Well, it's just been just over a year since the launch of Age of Conan. A launch that was just perhaps a bit premature. And yes we've heard the line, "it's never happened to me," but in this case it happened to us all. There was way too much hype with not nearly enough payoff. The communication in game was horrific. It's tough for that whole "Multi" part of MMO to exist without the ability to effectively communicate within the game. Many gamers abandoned AoC quicker than [insert your own humorous anecdote here].
In a clever bid to lure players back to AoC, for a limited time, the folks over at Funcom are offering two free weeks of game play for Age of Conan. This offer to revisit the game on Funcom's dime was the perfect opportunity to hop back into Hyboria and see how the game holds up at present. AoC has undergone a series of massive changes in the year since its launch. Full notes on all of these updates can be found here. In addition to the basic information found at the main AoC website, there is a great Q&A session with Funcom brought to you by MMORPG's own Jon Wood here. Well without further ado, on to the review.
I am running AoC with Windows Vista Ultimate on a Dual Core E6750 @2.66, Dual ATI Radeon HD 3850, 2 Gig Corsair RAM and cable modem. The game loaded with no problems. At this point there are several updates to accompany the install, so make sure you put some time aside. It may be painless, but it sure is lengthy. One of the shortcomings I've noticed with AoC is the noticeable amount of time it takes to log into the game. Perhaps I've been to accustomed to the quick load of other games, but this borders on painful. Additionally once logged into the game, there was no quick way of switching between my characters. I was forced to completely log out of the game and begin the arduous task of logging in all over again. This is a major inconvenience for those of us with multiple characters, especially for those who just like to take a quick check in, either for their status, or perhaps a pending trade post sale. During these entrances and exits to the game I ran across a bit of system lock up. You know the game is close to starting when your machine stalls for moment. For the most part, the lag through game play was not frequent. Although when the lag struck, it struck hard. During these lag moments, both the game and my computer would freeze. Additionally there were the occasional moments of game lag during my play time. I couldn't discern a particular pattern of lag, i.e. severe "City Lag" or such, just random moments of annoyance.
The developers at Funcom have done an amazing job of creating a vision that would make Robert E Howard proud. Speaking of Robert E Howard, I think it is a fitting tribute for the man who brought Conan to life, to have small passages from his books on the load screens. The world of AoC is richly detailed. The opening cinematic is fantastic, setting the tone for the type of game the player can expect to enter. Once in the game players get a chance to create their character. This is one of the shining points in AoC. The customization of your character is astounding. AoC has gone above and beyond with the level of detail with which you can create a character. I'm not ashamed to admit that I spent an extreme amount of time playing with the advanced settings. OK, maybe a little ashamed, but c'mon folks, admit it. We all played with those settings, after all this a rated mature game. Remember mature is only in age, so act as childish as you like while creating your character. Since this is a rated mature game, keep those gore levels set to high. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with watching your monitor become riddled with gore as you successfully pull of a combination attack. You may want to save the system resources down the line and tone down the settings, but play it on high a bit, and enjoy some of the bloody details.
Once in the game, all players are subjected to the same starting zone. Only when the player is able to travel to the other provinces in the game do the true distinctions of the game's environments shine. That's not to say the starting zone is poorly developed, it's just that after seeing it over a dozen times, that beach gets real boring real fast.
While there is no denying that AoC is fantasy game, the graphics are stereotypical of the genre. There is sense of realism to it. The colors and materials of the in game world makes the player believe that this world could exist. There are no outlandish buildings that defy the very laws of physics. This believability makes AoC stand apart from other games. Although this same sense of realism can make the game a bit difficult to navigate. Parts of some zones have a way of blending together. Not some much as poor repetitive paneling, just some points don't stand out they way they do in other games. Fortunately your min map will assist you there. A little more on that later.
The music for AoC is nothing less than spectacular. After years of amassing a variety of computer game collector's editions (yes, I'm that guy), I've finally found an accompanying audio disc that has found it's way from the dust cocoon on my shelf to my Ipod. Sure, most coworkers look at me a bit strange for cranking it up a bit, but more than a few have asked about it. I think when a non gamer inquiries about gaming elements, it's a true testament to their greatness. Do yourselves a favor and give it a listen, expand those musical interests. I don't think you'll be disappointed. A lot of thought and attention to detail went into creating the music for this game. Each track is superbly paired with the zone you are in.
In addition the game's music, both the voice overs and sound effects in AoC are perfect to complete the feel of the game. There is more than one sickening crunching of bones or splattering of gore to keep even the most blood thirsty gamer sated.