The Road to Most Improved: April - August
In early April, Age of Conan released the first of its many Free Trials in 2009. This was repeated again in July and November. Throughout the year, each seemed to get more generous. Some former players suggested this may be desperation; I feel this made good business sense. With the rise in popularity of free-to-play games, players from all backgrounds expressed that they prefer to try something out before they turn over a significant sum of money. Existing players can also send seven-day free trials to their friends' e-mail addresses from the account pages.
Update 5, labeled "The Gangs of Tarantia", tackled the RPG system and the Gem System on June 23rd. It was the largest update to Age of Conan yet. All items in the game had their stats changed to a new structure that is easier to understand and provides greater impact in combat and other events. In 2008, players seldom changed out their gear, because the equipment gave barely noticeable improvements. Many felt everyone looked the same, and little incentive was given to seek out more unique appearing gear. In fact, there is a tremendous selection of appearances, class-specific, and culturally-specific gear.
Encounters and NPCs have also been "rebalanced" to reflect the stronger gear of the players. Now, as a character progresses in experience, new equipment will be needed to successfully stand up to stronger adversaries and encounters. Character stat screens are now organized by tabs grouped in a logical structure; scrolling has been minimized. On the general tab, a new armor calculation replaces many of the earlier resistances and invulnerabilities. We have a new combat stats tab that indicates a percentage of success for various combat skills. The physical tab clearly displays health and stamina taps and regens. The magical tab reveals bonus spell damage and new protections stats.
The PvP tabs on the opposite side of the screen show achievements and rankings, as well as PvP-specific stats; these also indicate PvP armor and protection yielded by PvP gear. PvP mini-games will now also provide PvP experience, of course. Increasing your PvP rank can gain you access to purchasing some of the best armor and weapons in-game. The power of your Combat Pets will now scale with your gear, in addition to granting your pets increased protection as your own gear improves. All twelve classes have been revamped in skills, abilities and feats. In combat, the new Glancing Hit indicates that you hit your opponent, but your damage to your target was reduced; this may mean that your Hit Rating is not quite high enough for this opponent. On the other hand, Overwhelming Hits occur when you are attacked by four or more opponents at once, and you will suffer from increased damage due to their coordination and pressure. The Critical Hit Rating was added and then improved.
All soldier-types can now wear plate armor. Rogue survivability has been increased. Priests have seen an increase in healing power and more limitations applied to firepower; the Tempest of Set is no longer the Nuker-god it was in 2008. Mages still have considerable firepower and their pets are under better control. Many players still feel that the Mage class is generally overpowered with more tweaking arrive to this class-archetype in early 2010. Update 6 will address this in terms of Crowd Control and Stamina Usage.
Crafters and Alchemists have cause to celebrate now. Funcom listened to the complaints about the gem system. Gem colors have been reduced from eight to six. The concept of Flawless Uncut Gems was completely removed. All Uncut Gems will be of the same quality level, and the number of these gems decreased from 96 to 36. As the player discovers more difficult content, the quality of uncut gems may be increased. The number of Cut Gems has been reduced from over 1300 to about 71, simplifying the system for Gemcrafters. Stacking Lines, Gem Size, and Random Elements have been removed from the concept of cut gems.
Cut Gems now stack. Some Gems will be marked as "Armor Only" and "Weapon Only". Six Gem Families were introduced to aid in Alchemy. Transformation Recipes were released in this Update to allow alchemists to transform uncut gems across colors and tiers. Higher level uncut gems may be transformed into multiple lower level uncut gems within the same respective Gem Family. This new system allows for future enhancement for both Crafters and Alchemists. A new modification to the in-game map allows players to learn which resource nodes are being harvested from; gatherers need to be more prepared and ready to keep moving as PvP-centric characters have begun to hunt down actively harvested nodes, as well.
Tarantia Commons was introduced with Update 5 for characters level 75 or higher. The Commons contains both a single-player dungeon and a six-man cooperative event. This wide-open non-instanced outdoor common area of civil unrest is being fought over by two rival gangs: the Crows and the Wharf Rats. The quest series is split depending on your choices and which faction you assist.
The players progress in the story and quests will affect the outcome of the public conflict. Completed quests could change the outcome for one faction or another in real-time, while interference from other players assisting the rival faction could make your quests and goals more difficult to complete. Riots can erupt at any time, usually occurring about every hour of so, and further de-stabilize the district; you can assist the rioters or assist the guards for even greater rewards from either side.