Thursday, March 27, 2008

Six reasons to be excited about Age of Conan

Everyone seems to be aware of one or two great features coming with Age of Conan, but we realized that not everybody has a complete view of some of the coolest ones -- which has led us to sort of a blind men and the elephant situation. So in an effort to give a more complete view of why Funcom's newest title looks exceedingly cool, we've gone and thought of six reasons to truly be excited about Age of Conan. Our barbarian urges are beginning to take over, so we'd better get to the good stuff before we run into the hills and slaughter a bear or something.

Character creation

When you first start creating your character in Age of Conan you'll get to pick your hair, facial hair, hair color, eye color, body type, height, skin color, body markings and voice options. That would be plenty for most developers to give their players, but Funcom has gone even further by allowing you to tweak your initial selections even more. We're talking sliders (similar to the ones found in Oblivion, but more useful) for body parts such as arms, chest, stomach, posterior, thighs and legs as well as facial sliders which we wont even bother trying to list here. Although one of our favorite facial sliders is the one that lets you have a broken nose, if you want to go for that 'Owen Wilson' look. Suffice it to say, the character creation in AoC should allow players to start the game with their very own identity -- an important factor in any MMO.

Real Combat

Combat in Age of Conan is different -- very different. In fact, we're fairly sure that the active combat will be one of the biggest bullet points on the back of the box once the game ships in May and with good reason. By now, you probably know that there is no auto-attack in AoC -- players just select an enemy, walk up and start swinging with their five directional attack buttons. Everyone is familiar with 'WASD' which is why the 1, 2, 3, Q and E keys are your directional attacks. Don't worry so much about complexity, as only three directional attacks are available until later levels. Taking a moment to look at them on your keyboard, you'll see how they would correspond to the different directions. If you want to attack your enemy from an upper-right angle, you just press the number three -- of course you can also click on the UI instead. It sounds strange at first, but much time and effort has been put into making the combat in AoC feel tight.

One of the many questions we have gotten when telling people about the combat system in Age of Conan is, "What's to stop me from swinging around mindlessly?" To which we like to respond, "Great question! Shields and Combos, actually." One thing you'll notice in the last two images are the white 'shield' icons surrounding the NPC monsters. Everything in the game has these shields, which will reduce damage taken from whatever side the shield is protecting. Combos are strings of regular directional attacks that cause a special attack to pop off -- they're similar to your special abilities in other MMOs. The only catch here is that you'll want to use them tactically around the enemy shields, otherwise their damaging effect will end up being reduced. When you drop a special attack into your shortcut bar, clicking it will cause the game to show you how to actually perform the special via combo string. In battle, players will be able to chain up to five combos in a row -- something we're looking forward to trying many times over.

Ranged combat players aren't left out in the cold, in fact they've got something of their own system in the game. Ranged combat actually functions much like melee combat with the same five directional attacks which correspond to the shields all enemies have around them. The big difference here -- aside from the range aspect -- is that ranged classes will be able attack in either first or third person view. The first person view supposedly plays like a slowed-down FPS, although 'ToHit' rolls are still being done behind the scenes. One thing you'll want to remember when using a bow is that elevation does come into play -- higher ground is always better.


Spellweaving has gone through quite a few changes over the course of Age of Conan's development. Right now Funcom has been keeping fairly quiet on what the final system is like -- however we can take a few guesses from previous versions they have talked about. Standard spell casting will definitely be in Age of Conan, but when magic users really want to toss out some damage (or nasty effects) at the risk of their own safety -- they can. In the past, spellweaving has been a state of trance that players can enter. While in this self-induced spellweaving trance, magic spells can be combined for some interesting effects. Also, the number of spells that can be 'weaved' together is supposed to be dependent on the spellcaster's level. We're really looking forward to the official unveiling of this system, because if it's even half as cool as the combat we'll be satisfied.

The dark and mature world of Hyboria

If there's one thing you can count on, it's that Funcom will be taking advantage of their mature rating. Age of Conan has always been designed with intent to be played by adults -- players who can handle not just blood, but a dark, decadent and very twisted world. Robert E. Howard created a pretty messed up mythos and it wouldn't be properly represented if Age of Conan didn't have its mature stamp. Do we admit to being excited about lopping off heads and gallons of blood splashing everywhere, including our actual computer screens? Yeah, we're way excited for that stuff, but we're also looking forward to what sorts of messed up creatures we'll get to fight. We're wondering how strange and morally gray some of the quests are going to turn out and most of all we're looking forward to emulating the heroic Conan while adventuring throughout the land of Hyboria.


All right so we just mentioned the head lopping and the blood splatter effect on the 'screen' as it were. However, we forgot to mention that dismemberment is only the outcome of one of the coolest little features in Age of Conan -- finishing kills. Or rather, the cool little special finishing animations that are possible to get when you really kick somebody's ass hard. It doesn't happen often -- the head-lopping and other special kills -- but when you get them, they're little moments of, "Oh awesome!"

The more of those moments the better, we say. In fact, more of those moments in Age of Conan will only give the game its own increasingly unique personality.

Graphical prowess

It's not much of a stretch to say that the graphics in Age of Conan are pretty impressive, even for a non-MMO game. Players with DX10 capable machines (running Vista, of course) will also be able to experience some pretty cool shading and lighting affects. A few recent videos have also proven that the draw distance in AoC is incredibly more impressive than we had previously thought it would be. Although our biggest surprise was that Funcom has managed to create some of the most impressive water effects we've seen in an MMO -- especially the realistic flowing rivers and waterfalls. We're perfectly capable of accepting the slight texture pop-in effect -- mostly seen only in Unreal Engine 3 games -- because it's what allows such vivid levels of detail at either far away or up close distances. The final test will be to run on our own machines, but since we already know the system requirements we're not entirely too worried -- at least not for our computers.

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