The terms "hack" and "slash" will no longer be the fantasy terms of choice when talking about Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. Keep a thesaurus near; else you'll develop the vocabulary of an internet games journalist. Words like rend, tear, hack, cleave...these will become commonplace. Eidos and Funcom granted a few members of the press a first look at the combat in Conan late last week. What a unique, if exhausting, experience!
A caveat or two before I begin my rambling. This preview was of the combat only. E3 is only a week away as of this writing and Jorgen Theraldssen of Funcom indicated that at that time they'll be showing dungeons, pets and loads of content! Also, I have this camel issue. You see, my hands...they have this odd similarity to camel hooves in mittens. It makes console shooters off limits for me and the occasional complicated PC title something I uh...work on. Yeah.
My initial impressions from GDC were only further confirmed with this viewing. This is one beautiful game. Highland forests are densely covered in lush trees, tall grasses and fantastical wildlife; closer to commanding snow-covered mountains the terrain changes and you encounter pine trees (with pinecones!) open spaces and wildlife that is larger than life by magnitudes.
Colors are dense and pure. Reds are red. Purples are purple.
I noticed at the first presentation and again while playing that although the environment moves as if by wind; your character doesn't affect it. And as richly detailed as the costuming is (this is where the art really shines) some of the textures struck me as flat. Once I'd been in combat for a little more than an hour, I understood. Real-time combat at that pace? Yeah, let's just say they've done an incredible job of creating a living world and keeping reaction time accurate. By Crom!
There were three of us following one developer - a party of four. We begin at well, the beginning. Movement: some of it is familiar - WSADZC and I'm pretty sure you can duck and roll with that, but we weren't worried about defending at this point. Camera and turning is on the mouse - holding the left mouse key down will turn your character right or left, the right mouse key will turn the camera around your character. The mouse is very important in battle; you have to be able to turn and face your opponent quickly. Holding the left key and moving forward and back also changes your perspective, standard fare.
OK, now the "getting used to it" part. Melee first.
While you can "target" an opponent, it's not for anything more than determining the optimal distance for damage. "Do I need to get closer? Am I too close to land with the end of my hammer?" In the center of your screen is a radial menu with the alpha-numeric symbols Q123E. This indicates where your swing will land. Q is down and to the left. 3 swings up and high. If there is more than one enemy in range in that area, you'll injure more than one; none and you'll swing through air (grunting the entire time - I know, I did this A LOT).
Eventually, you get combos. You choose the combos that are most effect for your level/weapon (and that you like the best) and place these next to the radial dial. The symbols on the dial will light up letting you know when to hit the keys and in what order to produce a fatality move. I never actually saw one of these...I mean, blood splattered all over my monitor. Scared the bajeezus out of me the first time! But I was in the middle of a frantic battle with my three party members against 3-7 enemies. Darned if I know what I did! I just know I did it!
So...you're moving with WSAD (and could be rolling and ducking but I wasn't); you're turning with the mouse to face the next enemy, although I was frequently swinging at dead air or possibly a party member...; sometimes you target, I did just to see if it was a party member of a valid target. (The UI that tells me who's a friendly wasn't in yet); all the while hitting the Q123E keys to swing. Sometimes you click on these healing herbs (MAKE SURE you take your finger off the mouse key else you'll be wildly swinging that camera).
Oh, and be careful of the collision damage. Stepping backwards can result in death!
So, umm...yeah. It took me a bit to get used to this. If I'd needed to type to anyone? Not gonna happen. I'm going to have to hotkey a macro for the word, "HELP! I SUCK!"
Magic, I'm better with magic.
They took us to a really beautiful area near the base of the mountains for our high level characters. We were 10 levels higher than need be for the area (thankfully). Starting out in a staging area, I had the opportunity to view my spells more closely. Lots of fire and lightning, buffs to increase my proficiency, debuffs, great rotting spells and some nice group buffs. Spell effects are great. I wouldn't call them grandiose, but they're certainly intense and the colors are again, rich and deep.
Intense is a very good word for this game.
As a demonologist, I get to have pets - 8 I'm told - but not until E3. I think they're in incubation. For now, my party runs up to a group and begins the wild swinging and hacking and I pick a spell, get a target ring and when it turns green I cast. I really appreciate the design of the spells the demonologist has because they all give the feeling of coming from the caster and heading towards the target. There's no feeling of casting from down on high or from the ground. It feels as if it's a gathering of power that's being thrown towards a target. I like it. And it's less frantic.
Being ten levels higher than the area allowed for the opportunity to see if I actually could manage myself in melee. Against 4-5 enemies I pulled my dinky demonologist knife and moved the perspective into overhead where I could better see as they came out of the bushes and attacked. As long as I remained calm, kept the radial dial in my peripheral vision and steadily hacked away, I could whittle them down to two before the respawn brought them back up again. Jorgen offered to GM hack my mana back up for me so I could just blast them into oblivion but I wanted to see if this was something I could handle after having played for nearly two hours. It was.
I have to repeat this - I'm not a combat person. This game left me exhausted. I'm sure I could play a mage well, but melee was moving at such a frenzied pace I didn't have the time to enjoy it. Next week, there will be a purpose to the melee; methinks this will slow it down some. Different is good. And, this game is different. I look forward to seeing what's in store next, if for no other reason than because I simply need practice.
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.