 - should I stay or should I go?

After few days of SDS and eventually finishing all the quests (which really could have been done in 1-2 playing sessions) it occurred to me (aka became painfully evident) that in current shape SDS is pretty thin on content (aka I have nothing to do in SDS). Now I am aware that SDS will have few more updates and honestly there is TONS of stuff (places, npcs, objects) on Dragon's Spine map that doesn't serve any purpose which indicates that those will be used in upcoming future content. More quests? Sure, I will enjoy that since SDS already showed top quality in story telling. And then what? Right now SDS has I think 4-5 daily quests that reward player with 10s and a caravan bag or so. Considering that this is the hardest zone in the game those rewards that are being offered are really sub par for decked out lvl 80 character. And here are we coming to the fundamental problem: rare tokens. Funcom is shoving rare tokens down our throats at every step: Hard modes in Khitai? That is worth a token. Beating up easy mode bosses in House of Crom Threshold? Well guess what? You will get a token out of that deal. That Fort in Turan? Yep, there are tokens there. But hey, you can also run daily solo instances and get.....TOKENS. Just loads and loads of tokens at each and every step. That is cool, I used to enjoy tokens until I have ran out of stuff to buy (yes, it's ironic, I should have ran out of tokens first). I am pretty casual about PVE side of things (doing dungeons less than once per week) so I wouldn't say that I am insane for having every Khitai item that I would potentially want (two armor sets, accessories, weapons, jian-shi spell) and still having close to 700 rare tokens. Now what? I could buy new epics from dungeon NPC in SDS but those are like Khitai epics with more hit rating on them. I would imagine that perhaps the rare tokens are going to play some role in upcoming crafting revamp otherwise: what the hell am I supposed to do with them? I am almost maxed on on AA tree :X
All this seems to be noticed also by other players as "Add MoA's to Dragon Spine Quests Please" thread poped up on TL forums. Perhaps, just perhaps SDS will play some major role in the crafting revamp as getting bags/cases/chests with crafting components would (I think) make it worth while to do some SDS repeatables. Repetables...then why not just put faction(s) to SDS? Funcom already has technology to do it from ROGS, they did it in Turan ... I have asked AOC's Game Director about this and he wasn't really sure about that so quite possibly no, no factions in SDS. Now granted: this is exactly the kind of content we used to get pre ROGS (like Tarantia Commons): bunch of quests and story. However in post ROGS reality the current shape that SDS is in simply won't do for me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sand and Jagged Rocks ep.1 - it's (a)live!

Dragon's Spine is here!
.... and I am giggling like a school girl. Ok, perhaps I am not "KHITAI-excited" about SDS, but it is a solid content addition. Also I had a chance to preview SDS on TL server so it took an edge off the initial "wow" feeling. Oh don't worry, there is plenty neat things here and more to come. This post will be, I am afraid, super chaotic as I am trying to squeeze in my first  impressions of SDS. I love that new content smell, it's like used car after going through automatic-car-wash-thingy, it's still same car, but it looks great.

PVP - day 1
 First thing first is the open world PVP: as you can imagine DS became got-to-place for all lvl80 that are, as I am writing this, duking it out under the hot hot stygian sun. As you might imagine many outstanding individuals perceive pvp as merely application of this simple schematic: stealth, wait for target to be fighting mobs and well below 40% HP, attack and make sure you are a ranger. During my initial questing I got killed few times while fighting mobs or talking to NPC. This, of course, is hardly ideal, but I guess you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to pvp. World pvp gives freedom, a freedom to loop off any ones head if you simply feel like it. This freedom is universal and if you can't accept that then perhaps PVE servers are the way to go. Some people swear that they "love open world pvp" but said love is only displayed when they are actively looking for that type of activity. Otherwise they get angry when they are questing and sudden pvp encounter disturbs their proceedings. For this people there should be a server type PVP-OWICFM (player vs player only when it is convenient for me). Few weeks ago I was doing some leveling on my "kinda-alt" (but not really) and some douche-bad was attacking my quest mobs. My first reaction? You are so dead brobro! Oh wait..PVE server.. Ok now I am just ranting mindlessly now. Will this be new Kheshatta? Time will tell.

The visuals and the design
The new zone is unlike anything we have already seen in AOC. First thing first: it was build from ground up with new Dream World engine and it really shines, especially compared to old world deserts in Stygia. The zone simply looks mighty impressive and I will have to give credit where credit is due even thou I HATE DESERT zones. There, I have said it.Does it have sand? Yes? Then I am not all that interested then. And yet Dragon's Spine managed to capture my attention and it's sand is slowly getting into my every nook and cranny just like corruption got under my skin and into my heart in Kara Korum. "Slith, what the hell are you raving about?" All I am saying that I used to hate Kara Korum and it has won me over since then and Dragon's Spine is like that too. I don't know, I can quite put my finger on it: this place is strangely familiar and totally alien at the same time. The name of the addon "Secrets of the Dragon's Spine" is simply perfect for there are secrets to be found here at every step. All the parts of this zone are connected in most clever and unexpected ways and there are many secret passes to be found. This zone is not the "classic" desert with endless dunes and open spaces but it covered with canions, big rocks and small mountains. The zone just feels like it was designed and hand-crafted rather than put together in random fashion or computer-generated.

Quests
The questing system which surprised me greatly: the quest are all on connected in most peculiar ways. In old world you usually have one main story line for the each play field (like frost giant in Ymir's Pass) and the rest of the quest are "filler", simple chores quest that you have to perform on NPC's whims (i.g. kill ten rats). In Khitai the story is mainly faction driven and your progression is limited by your faction reputation level. In SDS doing one quest can unlock or update others. For example I was sent to gather wood for barricades, but while chopping down the tree I have "unlocked" one of the steps of totally, seemly unrelated main quest. There are repeatable quest in SDS with cool downs like in Khitai, but so far I haven't seen any faction that I could join. The SDS was supposed to be launched as a whole, but Funcom made the decision (good one I might add) to split it into several installments. This means that the SDS zone will have stuff added to it as more and more updates are put onto the live servers.

Story
As always the story and the dialogues are well written. The mature themes are ever present in SDS. For example a ghost that you will meet underwater used to be a girl that got ravaged by a monster both psychically and sexually.Of course the "mature" themes are not protracted solely by including rape reference in every quest, but it shows that the writer is not afraid to explore some topic that might make the player uncomfortable.I won't spoil anything, but lets just say the writers may or may not have used A LOT of Kull the Conquerer lore (it is R.E.Howard's character too). Not sold yet? There are some things taken from...Dune series by Frank Herbert. What I also enjoyed is that Age of Conan self references: some NPC will talk to you about Khitai's faction or House of Crom - things created solely for AOC.

epic epic epic!
Dungeon
I have run the new Wyrm dungeon and it seems like good fun. It very much reminds me of Khitai HMs with little to no trash mobs, just pure boss spanking extravaganza.  First boss is simple tank and spank but the second one made us work for the kill. Haven't tried the last boss.

To sum it up:
So far so good. The launch of SDS was extremely smooth and bug free so it gives me a lot of hope for the future content. Now bring in the crafting revamp! That is the reason why we are all here after all :P

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Assassin leveling guide

This guide is aimed at taking your assassin from lvl 1 clueless cutter to lvl 80 death incarnate you will eventually become. I will take you level-by-level through all the stages of a feating most proper build. By all means don't take my word for it and feel free to explore and test different builds - it is, after all, the most vital part of class learning process. However the builds are not equal and there is an ocean of performance you can get out of certain hybrid builds compared to some "single feat tree" blunders. If you happen to pick up any AA points along your way (most likely from in game cash shop) then just put them into precise and pressing strikes perks (it is unlikely you will get more than 1/5 in each). 

1-19 lvl
Your first 19 lvls are going to be uneventful. You want to start with maxing out corrupted blades as this feat gives you flat combat rating upgrade which translates to more DPS. Lotus blades should be maxed as a second choice since their effectiveness is based on your dagger's damage (weapon's damage) and at first you will be running around with a pair of rusty pokers. Corrupted blades seem like a better idea. No matter what builds you will create/use later on you'll always need to have both lotus and corrupted blades because otherwise you will be looking at some seriously reduced DPS.

19-23 lvl
learn more about Face Stab
This is a hard choice because Swift Ending looks better at low level than Sense Weakness. In my opinion you want to unlock soul strike early on because it will compliment your face stab. At early levels you will have only face stab which will consume base poison from both Slow Death Strikes (SDS) and Grim Corruption (GC). Having soul strike will bring another way of dealing damage and one that is AOE and, if needed, can be turned into stun CC. If you went for Swift Ending then your next unlock would be Lotus Dart which has no were near both the utility and the damage of Soul Strike.

23-26 lvl
learn more about Atrophy, Soul Strike
This is where your initial investment pays off as you get access to both atrophy and soul strike. Not only your damage will be significantly upgraded but also you will be able to use your first major CC (stun that comes from SDS+SS). Atrophy will grant you unparalleled survivability and will be your best tool on a road to 80lvl.

26-31 lvl
learn more about: Lotus Dart
Here you will receive a major upgrade to your main combos as well as third and last type of miasma: lotus dart. 

31-39 lvl
Your next few levels will be focused on upgrading your Cat's Pawn which - at this level - will be absurdly effective and will allow you to take on much more or much tougher opponents. Necrosis will upgrade your face stab so it will become much more viable as "naked attack". By "naked attack" I mean using face stab even when there is no base poison present on your target (SDS or GC). Face Stab is the only miasma that will deal real, viable damage without base poison and it is instant so don't be afraid of using it during or between combos (e.g. Face Stab + Grim Corruption + Soul Strike + Swift Strikes).

39-41 lvl
http://goo.gl/pqVN2
First get 1/3 in Dull Pain to unlock more options. At this point in the game you won't face all that much magic casting opponents so this will be enough, more so that whatever casters you will face won't be in groups that can threaten you. Second choice is snap kick, a worthy upgrade to your CC arsenal granting you very fast AOE knock back.The last thing is CLE (crystallized lotus extract) which you might not find useful right away (at this level assassin is not all that much "shard hungry"), don't worry, you will be using it a lot soon enough.

41-48 lvl
http://goo.gl/ZjYEj
learn more: Critical Damage and Bonus Critical Damage
Add 5/5 to the unholy strenght to get small boost to your swift strikes. You don't have the proper crit/bonus crit gear yet to take full advantage of corrupting strikes. Drop 1/5 into accelerated as it will prove to be a useful tool when it comes to running away from the mobs (if needed to avoid death). Add 1/5 to precise strikes to unlock more feats down the line.

48-53 lvl
http://goo.gl/Wt5tW
learn more: Relish in death and fatality
First you want to get relish in death as procing fatality will let you to survive more and deal more damage. Then you want to get from the darkness as a nice opener, especially if you land naked Face Stab immediately after the charge. Get 3/3 in unholy stab to push your face stab damage even further. Last but not least: death's gaze - you fear CC. Necrotic empowerment is not mandatory but if you are feeling like you need more shards (to avoid downtime) get it since it cost only 1 point.

53-58 lvl
http://goo.gl/it35X
learn more: Dull pain and lotus overload
Get lotus tained blood and lotus overload to give you that edge against casters. Finish up with opportunistic strike so you will have 3 solid CC to keep you going.

58-61 lvl
http://goo.gl/ffEID
Max out your dull pain. Add 1 point to deft blades to unlock Grave's Blossom. From now on you will have to manage your souls shards a little better since GB will consume all the shards upon usage.

61-66 lvl
http://goo.gl/V6z0g
Add point to Necrotic Empowerment and max out Precise Strikes.

66-68 lvl
http://goo.gl/MIJQ8
Add 1 point to Burden to Bear and 1 point to Deaths Whirlwind. Use GB after DWW for a great spike in damage out put.

68-76 lvl
http://goo.gl/ytwgX
Keep adding points to Soul Destruction and Steeped Lotus Extract rotating between them each level (after adding point to Soul D. add another one to Steeped Lotus and switch again). By adding points to both of those miasma upgrades you will gain more power than simply upgrading Death's Whirlwind and going down the line. Don't worry, there will be a little twist to this...

After you have maxed out Soul Destruction and Steeped Lotus visit a trainer in major city hubs and RESET YOUR SPECC or take advantage of multispecc: create and activate of of these:

76-80lvl
http://goo.gl/pMYLo
http://goo.gl/mh4mP
http://goo.gl/ZmIBG (my current solo PVE specc)

Now it is time for you to visit the far far away Khitai.
read more on how to deal with Khitai's mobs
read more about Alternative Advancement leveling

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Alternate Advancement and other means of progression

I am very close to finishing up all of my AA....like two perks away. It got me thinking about character progression in AOC and how AA fits that. First of all I want to state that I HATE (with a burning passion) a system that adds new levels with each expansion. Prime example of that is WoW where the level cap now is 90. I have left that game caped at lvl60 :P. In my mind it is bad enough that, once lvl80, 1-79 content is getting trashed (Funcom combats that with recent dungeon revamps). So in that regards AA system is a perfect system for horizontal progression, or a way to expand your character's power. There is an issue with AA system that turned out to be a big disappointment for me: lack of viability.

AA tree has a tons of passive stuff: passive offhand, passive protection, passive resistance to CC. That is to be expected as AA system was meant to prnamently increase character's power. I still do remember my first days in ROGS when I was getting chopped to pieces in Kara Korum and how I simply own that place now. The difference in power is just right: there is a feel of progresion (or "growth") but at the same time old world content is still viable (very easy, but viable) - this isn't like lvl 80 pummeling lvl 60 mobs. However AA system falls short when it comes to perk's viability, which is painfully evident with assassin class. At first I was under impression that AA system is going to be something like Guild Wars deck system where you pick and choose several abilities based on their utility and possible synergies. Here is where AA system sucks ass: there are select few perks that are proper for respectfully pvp or pve and the rest is just a filler because they are either horribly underpowered or plainly too dumb to begin with. Great example of that are pressing strikes and decisive strikes which are bread and butter of pvp builds and no one with a right mind would go for such "amazing" stuff like extra energy regen perk which allows you to sprint for *gasp* 1 second more. 
I really wanted AA system to be a way to not only power-up your character, but also to customize your build. Assassin is a very sad class in that regard since both AA and feats are rather straight forward so pretty much everyone runs around with same build and set of perks. I don't think Funcom will ever address this issue as so far they have proven to be very resistant to to making any major AA changes/tweaks (apart from what is forced due to obvious system changes).

But enough of what we have, here is what is coming up:

Few months ago Game Director for Age of Conan told as in the interview that new add-on will introduce another way of horizontal progression. My mind immediately fired up with a single idea: legendary weapons that you can level up (LOTRO has this I think). To my surprise said "new" means of progression are, in fact, set bonuses. What are those? Most likely those will be extra stats that will be granted to your character, but only if he is wearing complete set (like Brittle Blade set). As for now those bonuses will granted exclusively to new sets, but Funcom might consider adding them to older armors too. I don't consider that a character progression per se, because this is only a way to expand items budget. In my mind gear progression and character progression are two separate things. Gear is not a part of character, but merely an extension of it.The second thing that might be considered "progression related" is new crafting system, but as I understand it it will be "leveless" system so pretty much every lvl80 crafter will be able to craft similar or same item - provided he has both component and knowledge to do so. We don't know much about crafting yet but I would love for it to have some means of "leveling" your crafting even if it only was meant to grant you higher chance of critical success (crafting item with better stats than normal). We shall see.

What I would like to see in the future? Defiantly something to customize and progress your character. Simply gathering more power is neither fun nor healthy for the game (creating bigger and bigger gap between newbs and vets). But if AOC firmly stays at lvl80 it will need, sooner or later, address the issue of progression that will not be simply item based. Don't get me wrong: I think it is going to be totally rad to be able to craft best and most unique item in the game, but at the same time one of the biggest pleasure that I am getting out of any MMO is receiving new feats/abilities, trying them out and incorporating in gameplay. But it is entirely possible for Funcom to keep tweaking/revamping the classes to the point where every single feat and perk is viable for certain build. Oh wow, a man can dream, right?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

1 year review - 2012

Once again, once too many times, the season of "savage reviews" is upon us and I am here to chew AOC and spit it out. Or am I? Was 2012 a horrible year for the game or perhaps it was necessary to pave the way to this game's future greatness. Well, grab an ale and warm up yer bones near the camp fire, you are about to find up. Before we dive into the review itself you can now check pass reviews, those dating back to 2008 even under new "yearly reviews" tag. Check it out for comparison purposes.

This year I have decided to change the review process and talk purely about the content/changes and my personal take on them. The old system with the scores doesn't make much sense and, sadly, for most part it would still be a copy/paste job..third year in a row for some items like sieges..
Below you will find the most important additions rounded up into several categories likes dungeons/system changes etc.

Dungeons and Raids
  • House of Crom
By CROM! What a worthy addition to the game. House of Crom - both group and social dungeons - are great experience with well written story behind it. The visuals of HOC are simply a benchmark for any future development as they have easily overshadowed anything done to this date. At the same time HOC is a classic example how HORRIBLE itemization can be. The dungeons drop tons of blue gear (all looking great except the assassin one which sucks) but all of it obsolete: if you can get it you already don't needed it and if you need it then chances are you are too under geared to get it. You can also get a nice epic cloak from this place (almost same stats as khitai one) but it is so easy that you can get it in 2-3 runs tops. Really, this place is for rare farming and those rares can be spent only in far far away Khitai which kind of defeats the purpose of having Atlantean themed dungeons if your rewards will ultimately be bought from Khitaian vendors. I am very bitter about how HOC turned out to be rewards wise, but it will always have a special place in my heart. I had my share of fun in here.
  • Jade Citadel T4 raid
A major content addition in 2012.Duh. I find it very questionable as to why FC finally completed T4 encounters 2 years after the release of ROGS, but I digress. I have tried T4 two times or so and if I was in T4 raiding guild (which I am not) then I would be raid this place weekly. That is good. My only complains, as always, is assassin armor design. Worst-armor-ever. Considering the amazing looks of ROGS armors T4 pieces are a major let down.
  • Dead Man's Hand
A remake of classic DMH with harder mobs/bosses and rare token rewards. This is how it should have been since day one after Turan release. I am not a big fan of Turan addon and DMH is one of the reason for that. I don't like the story, writing, design or the very idea of private questing area as it defeats the purpose of MMO. I guess FC did what they had to fix this garbage, but it's a patch work at best.
  • Forgotten City
 Another case of half-baked idea that needed a fix. Really, it boggles my mind that the devs have made this dungeon almost 2 years after ROGS and didn't have a foresight to predict that making a solo dungeon on par with old world villas will not provide sufficient rewards and challenge to people in Khitai armors with AAs. This was a fix to an old content and as such it is barely an addition at all.
  • Into The Breach 
The cream of the crop of bad design. I don't think there is a single piece of AOC content out there more "not played at all" than this garbage.  Funcom pretty much scaled up the HPs on the mobs and threw in few blue items and slapped "unchained" sticker on it. Guess what? No one does it. I have barely managed to scrape together a team for it on it's launch day. Never have I seen a LFM message for this dungeon on global chat. Perfect example on how to NOT revamp old content.
  • Amphitheatre of Karutonia
I have mixed feelings about this dungeon. It is an old content revamped into new high end dungeon and taking it for what it is I would say it's good. But in post House of Crom expectations AOK falls short it terms of visuals and design. I wouldn't really mind because it's re-used old content so the expectations should be lowered, but AOK went live with TONS of bugs, I mean with some really nasty stuff (like Khitai pets usable in the dungeon, being able to rejoin the boss fights after death). Clearly a rushed, half-assed content, done it a half-ass way.

Systems
Before I go about the specifics I have to mention that all of the system changes were greatly resisted by some who were prophesying about how that single change will "KILL AOC". To give FC credit where credit is due they stickied to their guns with the base concept, but they listened when it came to fine tuning the stuff. The result of system changes is awesome and in all cases I wouldn't want a roll back to the previous versions of the game.

  •  Respawn mechanics - Honestly, I don't even remember how the old system worked, so it gotta be great, right?
  • Multifeat specifications- can imagine playing AOC now without it. Another rock solid addition.
  • Facebook integration- at first I have rolled my eyes at this: facebook integration? For real? But I don't even have a facebook...Well, seems like now my character does have his FB page. There is a small community gathered around FB and AOC and I have to admit that I am using it on a daily basis. An addition that AOC could do without, but in the end it turned out to be an improvement (at least for me)
  • Sprint Mechanic changes - best change of 2012 and probably most resisted one by the player base. I find it to be a smashing success. 
  • Mount changes - Hyboria, sadly, is still full of Kitten-Raiders aka max level players riding the tiger mount since it's simply the best choice. Funcom attempted to combat this by normalizing across the board all mount speeds so Hybrkanian Horse and Wolf is now equal to tiger. So what? Tiger can stealth and that makes this mount the ultimate, most pimped out ride in Hyboria. I like the mount changes but those failed to make any real impact. Hopefully new Secrets of the Dragonspine addon will bring in some freshness to otherwise kitty-ridden world.
  • Khitai changes - I did full report on in here. I like the changes, but it didn't really affected my game play since I was pretty much done with Khitai at that point.
Class changes
  • Priest of Mitra
  • Tempest of Set
  • Bear Shaman  
I have no say whether those changes were good or not because I don't know these classes and I didn't bothered to ask anyone. It didn't break the pvp for me so I am content. It is good that Funcom is doing something in terms of class development and that it is not another assassin/ranger full blown "tear it down and start again" kind of revamp.
  • Conqueror - oooops, Funcom managed to screw something up and that is making third soldier class joining the venerable club of "rogues in a plate armor". Guardian has always been a powerhouse with stupidly long polearm reach, then in post ROGS reality the Dark Templar joined it with his great damage and shield supported mitigation. It was only natural that the time has also come for Conq to join in with his instant AOE knock back, blue shield, overcome the odds and really hard hitting DPS. I will never understand the design thought process behind creating a class that is wearing best armor in game, have a bubble and still is doing damage that is enough to cut short the live of most cloth users. Rogues in armor I say! Bah!
To sum it up....
That is what we got in 2012. Good or bad? If you are a raider and on top of that you got several alts then this year was great! Changes to your classes, substantial content and furthermore less grind in Khitai and easier gear for alts (more rares from solo dungeons and epic legs added to vendors). So why this review is the "I need a hug" edition? It was HORRIBLE, HORRID and ATROCIOUS year for me: fully geared non-raider with just one character that didn't get revamped. Need to say more? I haven't been this bored since patch 1.5 when I have hit the brick wall with getting to pvp lvl5 (back then it was HARD) and had nothing else to do than re-running villas for absolutely no reason at all. In patch 3.0 era I am capped at pvp lvl 10 with both pvp T2 and T3 sets, Brittle Blade epic set, almost fully unlocked AA tree and 600 rares that I have nothing to spend on. Hardly ideal. I am missing means of progressing my character and I am afraid that new Secrets of the Dragonspine will not scratch that itch. I am jumping on and off with my semi-alt barb and re-doing low level stuff (like Field of the dead which was great), but I am fully aware that it's not because I am bored with assassin class - it because at this point I cannot progress any further. I will see how things will turn post SDS, but in the current shape - if the game would stay like this forever - I would be done with AOC. A lot of expectations for 2013.