Friday, May 22, 2015

Shadow of Vanaheim review

Sitting down to write this post I feel overwhelmed. Sadly not by positive experience I have had with the new adventure pack (can you legally call it that?), but the amount of bullshit just keeps stacking up and seems like I am the man with a shovel.
I am writing this post for 3 reasons: I want YOU, the reader to make an informed decision when buying adventure pack, I want Funcom to understand that his is unacceptable and above all I'm mad as hell and i'm not going to take it anymore.

Before I dive deep into content itself I want to scold the company for making a catastrophe in terms of communicating with it's player base.

Monthly development update reads:

"Age of Conan celebrates its seventh anniversary later this month, and our team wants to make it a memorable one! We are introducing brand new Membership deals and will hold an anniversary celebration with great bonuses along with all new content" 

"This year's celebratory content is going to be epic, so don't miss out on it!  This new story line will be available to characters at level 20, scaling up to level 80.  Our plan is for this new content to be a good source of XP for characters that are currently leveling.  The max level characters will also benefit from the range of gear which will complement existing gear from other areas of the game.

We've got something for everyone during the anniversary!  Happy Birthday Hyboria, here's to another year of thrilling adventures!"

As you can see NOT A WORD on how the company is going to charge both premium subscribers and F2P crowd 1575 FP for regular content pack access and 2700 FP for collectors edition.

This was supposed to be an anniversary update! Now I might not be a senior community manager (or even a big fan of cookies), but I am a big believer in a common sense and a god damned courtesy and above all I am certain those still apply in a MMO space.

So a reality check: read the following and ask yourselves "is this even slightly acceptable in the real life"?

"happy anniversary baby! Now pay me 20$ if you want me to take your out for a dinner".

Don't answer that, its rhetorical. We all know that that after that what would happen next would be something straight out of "Hell Hath No Fury Like A WOMAN SCORNED" (don't ask me how I know that reference).

So 22 pages thread  poped up and people got furious (and apparently fast too!).

This resulted in small post from Funcom representative:

"Naturally, we've been reading up on the feedback you've all provided us. Let me say that The Shadow of Vanaheim content pack was in no way intended to infuriate our player base. We want you to enjoy playing Age of Conan, to have fun!

Our intention was to release new store items that would be obtained in a more engaging way: through new content. Instead of purchasing a new item and it then be delivered to you without any real fanfare, you'd go out and experience a new adventure tied to it while still adding to your growing collection of vanity armors or mounts. I admit that the timing of the Anniversary might have reinforced assumptions, but that was not our intention. We'd like to move forward with releases such as these, providing newer, more inventive ways of customizing your experience. We felt that debuting the first of these during Age of Conan's anniversary was a way to celebrate the game's longevity.

Your frustration is not lost on us though, and we sincerely apologize for any confusion or disappointment this release has caused. Please continue to provide feedback regarding Age of Conan, we are listening and will review each concern brought to us. Just visit to share your feedback.

Thanks for your understanding, folks".

This kind of miscommunication is something that Kickstarter based small indie game developer might commit, but its not to be expected from company that boast it's MMO presence dating back to 2001. You sirs learned nothing!

And this is just history repeating itself as some of you might remember the first anniversary and the following reads just like recent post:

"The announcement of this happening might have lead many players to expect a bit more than it actually was intended to deliver. The main idea was to provide a place where players can gather to celebrate and maybe use their firework items in bigger masses and get great screenshots for the competition described in the last newsletter than it is usually possible.

So the 'festivities' in front of Conan's castle are there to give players a point where they can meet, buy food and drink and celebrate.

We apologize if some expected more and are now disappointed. "

You might have just as well copy/paste that message and just do some basic editing. Here I will do it for you:

"The announcement of this happening might have lead many players to expect a bit more than it actually was intended to deliver. The main idea was to provide adventure pack that players can buy a to celebrate.

So the 'anniversary event' is there to give players a content that they can buy and celebrate.

We apologize if some expected more and are now disappointed. "

But enough of that, that is NOT the main issue (its just a lack of professional integrity on Funcom's part), lets go over why the adventure pack is just not worth buying:

Business model
The last time Funcom wanted us to pay for a new content was Savage Coast of Turan update. I wasn't happy about paying for it, but it was a quality content and it was substantial. The content pack had new visuals and assets (armors, music, textures etc.), good story, dungeon, 2 solo dungeons, proper zone and new raid (but I can't really comment on it). And to think that I felt ripped off by THAT. I would pay for it again if it meant holding Funcom to those standards. You want to know how big is the new adventure pack? It is smaller than Dead Mans Hand. That is right: content that costs almost half the amount the Turan  (for collectors edition) is shorter than it's ONE solo dungeon and contains no new assets.

What are you charging me for then? I am a subscriber, you get my money every month.  
In all honesty the quality of the content pack (or lack of it) doesn't justify even selling the pack to the F2P player base. Its a money grab. Selling someone a product that it is worth its money is a transaction, this is just making a sale with a few vague information about the product and then  grabbing customers money and running away hoping that before he learns what a horror he bought you will be far enough and still have his money. 

Zones and assets
The new adventure pack is pretty much old zones (Conall Valley, Atzel's Approach and Fortress) mashed together with some mobs sprinkled all over it. Every were you look you will recognize the already existing assets with maybe a small tweaks (which are few). The whole experience of moving between the zones feels like "adventure on rails" because you either can't go anywhere where the devs don't want you (Conalls Valley) or the zone is so small that there's just no were else to go but to stick to the main path. Its just same old same old.

The main story is very short and it can be prolonged only by endless killing of pretty tough mobs that stand in your way of just burning through the quest. Oh you are a rogue class? Then you can stealth your way around and beat the whole thing in 30 minutes or so. The main quest is pretty much "kill this, kill that" and the side quests are the usuall "pick up axes and shields" or "pick up horse shit and throw into well" (I am not kidding). No new mechanics, no need for clever tactics or thinking in general.Re-runing the content was tedious and boring. Its nothing like Apostate in Kara Korum or Isle of Iron Statues in Ardashir: those are gems and I never got stick of them even after all those years.

For some time I have complained about the quality of writing and this is all time low. I don't think I will spoil a lot (because there is not much story in general) if I will tell you that the whole story is about the mighty Thegn Heimdall being upset because Conan killed his dad. Boom! The ol' "revenge for killing a parent" cliche! And this is the whole story: kill everyone, get to Heimdall and kill him too.  Even more disheartening are the dialogues: for a while now dialogues are written in a way that show our character is both aware that he is an invincible half-god walking the Hyboria and also a psychotic murder machine. Pretty much every dialogue ends with something like "Ok, I will fuck them up", "they are as good as dead", "I am on it to kill the people you told me to". Its cocky and disturbing. Also whoever wrote this tried to drop as many "big words" as they could into dialogue. 
An Aesir warrior that does nothing but killing says "to reciprocate" *face palm*.

I will let the screenshots do the talking. I could have provided more (like NPC stuck in the geometry), but this should give you the taste of how well the content pack is put together.

Forum poster Khaletohep has even better list of bugs.

Last and not least here are the rewards

The bear mount, highlight of this adventure pack, is very low quality. Pretty much a mob that someone slapped a saddle on and told it "you are a mount now".

There are 3 NPC that sell stuff: one is for social items (cloaks, helms etc.), one has bear mounts and one has some items (those are class specific).

The content is repeatable and on 20 h cooldown. For just finishing the main story you will get 2 tokens and finishing the HM (which is not easy) will grant you 5.

The proverbial "carrot" in this content is a very powerful ring and HM tokens which might interest players that don't have T4 accessories on their characters or still need more tokens.
I and I think a lot veterans need neither the ring nor the HM tokens (which we have nothing to spend on anyway). 

So to sum it up:

If this adventure pack came as a "free" update to the subscribers I would deem it "OK-ish". There is nothing great about it, it has a lot of flaws, but at least its there. Its like eating in a fast food joint: yeah its bad, but at least its fast and after all its still is kinda-food. 

Paying for this ON TOP of hefty subscription price? OH HELL NO.


Seems like Funcom keeps shoving Shadow of Vanaheim down everyone's throats. It's marketing, I am fine with it. What I am not fine with is that all the communications read like SOV is a HUGE DEAL, a major content update. Its not! Lets do over the and check out the message there:

"With Shadow, the team was able to unlock more areas of the Hyborian world and offer players a unique story to experience."

- no area is unlocked. This is an instanced content that exists only a private zone for the player. It is nothing else that old Cimmeria with "Vanaheim" sticked slaped over it.

"Vanaheim was a great location in Conan’s past as they were the natural enemies of the Cimmerians"

- who wrote this? Vanaheim is a country of Vanir, not people.

"therefore the players get to experience some of the older lore aspects in the game and see what the lands would look like in the far north of the world."

- they look exacly like Cimmeria because all the in game assets are related to Cimmeria

"In working with the players they received six or seven proposals and eventually decided on Vanaheim as the focus of the story."

- no one asked players about that, ever.

"The update offers players some new instances for smaller groups, between one and three players."

- I am sorry, instanceS? Plural? There is one instance and it scales with the amount of players going up to 3.

"For hardcore veteran players it offers hard mode versions as well which will bring some competitive end game gear to their table"

- 1 ring

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lore Whore: Zenobia and world's longest pregnancy

Zenobia (pic to the left is a McFarlane Toys Conan Series Two) has a very strange relation with Age of Conan, it's timeline, NPC and even developers themselves.

Zenobia is no were to be seen in game and as far as I know only 3 NPCs mention her: Pallantides, Conan and Countess Albiona.

Albiona only mentions special jewelry that Conan gave Zenobia. Conan, when asked about it, will simply say that "Zenobia is not here, man" and gets defensive about it (what are you? Jealous?)

A real gold to be mined comes from Pallantides dialogue.

"Ah, now there's a wonder. She was a Seraglio girl who caught the king's eye after helping him escape the Iron Tower. She's beautiful beyond words, almost the match of the perfect Countess Albiona. She's heavy with child right now. As my blade guards the king, it guards the queen as well".

First of all it establishes two truths about Zenobia: she is already married to the Conan and she is pregnant. This is a great indicator about when exactly Age of Conan is taking place.

The last Conan story The Hour of The Dragon ends with Conan naming his ransom for Tarascus life:

"Very well."  The king smiled as at an exceedingly pleasant memory."She shall be your ransom, and naught else. I will come to Belverusfor her as I promised. She was a slave in Nemedia, but I will make herqueen of Aquilonia!"
- REH, The Hour of The Dragon

So between The Hour of The Dragon ending and Age of Conan king Conan went to Belverus (capital of Nemedia), took Zenobia back with him to Aquilonia, made her queen and pretty much... "gave her one".

The whole dialogue gets weirder: Pallantides says that Zenobia "was a Seraglio girl".

Seraglio is  a harem. But why is it spelled with a capital letter in the middle of a sentence? Its almost like the writer thought that Seraglio was a person. REH didn't capitalize the first letter of that word and I didn't find any other sources that would do so. 

"There is a girl in your seraglio named Zenobia."
- REH, The Hour of The Dragon

The biggest blunder is Pallantides saying that Zenobia "caught the king's eye after helping him escape the Iron Tower" and that she is "almost the match of the perfect Countess Albiona". That is a straight lore fail on Funcoms part (I am not aware of similar lore mistake in the whole game).

No one helped Conan escape the Iron Tower, in fact it was Conan who broke into Iron Tower to free Countess Albiona.

"In an instant Conan had drawn the massive bolt that barred the door--too heavy for one ordinary man to have manipulated--and called hastilyto Albiona, who ran staggering to him. Catching her up unceremoniouslywith one arm, he bore her through the door and into the outerdarkness.
They had come into a narrow alley, black as pitch, walled by the sideof the Tower on one hand, and the sheer stone back of a row ofbuildings on the other. Conan, hurrying through the darkness asswiftly as he dared, felt the latter wall for doors or windows, butfound none"

- REH, The Hour of The Dragon

But Zenobia indeed helped Conan to escape when he was a prisoner in a dungeon in a Belverus.

"Who are you?" demanded the king belligerently, struggling to asitting position in spite of his chains.
"Men call me Xaltotun," was the reply, in a strong, golden voice.
"What place is this?" the Cimmerian next demanded.
"A chamber in the palace of King Tarascus, in Belverus."
- REH, The Hour of The Dragon
"It is no mockery!" The girl was trembling violently. Her braceletsand breast-plates clinked against the bars she grasped. "I swear byMitra! I stole the keys from the black jailers. They are the keepersof the pits, and each bears a key which will open only one set oflocks. I made them drunk. The one whose head you broke was carriedaway to a leech, and I could not get his key. But the others I stole.Oh, please do not loiter! Beyond these dungeons lie the pits which arethe doors to Hell."
Somewhat impressed, Conan tried the keys dubiously, expecting to meetonly failure and a burst of mocking laughter. But he was galvanized todiscover that one, indeed, loosed him of his shackles, fitting notonly the lock that held them to the ring, but the locks on his limbsas well. A few seconds later he stood upright, exulting fiercely inhis comparative freedom. A quick stride carried him to the grille, andhis fingers closed about a bar and the slender wrist that was pressedagainst it, imprisoning the owner, who lifted her face bravely to hisfierce gaze.
"Who are you, girl?" he demanded. "Why do you do this?"
"I am only Zenobia," she murmured, with a catch of breathlessness, asif in fright; "only a girl of the king's seraglio."
- REH, The Hour of The Dragon

I have always wondered if Conan's and Pallantides dialogues were parts of some old plot for future content so I asked former Game Director Joel Bylos about it:

You can check whole conversation here. Of course Joel is super knowledgeable about REH and his writings so me catching him on getting something wrong would be as rare as Funcom writers getting the lore mixed up. Which, in case of Zenobia, seems like there is an ongoing curse.  So my dear Zenobia, you have been pregnant for a like 7 years now? Either have the baby or don't, make up your mind sweetie.