Age of Conan has already received some praise from the first reviews, but if you drill down to what the critics so far have actually said, all you find is descriptions about Tortage and comments how the game looks pretty and innovates with bloody fast-paced combat and ever-important boobs. What about the actual game - beyond the noob lands? Unfortunately it seems that five years wasn't enough for Funcom, and what you find on the store shelves today is not even half a game. Sure, it's beautiful, but the actual gameplay is hampered by serious problems, and the part that drives people to subscribe MMOs for years, the "endgame", is once again to be patched in later.
MMO gamers are a strange bunch - some people seem to accept just about anything from a MMO launch these days, as long as the developer promises that there will be fixes and patches later on. Fanboys may keep defending a flawed game long after it's obvious that the pre-launch PR materials they devoured and worshipped were just that - advertising to promote the game in the best possible light.
Personally I subscribe to the school of thought that judges the game purely on it's merits and expects games to be released when they are complete, with patches reserved for introducing new content, fixing unforeseen problems and correcting non-obvious balance issues. Funcom, on the other hand, has effectively released a half-completed beta version, and hopes to "fix it all after launch". The grumpy old MMO gamer in me is not pleased, and I'm disclosing this straight up; I passionately dislike games that are published incomplete, and Age of Conan is one of the worst examples in the recent memory.
As you could read from my first impressions, the early bits of Age of Conan gameplay are fairly well polished, and the only big flaw in the newbie trek to level 20 is that the Tortage area is all there is, and should you want to start a second character, you get to do it all over again with little room for variation. Most competing games provide numerous starting areas to bring variety for the early bits of the game when you are learning a new class. In Age of Conan, you better like your first or second one, as leveling up the third through Tortage is like walking on broken glass for ten hours. As every other review in the world has described the day/night system and partially single player experience that is Tortage, I won't bother repeating it. It's a good starter area - just wish there would be three or four different ones that are just as good.
After level 20, you get sent to your homeland based on your race. If you were adventuring with your friends, you will probably end up in different areas. Fortunately it's fairly easy to re-group, and you get to pick from three different adventure areas as you continue your journey. Each of the level 20+ zones has a set of quests that begin from the related city "hub" zone, and your destiny quest NPC tells you to come back when you hit level 30 - and so the real game starts.
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