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Age of Conan: Unchained General Article: Return to Hyboria Part 3

By Phil James on June 07, 2011

Read Return to Hyboria PART 1 and PART 2

This week in Hyboria has been about creation and destruction.  If they are two sides of the same coin, it’s a pretty unbalanced coin if you ask me.  One is certainly more fun than the other; which one that is depends on whom you ask.  I’ve been experiencing one this week and trying hard to like the other.

It’s Fun to Smash Things

I’ve been doing a lot of fighting in Age of Conan – a lot.  Smashing in skulls isn’t unique to this particular game.  In any mmo, if you want to get ahead, get a weapon, and start swinging (or casting), but AoC has a reputation for being a bit grindy.  It’s very much a quest based game, however when it was first released there were certain level brackets that lacked content, forcing you to kill for your xp.  This time around, I haven’t found that to be the case.  There has been more content added to see you through the dry patches, but I think I might have run out of quests here and there if it weren’t for my speeded up levelling curve.  I’ve been using double xp potions and the adding the occasional offline level to keep myself ahead of the quest curve.

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Even so, I’ve still been grinding a lot.  The reason being that many of the quests are of the kill x amount of mobs quests.  This is a pretty common quest and wouldn’t really stand out in AoC except for the fact that I’ve never been asked to kill less than 10 of anything.  12, 16, heck even 20 is the order of the day in Hyboria.  I guess the npcs here are that much more blood thirsty than their counterparts in other games.

Luckily I love the combat system in Conan.  Timing my combos and manoeuvring around foes in order to keep as many in your front arc as possible really does keep you on your toes.  It’s one of the few games where I’ve actually watched the action instead of my hotbars and health.  Seeing my character perform fatalities is one of my new pleasures in life.  The game kindly runs the action in slow motion so I can see my foe’s knee buckle with a well-timed strike and then while he’s down he gets a few blows to the head. Is it going too far too mention that blood pours down their chests?  I’m not violent at all in real life so don’t try to profile me, but in the world of Conan, only the most brutal victories count.

I’ve also been loving my knockback attacks.  Early on I received the Slam ability which puts mobs down on their behinds, after a few levels though this becomes ineffective.  Not to worry though as I have the great fortune to have the Shield Sweep attack.  If there’s a better ability in the history of MMOs, I’d be surprised.  Not only does it knock enemies down, but it works on practically anything.  Mounted foes?  Not a problem.  Get them off their high horses with a quick blow from you shield.  Even that feat pales in comparison to the first time I knocked a yak off its feet.  I mean, a yak.  what other game, eh?

So yeah, I’ve been fighting a lot, but that’s cool as grinding is another way of saying ‘learning your class’.  Hopefully, if I get to do any dungeon runs, I’ll have clicked all those buttons so many times that, I’ll be an expert by then.  On the subject of dungeons, I did a brief survey in my guild regarding what there was to do before the level cap.  I was which are the best instances to look out for, however, so far I’ve seen no groups forming for these.  I guess this has become a level cap game.  Hopefully the recent announcement regarding the free/cash shop model will see a decent intake of new players to the game.

Lord of Creation

As well as battering things to within an inch of their lives (and then adding another two inches for good measure), I’ve been getting into the crafting system.  Ok, I say I’m getting into it, but it’s not as straight forward as that.  When I played the game on its release, I didn’t make it as far as level 40, the level needed to learn tradeskills.  I wasn’t too bothered though as I’m not a huge fan of crafting and I hadn’t heard anything good about it from other players.  I know I should have formed my own opinion, but when nobody has a good word to say about something, I don’t get encouraged to try it out.  This time around, for the sake of fairness and a balanced report, I decided to get stuck in to D.I.Y.

Each of the original three factions has its own crafting zone.  As I was doing some adventuring in Cimmeria, I headed over to Lacheish Plains to begin my apprenticeship.  Once again, nothing is convenient in Age of Conan.  On top of only having trainers in these specific zones, they are a couple of zones away from the trader (Age of Conan’s auction house).  So at the times when I needed to pick up a few things to speed up the process, I was out of luck.  Everything besides levelling up is a slow process in Hyboria.

Before you think I’m just here to complain, I have something to admit.  I do love the harvesting system here.  First off, you can train up to harvest all types of material, you aren’t limited to one or two.  The game likes to do things a little differently though; you don’t get any skill points for your harvesting, if you want to improve you have to complete quests.  Take mining for example.   At first you get trained in copper mining and given a mission to bring back 20 pieces of copper.  Once you have done that you can learn to mine tin which is a rare drop from copper nodes.  So back out you go mining away until you strike lucky.  After that, if you are level 50, you learn the next grade up and so on.

But that’s not the part I love.  Where Funcom have set their gathering apart from other games is that their harvesting nodes are static.  You will always find them in the same spot.  Each of them has a kind of health bar, and every time you gather something up it depletes.  Once it’s empty you can’t get anything until it begins to refill again.  Sometimes you do have to suffer the anguish of running to a node only to find that it’s half depleted.  Ah, the highs and lows of mmo gaming.

All well and good, however, nothing in Hyboria is that easy.  While you are picking, or mining or chopping away there’s a chance you will be on the receiving end of a bit of the old violence.  I’ve been attacked by claim-jumpers, druids, foresters among other things.  Sounds like a pain right?  But I love it.  It breaks the monotony of harvesting, and it helps prevent bots from draining all the resources.  The other handy thing is that the mobs tend to drop decent materials for crafters.  And to top it all off it’s a constant reminder that Hyboria is not for the weak, even gathering cotton is a deadly undertaking.

Levelling up your tradeskills uses a similar system to level up as harvesting.  You take on a quest to make a few basic items before you can move on to the next tier up.  I tried, really I tried, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like it.  Getting all the correct components together and clicking ‘make’ doesn’t really do it for me.  I don’t mind so much if I’m out and about in the wide world and I can create stuff as I go WoW-style, but having to spend my time in a dedicated crafting zone pushes none of my buttons.  I realise I’m just one man and not everyone sees things this way.  I’m even willing to accept that I may be in the minority.  So for the sake of being fair I’ll say there’s nothing wrong with the Conan system, in fact it’s different enough that if you are into tradeskills, you will probably get a kick out of it.  It just ain’t for me.

It turns out that I did more destroying than building this week. I kind of suspected that would be the case, but that’s ok.  What Age of Conan doesn’t offer me in tradeskill fun, it more than makes up for with the brutal dance of its combat system.  Now if you will excuse me, I’m off to drain a few pints of somebody’s blood.

Chaaaaarge!

Phil James / Husband, Father, Comedian, Writer. Sort of in that order.

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