May 23, 2014:
I hit level 80 with my main last night, and I'm very excited. My first level 80 character in any MMO, ever. :)
In getting from 63 to 80, I continue to feel like it wasn't much of a grind at all, even though in two zones I ran out of solo quests to do and was forced to move on before I felt ready to leave. Levels 75 to 80 were a bit harder. First I went to Keshatta, and died a lot. Then I went to the Tarantia Common District, and died a lot more. Keep in mind that since I don't group very often, and thus basically never go into dungeons, I have played the entire course of the game with nothing more than the usual green and some blue (rare) drops, which is to say, some of what my main was wearing was pretty bad. :) This was never really a problem until I got to these two zones, and the Common District in particular, which has a lot of powerful mobs. It's probably the one zone I have found to be the most frustrating in the entire game to date. Still, I made do, and swapping between these zones, plus doing some repeatable quests here and there, was okay.
But! There has been something else to keep my attention too.
In December, Funcom added a new and permanent feature to the game: the Twelve Portents. These are "world bosses", one for each month of the year. One boss appears per month, and only for one week at a time, in a specific location. They are raid-level bosses so a great number of players are required to bring them down...but they don't require actual organized raids to do. These bosses sit out in the open (and are easily avoided if you don't care to partake) and anyone of ANY level can help fight it so long as the character can get into the zone and make it to the spawn point. I've gotten raid-level gear from these bosses, and now that I'm level 80, it means I can use it. Very spiffy stuff!
Still having loads of fun, and looking forward to getting into the endgame content now. :)
January 8, 2014:
I have been playing this game on and off for over a year and recently downloaded it through the Steam client to begin tracking the amount of time I actually put into it. :)
I really enjoy this game. I play primarily solo with three characters in various stages of levelling: one at 63 and the other two are in their 20s. I primarily like this game because of how much solo content it has. I don't feel pressured to "have" to raid or team up if I don't want to--which is something I felt other MMOs basically force players into after about level 40 or so.
Some people have commented on the Steam forums that levelling to 80 is "such a grind"--I don't agree. Each of my characters have different roles and I'm levelling them in different areas of the game, and each of them has been a reasonably unique experience. Sure, some of the quest content is a bit static--gathering or harvesting quests, for example. But in every zone I've been in I always run across quests which I find quite interesting story-wise. You can tell where someone has put a lot of thought into the more complex quests. The dedicated solo content for character progression is really neat too. Every time I get to go to a new zone I'm inevitably wowed by how it looks.
Is the game easy for a solo player? No. I die a lot. Does this mean it's stupid hard? Not at all. There's always something else to do or another way to defeat the enemy. The key is getting to know your character class and making the best of how that class works.
Other Steam users have also said the community for this game is supposedly "garbage". I can't really comment on that... Playing solo means I don't have any real exposure to it. But! Quite frequently I have been rescued/buffed/randomly traded better gear from other players who just happened to be running by when I was getting blapped or otherwise minding my own business. At times I've been politely invited to team up with players who are obviously doing the same kinds of quests as me and I've had fun with them. The one time I have asked for help in the general chat I got loads of helpful feedback. So...my experience is positive. Besides, I don't play the game for the community...I play for the game.
The GM support for this game is amazing. I've had to submit petitions a couple of times because I got stuck or couldn't complete a quest due to a bug. Responses and live support while logged into the game itself came back within four hours and once within 20 minutes. In another MMO I play, you're lucky if you get any kind of reply in a week or two. Tech support outside the game has been really good too. I have a recurring hang issue which the techs have been working with me on for a good month. Even when I was frustrated and a bit short with them they were always friendly and patient.
The graphics are great. There is a DX9 and a DX10 client so you can use whichever one best matches your hardware. I use the DX9 one and while sometimes I can see obvious texture borders and some jaggies despite playing on high quality settings, it's not a huge deal. The zones still blow me away: god rays, foliage that reacts to my character running through it, etc. The first time I found fish jumping up a waterfall I just stopped and watched for a while.
Depending on the importance or complexity of the quest or character offering the quest, there is voice acting. When I was new to the game I figured the voice acting was something I would only see while I was "new" and it would quickly end. Nope! Characters are still talking to my level 63 character. The quality of some of the voice acting could be better but for the most part it's quite good for a free to play game.
I do have a subscription, so all of the areas of the game are open to me. If I was doing free to play, some dungeons and a certain zone would be closed to me. I don't do dungeons that often so I don't think anyone who only wants to play for free should feel they would be missing out. There is so much other content to do, even for groups. The rewards given for having a subscription can be pretty good. I have two level 80 mounts that I'm looking forward to being able to use, and they were given to me because I have had an active sub. :)
Even though the game is free, Funcom is still actively developing it. Character classes were rebalanced in the last year and further changes are planned for things like the crafting system.
If I had to pick something I don't like about the game, it would be the crafting system. It is clunky, and if you want to build a guild city it's also quite expensive (in-game funds). My other complaint might be the tutorial system. There are tutorials in the game and they do pop up at certain times, but I think some areas of gameplay aren't covered as well as they could be, and certain things are hard to find information on at all. Getting to know your character class can be a bit of a challenge too--for example, I didn't really know which attributes were the most useful for my main's class until someone pointed out that the character stats window has tooltips for certain text areas that say which classes benefit from those stats. There's nothing about the design of the window that would have led me to believe I should hover my mouse! Having said that, the UI is pretty minimal and non-intrusive, which is definitely nice.
If you're wanting a fantasy-based MMO that isn't all about the raids, definitely download AoC and give it a try. It's free so the only thing you have to lose is the bandwidth and some hard drive space. I recommend playing until at least level 25 or 30 (which doesn't take that long) before deciding whether to stick with it, so your character can leave the starting area of Tortage, which allows an opportunity to experience the game at large.