Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Secret Hyboria - need for new direction in writing

If I had to point to the very thing that keeps me in in AOC I would say it is the Hyborian setting, true to REH's writing and painted with magnificent visuals and music.
However I am starting to notice a very disturbing trend: over-Lovecraftian story and gradual loss of low-fantasy setting.
Over-Lovecraftian story? The hell is that? Well its no secret that some of REH's works were influenced by his friend's creations - H.P.Lovecraft. While Conan stories DO have some supernatural elements in them (pretty much ALL of them) it is very easy to see where Conan just beats down some smelly ape in true "heroic fantasy" fashion ("Rogues in the House") and when the weird and unexplained takes over and Conan is just witnessing it ("Scarlet Citadel", "Elephant Tower"). AOC took that "weird and unexplained" route and jumped on Lovecraftinan wagon (confirmed in this interview). That is fine and I love me some Lovecraft, BUT here is my beef: Conan stories had super natural elements but those were NOT solely based on said super natural element. It was about large military conflict, epic quest or titanic struggle against overwhelming odds.

I simply love Tortage, Conall Valley, Wild Lands, Noble and Common district because those zones tell gritty stories about grim reality of every day life in Hyboria. I adore the storytelling behind pushing back Vanir raiders, beating off Nemedian invasion or simply cutting down on dreaded Picts population.

I find that to be the very essence of Hyboria and it is all old world stuff in AOC.

Khitai? I think it had very nice balance of main story line (crater and the entity) and the struggles of the factions. 

House of Crom was simply done right. It was a proper place for such Lovecraftian story telling (and the 6-man dungeon's final boss "the Prince" is the very essence of Lovecraft) and it was served with a moderation.

The Savage Coast of Ardashir: apart from BIG mistake of making the zone itself lvl50 this was a nice comeback to the classic, pulpy Conan with pirates and kozaki and Turan's military trying to make sense of it all.

Secrets of the Dragon Spine? It just feels and plays like The Secret World. Literally you can't take a dump without uncovering some ancient and terrible secret. Secret this and secret that and Indiana Jones style archaeological dig site and oh-not-so-well-done lizard people (no idea why FC chosen NOT to follow DarkHorse conics's design on this, it was perfect!). It all creates a package that I wish to quickly forget about it. SDS flopped, BIG TIME and probably the only good thing that came out of it is music.
Overly Lovecraftian writing was coupled with lack of content (the SDS zone itself is a joke, 3h joke in fact) and needlessly long dungeons.

SDS updates stretched out for a whole year like a bad car trip on a long Sunday and I feel like a kid sitting in the backseat moaning: ARE WE THERE YET?

So are we? I bloody hope so as I can hardly stomach any more Dragons Spine updates. Of course I can hardly blame Joel Bylos for this as he had to finish up what was started.

I want to see fresh take on Hyboria and I want to see kingdoms of the west. I want to see Aquilonia and Nemedia going at it again, I want see test the chivalry of Zingara, I want to stalk the streets of Shadizar in Zamora and rain fire on the damn Picts arm to arm with the legendary Bossonian archers.

I want AOC to be again about "sharp sword and straight patch to the enemy", that and "tits and ass" (as envisioned by Gatue Godager). No more lizards, no more sand getting into my pants, and no more sweaty workers uncovering secrets. Leave secrets alone, damn it!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

[Guide] Assassin and raids

For a nice change of pace today I want to share few hints about raiding with your assassin. My raiding experience so far is not all that great (Mitra knows I am no PVEr), but I have completed T3 and T4 and so far raiding  T4 on regular basis.

Lets clear up one thing right off the bat: I am not a number cruncher. What I will post here is by no means "the best possible specc" nor the rotation that I will show you is bound to grant you nothing but optimal results.

I am, however, providing solid build and a well timed rotation. Feel free to judge for yourself.

I am not a DPS freak when it comes to raiding so I am not obsessing about reaching for that top spot on DPS charts. Using the build and the rotation I am providing here I can go for several raids without single death and I feel like I am contributing to the team in a meaningful way by not only doing "pew-pew", but also by bringing to the raiding table helpful buffs.

Before we go on any further I want to say that this guide is heavily geared through T4 raid (with the exception of "door duty" during General fight). Other raids like T3 might need a little different approach or even different builds (more damage based).

My raiding philosophy is "better safe than sorry" so there might be a slight overkill on anti-aggro stuff (still distraction group buff is too good to pass up) but it goes a long way if you are just starting out on T4 with nothing but aggro magnet Brittle Blade full epic armor set.

My raiding build - http://goo.gl/EjjGJh 
My DPS raiding build - http://goo.gl/KW8EWY
My balanced raiding build - http://goo.gl/bBic09

Few words of explanation:

Lotus tree
Common mistake in different speccs is going for Dull Pain and Lotus Tainted Blood + Lotus overload. That is a lot of points that are usually completely wasted as it is tank who needs to worry about protection in certain fights. Sure, from time to time there will be fights where AOE magical damage is present and in those situations those feats are justified, but going DP+LO as a default specc is uncalled for.

Corruption tree
Necrotic Empowerment and From the Darkness are matter of personal preference. I use Necrotic as a primary source of shards because Crystallized Lotus Extract is kept as a back up if I need to pop in Crimson Lotus Pollen very fast. Also if you are really using your miasmas the way you should you will burn A LOT of shards. If you don't have 3 shards instantly available you are really wasting Crimson Lotus Pollen as instant aggro dropper. Besides I like Necrotic as my main source of shards as it regens them slowly and feeds me them constantly thought out the fight.

Aggro management:
Assassin is one of the best single target damage dealers in the game so it makes him a natural DPS class in raid scenario. With great damage comes ... great responsibility since it also means that it is quite easy to pull aggro from tank. Assassin class is very unforgiving so getting Boss on you will, more often than not, result in you dieing a horrible, horrible death. Luckily Assassin is more than competent when it comes to managing his aggro. Those abilities can be divided into three categories: passive -hate, active -hate, aggro list droppers, and aggro reducers.

Here is what we get:

Passive -hate: those are the permanent -hate buffs that you get from certain perks and feats. High base
-hate is needed for Assassin to be dealing sustained and high damage. Without solid -hate even the best aggro management tools won't be enough as you will be constantly re-building hate and  pulling aggro.
Sources: items with hate decrease rating, Spirit of Nightfall passive, Soothing venom (AA), Subtlety, Distraction

Active -hate: those are buffs that you get for a short period of time from Cover of the Dusk

Aggro list droppers: Bosses have a hate list and whoever is on top of that list will be attacked by the Boss. Aggro list droppers will move you down on that list so you won't be target.
Sources: Spirit of Nightfall, Wiles

Aggro reducers: those simply reduce the amount of aggro you have already generated
Sources: Crimson Lotus Pollen, Trickery.

While each of those feats and perks can work alone it is best to combine them together into combos for most benefit.

Cover of the Dusk - you can use this solo as it works wonders. This is a great way to open the fight as you will be generating very little hate and soldier will at the same time get a lot of aggro so he can tank better.
COD is also a nice thing to pop before you unload your heaviest attack (for example Kidney Shots + Liberation + Steeped Lotus Extract + Soul Destruction).

Spirit of Nightfal + Crimson Lotus Pollen - SON gets you instantly lower of the hate list and CLP lowers you aggro so you don't pull it again. Using just Spirit of Nightfall might not be enough because if you continue to do DPS there is a high chance of you poping up again as #1 on hate list. At the same time CLP, while it lowers your aggro, might not register with the Boss fast enough before he kills you.

Wiles + Trickery - exactly same principal as above which is combining aggro dropper with aggro reducer. I am using this combination often preemptively as it doesn't have any shard cost.

In regular Boss encounter I will open with Cover of the Dusk and then proceed to DPS the target. When I am feeling like I have done a good amount of DPS (especially if I have crited a lot) then I will drop Wiles + Trickery to lower my aggro and continue to DPS. At the same time I will have my fingers close to Crystallized Lotus Extract + Spirit of Nightfall + Crimson Lotus Pollen (on my keyboard alt + a + s +d). Lotus Extract provides me with 3 instant shards so I can be 100% sure that my Lotus Pollen will go off (it needs 3 shards to work) and drop a lot of aggro. Spirit of the Nightfall, which is free of shard cost, will make sure that the Boss will instantly changes the target. 

So this way I am usually rotating Cover of the Dusk and Wiles + Trickery and keeping my CLE+SON+CLP as a back up for emergency.

If you are not required by your Raid Team to have Distraction feat  then you will be more than fine with just Cover and CLE+SON+CLP. If you are required to have Distraction (like I am) then you can easily invest those 2 points into Wiles + Trickery as it is a worthy addition. Hell, will having such amazing tools you can also get less -hate items and go a little more DPS heavy in terms of armor pieces composition.

What about the rotation?
With rotation best thing is to show one. I am using lotus dart and soul strike for the poisons rotation and I am dropping naked Face Stabs during Swift Strikes animation. The whole rotation is timed on Grim Corruption cool down so when I am down with whole sequence the next GC is ready and I can start the rotation again. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lore Whore: blood, guts and poetry

Without a shadow of a doubt all REH works have left a profound impression on me. I am sure of it that I found something that I will cherish for the years to come. However the thing that touched my very soul was a poem by Rober E. Howard titled: The Cimmeria

I remember
The dark woods, masking slopes of sombre hills;
The grey clouds' leaden everlasting arch;
The dusky streams that flowed without a sound,
And the lone winds that whispered down the passes.

Vista on vista marching, hills on hills,
Slope beyond slope, each dark with sullen trees,
Our gaunt land lay. So when a man climbed up
A rugged peak and gazed, his shaded eye
Saw but the endless vista - hill on hill,
Slope beyond slope, each hooded like its brothers.

It was a gloomy land that seemed to hold
All winds and clouds and dreams that shun the sun,
With bare boughs rattling in the lonesome winds,
And the dark woodlands brooding over all,
Not even lightened by the rare dim sun
Which made squat shadows out of men; they called it
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and deep Night.

It was so long ago and far away
I have forgot the very name men called me.
The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,
And hunts and wars are shadows. I recall
Only the stillness of that sombre land;
The clouds that piled forever on the hills,
The dimness of the everlasting woods.
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.

Oh, soul of mine, born out of shadowed hills,
To clouds and winds and ghosts that shun the sun,
How many deaths shall serve to break at last
This heritage which wraps me in the grey
Apparel of ghosts? I search my heart and find
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.
Every time I am reading this poem I get different visions about Hyborian age, Cimmeria and the barbaric king himself. 

First of all it is pretty obvious that Conan himself is the narrator as he speaks in first person  (I remember, I have forgot). There is no direct reference to Conan himself, but the narrator recalls the Cimmeria so he clearly is NOT living there anymore. Since Cimmerians were not really the adventurous, traveling folks (unlike Conan) most likely there wouldn't be any other Cimmerian than Conan to tell us about this land.

Cimmeria is apparently not a word made up by REH, but a clever historical reference (this is evident in my REH's works as he was very fond of history). Cimmerius or CimmeriÄ« refer to Cimmerians "A fabulous people supposed to have dwelt in caves, between Baiae and Cumae" and "perpetual darkness prevailed among them". Cimmerians are also "any of a mythical people described by Homer as dwelling in a remote realm of mist and gloom". Lastly Cimmeria (and even Stygia!) were mentioned by British poet John Milton:

HENCE loathed Melancholy
    Of Cerberus and blackest midnight born,
In Stygian Cave forlorn
    'Mongst horrid shapes, and shreiks, and sights unholy.
Find out som uncouth cell,
    Where brooding darknes spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-Raven sings;
    There, under Ebon shades, and low-brow'd Rocks,
As ragged as thy Locks,
    In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell.
- L'Allegro, John Milton (1608-1674) 
So REH's Cimmeria is also "a gloomy land" but with  mountainous landscape. 
With all the references to the grey clouds,  lone winds, winds and clouds and everlasting woods is suggests that Cimmeria, in terms of altitudinal zonation, was on montane level.
It is pretty obvious how such landscape might look like: cold, cloudy, foggy. What's more important is how such harsh living conditions affected the Cimmerian people. Conan hints at this in "Queen of the Black Coast":

"There is no hope here or hereafter in the cult of my people,"
answered Conan. "In this world men struggle and suffer vainly, finding
pleasure only in the bright madness of battle; dying, their souls
enter a gray misty realm of clouds and icy winds, to wander
cheerlessly throughout eternity." - Queen Of The Black Coast, REH.
Conan description of the afterlife is very grim so I suspect that Cimmerian beliefs were a direct result of their environment (living conditions) as REH mentions that the land "made squat shadows out of men"
This feeling of hopelessness was intensified how vast the Cimmeria was "when a man climbed up
A rugged peak and gazed, his shaded eye Saw but the endless vista - hill on hill" so to it's inhabitants this cloudy land was all they knew. It makes sense that they imagined the afterlife to be "pretty much more of same shit".
However what makes me ponder the most are the last paragraphs of the poem where the narrator says: "It was so long ago and far away". Perhaps Conan recalls his homeland as an old ruler of Aquilonia since he also mentions "The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,And hunts and wars are shadows". I would imagine that to the king of the mightiest, most civilized kingdom of the west his first 19 or so years spent in Cimmeria might have been like a dream, or foggy memory. 
I find it strange for Conan to mention "I have forgot the very name men called me". It might be because Conan had different name in Cimmeria, or perhaps because in Aquilonia no one would address him in other way than "king". This might as well be a poetic device.

Lastly is the "This heritage which wraps me in the grey". While it might not come across in the stories very well Conan was "a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth" (The Nemedian Chronicles , REH). It is very easy to find references in the books of Conan making merry (such is the stereotype of Barbadian - he drinks deep) the melancholies are more subtle, yet present:

Conan shook his lion head. “No, Prospero, he’s beyond my reach. A great poet is greater
than any king. His songs are mightier than my scepter; for he has near ripped the heart
from my breast when he chose to sing for me. I shall die and be forgotten, but Rinaldo’s
songs will live for ever - Poenix on the Sword, REH
“He was a man,” said Conan. “I drink to his shade, and to the shade of the dog, who knew no fear.” He quaffed part of the wine, then emptied the rest upon the floor, with a curious heathen gesture, and smashed the goblet. “The heads of ten Picts shall pay for his, and seven heads for the dog, who was a better warrior than many a man.”
And the forester, staring into the moody, smoldering blue eyes, knew the barbaric oath
would be kept. - Beyond the Black River, REH
Again dawn tinged the ocean. A redder glow lit the river-mouth. Conan of Cimmeria
leaned on his great sword upon the white beach, watching the Tigress swinging out on
her last voyage. There was no light in his eyes that contemplated the glassy swells. Out of
the rolling blue wastes all glory and wonder had gone. A fierce revulsion shook him as he
gazed at the green surges that deepened into purple hazes of mystery. (...)
So passed the Queen of the Black Coast, and leaning on his red-stained sword, Conan
stood silently until the red glow had faded far out in the blue hazes and dawn splashed its
rose and gold over the ocean. - Queen of the Black Coast, REH.
 In this post I wanted to share with you my interpretation of this poem and I would gladly hear what are your ideas about the symbolism and referenced that REH put into his piece.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

AOC PvP - changes are coming part II

I should have waited before posting part 1 so Nusquam could replied to my request for posting the pvp news/plans/raw draft. Instead I went for half-baked post, but forgive me, I was just being excited.

Anyway here are the exact pvp thingies I have asked the devs :

PvP T4 gear
It is planned as next tier that is necessary in order to close gap between PvP T3 and T4. This might also be the last pvp gear update as in the future FC feels strong about making PVE gear not matter so much in PvP.

Worst case scenario I think I can probably get the PvP rank 4 gear out by myself and that should at least address some of the issues T4 raid gear has introduced even if can't help as much as I would like it to with social aspects. (P.S if and when T5 raid gear is introduced I want to make it major priority that this does not effect PvP in such a major way). - CirithGorgor
I personally have nothing against next PvP tier as it won't change anything in the current "balance" of things. The fact remains that a large portion of PvP population is already swinging vastly superior PVE weapons (be it crafted T3 or T4 entity/cloud) and T4 PVE gear is widespread. If anything PvP T4 gear will actually give PVPers a chance to catch up in the "arms race" without resorting to raiding T4/farming cloud.
What about those that have recently joined PVP? Wouldn't new pvp armor only widen the gap between them and veterans? Granted, it will, but overwhelming presence of T4 gear invalidates that argument. Saying that pvp T4 armor will affect noobies is taking a blind eye to T4. Furthermore T4 gear is not for everyone: it takes large guild of dedicated, well organised raiders to aquire it. PvP gear? Well, it takes PVP to get it. I rather have people having chance at new PvP tier than a false promise of "balance".
My personal stance on this is I want new pvp tier as it would give me new pvp goal to aim for.

Tournament mode
This is best part: new T4 pvp gear will be, most likely, tied exclusively to tournament mode minigames.
While it doesn't exactly show up in the quotes the idea behind "trival changes to tournament mode" is actually changing the sign up system so you can queue up with 2,4,5 or whatever amount of friends and the minigame will go off (right now tournament mode needs exacly two teams of 6 to sign up or it won't start).

We hope to have a solution soon. In the short term it might be as simple as providing tokens for tournament mode and offering a new reward structure (perhaps the only way to acquire the next tier of PvP gear) but we will need to run through the options in depth.But of course, there are larger problems with the minigames. People ignoring the rulesets completely to farm spawn points e.t.c - Nusquam
The major sticking point is that all changes relating to tournament mode, however trivial they might seem, do require codework and being honest this is very tight at moment -  CirithGorgor
So in short tournament mode will work like old queue system: sign up alone, with 2 friends or with bloody premade. The rewards will be different and it will be the only way to get new tier of armor.
There might be some concers about "spliting" the PVP population into 2 separate minigames (randoms and tournament). I personally think it can't hurt: the current pvp population is far from growing or even being stable (people are fed up with zero pvp changes) so if anything new tournament mode can bring back some people/encourage more players to get back into PVP. With tournament mode being the only way to progress further in pvp there is a good chance that random queue will have less veterans signing up and thus things will get easier for low pvp level players to actually play this damn game. Also: ability to AGAIN play with friends? I would be happy to do just that.

So there you have it, these are the ideas that sum up as: changes to the tournament mode, new pvp tier armor that can be acquired only in tournament mode and next tier PVE gear - if it comes at all - will get nerf bat in PVP.

And last but not least: I don't get any exclusive, secret development info. I have merely politely asked the devs via forum prv msg and they have responded. Anyone can do that if they are willing to go beyond "fix pvp lol".

Sunday, December 1, 2013

AOC PvP - changes are coming!

Quite honestly I have been doing a lot less AOC as of late because I pretty much do T4/Cloud runs and few minigames here and there.The reasons for that are lack of progression and pretty absurd removal of group pvp option. It affected mine (and others) enjoyment of the game in a major way as I can pin point exactly when it was the last time I had amazing pvp experience  - before minigame changes.

Seeing how Nusquam (Joel Bylos) was very active on the forums and how CirithGorgor was making good on his promise of "more dev posts" I have decided to go for it and let both of those gentlemen know what was on my mind in terms of pvp.

Here is my prv msg via forums:


I am contacting you on behalf of AOC pvp community which I am feeling like I can be the voice of.
I am aware that pvp is not your cup of tea, but I would very much like you to take some time and at very least give us FC’s stance on this issue.

Here is the problem: PVP content in Age of Conan doesn’t allow you to play with your friends.

Open World pvp doesn’t have any goals, the progression via it is extremely slow (with dimishing returns on pvp xp) and it happens rarely even on last pvp server there is.

Shrines of Bori doesn’t really counts as pvp content since it is about mining materials and it is rarely used nowadays.

The last thing are minigames. Back few years ago previous GD removed the possibility to sign up with your group and made the teams totally random. This, more often than not, creates scenario when you actually spend time fighting AGAINST your guild mates and friends which is not fun in the long run.

There is a possibility to sign up for tournament mode minigames but it requires a lot of preparation as there is a need for two full teams to sign up at the same time. This just happens NEVER.

Randomness of minigames encourages jack ass behavior, going AFK, killing opponents and ignoring the pvp goals of a minigame (like getting flags). It is a very toxic, unfriendly environment that PVPers put up with when they are leveling up (treating it as necessary evil). Once people hit the pvp lvl 10 they lose chance at progression and without any social aspect of the minigames (aka playing with friends) they lose interest in pvp altogether.
Currently on Fury PVP there is no PVP only guild (pre-change there used to be tones of those).

Here are 3 posts that sum up this issue:

The pvp community has been begging for an answer about this: do you plan to bring back “group” to “group pvp” in any shape or form?

Please take your time to explore this issue as even simple post on this matter would mean a lot to the pvp community. 

All the best,
I have send this to both Nusquam and CirithGorgor and the latter was first to respond.

Now, I know you would very much like to read exactly what the devs have written, but alas I cannot post that since I didn't get permission to share those informations, in fact I did't get a reply about my request so I will assume that I can't share it word for word. If I will get Nusquam and CirithGorgor stance on this I will re-post complete letter. 

But of course I would be a jack ass to post pretty much "I know something that you don't" so I will give you few hints about the direction that AOC pvp might be going.

First of all for me personally the biggest issue was thinking that the dev team is ignorant of the fact that group pvp option is screwed in AOC. Quite the contrary: Nusquam picked up on the issue while reading the forum (and he really does that) and he even quoted few posts to the rest of the team to show them where the problem is at. Here is a big surprise: the AOC team is not all knowing. Some of the post ROGS changes that were made, while somewhat obvious to the veteran players, are not painfully evident to the team that is currently shared between three Funcom MMOs. Removal of group option (and "replacing" it with tournament-o-fail) was puzzling to the team and they were not entirely sure why did it happen. They figured that it was for balancing reasons and here is a quote that I think I can post:

"Essentially it sounds like it was a balance call (nobody wants to force noobs to play the best PvP players), but the problem is that balance isn't always fun" - Nusquam
Indeed it isn't, assuming of course that current random vs random minis are somewhat balanced.

I have exchanged few back and forth prv msgs and the topics we have covered boil down to:

1/ there is a need for social element to be brought back to the game (teaming up for pvp)
2/ people are ignoring minigame's objectives (why that does happen, and they can be encouraged to do otherwise)
3/ lack of pvp progression after hitting pvp lvl 10
4/ gear gap between T4 and pvp T3
5/ issues with future PVE gear affecting PVP

And here is how our little chat ended:

"In short - the discussion about this has already begun. I'm reluctant to pull the systems guys away from Tradeskills to this yet - I *really* want that out of the door". - Nusquam
Of course who would say "No" to the crafting and it's been on FC plate for so long that it makes total sense for it to be FC #1 priority. But now we know that some of the biggest problems in PVP are getting a look at:

"so I have passed on some suggestions in regards to looking at PvP and hopefully we can add at least something interesting and social for the PvP base after the next major patch (which will be very soon)" - CirithGorgor.
Like I said I cannot share the exacly what the solutions will be, but I can quite honestly say I am wet with anticipation (also urine) for those. Do you trust my judgement?