Age of Conan launched with a tidal wave of hype back in May of 2008. Churning up an image of a highly action-oriented PvP dominated universe with lots of blood and breasts, it's little wonder the title shipped over a million copies to store shelves and sold over 500,000 copies to consumers in its first two weeks of existence. But the celebratory period didn't last long as glaring holes in the titles content and functionality began to show through all of the pre-launch hubbub. Age of Conan was yet another title filled with promise that simply wasn't in development long enough.
With luck for the patient gamer however, Funcom never stopped trying to make AoC a game the studio could really and truly be proud of. As they did with Anarchy Online, in the time since launch Funcom has seemingly begun to turn things around for the land of Hyboria. Winning a slew of "Most Improved" awards from the gaming press, Age of Conan has slowly been revamping the negative image that it may have portrayed to consumers early on in its life. And with the forthcoming release of their first major expansion The Rise of the Godslayer, Funcom aims to solidify AoC as one of the top MMORPGs available today... or at the very least convince its detractors that the game is worth a second look. I've recently had the chance to delve into the beta for the expansion, and the following is my overview on just what all the added content will do for Age of Conan and what it means for players new and old.
The first thing returning or veteran players should know about Rise of the Godslayer is that it's not what many might consider a traditional expansion. Usually with level-based games an expansion means that players will have new levels to achieve, climbing that character ladder ever-upward to new and more challenging encounters. There are no additional levels being added with the expansion. Instead, Funcom has wisely chosen to expand the content in a lateral fashion. One of the chief complaints laid against Age of Conan when it launched was that there was a lack of content in the upper levels to progress.
Through content updates the leveling struggle has largely been eradicated, along with the most recent addition of Offline-Leveling which allows players to accrue free levels when not logged into the game which can in turn be used to catch up to friends or bypass a hump of difficult leveling. Whether or not this is a good idea is a topic for another day, but it shows that Funcom understands the need to for more leveling content throughout the game and that they are addressing it. In terms of the expansion, Rise of the Godslayers adds new zones for both low and high level players, giving everyone a new way to climb through the ranks without always having to do exactly the same content.
The early level content comes in the form of the Gateway of Khitai: a level 20-40 zone that comes after players have completed the original Tortage starting zone. Tortage itself will have some new adventures in place for Khitan characters, but the gist of the starting experience remains intact. Whether you choose to make a new Khitan character or one of the original three nations, you'll have the option of adventuring in Khitai once out of Tortage.
Khitai is visually striking and a departure from what players may be used to in Age of Conan. Distinctly Asian flavored, Khitai has a lot of visual flair at its disposal which will make owners of DX10 cards very happy. As near as I can tell from my early days spent with the expansion, the only down side of all the new content is that its intended more for lower level players and higher level players with little in the way of mid-game content. Trust me when I say that the quests and design of the early Khitan zone is far ahead of the game's release content, and will leave you wishing the mid-game had some love of its own. But alas, once you finish out the Gateway, it won't be until you reach your upper 70s before you see the beauty of Khitai again, again, at least from what I can tell so far.
Still expansions are typically for the already acquainted and experienced player and as such Rise of the Godslayer likely won't disappoint. There is a wealth of content and new places to explore at the upper levels for veterans to explore. And while there aren't new levels to be gained, Funcom has sought fit to add in a form of Alternate Advancement which allow players to improve old spells and abilities as well as gain new ones which have a decidedly martial arts theme to them. However I haven't had quite enough time at this stage to fully explore the system so I won't comment more on it yet.
One of the other major features of the expansion is the inclusion of two new major factions within the Khitan Empire. Players must choose one to ally with (along with several more minor factions available), and in doing so they will be able to undertake quests which will result in the awarding of different armor sets. Usually gear of the top-tier must be gained through dungeon content in traditional PvE fashion, but if the faction system is any indication Funcom wants all players to have a chance at some of the game's top loot.
The faction armor sets, along with the game's new mounts (a particularly nasty wolf and a pretty wicked-looking tiger) are all achievable through solo-play. When Age of Conan was released it look as though it was set to become a Guild PvP player's dream, but the new path of the title seems to be more along the lines of LotRO than Darkfall. It's the casual MMO with a hardcore look, and Craig Morrison and crew seem to be happily adopting this line of thought with a real focus on the solo-ability and PvE dungeon content for the game.
I've only just dipped my toes into the expansion's content. Apparently the new mounts begin as pets that you must raise through to riding status. The Alternate Advancement system is looking like a fantastic way to add more diversification and individuality to your character in comparison to your friend's. And the new adventure content seems like a great fresh coat of paint on a game that's two years old. But there's a lot more to see of Conan's new Asian-themed expansion, and I'll bring you more in-depth impressions in the days leading up to the expansion's launch on May 11th.