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Combat in Age of Conan

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Editor's Note: This is a weekly column from our News Editor Garrett Fuller. Each week, Fuller will highlight new innovations in MMO gaming as well as smaller games that you may not be so familiar with.

One of the biggest complaints in MMOs for me is the combat. Up until now we have seen very basic combat systems in place for players. If you are playing a caster you run away, stop, throw a spell, and run some more until your opponent drops. If you are a tank you run up to the target, get a lock, start swinging and hit as many hot keys as you can to hit with your combos. Targeting is always easy, instead of actually missing, the game misses for you. The actually fight sometimes tends to get a bit boring. So how do we spice thing up? What type of interface can we give players to really make them feel like they are in combat? Well, steps are being taking in that direction with several games, but I wanted to draw attention to Age of Conan as a great example of creating a more realistic fighting experience.

I think back to my old days in MMOs and remember pressing my hot keys as quickly as possible hoping that last spell gets flying before I take another hit. It seems today that players want more. They want to be able to duck, dodge, and move during a fight, not just stand there and swing away watching the life bars go down in hopes that they survive. When you really stand back and look at it, the concept is very boring. Still, ten even five years ago, MMOs were only beginning so a combat system that was balanced and standard worked very well. After playing some games for many months, players could almost walk away from their PC while fighting monsters because they had everything so well set up.

Remember games on the old consoles? Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, and who here remembers Weaponlord? Those games were fast fighting games that made you work to get the win. Granted all they had to them was one-on-one fighting, but they certainly were more exciting than the point and click interface. I understand that MMO games are vast and involve many aspects of game play, but can someone honestly say that combat is probably the number one aspect? So why not make combat better.

Age of Conan is doing exactly that. From the little I saw of the game fighting at GDC a few weeks ago, Age of Conan is putting in a combat system that makes you work for the win. With the small target compass in the middle of the screen players can choose where on an opponent they want to attack. So if you want to swing at the opponent's legs you can, or their head, or even their arms. Not only that, but players can also duck and move away from swings. This always you to not only play a more involved offense, but defense as well. The fight is in your hands much more than in the game programming. As I watched the demo I saw a real fight breaking out on the screen, not just a player waiting for his tank to make the next swing.

Another element to Age of Conan that breathes more life into the fighting is the combo system. Players can link attacks to cause more damage to their opponents. Watching these combos hit again and again to devastating effect was just plain fun. Keep in mind, Conan is a mature game so blood and gore fly everywhere as you fight! To top this combo system off Funcom added killing blows to the game. Yes, I know these sound like the classic Mortal Kombat fatalities. Who cares? That was one of the coolest parts of Mortal Kombat. So as you are fighting monsters and barbarians in Conan you can finish your combos with some head chopping, strangling, gut wrenching action. It is Conan after all; heads should fly and roll down steps...in front of thousands of screaming disciples...with blood flying everywhere. Sorry, got ahead of myself there. If you don't get that watch the movie.

The point is that Funcom is looking to add much more to the combat interface of their game. For us players this may mean quicker button mashing on our part, but that is a welcome change to the earlier combat systems that MMOs offered. Keep in mind Funcom is developing Age of Conan for the Xbox 360 as well, so you can use a game paddle to play. However, during the demo they used a mouse keyboard set up. I am not sure how the two will interact in the game world, but time will tell. The horseback combat also remains in the game allowing players to ride up and chop at their foes. It seems like Funcom is doing more to bring the dynamic game play of fighting games into the MMO world. Watching this demo, they are definitely thinking outside the box.