Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures - First Impressions

Arep | 10 May 2008 | Comments off

In 1932 a writer named Robert E. Howard created Conan the Barbarian and started a phenomenon that is still popular today. Over the years the story of Conan has been told and expanded in magazines, comic books, movies, and most recently, an epic MMO. In a matter of days Funcom will open the doors on a world of swords, sorcery and bloody, bloody carnage. Can Conan crush the skulls of the competition?

You awake in chains and with a strange mark on your chest and no knowledge of your past, or as I like to call it “contrived RPG character origin #5”The game begins with you shipwrecked on a beach near the city of Tortage. You awake in chains and with a strange mark on your chest and no knowledge of your past, or as I like to call it “contrived RPG character origin #5”. The world is set in the Hyborian Age, which is basically our world between the point when Atlantis sank into the ocean and everything else in recorded history. Conan has claimed the throne of Aquilonia, one of the three main kingdoms in the game. He has settled down to live happily ever after…WRONG! His kingdom is beset on all sides by enemies and the noose is tightening. Funcom has based the game not only on Howard’s stories but also on 70 years of Conan lore created by other authors.

But enough about the story! What does it matter? Go out there and bash some heads! Before your ship sinks you choose your culture, class and appearance. The three cultures are Aquilonian, Cimmerian, and Stygian. Sorry, no dwarves or elves to be found here! The choice of culture determines your appearance choices and, more importantly, your selection of classes. There are 4 archetypal classes to choose from: soldier, priest, rogue, and mage. Each archetype has three classes with a surprising amount of variety. For example, the rogue archetype has the Assassin, Ranger and Barbarian classes. Each one uses stealth to some degree but while the Assassin depends on it, the other two have other strengths.

If you strike an opponent on an unguarded side you’ll do massive damage and sometimes see a very gory fatality animationCombat plays out a little differently than other MMOs. You start out with three basic attacks and later gain other abilities that make use of them to create combos. For example, you’ll fire off one of your abilities and then an icon will show one of your basic attacks. If you immediately select the correct attack the combo will be successful. The other element of combat is the shield system. Selecting an enemy you will see icons representing your opponent’s guard. It helps to think of it in Star Trek terms with starship shields being shunted to provide more coverage on one side at the expense of another. If you strike an opponent on an unguarded side you’ll do massive damage and sometimes see a very gory fatality animation if they are low on health. You have your own shields you can maneuver around using key combinations. Quite frankly, I have not messed with my own configuration at all. It seems a little unwieldy at the moment.

On top of the abilities you’ll earn about every other level or so, you’ll also earn skill points for dispatching enemies. These skill points can be assigned to a number of skills such as climbing, bandaging, stealth, mana regeneration, etc. The skills available to you vary depending on your class and your level. At the moment, you are not notified when a new skill becomes available so it pays to check the corresponding tab in the UI every level. There is a limit to how many skill points can be applied to a skill each level. From what I’ve seen so far, some classes will have an abundance of skill points sitting unused while others will be scraping for every one they can earn. Characters also start earning feat points at level 10. Feats work like they do in other MMOs. There is a tree of available feats and by putting points in one you make it more powerful and unlock others farther along in the tree.

As the open beta has a level cap of 13 (out of 80!!), I decided to start taking classes through the beginning of the game and see how each one played. The first one I decided to play was the Ranger. I had heard it was overpowered at the time and figured it would be a good class to play while learning the game. The Ranger is part of the rogue archetype so he’s got stealth and ranged combat. I didn’t see a whole lot of ranged combat for a while. I had missed the mob that dropped a starter bow (note to self, KILL EVERYTHING!) so I was stuck with hand-to-hand combat for a while. I didn’t understand the skill point system so it took a while for me to assign points to stealth to actually make it successful. Once I did get my bow and some ranged skills, the interface was a bit unwieldy for me. I had to swap weapons to use my ranged skills then remember which skills they were. Then I had to swap back when the enemies got within melee range. Well, at least in my mind I thought that shooting someone in the face with a bow at point blank range wouldn’t work…I might have been able to keep the bow equipped. Stealth was very effective and there are a lot of variables that go into figuring out if you are seen or not. It felt very Thief to me and I liked using it. (Maybe there’s a future Assassin in me?)

With this character I killed everything in sightThe next class I tried out was the Dark Templar. He is part of the soldier archetype but he uses magic to enhance his attacks. He’s got some life leech skills which, I imagine, are expanded on quite a bit post-13. It was a pleasant switch to play a class that was pure death-dealing in nature as I usually end up gravitating to the stealthy characters. With this character I killed everything in sight and waited a little longer before doing the main storyline quests. You see, when you start the storyline quests in Tortage the game switches from daytime, where you play with everyone on the server, to night where its just you. The initial story missions act as a bit of a tutorial that’s geared towards your class’ archetype. This means you’ll see the story play out from a slightly different point of view depending on your class.

The third class I tried out was the Necromancer. The necromancer has some nasty spells that do some nice damage. They are also one of the “pet” classes. They can summon undead minions to do their bidding. Also, after doing a critical hit on an enemy (which means that they’ve hit an enemy on their unshielded side) a temporary minion appears to protect him for a short time. Non-warriors in Age of Conan do not seem to be quite as squishy as they are in other games. I mean, they are still squishy but they just seem a little tougher to me, at least at the earlier levels. I am currently having an issue controlling my pet. I think it’s because I do not have (or do not know) the commands on hotkeys. Along with the Dark Templar, I think the Necromancer will make it into my list of alts when the game goes live.

At the behest of a friend of mine I created a female character for what should be obvious reasons, given the game’s mature rating. I made her a Bear Shaman, which is basically a healer that uses two-handed blunt weapons to whomp enemies. The first thing I did, and this was strictly for research purposes mind you, was to remove what little clothing she came equipped with and..er..unleash the twins. I figured come launch day I was going to see nothing but horny teens with their female toons streaking through Tortage anyway so why not get it out of the way? Any-hoo, I normally shy away from healers but the Bear Shaman plays really well. There’s something satisfying about walloping someone over the head with a big tree branch. I’ve noticed that most of the classes give you a nice feeling of power in the opening levels and then you get splashed with a bit of a reality check later on.

What happens after level 13? Well, the NDA says I can’t give you the specifics of what I’ve seen but I can talk about the announced features. There will be a number of crafting professions to choose from that will let you make weapons, armor, potions, gems and even buildings in player cities. Ah, crafting…one of the things that excites me the most about Age of Conan is that crafting will not be grind-based! No, seriously…it won’t. You will need to complete quests that incorporate your crafting skills in order to gain crafting ranks. So, that means you won’t need to craft a thousand burlap loincloths, unless you are in to that sort of thing. Crafting will play a vital role in constructing player cities. The cities can have a variety of upgradable buildings that give your characters real benefits in the form of buffs and bonuses. The bigger the city, the greater the benefits guild members will receive.

Player versus player combat will also play a big role in AoC, even on PvE servers. In the Border Kingdoms, guilds will be able to set up battlekeeps to build their cities around. Guilds can also gain keeps by taking them from others. This will involve siege engines, buildings and defenses built by crafters. This will also involve mercenaries! No matter who you are you can join in on the fun on either side if the price is right. Both attackers and defenders can offer up gold in order to bolster their numbers. Oh, and should I mention MOUNTED COMBAT? On the PvP-enabled servers it’s just all out war…watch your back and bring friends! The Older Gamers will have folks on both flavors of server to satisfy your bloodlust.

Wicked Lobsta on Graphics and Sound:

BEAUTIFUL! GORGEOUS! AWESOME! WONDERFUL!

I’m running it on the following:
Abit IN9 32X-MAX
Intel x6800 Dual Core
Corsair Dominator RAM (4 GB)
SB X-Fi Sound
WD Raptor HDD (2 - OS on 1, game on the other)
BFG 8800 GTX OC (2 in SLi)
Vista 64
Scepter 27 in. Flat Screen @ 1920x1080
Klipsch 5.2 Promedia speakers
*everything above is at stock, no overclocking or BIOS tweaking or the like…

Right off the bat this game just looks beautiful. Of course, my ONLY experience with any MMORPG has been several months of EQ2 (and that was over a year ago), and a short stint with Auto Assault (so much potential there...), so what I’m seeing may be nothing new for you more experienced MMORPG-ers. The sounds are amazing and help to immerse you in the moment, just like the overall graphics do. The jungle looks awesome, and the NPC’s, moved fluidly while doing their normal walk-around-and-look-like-i’m-doing-something routine. Their combat animations were smooth as well. I have read in places that DX10 would not be available in the beta. However in the config I found the option to select 9 or 10 (default was 9) and I changed it to 10. Don’t know if what I’m seeing is DX10 or 9, but it sure looks nice! If it is DX9, I can’t wait to see what 10 looks like!

We are now days away from early-access release and Age of Conan looks like it’s shaping up to be a really fun game. Recent patches have dramatically increased the game’s stability. There are a lot of fun classes to play and some interesting game mechanics at later levels. Oh, yes…I will be subscribing. They basically had me at “war rhino mount”. I realize the graphic for this article says “review” but I am really hesitant to actually give it a score while it is still in beta. However, we all like nice tidy numbers to sum things up so I am going to give it a 4 out of 5 based on my experiences so far and the features they’ve added that distinguish it from other MMOs. This could easily turn into a 5 or a 3 in the next few weeks depending on how launch goes. For now, I am going to contemplate what character to roll first on the 17th. Maybe a Barbarian or Guardian? I haven’t tried a Demonologist yet. Hmmm….

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