Work got a bit berserk lately. For several reasons I've barely been in town this month. In MMO space, the main thing I've been up to is prepping for the FtP transition in Age of Conan.
Funcom reactivated my account until the end of May (tomorrow) recently, which was enough to get me to try the game out again. Not much has changed that I can tell on my low level guys (my max is a 25 HoX), but it remains a solid MMO. The graphics are still quite good, years after it launched. However, I still maintain that launching with required hardware specs very few of their potential customers had at the time was a mistake. Sente estimates that AoC has in the neighborhood of 60K subs, which is pretty believable. However, I can't help but wonder how they'd be doing if the game had a better launch, including more mainstream hardware specs (i.e., specs that were mainstream 3 years ago, the specs are perfectly reasonable now).
AoC possibly still has the best character models among MMOs I've played. The Tortage quest chains are also still a lot of fun. I especially like how the quest chains of various classes interlock. For example, an operation a rogue will only hear about a soldier will actually do if you start a new alt. However, on the whole, I was left feeling..."Hey this is fun and all, but I can't really see subbing. If it went FtP I'd throw some money at it, but I doubt I'd play it enough to justify a sub fee." One or two evenings after I had that mental conversation, as if reading my mind, Funcom announce FtP.
The grid they announced did not really encourage me. At first glance it looked like they were repeating the same mistakes as launch EQ2X. Most classes walled off, no AAs, and no way to buy your way out of those restrictions. I'll sink $40-100 into a FtP MMO I like to make it a fully functional option for my spare time...easy. I spent $200 for a lifer sub in LoTRO, and paid for boxes on top of that. I'd guess I've spent around $100 on DDO, and I don't regret it. I've spent on Wizard 101 and EQ2X and also feel like they were good investments, because I can go back any time I like...no additional payment needed. The hundreds I've spent on WoW over the years, on the other hand, is utterly and completely pointless any time I don't have an active sub.
Like launch EQ2x, the AoC model looked like an extended trial more than a viable FtP option. It was still basically "sub or don't bother to play." However, the one thing that irked me the most was class restrictions. Four classes out of 12 is hardly a decent sample of the full game, imo. To my surprise, I soon dicovered there is an odd way to get around it once, I started doing research. Until tomorrow at midnight, and for one month if you ever decide to sub, you can make toons of any class you like. Forever after, you still have access to them as a FtP player as long as you have enough open character slots to unlock them. So, for example, if your first two characters are restricted classes you still get to play both those characters once AoC goes FtP (everyone gets two slots for free).
Because of this, what I've been doing for the past few days is rolling a string of alts in AoC, trying to decide what classes I want easy access to once FtP goes live. If I have interpreted the official post at their forum correctly, once FtP is up I'll only have to pay for two extra character slots and the four toons I've rolled of restricted classes will be available to me...as long as I don't care about the endgame.
My guys will still have no access to AAs, and I'll have no way to unlock AAs without subbing. However, you really don't need AAs to see the bulk of the PVE game. They were only added in the latest expansion. AAs is mainly an endgame system (or so I understand). Long term, Funcom will have the choice of getting a few bucks out of me to unlock one or two character slots, or more dollars out of me to unlock AAs and/ or the entire Rise of the Godslayer Expansion as well if I really like the game. I expect, like a lot of the utterly asshatish restrictions that SOE put on EQ2x accounts at first, Funcom will realize quickly that the real money is not in subs and move quickly to let FtP accounts buy their way out of most restrictions.