I must be honest here, I never really got into Age of Conan when it first released. There were far too many issues I was hearing about for me to break away from my self-destructive obsession with World of Warcraft. I was always intrigued however as anything that combines MMOs and Robert E. Howard was indeed something I had to play one day. The game was inevitably added to the ever growing list of “will get to you soon” and never reached the top.
That was until a colleague of mine discovered I had never played and vowed to have me play this game; it was all I heard about. He would go on to tell me about the engaging combat system, the breathtaking recreation of the world, and the stunning graphics it was portrayed with in painstaking detail. May 2011 came around and Age of Conan went free-to-play and unrated. It was time; I could justify playing the game without spending a cent and hey if it was worth it I might even buy premium access.
Age of Conan: Unchained is your typical MMORPG and functions essentially in the same manner, you quest, raid and PvP all the same. The differences are in the improvements on these traditional systems to provide a completely different take on how MMOs are played. Set entirely in the lore rich world of Conan the Barbarian, players are able to explore a world crafted to a likeness that even Howard himself would approve of.
Gameplay – 7/10
As players create their first character and begin their Hyborian Adventure one thing will stand out initially; the combat system. There is no auto-attack, faceroll rotations to be seen within AoC and this is a welcome change. Players can swing their weapon from various directions (left, downward slash, right etc), but this is more than just a gimmick, enemies will defend from different directions more efficiently than others meaning you are constantly changing the direction in which you attack from.
The combat system keeps you engaged and save you from falling asleep during those grind sessions. Combat in Age of Conan really is a thinking man’s games; once you get past this initial mechanic there are combos to consider. Some skills will require you to follow up the initial attack with a directional swing, failing to do so will cancel the skill altogether. This adds a whole new element to combat, not only do you have to keep track of the defense HUD but you must also avoid using combos which require you to swing at a highly defended direction.
When you are recreating a world backed by so much literature and lore there is the task of making sure you bring this to life. Players will level and quest, crawl through solo and group dungeons and follow stories arch along the way. Funcom has done a great job of providing plenty of content for players to sink their teeth into and the inhabitants of the world really feel like they are something you would pick straight out of the Conan Universe. Quests are handed out in hubs, the first being the famous city of Tortage.
Something interesting here is Funcoms approach to questing and grouping, some dungeon areas are a single instance meaning you can just waltz in and see if anyone is around to help. An interesting addition although not quite unique is the single player experience offered within the game, first experienced in Tortage going into “night mode” offers players their own instanced version of the city to quest and explore in on their own. The quests are well written and there is a gripping storyline present to keep players on the edge of their seat.
Age of Conan isn’t by any means a casual game, as player progress further into the game into the end-game dungeons there is a lot of frustration that will be met by those unprepared. Staying in line with an engaging combat experience, dungeons will throw everything they have at you to keep you on your toes. Some dungeons will have you creeping through jungle paths trying not to touch poisonous plants while wild pigs charge down the path trying to knock you down while others will have enemies shooting down arrows at you while a boss is throwing down aoe damage. To succeed in this game you need to execute your strategies perfectly.
Innovation – 6/10
Rather than make bold claims and throw out that Age of Conan is an innovative title I am just going to outline a few things that Funcom have done well. Ever disagreed with how everyone in an MMO is a ghost? Seems like Funcom did and everyone in the game is made of solid matter, no passing through mobs or players. When groups of enemies are attacking a player they will spread out and surround them rather than stacking on top of each other.
The next thing Age of Conan does well is take up your hard drive space, with just a basic install my game folder is 21.5GB, it is said if you download everything the folder can get up to around 35GB. This is massive for an MMO, and I am yet to see anything other than World of Warcraft that can match this mammoth size for an MMO. Players will see once they enter the game however, why all this space is required.
Aesthetics – 9/10
Exploring the world is something different, the zones aren’t just wide open spaces spotted with groups of mobs. Each area in the game has its own atmosphere and players will be creeping through jungles, riding on horseback down winding mountain paths and navigating narrow city streets. Each new area possesses a spectacular view that will have players stopping for a moment to snag some screenshots and absorb the fully realized world.
Not only is the world massive but the graphics are really holding up well. Some of the sights to be seen in the game are breathtaking, stepping out into the world and seeing the rays of light shine through the trees, tall fields of grass that part at you step through them and some highly detailed textures all make the world come to life. Funcom has gone to great lengths to put every little detail they can into the game. Simple things such as statues have immense amounts of attention paid to each little groove, what material it is made out of and how the light should reflect.
The result is a game that can still stand up with today’s contenders for graphically demanding games. This experience can be held back a little with the clunky ui, while everything works there are some things which still need improving. The map for example has a legend that blocks over part of your view, meaning you have to zoom to an appropriate level and drag that section of the map out from behind the legend.
The audio for the most part is one of the most immersive parts about the game, the soundtrack is absolutely epic and as a player who normally mutes the music straight away due to being insanely picky; I was surprised to find it hard to play without music. The soundtrack fits perfectly and helps to set the mood for each distinct region within the world. To accompany the songs of Conan is a large chunk of audio dialogue; players will notice all their quests in Tortage are given with audio dialogue rather than the standard wall of text. Don’t get too excited however, as this randomly stops later on in the game; this is the only complaint as far as aesthetics and really cheapens the experience once you get to this point.
Polish – 7/10
This is a big issue for me, there are a lot of things in the game that are incredibly polished but at the same time there is a list of things that are ultimately broken. For the most part the game is a very polished Free-to-Play title, the game looks great, and there are tons of quests, deep combat systems and some clever gameplay mechanics.
There is however a lot of issues with lag, which for the most part is just due to the amount of information the game, must send to and from the server, but also a lot of balance issues which can break late game for some players. Classes are still in need of tweaking and balancing, a never ending battle for all developers and the difficulty of some of the later raids is questionable. Crafting is something that is also lacking, and needs quite a bit of work to bring it up to date.
Social – 8/10
Nothing brings people together like all-out war, and Age of Conan has plenty of it. Guilds can build their own player cities and engage in siege warfare and large scale world PvP. This creates a bond in a world gone mad, where the lines are blurred between friend and foe. All the standard chat features are here, and players should never have any trouble contacting the players they are after; the social system works great. The game does feature a group finder similar to other MMOs that makes finding a group for particular quests or dungeons a breeze.
Longevity – 8/10
The level cap in Age of Conan: Unchained is 80 and there is plenty to keep players busy, if you are just starting out then expect months of effort before you are rubbing shoulders with the top players. As the years have passed Funcom have managed to expand the game massively, adding in regular Adventure packs and updated content, the latest being the Savage Coast of Turan; inspired by the latest Conan movie.
The benefit now is that AoC has had time to mature, the content count has grown dramatically and there is now something in the game for the hardcore full-time players and those who just wish to take their time and do their own thing. There are announcements being made even still for plans to further continue the release of content on a larger scale, but right now there is more than enough on offer for players.
Value – 8/10
Age of Conan: Unchained as a whole provides a very solid MMORPG experience, and the game as a whole is extremely high quality. The problem lies in the subscription model, the games says Free-to-Play but it seems we need a new genre to define AoC and some other titles of late. AoC is more Free-to-Try than anything else, while you can experience a large portion of the game for free; the end game content requires you to buy the adventure packs to gain any value out of the game.
If you come into the game expecting to one day become a subscriber then you will be a lot less disappointed. There is no rush to subscribe for premium or and players can experience the majority of the content on offer before deciding whether the game is worth the time and cash investment.
There are so many factors that need to be taken into account to decide whether this game is right for you, and it really comes down to whether you can look beyond the imperfections. If you are a fan of the Conan Universe, or the pirate lifestyle in general then it goes without saying there is absolutely no excuse not to give Age of Conan: Unchained a go.
Funcom has brought the game a long way since its rocky beginnings and a lot of care has been taken in improving each aspect of the game that is currently not up to par. For a game that for quite some time looked like it would cease to exist, it is exciting to see the game back on its feet. There are many hours to be spent exploring this beautifully crafted world, and I completely geeked out many times. The latest Adventure Pack has helped to bridge a large gap between the Tier 3 and 4 raids, an issue that plagued many players and halted progression. With the right eye players will find a magical world full of rich lore, gruesome gore and plenty of barely clothed wenches. What more could you truly ask for?