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Jon Wood Posted:
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GDC Preview: Age of Conan

Garrett Fuller had the chance to check out Funcom's Age of Conan at the recent Game Developers Conference.

At GDC this week, we were lucky enough to get a chance to look at the new demo for Age of Conan. Funcom is certainly putting the polish on this title and continues to work to make the game look and feel like the barbaric Hyborian world that Robert E. Howard had created. Last time we saw the game was at E3 back in May. The look of the game has been upgraded considerably in the graphics department with a very crisp texture and great artwork in the world. Despite having the launch delayed, it seems like the team are in the polishing phases before they plan for Beta in the coming months. Some of these features you may have heard of before, but several new elements were also shown at GDC.

In regards to character creation, players can start out as a Cimmerian, Aquilonian, or Stygian. Funcom describes each with the Cimmerians as the barbaric viking type race, Aquilonia as ancient Rome around the time of its fall, and Stygia as having an Egyptian influence. The customization in the character creation is very in depth. Players can spend a long time creating the look of their characters or allow for the game to randomly give you a certain look.

Players begin the game on a solo adventure which carries them from level one to twenty. At this time, you can select your archetype and eventually your specific class. This way players can get a feel for what they want to do before they have to make any choices. Questing covers the levels of the game from Destiny quests, which will take you all the way to the end game with many area quests to do along the way. There is a master apprentice system in the game so that players can help each other out. This was also put in for players who may not have a lot of time. It will allow them to remain competitive and cooperate with casual and hardcore players alike.

To give you and example of the type of content in the game and how it is definitely geared toward a more mature audience, one of the quests we saw had the player drag a corpse from the jaws of a monster crocodile. Obviously, the croc was unhappy with you stealing its meal and you have to fight it out over the dead body. Quests will also have voice work integrated into them to give what Funcom hopes will be a much more realistic experience to the player.

Another quest we saw had the player protecting a caravan as it moved through the Stygian desert. As you (the player) guard the camels, the AI is smart enough to react to everything attacking the caravan. You can help fight off lions, bandits and get the merchants to safety. In the end you must also collect the heads of the lions you killed. To give you an idea of game play time, the Stygian area deals with levels twenty two to forty (these numbers may change). If you really want to explore the area, you could spend about one hundred hours of game time really getting to every quest and corner of the zone.

One of the unique elements to Conan is the combat in the game. Combat has a very wide range of moves as well as combos for players to explore. With the small arrow system at the bottom of the screen, you can target different parts of an opponent. There is also an integrated dice roll system that will generate critical hits during a player's attack pattern. Not only can you strike different parts of an opponent, you can also dodge and move while fighting. The combat is very fast paced with a lot of player skill involved in beating your opponents. As you grow in level, your attacks and combos will become more effective and quite deadly.

There is a very strong interface in the game for players to build social networks. The system to find groups or guilds is easily accessible in the game. Instead of players having to type out in chat, using the social interface allows players to form and shape the community in the game itself.

In describing how players can attack different NPC camps, Funcom pointed out that they wanted to give players different options to solve the same problems. Perhaps a player will poison the camp's water supply, attack with ranged weapons or magic, or simply charge right in and slaughter everyone. There are raids in the game with the highest group number up to twenty four members battling it out in dungeons. We also got to see several of the giant demon bosses that lay in wait for their victims. The game plans to launch with over four thousand different monsters in Hyboria. The AI on all of them was described by Funcom as smart, evil, and cunning.

While leveling up, players have the option to chose a light or dark path. This will eventually impact the look of the player as they grow stronger. This roleplaying choice has no impact on PvP however. The PvP will be strictly guild based. Players can create their own cities and resources and fight it out in the Border Kingdoms for power. PvP is also tiered, so lower players can fight each other on an equal field. This way there won't be any griefing in the game.

Another area Funcom is focusing heavily on is music. The in-game music plays a heavy role in combat and content. Right now, there are four people at Funcom simply working hard to make sure that there is a lot of music in the game to create the mood. When you enter comba,t the music begins and get more triumphant as you get closer to killing your foe. If you start to do poorly and get closer to your own death, the music changes to a more desperate theme as you fight for your life.

Some of the other things about Age of Conan that were randomly mentioned don't really fit into a single game mechanic category. Funcom did say that the game will have technical specs along the lines of a game like Oblivion. There will also be a clearly stated range for different graphic cards and PC capabilities you can use. Also, Funcom plans to get players into the action quickly. They are doing everything they can to cut down the grind factor and long downtimes in the game. They want players to get to the fights and stories quickly without having to wait for travel. Finally, in regards to Xbox 360 and PC game play, Funcom hopes to have hybrid servers which can support both platforms.

Age of Conan has been given a great deal of polish over the last few months. The version of the game had crisp graphics, intelligent AI, and vast landscapes for players to explore. With an October launched planned Funcom still has plenty of time to make the game even better for fans and players. Just think in a few months you'll be able to fight Thoth'amon himself. Until then, look forward to the upcoming beta later in the year and sharpen that sword, decapitations are still very gruesome for players to enjoy.


Jon Wood