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Age of Conan: Unchained Awards: Most Improved Game of 2009

By Jon Wood on January 04, 2010

One of the most unique aspects of MMOs is their ability to continue to grow and change throughout their life cycles through updates, patches, expansions and the like. While this may lead some to believe that the ever growing nature of MMOs provides an excuse to release unfinished games, others believe that the ability to add to what is already there is what gives an MMO its longevity.

Whatever your feelings on MMO growth, it isn't hard to realize that a number of MMORPGs are ending 2009 in much better shape than they began it.

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One game, however, stood out among the rest as the Most Improved MMO of 2009. The nominees were:

  • Age of Conan
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online
  • Lord of the Rings Online
  • World of Warcraft.

The Winner: Age of Conan

It wasn’t easy to decide on this year’s Most Improved game. There were a lot of factors to consider, expansion packs, minor updates, major updates, quality of change, and sheer bulk. In the end though, the Most improved prize went to a game that, while viewed by many as a bitter disappointment at its launch, may have hit its stride in 2009, becoming the game that many players would have liked to see back in 2008 when it launched.

For those who may not have guessed, our Most Improved MMO for the 2009 year was Funcom’s Age of Conan. When it launched, back in May of 2008, reviewers and industry insiders praised the game for its deep, polished and engaging early game experience, but cracks quickly appeared in the game as, among other issues, problems with stability and a lack of content and polish beyond the game’s earliest experiences came to light.

In the second half of 2008, the game got a new Director in the form of Craig Morrison, who took over after the September 2008 resignation of Gaute Godager. While some saw the resignation as the final nail in Conan’s coffin, others looked to Morrison to bring new leadership to the flagging game.

While there is no doubt that Morrison is not single handedly responsible for whatever turnarounds or successes that the game has seen since he took over, it is impossible to ignore the correlation. Players had high hopes for Morrison’s Age of Conan in 2009 and in the end, their faith seemed to pay off.

Throughout 2009, the team at Funcom was able to add a great deal of new, higher level content into the game in the form of new areas like the Tarantia Commons introduced in update 1.05, a PvP revamp, a complete overhaul of the game’s itemization system, a new take on the game’s gem crafting system, changes to each of the game’s classes, changes to its RPG system in general and more. In short, it was a big year of growth and development for the Hyborian Adventures.

Age of Conan, arguably 2008’s best example of how not to launch a major MMO, turned out to be 2009’s poster child for how to improve a product post-launch.

Runner Up: Dungeons and Dragons Online

With all due respect to the category's other nominees, the final choice for this award came down to Age of Conan, the ultimate winner of the category and Dungeons and Dragons Online: Unlimited, possibly the biggest surprise of 2009.

When Turbine announced in June that it would be changing the revenue model for its struggling MMO Dungeons and Dragons Online, many people surrounding the MMO industry, journalists and players alike speculated that it was a kind of death rattle for a game that had been seen as struggling almost since its launch. The speculation, it seems, couldn't have been more wrong as indications are that the game has grown positive leaps and bounds since the change, perhaps finally finding its proper niche in 2009.

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