Age of Conan, Funcom’s highly anticipated MMORPG will be hitting store shelves in two weeks’ time, and only a few days before then, thousands of players from around the world will be logging in to their pre-order accounts for the very exciting three-day head-start event. The scent of release is in the air, and with Funcom lifting their embargo late last week with the FilePlanet Open Beta going live, the WarCry Network has been given free-reign to spill the beans on all things ‘Age of Conan’. An opportunity, in the next few days, will be given to you to leave your questions regarding ‘Age of Conan’, and answers will be provided in an upcoming edition of Mitra’s Method.
Anyway, I will delay no more and allow you to read what you’re here for in the first place: the WarCry Network’s official preview of Age of Conan!
It’s quite difficult to sum-up Age of Conan, especially if you’re new to the game, but in an attempt to summarise what the Funcom-produced MMORPG is all about, the game is derived from the works of pulp-fiction writer, Robert E. Howard, and his Conan stories. The game’s setting is placed somewhere after the events of The Hour of the Dragon, where Conan is king of Aquilonia and a storm is brewing across Hyboria; a storm that threatens the nation of Aquilonia and her allies, and puts even King Conan himself in the line of fire. You, the player, play the role of an unknown; a former galley-slave that has, by fate, washed up on the shores of Tortage, an island east of the Barachan isles, and off the Zingaran coast. With your memory lost, you are urged to enter the city of Tortage to seek out your destiny. It is within the jungle-city that you begin to learn of a plot that threatens not only the city of Tortage, but Hyboria and all who inhabit it.
Possibly Age of Conan’s biggest feature and stronger draw-cards is its revolutionary “real-time” combat system. Gone are the days where players will endlessly mash at hotkeys to trigger-off automated attacks and other abilities. In Age of Conan, you are in true control of your character and its attacks and other abilities. To start off with, players have three directional attacks: up, up-left, and up-right (two more directions are unlocked at level 40: bottom-left, and bottom-right). These directional attacks are used in tangent with player combos, some which are generic to the archetype, but eventually become individual to the class you are playing. In the very early stages of the game, player combos will be very simple and not quite so intricate so as to get players used to the combat rose and fluidly firing off attack combinations. As the player character gets older, newly-learned combos will become more advanced and become more intricate. Combos have a range of effects (dependent on the class you are playing) which range from damage over time (DoT) or a “bleeding” or “burning” effect, life-taps, armour sunders, debuffs to defense, etc. If your opponent is low on health and if you activate a combo with the right timing, you may also trigger a fatality move, each with their own very gruesome and/or painful-to-watch animation. It is believed that Spellweaving (the combo system for casters, if you will) will work in a similar fashion, however the lid is on that one until release, but going by what we’re told on other gaming websites, you might want to keep a box of tissues nearby as you play your caster character(s).
Regarding character classes, there are two main feat-trees to every character class. For example, the Guardian class has the “Juggernaut” feat tree, and the “Tempest” feat tree. The Juggernaut line is the one-handed weapon plus shield tree, and the Tempest line is the polearm tree. Also available to every class is an archetype-specific feat-tree, which consists of feats and abilities that augment existing feats and abilities, or offer new ones to use. They’re called “General” abilities, but as said earlier, they’re archetype-specific, i.e. general Rogue skills, general, Soldier skills, general Priest skills, and general Mage skills. The good news about the feat-trees in Age of Conan, is that you’re not restricted to one feat-tree if you begin by putting feat points in to the root feat of a feat tree. If you like, you can invest points in the alternate feat-tree to round your character off and truly diversify your character. Even you stay within the one feat-tree, Age of Conan offers diversity within a specific build-type, with different feats and abilities on offer in the same tree. Basically, you can make your character a “specialist” of sorts, or a bit of an all-rounder. There does not appear to be any “must have” feats or abilities, but what ever you pick up, it’s going to help. Not choosing a specific feat or ability or not investing a certain amount of feat points in it certainly won’t be a hindrance to the player, because as earlier mentioned, there is plenty of opportunity for the player to invest in the other feat-trees (be it “General” or the alternate feat-tree) to augment, enhance, or simply to round-off the build looked for. As a player, you would be hard-pressed, even from specific class to specific class, to find another player with the exact same character build as you, so Funcom must be applauded for offering players the chance to experiment, tinker, and mould their character(s) the way they want. Say goodbye to the cookie-cutter!
PvP is simple enough to explain: crush your enemies, and be rewarded for it; be defeated by your enemies, and suffer greatly for it. Okay, so perhaps it’s not that dramatic, but it’s enough for even the keen PvPer to quiver at the loins over. Age of Conan offers players a PvP progression system, PvP levels one to 20. Defeating another player character will grant you PvP experience, or “PxP” as it is known in-game. Defeating a player character evenly matched with your or higher in level to you will grant you more PxP than defeating a player character lower than you. Dying in PvP will result in a PxP loss, and the loss is quite hefty, so as a PvPer in Age of Conan, you’ll want to be on your guard and giving it your all to win your fights to avoid losing all of that hard-earned PxP. To keep track of your PvP progression, a small section on the character sheet indicates to the player what PvP level they are, how much PxP they have, how many kills the player has inflicted, and how many defeats the player has suffered. Progressing through the PvP levels will offer the player PvP rewards, such as items with PvP-specific stats, PvP-only abilities, and so forth. It has been indicated, however, that a player is going to work very hard to earn these rewards, and to reach PvP level 20 is going to take a lot of butchering, so don’t expect a cake-walk, by any means!
Age of Conan has received some criticism for its world design-choice in using zoning and instancing technology, but in all honesty, a world with Age of Conan’s look, feel, sights, and sounds could not be accomplished using the standard seamless world design found in other MMORPGs. Sure, other games might look pretty, but graphically, Age of Conan blows its competitors out of the water, and we’re still waiting to see DX10! What’s that you say? “Zones are so limiting, though” If it works for City of Heroes/Villains, it can work for Age of Conan too. But throw in the grandeur that you would find in Funcom’s Hyboria, and instantly all those thoughts about zoning, loading screens, instancing, etc., will simply float away, and when you’re trudging through squelching knee-deep mud puddles, wading through waist-high shrubs, watching the trees, bushes, and grass wave in the wind, watching the rain make perfect droplets on the ground beneath you, listening to snow crunch underneath your foot-steps, and finally, paying close attention to birds flying across the skies in the distance and other forms of wildlife doing what nature commands them to, I can assure you, you will appreciate the design-choices Funcom have made with their Hyboria. Age of Conan may be the game to change your mind about zoning and instancing technology if you so vehemently despise it, or, at the very least, give you the verve you need to endure the occasional loading screen, but not that the loading screens are there for very long anyway (just make sure you can match or better Age of Conan’s system requirements).
One of Age of Conan’s main strengths lies in its quest content and design. Whether you are a lone-wolf, a team-player, or a cog in a lean, mean raiding machine, Funcom has gone to great lengths to ensure that there’s something for you to do in their Hyboria, and when you’ve done it all (or at least think you have), there’s the end-game content! High-end level raids, sieging, city-building, PvP, crafting; it’s all there on offer, and with the Age of Conan development team dividing into two teams post-release (a “live” team, and an expansion team), Hyboria is set to get bigger and bigger and unremittingly offer the player more and more.
Should you be excited about Age of Conan? You certainly should be! The surface has only been scratched in this WarCry preview, but with May 20 (May 17 for pre-order head-start eager beavers) only a dozen or so sleeps away, you’re going to experience it all for yourself quite soon anyway. If you’re still not convinced or are still unsure about the whole Age of Conan thing, then find a friend with a spare Collector’s Edition buddy-key handy, and come release, give it a go and sink yourself in Funcom’s Hyboria.
For Funcom, creating Age of Conan has been a labour of love, and that is devastatingly obvious in the fruits they have beared in this Crom-tastic game!