You can read the background, here.
Part of Age of Conan’s recovery involved server merges, and there was much controversy as a result of it. On January 9, 2009, FunCom merged their host down to eight North American Servers and twelve European servers of various languages from the 49 originally populated servers. In truth, this event was inevitable. FunCom had set up a substantial number of servers believing that their game would rival WoW. When the dust settled in 2008 and 1.2 million boxes sold turned into 400,000 (or less) subscriptions, it turned out to be a business decision to maintain the game by reducing the maintenance on servers and the number of support personnel needed for technology and customer service, not to mention having players on the same servers.
The publicity surrounding this act was a two-edged sword. While many players now found a lot of new players to associate with, other veterans lost favorite player names and guild names, and the healthy RPG servers had to adjust to a large number on non-RP gamers being thrust into their previously large and happy populations. Opponents of Age of Conan had a field day, announcing that this event signaled the demise of the game, and it was only a matter of time before the plug was pulled on the remaining servers. Looking at this event a year later, I can say that though unwelcome by some players, the merges did more good than harm, and healthier populations can be found on each remaining server, evidence that the game is not yet dead.
January announced the anticipated content update of Thunder River and Xibaluku. The update was released on February 18th. The bar had been raised on Ymir’s Pass, and the developers now had to make this quest chain perform even better and with more surprises for end-game, level 80 players. Xibaluku is actually a six-man instance in an old Pict-infested Acheronian Ruin for level 80 players found within the Thunder River region with new high-end loot.
Xibaluku is unique in that you can face up to twelve different bosses depending on how the players approach the content through their character choices and what time of the day the dungeon is challenged. The bosses rotate and you will not see the same bosses on every visit; you may have to run through the dungeon on several different occasions to see everything and challenge every boss. The quest chain can end in two very different ways. In encounters, you must be very aware of your environments, and you have many console-style physical actions that you may need to demonstrate, if you can figure out what you need to do to succeed.
Those players that are successful may find a new companion pet in the form of an Undead Skeleton or Ghost of a somewhat familiar looking Human. To access Xibaluku, each player has a solo event that must be completed in the form of the Slaughterhouse Cellar; it actually contains dozens of its own quests to challenge the unwary. In addition to all of the above, the “Cradle of Decay” and a level 80 raid dungeon (the Wing 3 Raid Instance) of the Black Ring Citadel, introducing the sorceress Athyr-Bast and the demon Leviathus, were released.
Wings 1 and 2 of the Black Ring Citadel had already been released for Level 80 players in 2008. The “Cradle of Decay” is content created for a six-man group of level 43 or stronger players providing a new selection of loot and an introduction to the more interactive dungeon environment similar to that found in Xibaluku; you should be prepared for encounters with a seductive mistress, a wrathful mother, and a horrid master.
PvP system improvements were also addressed early in 2009 with Update 4 making changes and additions as over 50 improvements and tweaks to PvP Minigames, Massive PvP Sieges, and the PvP Notoriety System. In order to build Battle Keeps in the Border Kingdoms, you must gather resources that can typically only be found in the Border Kingdoms. Guilds can inhibit each other from obtaining the resources that they need prior to an expected raid.
If you are killed in a PvP Zone, players can actually loot these PvP resources from your avatar. It becomes a team effort to accomplish all goals in this environment. Your crafters and gatherers will need to be protected by an armed cadre of other players, if your upcoming opponent is indeed paying attention.
The sign-up process was improved, so it would become more accessible for more players. A separate leveling system was introduced for PvP, and with each PvP level earned, access was granted to more powerful PvP weapons and armor. A “Consequence” or “Murderer” system was introduced for PvP as well. High level players are not stopped from ganking lower level players; instead, the world turns against them for a set amount of time. There are also “Redemption Quests” and “Outlaw Camps” available where a Murderer can try to more quickly remove their Criminal flags. After a set number of “unfair” kills, the “criminal” experiences a debuff that affects his or her play. Normal NPCs in cities will no longer speak to a murderer and guards will try to kill the murderer on sight when the debuff is active.
The behavior of many bosses, including Yakhmar, Kyllikki, and Vistrix, were modified to reflect an improved AI to more deeply challenge Raid encounters. A brand new master loot option was implemented. Group leaders could designate a Master Looter who is in control of loot distribution during a raid. Every group member can now also designate a personal loot distribution option during raids, and other group events, to ease the distribution burden and help their teammates. PvP maps have been improved and new maps were added.