Disclaimer: I have received special permission from Funcom to publish these beta journals and I publish them first with the approval of Funcom. I forward these journal entries to Funcom first to seek approval to ensure that the content I wish to publish is fair and accurate. These journal entries are not opinion pieces or reviews, but a means to discuss exclusively a reflection of the exciting content that the game will deliver to you on May 20, 2008. I have been given special permission to “break” NDA for the purpose of these journal entries, and write them with Funcom’s trust instilled in me. If you yourself are in the ‘Age of Conan’ beta, then please do not see this as an excuse for you to begin publicly discussing the game in any way, shape, or form. The NDA is still in effect, and many things are still subject to change during this crucial beta stage.
My thanks first and foremost go out to Funcom for allowing me to write and publish these journal entries in the first place. I am incredibly pleased to bring to you these journal entries, and hope you get as much joy reading them as I have writing them.
I think I’ve probably seen the cutscene that plays before you begin character creation time and time-over (in gameplay videos and so forth), so I really wasn’t fussed with that, but it did look very cool “in the flesh”, so to speak. In the very beginning, You see the Styigan slave galley that you’re on being pursued by what looks like an Aquilonian warship. The slave galley is under-fire from the warship (probably by command of King Conan himself) by means of fire arrows and boulders, and this is how you end up shipwrecked on the island of Tortage, east of the Barachan Isles and off the southern coast of Zingara. The “camera” flies through the galley to reveal the slaves, of course, painfully rowing their oars, where the camera pauses and waits for you to make your first selection: Male or Female. Not to be suckered into creating a female character just for the heck of it, I decided to create a male, and right off the bat I was able to select my race, of course, and then my class. It was an Aquilonian Ranger I had set my mind on, the one I will journey with through Hyboria!
The devs and product managers weren’t kidding when they said their character creation tool in ‘Age of Conan’ was “flexible”, I mean, it really adds a whole new meaning to the word “customisation”. The character creation tool in ‘Age of Conan’ boasts around 40 sliders ranging from the height of your character, your cheek height (the ones on your face, that is), cheek width, chin length, chin width, how big or small you want your arms (from Ghandi to Arnie, just to give you an idea), how big or small you want your thighs, all the way to which way you want your nose to be crooked. I was completely free to make my character shovel-faced ugly or sculpted-by-the-gods handsome, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. I was satisfied with the look I had given my Aquilonian Ranger, so I entered the game where I found myself washed up on the shores of Tortage, greeted by Kalanthes.
Not being completely familiar with Conan lore and all of its extremities, my initial thought was, “Who the heck is this old man talking to me like he knows me and thinks he knows what’s good for me?” Anyway, it’s not like I had a choice in the matter. I humoured the old man and took his advice to make my way to the city of Tortage to speak with some old hag called “Nadini”, the seer, because apparently it was important that I do so. Fast-forwarding a bit, I make my way into the city of Tortage, meet with Nadini and here begins my Destiny Quest. Each archetype (Mage, Priest, Rogue, and Soldier) has their own unique Destiny Quest line in the city of Tortage that takes them to different places and doing things in a way that is genuinely unique to the archetype that you have chosen. Since Rangers are part of the Rogue archetype, I was going to be following the Rogue Destiny Quest line. My Ranger had a “trainer” to speak to, someone that I would be in frequent contact with throughout my time in Tortage to help me regain my memory and the skills I need to become a “dancing machine of death”.
There is unrest in Tortage, and the city is on the verge of collapse as the locals find themselves oppressed and blockaded by an iron-fisted leader, Strom (apparently he’s a bit of a bad-ass too). You learn quite a lot about just how corrupt and unsavoury the city of Tortage has become under Strom’s rule and that there are bigger things here at work, and it seems that me, a lowly galley slave with a bit of a past, is involved somehow, apparently.
Upon entering the outskirts of Tortage and reaching level five, I was awarded with my first combo move, and by the time I had finished from Tortage I had eight combos to my name, each with their own very distinct and brutal animation. I decided to test my first combo on a lowly Pict (they inhabit the Acheronian ruins just outside the city of Tortage and among the outskirts of the city), and really, he didn’t know what hit him. I toyed with him at first using by directional attacks where the shield indicator wasn’t present, and when I saw that he was low enough on health I let fly with “Brutal Onslaught”. It was simply a matter of pressing on the combo icon and following the directional keys that lit up on my combat rose to execute the combo. To my own delight I had not only successfully pulled off the combo, but managed to execute a fatality move in doing so; I sliced the Pict’s head clean leaving only a bloody stump, his body slowly falling to the ground, and blood splattering on my screen and out of that Pict’s neck. How murderously delightful! As if the satisfaction of executing a combo wasn’t enough, I had also noticed that the fatality had granted me a temporary buff to damage and stamina regeneration. It lasted long enough to notice a difference in damage output, and there’s time enough at that level to completely recharge your stamina as a result of it. I think the trick was to make the fatality buff short and sweet enough in order to give me some sort of incentive to execute another fatality move. Sure, critical hits happened, but the fatality move was something else; it left me uttering, “Oh yeah!” in a fit of glee.
As far as the combat system is concerned, it feels “natural”, and in my honest opinion, no one should have any trouble getting used to it, but this is something I will discuss in greater detail in another journal entry.
I’ve only ever gone as far as reading about Funcom’s style of storytelling in their roleplaying games, and have only seen NPC dialogue in action in gameplay videos and what not, but I have to say that I was really quite impressed (and to be honest quite surprised) by how the NPC dialogue and interaction pulls you in to this dark, sleazy, and mysterious Hyborian age. Before experiencing it for myself, I thought, “Oh yeah, this is just going to be your standard ‘talk to NPC and get quest'” just like it is in other MMOs, but the NPC interaction and dialogue took me back to my single-player RPG days, namely, when I played ‘Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’ those Sierra adventure games that I was addicted to, namely, the ‘Gabriel Knight’ series. What Funcom had given me when interacting with NPCs was the opportunity to be in character, i.e. “roleplay”, or simply to select the dialogue option that suits me or that I feel fine with. Funcom has graced the MMO genre with their cinematic storytelling style, and something tells me that it is now here to stay. When I met up with Casilda (the “lady of the night” that you rescue on the shores of Tortage) at The Thirsty Dog Inn, she offered me that “special” reward, but just because I could, I asked her simply for a beer as if to say, “Fetch me a beer, wench!” Her reaction to such amused me quite a bit as I’m sure I’m not the only guy in the world to be met with such a reaction. Basically, she says something to the effect of, “Here I am throwing myself at you and all you can think of is beer?” What can I say? I’m in a tropical climate, and I’ve been slaying Picts and Bat-Demons all afternoon, for crying out loud, woman, it’s a hard-earned thirst! Of course I want a beer!
With the quests that I completed that weren’t about killing an amount of a particular type of mob or collecting things, I found myself go through a metamorphosis of reactions and feelings to them. There were quests that quite literally made me laugh out loud, and those that made me think, “Dude, WTF?!?” A quest in Tortage in particular that stood out to me especially was the quest entitled, “The Den of No Return”.
“The Den of No Return” was particularly gruesome in nature. Laranga, Captain of the “Red Hand” regime in Tortage, sent me to investigate a number of disappearances of “important people” (and by important I don’t mean the snobs or the rich) in the neighbouring White Sands Isle. Laranga told me he had suspicions that Strom (yep, that guy again) was getting rid of these missing people somehow. So after a bit of snooping around and talking to the local Priest of Mitra to seek his wisdom on the matter, I took myself to the White Sands Isle to check out this hut where these people were last seen entering. Upon entering, it became very obvious what happened to these “missing” people. If you can imagine the monster-plant in that movie, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, only with more mouths to feed and growing on three levels of this hut, well, I’m sure by now you get the picture. I felt myself, by the end of this mission, thinking, “This Strom needs to die!” but at the same I was a bit more on the, “Hey, even if I was an evil son of a…, I don’t think even I could think up such evil schemes to make my enemies pay; that’s so cool!”
By the end of this quest, I felt like I had learned more about this harsh world of Hyboria. While rich in its landscapes and architecture, what really lies beneath is a cruel, harsh, unforgiving world, not one for the faint of heart, to say the least. So for me the city of Tortage is the wake-up call I’m sure we’re all going to need before we enter the greater world of Hyboria. Tortage offered me only a taste of the things to come, and I had better be ready for it.
There were more than enough quests in Tortage to get me through, bred and ready for the next stage, and enough left over to keep me busy for a little while longer and maybe feeling a bit more confident about entering the greater part of Hyboria if I ever felt a bit apprehensive about doing so. My estimation is that there’s enough content (as far as quests go) to take you to at least level 21 or 22 if you decide to complete every single quest on offer in Tortage. While going through Tortage from beginning to end with the quests I completed only took me approximately eight hours’ worth of gameplay, I feel that I could have been there for at least double that had I decided to pick up a few more quests and not speed through most of the dialogue. Yes, I rushed through parts, I admit it, but only because I was so keen to see what came next.
The quests are well designed and extremely well-written, as they make you feel like you’re part of some thing grander, and you, as a player, are left with a feeling like it actually matters what happens to these characters that you interact with as a result of your own actions. I actually found myself by the end of things in Tortage wanting to go back to see how things had changed after the storm had cleared. If you’re the sort of person that skips through quest dialogue and so forth, then give yourself a slap in the face now for even considering doing so in ‘Age of Conan’. It would be a great insult to the quest designers to rush through dialogue options and what-not especially given the great amount of research completed and thought done going into writing these quests. As a player in this tapestry of drama and adventure, it felt truly as though I was single-handedly weaving the threads of this epic tale, unravelling it bit by bit.
I’m going to put a close on this journal entry, but I’m going to finish by saying that Tortage is probably the best introduction to an MMO as far as “noob zones” go, and I don’t use the word “best” loosely or tentatively; I mean it! These are my personal feelings, however, but the whole experience left me thinking, “If this is what a ‘noob zone’ has to offer, I can only imagine what the rest of the game has in store for me”.
Anyway, if you’d like to find out what I will be journaling about next time, you’re going to have to come back in again and again to AoC on WarCry see for yourself, because next fortnight we’re back to a regular edition of Mitra’s Method.
Until next fortnight, this is Stephen “weezer” Spiteri,
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© Stephen Spiteri, March 2008