Age of Conan - A Review
By Mads Vangsoe
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
Age of Conan has been one of the most anticipated MMORPGs for a long time. There are several reasons for this. The biggest is probably the name. Conan is very well known; in Europe probably most of the films with the California governor in the leading role, while comic books probably has been the most popular in the U.S. and less widespread in Europe. Another reason is because it's Norwegian Funcom, which is behind. They have led to the success of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan should show what they have made of experience in this industry. Last but not least because early Funcom declared that they would follow the original Conan submission where Hyboria (the world it all takes place in) is a violent place, without placing constraints on, and thus make the first MMORPG with a 18 + PEGI rating. Looking on the box, we see that it has at least succeeded with this.
As in all MMORPGs, we make our own character. In Age of Conan, there are 3 cultures of human choice. So no elvere, dwarves or orker here. What culture you choose has an impact on where you start down after the introductory area, and what professions you can choose from. There are 12 professions, divided into 4 different types: fighters, healers, magicians and "light warriors' who prefer physical battle but without the big armor and big weapons. The 12 professionals offers good variety and there should certainly be something for all. Although they are listed up as types in a standard MMORPG, there is no standard against them. Hyboria is a violent place, and even healers are formidable warriors, and certainly not those who stand in the background and let others fight for them. The appearance can be amended and even though there are only a limited number of tattoos, scars, hair styles and the like to provide uniform shape, the system to design the body and face, is so deep that it is possible to built a unique character to play with.
Once you have created your character, it becomes time to explore Hyboria. Or rather the island of Tortage, where the first 20 levels of the game is on. The first 20 levels acts as an introduction to the game, and already here it shows that Funcom are not afraid to explore new avenues. Just as the Lord of the Rings Online Age of Conan is heavily driven by story, and the island of Tortage is an introduction to the story that will follow you the rest of the way to level 80 In order to deliver the story as well as possible, Funcom has done it for a Single-story. So even though the game is a MMORPG, so much of your time the first 20 levels set Single. There is also much to do in multiplayer at this stage, and you can even switch between Single-and multiplayer when you feel like it. The normal daily cycle is out of the loop at the beginning and at night you play Single-player, while the days are reserved for multiplayer. A bold way to build a MMORPG, but it works extremely well. When you have fought through the introduction witch you will end about level 20, you are ready to explore the rest of Hyboria, which takes place in the traditional way, ie in multiplayer mode, but a few quests dealing with the main story, which takes place in Single.
Hyboria is a very violent society and it is also reflected in the game. Fighting is clouded aspect of the game, and Funcom has also been innovative. They wanted to create a battle system where you do not just press buttons in timed sequences, which often ends up in an online role-playing. It is partly managed with their combo system. There is no auto-attack in the Age of Conan. Instead, in the beginning 3 attack buttons (buttons 1, 2 and 3) that we should press when you want to attack. Later there will be 2 more, so you have 5 buttons in total. 1 is an assault weapon which swings from left to right, 2 is a frontal attack, and 3 is an attack from right to left. Same enemies makes himself looked up to protect themselves against attack from certain directions, as shown with small 'shield' in front of them. It would then be important to use attack from the direction where there is less protection. It is reasonably simple, but as you rise in level, The system becomes more and more advanced. You get the specific attack combinations, which starts with a click of a button and you should perform a specific combination of attacks to create a special effect. There are many of them, and when you put them together with magic, as players are also able to use so that it supplied some very tactical battles which, despite the fact that there are a lot of them are never trivial or boring. These include a lot more movement to position itself in the right place so that frames the enemy or enemies properly all the time. If you lose a battle, it can often be traced back to a wrong decision during the battle and so it is not that your character does not have the right weapon or armor on, as is often the case in traditional role-playing.
This combo system is also one of the most discussed elements in the Age of Conan. Properly executed combos can lead to fatalities, as the extra brutal ways to beat the enemy to death. For example, by chopping the head of them, bury the sword through them and then kick them overthrow or similar. Common to all fatalities is that they are extremely bloody, as Funcom stresses by allowing the blood from the enemy spraying up on the screen. There is no doubt why Age of Conan has been a 18 + rating. At first glance it may seem a bit like platforms, but there is actually a good effect in the game, and helps emphasize the violent world in which the game takes place. It is also to make fatalities for something special, as always, produces a small smile when they succeed.
Once you leave Tortage, the first you observe is, that Hyboria is not a large and open world. As is seen in other games, which among other things, Ever Quest II, then the world put together by 'instances' were you can not travel freely everywhere. You have to find transportation options, which will then 'zap' you to a new area. It is a little disappointing, but understandable when you know it is to reduce lag. One thing which is less understandable is that some areas may exist in several versions (Something EQ II also takes advantage of), so if there are too many players in one area, then there is made an extra copy of it - And that is actually slightly sad. This will inevitably make the interaction between the players less, and here in the beginning, there has been some bugs with the system so that you have not been able to switch versions. So even though a group was at the same place in Hyboria, they could be spread over several versions and could not see each other or implement quests together. To reach the same version of a field the players had to travel far, or just be dying or logging in and out. This has obviously put a damper on the groups.
When you see the graphics in Age of Conan - the instance system is now all forgiven. The graphics are really nice and detail-filled, even on an older machine, which this notification. Hyboria is full of detail and where you can see that other online games puts restrictions on the number of shrubs, trees and the like, to ensure the performance, Age of Conan is not holding back. Cities are not only the same 10 building types repeated over and over again, but filled with small details that distinguish them from each other, which is really beautiful and makes them seem as real cities, not just pixels on a screen. When we have very detailed people run around, it's no wonder that Funcom have forced themselves to introduce an instance system to ensure performance in the game. A place where Funcom unfortunately have not spent so much time is the interface. It is not completely thought out. Especially chat interface acts as a second-hand work and it is a shame because after all is an important thing to talk to other players for an online game, and is strongly constrained to a not very intuitive interface.
The sound in a game like this is very important. It is after all a game to be played very long, so the sound will be long. It is also supported. The music is pretty good and although it safe enough to become tired of it at a time, then it will probably last a good while. I am at least not yet tired of it. There is not much to tell about the .ound effects. Background sounds and sound effects do not stand out, but it is also rare that it happens in mmorpgs.
There is also other stuff then battle in the game. When you are level 20 you can learn how to gather resources, and when you are level 40, you learn so to make things out of these resources. During this review, I was only able to sniff at crafting and here Funcom has decided to try something new. The whole system is based on quests. It dosen't help leveling your crafting skills, by using large amounts of resources and make a lot of things - but you level by completing quests. Anyone can learn the 6 different collection skills which will be used to gather resources. One need only to complete the first quest thouge. When it is complete you can - when your level is high enough - get the next quest, where you learn how to gather more resources. The same principle applies to crafting, so to make things. You can only learn a profession, and must choose. But once you learn to do new things by completing quests. So the boring monotonous work, to make hundreds of the same object to be better, has completely eliminated in Age of Conan. In return, your crafting profession is inextricably linked to your character level.
An exciting thing when a new MMORPG launches must have the operational quality. Last time Funcom tried, namely with Anarchy Online, it went completely wrong. The servers went down, clients crashede and it took many months before they had addressed it. They have fortunately learned from that, and Age of Conan launch went much better, although it did not go smoothly. The servers have been very stable, but there are many players who have put up with bugs, which has made it hard to play. Either because they can not update or install the game or because they can not log in Annoying errors that might be difficult to avoid and which it did not have to be hit by. But Funcom has this sense dummet a little, for their online customer service has been largely non-existent in the start-up so that people who have experienced them have received little attention. People have established contacts in the game (petitions), and patiently waited for help for many hours without getting it. When they saw the next day return, there is simply a message that their petition has been deleted because they were not online when Funcom approached (and in many cases the contact took the middle of the night European time). It's just not good enough.
I have fortunately been spared the major problems, but has one bug that really bothers me. NPC'ere are often invisible, leading to some pretty frustrating experience sometimes. For example, when running through a city and suddenly being assaulted at invisible enemies. Please allow up to 20 seconds before they suddenly materialize, and then the battle is often lost. Battle system is based on that one place is true in relation to the enemy and it is therefore difficult when they are invisible. In other situations you can run around and look for a specific person, and even if you stand on the spot where the person should be, he is not. So patience is a good thing to wait in a minute, then that person probably emerge as a magical way. This can also be exploied to a advanced for the gamer.
Nobody doubts that Age of Conan is a breath of fresh air to the MMORPG-genre. Funcom is not afraid to try new stuff, and it should certainly be commended for at a time when it seems as if developers are queuing up to emulate World of Warcraft. Some might not care about the many instances which have Age of Conan to work less well, and destroys the illusion of a cohesive world to explore, and I should then like to admit that I had hoped there were fewer instances. But when you look how beautiful the area is, then it might be just the price we must pay for it. Battle system is very exciting and I believe that other MMORPG's will be leaning from Age of Conan in the future - for this is something more interesting than we have seen in any other game. Whether it is enough to ensure a solid group of supporters is hard to say. PVP portion of the Guild, fighting against each other is not really got going yet, but it will most likely also attract a lot. In addition, there is crafting, which does not work as a wholehearted effort by Funcom, but whether this is because I did not reach that far with it, is hard to say. Age of Conan is based on quests, and there are a lot of them and they work thorough and filled with anecdotes, but nothing new in this genre, so it is hardly a crowd-puller in itself. But for online role-playing, you should make the service to review Age of Conan (and remember to get a little further than level 20, when the game switches to character). Who knows, maybe you are in love with Funcom's Hyboria world. If you are allergic to bugs, and not so technically savvy with your PC's settings, it might be an idea to wait a bit to try it out, hopefully Funcom will have eliminated the worst bugs soon.
Finally, I just mention that a notification of a MMORPG can not be written just after just 3 weeks of games. It can not be more than a description of the first impression and MMORPG are games to be played long and often to really show what they can. So take it with a pinch of salt. There is plenty of potential in the Age of Conan, but if Funcom exploit it, the time will tell.
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