Preview

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Preview (PC)

Age of Conan has some big balls. I mean, it has to, going up against arguably the biggest game on the planet right now; Blizzard’s all-destroying World of Warcraft. Conan wouldn’t want it any other way, mind – throughout the adult fantasy books by Robert E. Howard that make up the universe, he’s always fancied himself as a bit of a fighter, and that’s the one thing that could separate Age of Conan from the pack.

We recently had a chance to see the latest version of the long-awaited MMORPG and it was clear from the outset that the combat on display was far, far from the usual mouse clicking and hotkey pushing most online games have you doing, ad-infinitum.





“That’s been pretty much our biggest focus throughout the entire development – to revolutionize the combat system in MMOs” states Erling Ellingsen, Funcom’s product manager. A bold statement, might I add.
“We’re all so sick and tired of just walking up to something, clicking the mouse and seeing your character attack every third second or so. It’s really boring.”

He’s not wrong – MMORPG combat has always been a very dull aspect of the genre and one that, until now, has shown no real sign of progression. In Age of Conan, “real combat” is the key. Your basic attacks are mapped to directions around your character and hitting the appropriate key will cause them to swing their weapon in that direction. For example, if you have three enemies stood directly in front of you and you swing your blade widely from left to right, you’ll cut straight through them. Now, this sounds fairly standard stuff but in the MMORPG world this level of interactivity in battle is currently unmatched. Magical and special attacks are now activated by performing a combo, rather than jabbing at a number key, all the while the games excellent animation ties all the strikes and blows together to resemble something more God of War than World of Warcraft.

“You spend 90% of any MMO fighting things. The combat here feels a lot more like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter than Everquest or World of Warcraft, more involving. It’s very direct, bloody and visceral.”

It’s not all hacking and slashing, as Erling was quick to point out. Age of Conan is set to offer a rich community experience for those willing to devote their time to it. The building of guild cities for huge groups of players to socialize, buy, sell and craft in-game items and, in the case of the “battlekeeps”, lay siege to, plays a big part of the experience.

“There’s a lot of politics to the game. The whole building of your guild city – going into an area and claming a piece of land to build your city is a large part of [Age of Conan]. You’ve had player cities before in games like Star Wars: Galaxies but it is not as well developed as it is in this game.”

City building plays an important part in many aspects of the game. First of all, there is the social aspect. The ability to combine resources with members of your guild and have something physical to show for your efforts – your own guild city – is far more rewarding than any “rare drop” most other MMORPGs reward dedicated players with. A complete city is the “must have” status symbol for any serious guild, as it not only acts as a base of operations, but certain structures can help with various player job issues. For instance, building a blacksmiths will give players a place where they can craft their own weaponary, while an alchemy hall will allow people to create their own potions and spells.

Building a battlekeep opens your city to the PvP aspects of the game. Instead of the usual wreckless clicking on other players until they fall down, here things are done on a much, much more epic scale. Your enemies can lay siege to your city with huge weapons they have built, with a hundred players all storming your gates at once. Obviously, you can attack them too. Fancy a spot of land that another guild have already claimed as their own? Best start building that battering ram and sharpening those swords!

It is also worth noting that Age of Conan is a very, very pretty game. This is doubly impressive, given that MMORPGs are hardly the best looking titles available, due to the various stresses of massively multiplayer gaming. Characters are heavily customizable, choosing from three distinct races, each with realistic hair and armour with individually rendered links in the chainmail. The jungle area we saw was full of life, looking overgrown and hostile rather than the usual pathway through a corridor of trees we’re used to by now. Despite the high end graphical leanings, Erling assured us that the game would be scaleable for those with significantly less in the video card area.

“We’re using our own engine, which gives the player a lot of flexibility with their video options. You can scale this game down very, very far, so it can run on low end machines. I personally wouldn’t like to do that. Conan is a hungry beast; the more you feed it, the happier it will be!”

Due to their online nature, MMORPGs are occasionally crippled by the fact that the world needs to be consistent for every player. Huge events seen in epic single player games simply can’t happen in these massively multiplayer environments, but Age of Conan appears to have a workaround. When you sleep at one of the games many inns, you wake up at night time. During this, you are essentially playing a single player game and can take quests that shape the very world you play within. Castle walls will fall, villages will burn and the story, backed with the rich lore, will progress in a much, much more spectacular fashion than most other games in the genre.





The lore of Conan has always been one of “adult fantasy”, featuring plenty of barbarians splitting skulls and unfeasibly buxom ladies wearing the kind of gear that makes Princess Leia in her slave outfit look fit to attend a funeral. Staying true to the source material means it is almost certainly going to be aimed at the more mature market. When asked, Erling was very quick to agree.

“Oh absolutely! We’re staying very true to the source, which means we’re probably going to get an 18 certificate. It is going to be aimed at adult gamers.”

It is still in beta, and there are a few concerns as it approaches release. There were still a few bugs evident in the build we saw; things that will no doubt be ironed out in the coming weeks. It also appears to be leaning very much towards the hardcore MMORPG player, which is a risk given the success of the more casual online experience. It does seem that with a dedicated group of people playing alongside you, Age of Conan could be a rich, enjoyable world to immerse yourself in, leaving a lot more of the world’s dynamic in the hands of the players.

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Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Apr 08, 2008
herodotus
An adult game open to minors. How do you police that? Censorship aside, the graphics demands will be a problem for many, particularly the D/L cap. Countries without full broadband uncapped will find one session on Conan will blow their monthly limit. IMHO, Warhammer Online will prove more of an adversary to WoW as it is more widely known and very popular. Not too many have read Edgar Rice Borough&#039;s original Conans so it will be interesting to see what market this will ultimately end up in.
By karaquazian (SI Veteran Newbie) on Apr 09, 2008
karaquazian
When they say staying close to the material I really hope they do mean Robert E. Howard&#039;s books. It would be good if they dropped in some really hard quests from the books, i.e The Tower of the Elephant. The stories are also chronological so they could follow that chronology over time. Adding content packs based on the events around the short stories. For instance, Conan spends a few years as a pirate. Naturally you can&#039;t be Conan, but could explore the areas he encounters on his travels, bump into Thulsa Doom etc.

This sounds really good though.