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A full month has now passed since I first found myself washed up on the shores of Tortage with nothing but a trusty broken wooden oar and sheer primal instinct, and a lot has happened since then (I guess it goes without saying). This evening, as I sit in my office chair with a beer to my right and a baby monitor to the left, I’ve given myself the opportunity to stop and reflect on my first 30 days in Hyboria, not only as a subscriber to Age of Conan, but as a character fully-immersed in Funcom’s manifestation of the world Robert E. Howard penned and coined, and along the way I’ll be putting up a few pictures from my ever-growing album, depicting landscapes, important events and other shenanigans that I’ve managed to get myself involved in during this first cycle of the moon.

With my guildmates, I’ve rolled a character on “Cimmeria” server, which, for those that may not be aware, is an RP-PvP server (or PvP-RP… tom-ay-to; tom-ar-to). The guild I belong to is not a roleplaying guild per se, but we, as a guild, did decide that we were at the very least going to leave the option open to ourselves if we, at a given time, ever felt inspired to break into character and soliloquise with another thespian. What we were more attracted to on the RP-PvP server was the open world PvP, because I, for one, happen to agree with Funcom on one thing regarding RP-PvP servers: You can’t roleplay in Hyboria without PvP, i.e. you can’t expect to feel safe in Hyboria all the time, and as a PvPer that’s something that I quite enjoy about open-world PvP: the spontaneity.

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“Cimmeria” server, so far, has proven to be an exciting server to play on, and what makes being on such a server all the better is the other guilds that have also decided to make “Cimmeria” their home as well. Some guilds came in to this server with a preceding reputation and already have established why others consider them infamous. There were also guilds that came in to the server who are known better for the one or two individuals that carry their guild tag; their individual reputation(s) set a precedent for the guild as a whole (a double-edged sword, you might say). Then of course there are guilds whose sole intention it is to be ass-hats to anyone they come across in the world, and basically make life as difficult as possible for those hapless victims. Guild alliances are already forming, guilds have elected diplomats to discuss terms of agreement with other guilds, cease-fires are called, cease-fires are broken, and what was probably not intended to be a political scene by any shot, has indeed turned into one. To be perfectly honest, however, I would not personally have it any other way! It’s these sorts of things that make a game fun!

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A particular event that stands out in memory, which I might add only happened within the last 48 hours, was taking down an Assassin (I play a Polearm Guardian) from a guild on more or less every other guild’s “kill on sight” (KOS, for short) list. To his credit, he was knew precisely what he was doing, but personally I felt that he came in to the fight thinking he had it in the bag (he was four levels above me and had a very good alpha strike and overall DPS). The scrap would have lasted a good three to five minutes, surprisingly not many others were around to at least watch or jump-in, and there were no NPC guards around to wail on the player that landed the first strike. It was probably the most intense MMORPG player-versus-player fight I had been in for a long time, but as I landed the killing blow an involuntary wry smirk slowly wiped away any sense of relief I was feeling on completion of the fight. Proudly, I re-sheathed my weapon, hit F11 (screenshot key) and proverbially added another notch to my belt.

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The “RP” (roleplaying) tag is bound to attract a more than a few interesting sorts. Some background first: I like to explore; I enjoy going behind nooks and crannies that others mightn’t bother with, and it’s this sort of curiosity that has allowed me to make the interesting to the most bizarre of discoveries in the games that I’ve played. I was a level 52 in the Eiglophian Mountains, and I decided to do a bit more exploring which took me behind the Hunting Lodge near the very entrance of the zone. What stood, or should I say “layed” before me, was one male and one female character engaged in a different sort of roleplaying (roleplaying each other’s brains out, apparently). Yes, I’m insinuating something here, but thankfully I had come at the very end of it. For a moment it felt like I had just walked in on my parents doing “it”: they hadn’t noticed me there, and before making a quick dash before realising, I took a screenshot to add to my ever-growing album of screenshots. It was at this moment I had an epiphany: Yes, this is a roleplaying server, after all. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

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I have yet to experience Spellweaving first-hand, but thankfully I’ve got plenty of guildies at the moment that are playing magic-using character level 50 and above, that have also showed-off their spell-weaving abilities. Some have argued that waiting until level 50 for Spellweaving is much, much too long a wait, but to those people I say two things: you’re going to want your character to be strong enough to last the effects of Spellweaving (or have a strong ally nearby capable of supporting you through the spell weave); and it is well worth the wait! I can’t say I completely blame Funcom for keeping Spellweaving a secret until release, because it’s a lot the Colonel’s special recipe: if you knew the recipe, you wouldn’t appreciate it as much, and of course there’s the incentive of actually making your way to level 50, reaching that milestone and being able to test your mettle as you divine with dark gods, summon unnatural blessings or petition the gods of light to intervene in your task(s). I’ve offered myself as a guinea pig a few times to guildies wanting to test Spellweaving, and just let me say this: if used under the right circumstances and with ample support, the spell weaver can become a one-man wrecking crew! It makes me wonder if any NPCs have the Spellweaving ability. Could Thoth-Amon himself wield such destructive powers?

I’ve spoken a few times before about game’s environments, but now that the client is a lot more stable than the beta version and that FPS issues have been rectified for a majority of users across the board, I’ve been able to tweak my graphics settings a bit more to get more out of those Shader Model 3.0 graphics. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here, so here are a few snaps from my collection from my own computer (nVidia 7950GT 512MB):

Over the bridge to the refugee camp, Wildlands of Zelata

Over the bridge to the refugee camp, Wildlands of Zelata
The Wildlands of Zelata

The Wildlands of Zelata
Entrance to The Sanctum of Burning Souls

Entrance to The Sanctum of Burning Souls
Outside the gates of Old Tarantia, in my Sanctum of Burning Souls gear

Outside the gates of Old Tarantia, in my Sanctum of Burning Souls gear
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MMORPG players have their differing opinions on pick-up groups (PUGs, for short): some will avoid them at all costs, others will gladly welcome themselves into a PUG whether it is motivated by desperation or a necessity dictated by the type of quest you are partaking in, while others will allow themselves in to a PUG only if very specific conditions are met (e.g. is there a “tank”? Does the group consist of guildies? Does the team have a good healer?). I think the best experiences in MMORPGs are mostly attributed to the sort of people you play with. I’ve had both pleasant and forgettable experiences with PUGs in Age of Conan so far. The pleasant: joining a PUG in the Wildlands of Zelata gearing-up for a Sanctum of Burning Souls run; the team consisting of myself (Polearm Guardian) as the “tank”, a two-handed sword Barbarian, a Bear Shaman, a Priest of Mitra, a Demonologist, and finally a Dark Templar. To put it simply, it was the first time for a long time that, as a tank, I didn’t feel pressured to maintain aggro or to ensure that I was ever going to lose it. Our DPS was great, communication was clear and concise, the Priest classes buffed and healed on cue, and what capped it off is that we stuck to rolling “Greed” for loot. We ended up clearing the Sanctum in just under 30 minutes! Very pleased with the experience, I added each of my teammates to my friends list and have since then managed to team-up with at least one of those individuals at a given time for a particular quest. The forgettable: Priest class goes AFK (Away From Keyboard) at crucial times, namely in the middle of fighting an Elite Boss or as a wave of mobs is triggered during a point in a quest or dungeon; or someone, it doesn’t matter who because there’s often one in every team, that always somehow manages to pull aggro off a roaming mob or didn’t quite see those extras, and your classic team-wipe ensues. Unfortunately, not even the harsh and testing world of Hyboria is immune or can prevent the class-A dope from entering the realms, but then again it wouldn’t be an MMORPG without them.

It took a little while for the gold farmers/sellers to make their way into Age of Conan, and quite amusingly, some of the feedback left on the forums regarded the arrival of the farmers and sellers as somewhat of a christening of the game as a “true” MMORPG. Funcom is doing what they can do smoke-out these folks, but it has made the sport quite interesting in Hyboria. I don’t know what it’s like on other RP-PvP or PvP servers, while there is no record being kept, I’m quite sure every observant player about their business has an eye out for these individuals and is set on making their farming a difficult task. Can Funcom get rid of the farmers? It’s a big task, but I’m of the opinion that a farmer makes a good target. I feel sorry for those on PvE servers whose only defence against gold farmers/sellers is by use of the petition system. That’s what I love about open PvP: no one is safe from your blade, bow or magic, not even those that come in numbers in order to profit from something that quite simply has no value in the outside world.

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Digressing just slightly: we all know that the launch of Age of Conan has had its bumps and a number of players have been left more than just a bit jaded, but we do know that Funcom has done a remarkable job in pumping out those fixes in order to make the game what it should be. In that respect, Funcom are actually pulling it off and are actually sticking to their word (*Gasp!* a game developer that actually makes good on their promises? What has the world come to?!?). Personally, I’ve not been left disappointed by what I have experienced in the game so far. I’m on a server with a rich diversity of players and individual goals, approach to competitive play and PvP. No matter what time of the day I play, there’s always a massive amount of other players on at the same time, so the social aspect that MMORPGs – especially where Age of Conan is concerned – has to offer can please even the most attention-demanding player, and from what we know is on the horizon or coming very soon to the game, things are only going to get better and better. Personally, I’m looking forward to the Fugitive system; nothing would please me more than to defeat a labelled fugitive and loot him of one of his items and a bit of his gold.

What have the first 30 days in Hyboria taught me? Be on your guard; adventure with experienced players; revenge is a dish best served cold; Hyboria is a large and wonderful world, so soak it in; and finally, don’t be afraid to peek around every corner or turn every stone, because you’re bound to find something beautiful, amazing or so surprising that some sort of sick fascination within you cannot force your gaze away from it. I wonder what the next 30 days are going to teach me.

Until next time, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,

Out.

Want to contact me? Then email me here.
© Stephen Spiteri, June 2008

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