GDC 08: Age of Conan Preview

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At GDC, Funcom showed off a new demonstration of Age of Conan that included city building and mounted combat, as well as a fresh look at a host of features previously shown. The game launches May 20th.

“We want to tell the player they mean something, even in the beginning,” explained Game Director Gaute Godager. He demonstrated quickly the now familiar opening where the character begins as a galley slave, washed ashore in a shipwreck. With a trusty oar in hand, the first quest is to free a scantily clad woman chained to a tree. It’s all very “Conan”.

Character customization remains as detailed as ever and for the first time during the demonstration they showed off some pre-made female characters. Like the men, they’re quite exaggerated – albeit in different ways – but definitely fit in with the themes that dominate this title.

From there they teleported off into an underground dungeon called the Onyx Chamber and formed a party and gave us a peek at the refined combat experience. They have brought in more fluid UI, which for example gives visual queues in the game-world of where enemies intend to block. This means people don’t need to guess based on where the enemy holds their shield, for example. Instead there are three white half brackets that float around the character, either on their right, left or over the enemy’s head. Where they are allocated (three on one side, two and one, etc.) indicates where the enemy has his guard. The players also have the same UI and can reallocate their half brackets, which are yellow, to better defend against their enemy. Touches like these bring an element of strategy to combat that is fast, but far from thoughtless.


In addition to this, they’ve transformed the control key into a block. When a player presses it, they enter full defensive mode and are unable to attack, but fend off a greater percentage of damage. This is a good lifeline in a sticky situation and when used effectively seems like it could be the difference between life and death. Once again, they did this out of a desire to bring a lot of options to their fast paced combat.

Mounted combat is the big bauble of GDC for Age of Conan. The game offers three mounts: horses, rhinos and elephants. Two of them – rhinos and mammoths – are available through pre-order deals, though. If someone pre-orders from BestBuy they will have a fancy new rhino waiting for them. GameStop pre-orders unlock the mammoth, while horses are purchased in the world. At this time, there is no plan to make the elephant or rhino mounts available through the game itself. Regardless of pre-order status though, players cannot ride mounts until they’ve hit the 40th level.


Each of the three mounts came with its own personality and strategy. They compared them in some ways to different cars in Grand Theft Auto. The mammoth is slow to accelerate, hard to manoeuvre, but extremely powerful. As the avatar is so high up, the different weapon swings are replaced by the mammoth himself who swings his trunk and tusks at the enemies below in measured, but extremely powerful blows. He serves as the tank, who can bust up a large camp relatively quickly.

The rhino is a hybrid. He’s a bit faster, but still quite strong. Once again, the animal delivers the blows the player commands. The big mounts can also be used in city siege to knock down walls.

With the horse, the avatar himself slashes down from the saddle and in this case, momentum is the key. Players do best when they run around and through crowds, charging down defenders one or two at a time. He is light, agile and manoeuvrable and provides an excellently fast method of zipping around the world. The horse is likely the most practical of the three mount options. A nice touch is that if the player find themselves stuck in a crowd, the horse can deliver a swift hind kick to throw enemies off.

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The final stage of our adventure was a look at the city building areas. In Conan, there are maps where guilds can capture and build levels of encampments. In some ways, it is like an RTS. First, the guild must capture and harvest from resource nodes. Once they have enough, they can claim a plot of land to build up a keep of their own. These structures are massive and will take weeks of cooperation to build, although like an RTS, once the stuff is ready, it won’t take too long for the new structure to appear.

Of course, it wouldn’t be combat without the threat of a raid. Nearby factions will try and tear down these structures. The full mechanics of this was explained in our last preview (story), but this is the first time we got to see the full scope of what waits.

The keep we saw was truly massive, complete with workshops necessary for some high-level crafting, internal common areas and layers upon layers of walls. Potential attackers could need to break through as many as three battlements and find themselves stuck in kill zones if they do not plan their attack well.

The setup is poised for a massive tactical game, where defenders can use the architecture to their advantage. For example, archers on walls have a limit on distance as per usual, but that doesn’t count height, while those shooting up do. That means defenders can fire a bit further than attackers. However, attackers who can find some high ground can neutralize this. For example, if an incoming force captures a tower, they might well be able to turn that advantage against the defenders below.

Prior to launch, Funcom still has to show off spell-weaving and a couple other major features. Nonetheless, over the last few months, the game seems to have tightened up into something that continues to impress, but now also looks a lot like a practical MMO. Until we get into the Beta, it will be hard to say how all the parts come together, but they are well on their way to a solid product.

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