"Know, O Prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars, hither they came to the game Age of Conan, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under their sandaled feet."
-- The New Nemedian Chronicles
I am not going to do my usual style of review for Age of Conan as some people might have expected. I will just tell of my experiences in the game and what I have found. If you are looking for a game that is fun to play for the most part then give this game a shot, but be forewarned, the game is not complete and has many issues that still need addressed by Funcom. Me review is based on what I know of the game and my experiences from someone that plays on a PvP server. I cannot address the issues one finds on a PvE server as I have not played on one long enough to comment on it fairly.
The game starts you out as a slave aboard a ship. Here you'll create your character using various choices about race, gender, class and appearance. The character creation part of the game is better than most and is very detailed, like body shapes, markings, face structures and such. I think Funcom did a good job here, however, I do wish they had more hairstyles. There are many to choose from, this is true, but as you'll soon discover once in game, only a handful are worth having and you'll see what I am talking about. I have heard a few male players wishing there were more choices in male basic faces, because most make their characters look really rough and well...as one guy told me..."they are ugly". I cannot comment on this myself because I have not created a guy character. So I wouldn't know. I honestly do not look at male players avatar faces in game, if I am looking at one it is because I am in combat with them. :)
Do not expect to find elves, dwarves or orcs in Age of Conan. They do not exist. What you will find are demons, demi-Gods, Stygians, cannibalistic Picts, sorcerers, and Nemedians and all manner of beasts and monsters. For in the land of Hyboria ,as created by Robert E. Howard, is made up of a past and places very similar to our own ancient world and past and this is where Howard drew from to create the world Conan lived, loved, fought and adventured in.
There are four main flavors of classes to choose from, like Soldier(Guardian), Mage(Necromancer), Healer(Priest of Mitra), and of course Rogues(Assassin). Each class has four archetypes, and these archetypes though they may share similar weapons, traits and skills and armor, do not all play the same. Also some of the classes are race specific.
Races that are currently playable in game are Stygians, Cimmerians and Aquilonians. Stygians would be similar to peoples you might find in Asia Minor, Cimmerians are loosely based on Celts, Vikings and Scottish cultures, while Aquilonians are more or less ancient mediterranean - Romans and Greeks.
Once you've created your character you are introduced to the game via cut scene right from the start. The ship your character was on seems to have wrecked and you are washed up on a beach outside the town of Tortage. Here you'll begin your journey into Conan's world and what a journey you are in for. From the very start you will be thrown into the gruesome, bloody, sensual, mystical, and fraught with danger, world created by Robert E. Howard. The beginning part of the game is the same for all players. Everyone starts in Tortage and you'll be there until roughly level 20. There are lots of well done and not so well done quest in the beginning part of the game. You know the standard fair, fetch this, deliver this...go kill this, but then there are quest that are well written and implemented that help make this game shine. Now the first part of the game up to level 20 for the most part is a single player game, however, you will be able to team up with other players in Tortage in certain instances and the other parts of the beginning area are done alone by you the player - at night in the game. Also, be aware that certain zones are designated PvP in Tortage, like Underhalls and White Sands Island. Note: There is a way to get out of Tortage without doing the destiny quest. There is a smuggler in game that will help you in this endeavor. Just so you know.
If you are familiar with MMORPG's you'll know the MO of this genre. You'll play a character, perform task known as quest and slay many a monster and beast and in so doing your character will gain power and items as you play. Not a lot of new things going on here in this game, there is, questing of course, combat(will get into this later), crafting(will discuss this somewhat), sieges, raids, and city building. You will find the leveling curve to be a little skewed. You'll level like mad at first. You can obtain level 20 in just a few hours played. After that it does start to slow down a bit but you can still level at a fairly brisk rate - until, you hit level 45-50. Now depending on your knowledge of the game world, this is where things really start to slow down. As I said depending on your knowledge of the game world, this is were you'll find quest start to become less and less available and you'll be wondering where to go next to continue your journey.
There is a decent amount of group and solo quest throughout 75% of the game...but, I recommend using in game chat channels to find out where to go or hit up one of the many AoC fansites with maps of areas players can go for certain levels, because once you are in your mid 50's, things really start to go downhill when it comes to quest and getting exp. There just isn't enough content in the way of quest post level 55+ to keep the exp coming in at a nice pace. You will have to grind some MoBs in order to progress in some instances. On top of that, you will encounter the zones you need to kill(or grind) MoB's are pretty well camped and the spawn times on the MoB's are not so great. So you'll be doing a whole lot of nothing at times as you wait for a handful of MoB's to spawn. I cannot comment on the PvE servers and how it is on them, but on the PvP servers, players will not hesitate to kill another player/s to obtain good places to grind Mob's. It is not so bad in the 40's to 50, though the Haunted Forest of the Fields of the Dead can get pretty hot it is nothing compared to what you will encounter later. Once you hit Eiglophian Mountains though that all changes. Then it is a matter of numbers most of the time(at least on the PvP servers). Thunder River and Atzels Approach are other areas later in the game you'll encounter guilds and or motley groups of players that are playing together and will fight to keep their hunting grounds to themselves. Grouping is almost a must on the PvP servers at later levels. You can solo. It can be done. I do however recommend getting with a pick up group(a pug) or get with a good guild if you wish to level at a decent rate.
Now once you port into an area, you'll have one spot you can respawn at upon an untimely death until you have located the other respawn points scattered throughout an area. Once you have located them you can respawn at any of these points. Also, to change instances you must be within 20 meters of a respawn point, should you find the need to do this. Little tip: Traveling through zones can eat into your game time. To make the most of your time here is a travel tip if you play on a PvP server. Have another player kill you. Then respawn at the location of your choice - if you have located the other respawn points on your map.
Traveling in the game consist mostly of your character running on their feet, until they can get a mount. Now this is something that you should know. Mounts are available for players to buy from vendors once they hit level 40. Unfortunately, your first time through the game you'll be hard pressed to raise the necessary monies to purchase your first mount for your first character at 40. You'll have to do a whole lot of saving if you intend to get a mount before you ding level 60. Polls of players of the game have shown that most obtain their first horse at around level 55 - give or take a couple of levels. Before you can buy a horse you must learn basic riding. This can be trained by purchasing basic rding from a stable master for 1 gold. Your first horse will cost you 2 gold. Once you do have a horse traveling becomes a little less frustrating across zones.
There is basic combat from horseback, however, the horse itself cannot be used as a weapon(with its own attacks) until you have learned advanced riding. Advanced riding can be purchased from a vendor for 50 gold. Once you have advanced riding you can use your horse as a weapon in PvE and PvP, using such attacks as charge, trample and rear kick. Combat from horseback can be very fun and challenging, and it will take some time to get the hang of it, but once you do figure it out you'll soon realize your horse is more than just a way to get from point A to point B - it is another tool you the player can use that really does add to the overall game play experience.
Note: The amount of time it takes to raise money in this game is atrocious. It is frustrating to say the least and unless you have lots and lots of patience you might be able to raise the gold needed to get advanced riding sometime in this life time. I understand that Funcom raised the price of advanced riding to 100 gold now.
Zones: Age of Conan is not a seamless game world as you might find in a game like World of Warcraft(which is fairly seamless) or Vangaurd with its wide open world. The world of Age of Conan is made up of many different zones, each with its own setting and flavor. The three main areas currently in game are Cimmeria, Stygia and Aquilonia and each area is made up of multiple smaller areas or zones. For instance, Cimmeria has Conarch Village, Conall Valley, Field of the Dead, Eiglophian Mountains, Ice Cave, Now Tortage is kinda linear in its game play and the zones and instances will seem small and confined after awhile, but do not let this discourage you. The game does open up a lot after Tortage and you can go pretty much anywhere you want for the most part as some are level dependent and others require you have a certain quest in order to enter them. Some zones you'll encounter are large and some not so large. Some will seem confining, like Conall's Valley, just outside of Conarch Village, but it is an exception and not the rule. The zones are well crafted for the most part in that they have a given theme or feel. There are some zones that are more open and MoB's are not so closely packed and it gives a player a little breathing room so the need to worry about aggro'ing a MoB every other step is not a huge concern, while in others it is a concern. There are zones I have encountered where MoB's are literally bumping into one another and you'll either have to run their gauntlet to get past them and hope they do not beat you to death before breaking off their chase as you try to get to where you need to be or you can hack and slash your way through them - lots of them. Some places in Atzels Approach are like this. You'll be running along and suddenly you'll have a dozen MoB's tailing behind you beating the snot out of your character.
Graphics: If you wish to play the game in all its glory, make sure you have a system that can handle the graphics. What that means is having a more recent graphic card with a minimum of 512meg of memory on board, a 2.4ghz(or better) cpu and a minimum of 2gig of ram. I myself would recommend an Nvidia 8800(512meg of ram), 3.0ghz(duo core), and 4gig of ram and run Windows Vista 32bit or 64 so that you can make use of all 4gig of ram. One thing you should know, the box says that DirectX 10 is supported. It is not as of yet. Funcom says they are working on it. The graphics themselves are like those you might see in a single player game, for example Oblivion, however...this is accomplished by Funcom making use of zones and instances. This allows them to create a very lush and very, almost real like settings in which the game play takes place. From the first time you enter the game you can see the thickness of the foliage and dynamic lighting and shadows really help immerse you into the world of Hybornia. From the deserts of Stygia to the snow capped peaks of Cimmeria, there is lots of eye candy for the gamer that likes to have graphics that are pushing the newer technologies to their limits. Age of Conan is just such a game.
Animations: For the most part the animations in Age of Conan are top notch. Seriously, I do not think I have found better animations for combat and other non-combat task in other games that are as good as those you will find in this game. Especially the combat animations. When you watch you character in melee combat, its as if you are watching a solid, living breathing, person(if you have the graphics to push it to that level of detail), wielding a sword and shield. The weapons look like they have weight when swung, bows look like they are being drawn and an arrow released, casters look like they are concentrating as they cast. The flow of the animations from mounting and dismounting a horse to climbing a wall are all very well done and Funcom did a great job here. Even when you are riding a horse and go into a tight turn with it, it will lean like a real horse and this adds to the immersiveness of the game. Now there are some funny instances where you're character will glitch during a move or a task and they'll slide across the ground(like just after picking up loot), but I think that is just the game graphics hiccuping. No biggy. All in all I have no complaints about the animations.
Sound and Music: What can I say here other than it is all good. The music is great and really fits the game and the sounds...the sound effects in the game are right on. For instance when you are approaching a rushing river from over a small hill, for instance in one area of the game known as Thunder River, it sounds like a raging river(looks like one as well). As you approach it gets louder and louder and eventually it will mask out other sounds around you - as it should. When you come across a player fighting NPC's or another player in melee combat...it sounds like a real fight with swords and shields is taking place. The clang of metal against metal, the thud of an object hitting a shield(like an arrow for instance), or a body falling to the ground sounds as it should. Funcom nailed the sound effects and music in this game and you'll appreciate the time and effort Funcom put into this aspect if you are a fan of these games. Another little thing...you know how people can stealth in this game? You may not be able to see them, but if they are stealthed it doesn't mean you cannot hear them. If they move to fast their feet make more noise. If you do have this game or decide to get the game have one of your friends hide and then approach you at normal speed and you'll hear them approach. If they do it slowly, you'll not hear them though...so be careful, some rogues know this and are very skilled at being quiet. As I said the sound effects are right on the money. Side note about voice overs: I would like to touch on this subject. Voices from NPC's you encounter are very well done, however, you'll only encounter them in the starter zone of Tortage and when you do certain quest and the destiny line of quest. This doesn't really hurt the overall enjoyment of the game at later levels, but it did add to the immersiveness of the game in the beginning and it would help if Funcom at a later time added more voice overs to the rest of the quest in the future. A huge undertaking I know and it would require more hardrive space...but I feel it would be worth it.
Combat: Of all the things this game has to offer it has to be its combat. The combat in Age of Conan is, well to be honest, it cannot be beat by what we currently see in other MMORPG's. Funcom has definitely moved the bar up a whole bunch of notches with how they implemented combat in this game. It is not as simple as chose a target and punch one button and walk away. There is no auto attack in the Age of Conan. It is hands on all the time. You have to get use to it at first, but once you get the basics down it's not like anything you have ever encountered in any MMORPG to date. The combat system is pretty deep when it comes to how it plays out. In Conan some classes have what are known as "combo's". These combo's when used properly and in a certain order increase the amount of damage a player can deal out as they are progressing through them. If you hit the right combo at the right time you can get what is known as a fatality. If you're familiar with the arcade/console game Mortal Combat you'll now what a fatality is. In essence the final death blow will slow down and your character will perform a special set of moves to finish of the target. This sometime includes the taking of another players head or an NPC's head. One little thing you should know is that performing a fatality gives your character a little combat boost(or buff) for a short time...so the more fatalities you do the easier it is to kill your next vict...ermmm....target. Also...there is a thing known as "chain kill" in game. If you manage to kill two NPC's or players in fast succession you'll gain another bonus to earn exp faster.
Now depending on the type of class you play you may or may not have combo's per se. For instance if I play my ranger I may have to start a combo with a hot button...like Focused Fire and then press Critical Aim then start my combo with Heart Seeker(followed by an arrow key)...then move on to the next and next...if I manage to hit the right combo(and none miss/parried/blocked by the target) I may score a fatality. With a caster it is different, but not to much. They follow the same steps, but may not be in the same order. Maybe they start out with Rebuke(has no arrow key follow up) and then hit the Smite hot key followed by the proper arrow key...etc, etc, etc...and just like a melee player the caster may perform a fatality. Some caster fatality may not be as gruesome looking as a melee'rs, but they are just as deadly and just as nasty - like watching your character burst into flames via immolation. Very eye opening the first time it happens.
Know that also, there is active blocking/shielding available and it can be controlled by the player. NPC's also have this. That means if you attack the shielded or more protected side of a target, you'll do less damage depending on how much they are shielding it. One more little note. You most be facing your target to attack it. Another little piece of information you might find useful. Is if you ahve multiple targets in front of you, you stand of a chance of hitting all of them for some amge if you use certain attacks. This is not possible in some MMORPG combat systems. It is in Age of Conan so let your sword be sharp and your swing be broad and may you slay all your foes with deadly blows! All in all, Age of Conan's combat is by far one of the crowning little gems of this game and once you have experienced it...you'll wonder how you can ever play another MMORPG without. It truly is fun and very captivating.
OK. Covered pretty much the meat of the game so far, now let's cover the rest in short order.
Player Cities and Battle Keeps: In certain designated areas of the game(within instances) guild are allowed to build their own cities. This is a very time consuming aspect of the game, but with a little perseverance and dedication a guild can build a very nice little community they can call their own with traders and the works. However, it is built in tiers. As you progress in the building process you will be required to gather resources scattered through out the various zones. You start at tier 1 and work up to tier 3. It will take many hours and lots of resources and money to build a city up to tier three, but once you have it you can add your battle keep. The crowning achievement for a guild city.
Having a battle keep allows for sieges to commence. Now so far there have been a few seiges in the game and to be honest they do not work as Funcom fully intended - yet. There are some things Funcom is working on to polish this part of the game up. I would like to point out that Funcom did say this feature was working before the game launched. However once people got into the actual game and soon discovered...it wasn't as Funcom had said. Now to be a little forgiving here...Funcom has added traders to cities where guild can now by siege warfare machines such as ballistas. Whether they work as intended is yet to be seen. There is still and issue with lag during sieges. Funcom is working on this as well. You can have, according to Funcom up to 48vs48 players participate in a siege, as of yet I have not seen that many participate in a siege. If it is possible I would not know. The one siege I was in was like 60 people total.
You can use special siege warfare mounts like war elephants and rhinos. These can be used to destroy walls of battle keeps and siege warfare equipment. They do not do much damage to players, so do not think you'll be trampling all over them in a siege. Plus the beast do not move fast enough to even catch a player if you try to chase one down . All in all...once this part of the game is polished and running as it should...Age of Conan will have just one more jewel in its crown that will be hard to find in any other MMORPG to date.
We were told that cities can add certain buffs and bonuses to the guild members of a city. Whether this has been implemented or not I am not sure. I cannot find any follow up on this, but keep your eyes and ears open...because if it is true...then it pays to get with a guild. Which I highly recommend anyways.
Crafting: OK. I wish to be honest and upfront here. I grew so frustrated with the crafting system in this game I gave up on it. I tried Gem Cutting...it was broke from day one and is still broke in many ways. When you find that you had to change instances in some cases to actually get the game to acknowledge that you had made an item...each and every time you made one...it got old really fast. ::sigh:: I understand Alchemy(currently there is a bug with this craft that will kick you the game) is no better as are many of the other crafts. Funcom is working on getting this up to speed and they promise to fix it and make it less painful. Let's hope they follow through with this because this has a lot of potential to add some pretty neat customized weapons, armor and such. With all the magical enhancements via placing gems in items...the potential for making unique items is there. Funcom just needs to polish this gem a little more to make it sparkle so that it can be added to its crown.
Anyway, many of the resources and such can be found off MoB drops(uncut gems, rough leather, skins), and resource nodes and some can even be found in treasure chest you'll come across with certain groups of MoB's(those that have what is known as a Boss MoB). These resources are then used to make things like shields, armor, weapons, capes. The problem with gathering the resources is that they are limited and on timers and the respawn rate and their abundance needs a little more work to make this less time consuming as it is right now. Given time and resources I am sure Funcom will do what it takes to make crafting an enjoyable aspect of this game. Right now...it is very frustrating.
GUI and the rest of the game: ::sigh:: I wish I had more good things to say about the rest of the game...I really do, because like many others I have high hopes that this game would be...the game that would keep me entertained for many, many hours and for more than a couple of years. However...lots of stuff needs improved like the GUI, the Guild System itself, loot itemization, players stats and feats for classes that are either broken or do not work as intended and the PvP system that is not even in game yet. I will not even discuss their non-existent customer support. It just is not there. Put in a petition in game if you have a problem that needs attended to, and it is either deleted or times out. Funcom said they would make the CS for the game one of their top priorities. Let's hope they follow through with that promise because as it is right now it is abysmal.
GUI: This is not so good. It needs a lot of work...a lot. It is clunky and not very user friendly. The good thing is there are a number of customizable GUI's you can download to remedy Funcom's lack of GUI design and functionality in the game. I highly recommend looking one up from one of the many AoC fansites that make them available.
Chat: If you have two cans and a piece of string...that is a better form of communication than what is currently in game. The chat system in AoC will test your frustration level to its maximum capacity. Let's all pray and hope that they improve it and soon.
Guild System: If only it were more user friendly as well and gave you some decent tools to manage a guild. Unfortunately...this too is lacking in game and Funcom needs to address it. AoC is a game that is very conducive to guild play and yet the guild system in the is lacking in so many areas and functionality I do not even know where to begin. Funcom needs to rework this from the ground up and improve it. Again...lets hope they do see this as as one of the more serious issues and finds the time and resources to get it up to speed.
Loot Itemization: I cannot stress this enough, if you come to AoC looking for phat l007z(good loot for the leet speak impaired) you will be sadly disappointed. This is not really a loot centric game like say World of Warcraft. It just isn't...plain and simple and I am not sure Funcom will ever change it. Gear for the most part is only good in PvE part of the game. The some of the stats on items have no impact on the PvP part of the game at all...zilch, nothing...it does nothing. Top that with the weird way the stats are done in this game and your guess is as good as the next as to what any of it really means. It is so confusing...seriously...whole discussions on AoC gaming forums have cropped up on this topic and nobody anywhere seems to know anything about how stuff works or what exactly the numbers mean in some instances and where to apply them when trying to tweak certain aspects of your character. I am more confused than ever after Funcom announced this thing with the four stats being meaningless in PvP encounters. This needs fixed, tweaked, reworked...rewritten...I do not care..as long as it it better than what we currently have.
When I have items I got in Tortage that are still better for my character(based on the numbers and my understanding of how this stuff works) then items I have found off Boss MoB's in epic dungeons, way later and much higher level, there is a problem with the the loot system...a big problem. It gets worse when some of the stats do not even work at all. So this is a big issue with this game. Funcom has started to address it slowly. They need to fix it sooner rather than later and print up some information about what all these numbers mean and how they work and what if any of it actually works and how it works.
Also, be aware that there are few choices for armor styles in game as of the time I am writing this.
Player Stats and Feats: This of all the things in the game that can kill the game - it is this. Classes need better balance to begin with. Right now, there is no such thing as balance in AoC. There are certain classes that are very, very over powered and others that should be more powerful that are way under powered. Top that with feats(talents for those familiar with World of Warcraft) that either do not work at all or do not work as they are described to work in the tool tips that pop up over them when you put you cursor on them. This plagues all classes in this game currently. If you go to the official forums you'll see post from players discussing the broken feats and asking when Funcom plans on addressing them. To put a little more perspective on just how bad this is. Funcom just totally re-arranged a whole classes feat tree system because it was so borked and confusing even they(Funcom) admitted it was poorly done. So the games classes are going through some reworks right now. Funcom is trying to get a handle on this and I am sure they are working extra hard to fix it...let's just hope they do it in a timely manner because players frustration levels are definitely being tested right now. If you are thinking or just started playing the game...expect a lot of changes to classes over the next couple of months. It'll be a rough ride for some classes that is for sure.
PvP System: As I mentioned at the beginning of this review I play on a PvP server. You can pretty much engage in PvP combat almost anywhere in game. Now with that being said, that means there is nothing stopping a level 80 from turning a level 20 into an oozing puddle of goo. It happens and sadly it is happening more often due to the fact that on the PvP servers people tend to be more competitive and leveled like mad to get to level 80. Now we have lots of level 80's with not much to do because...because...come on...say it with me...there is no PvP system in place to occupy them. Right now there is no reason to PvP. None.
We were told and "promised" one would be in place before the end of June...but the end of June is almost here and you got it..still no PvP system in place. So there is a lot of higher level players running around in lower level zones turning a whole lot of player characters into oozing puddles. Funcom needs to address this and soon. If not I seriously doubt you'll see many new faces on the PvP server due to the large number of mid to high level players that'll just take their frustrations out on anyone that they can. I have personally fought...many players in newbie zones that were trying to gank others to curb the slaughter of so many innocent, unsuspecting players to try to minimize the damage this kind of game play can do to a PvP server...and so have many others. We can't do it forever. Funcom has to step up to the plate and introduce a PvP system so that the attrition due to this type of behavior is minimized.
Performance Issues: Lag spikes occur now and then and of course they always seem to happen at the worse inopportune time ending in the death of your character. Add to that the huge memory leaks that seem to crop up after zoning numerous times and crashing you to desk top and it makes for some frustrating moments.
Gender Issues: It is known that female characters in the game attack slower and do not hit as hard as their male counter parts. A bug? Who knows. Be aware of this.
I never rate individual aspect of a game most of the time. I just give it a score based on how I think it is and what it deserves. If I were to score this game right now as it is(bugs and all), based on a score from 1-10 and 10 being the best...this game would rank a 6.5 at the most. It is a good game. It could be a great game and it no doubt will be that game some day. If Funcom will get their act together and fix what needs fixed and stop messing with stuff that doesn't need it right now...like the tweaking of the Grey MoB's, that was a waste of time and resources that could have been better used addressing more glaring issues that are hurting the game.
So if you wish to play a fun game that is plagued by a lot of growing pains, bugs and glitches(which by the way are slowly being addressed by Funcom if ever so slowly)and have the patience to put up with all of it later in the game...then I do recommend Age of Conan. Just remember, it is not complete and some of the implementation of the game features needs some work yet...but the game itself is actually fun to play.
Just a players review. ^_^
Score: 6.5 out of 10