Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Review (PC)

Funcom bring Robert E. Howardís world of Conan to the massively multiplayer masses Ė stepping into the Hyborian realms you soon learn that the riddle of steel wonít be enough to keep your head.

 If youíve ever read a Conan tale or seen the films you know the age in which Conan lives is far from enlightenment. Youíll also have noticed its non-to-shy to dish out the mature content and in that spirit Funcom has embraced its darker and grittier qualities. Cussing, scantily clad Ďmaidensí and decapitation of oneís opponents name but a few of the sinful revels, this is no online preteen braves RPG Ė this is Age of Conan.

The port city of Tortage Ė bastion of public lewdness Is his majesty attempting to compensate for something?

Before you go traipsing off to adventure youíre going to need a character first and like any good MMORPG thereís plenty to sculpt your online alter-ego. The character creation process is even a little entertaining as you mould your vision of a hero aboard a slave ship out at sea, getting battered by one ticked off storm. Its here you can select from what land youíll hail from, the cold and norse like Cimmeria, the mild and Roman mannered Aquilonia, or the hot and Arabian style Stygia. Each has restrictions on what classes you can then choose from, the North shuns sorcery for instance while the south prefers and revels in it. The fun then can begin as you really customise your character in height, build, markings and can go even further in fine tweaks to the face like the nose, eyes, mouth etc.

After youíre done creating your masterpiece itís time to get thrown into the world of Hyboria and Iím afraid whatever lofty or empowering vision you had for your new persona will have to wait a while. New characters awaken to find themselves the sole surviving slave from a horrific Ďincidentí at sea; itís on this mysterious island youíll be introduced to the mechanics of the game with the help of a tutorial reference guide. There are tons to read through and it can be a little daunting at first Ė thatís why itís probably best to just get to grips with the basics and go whack things for a while until you feel comfortable. If youíve played other MMOís out there like World of Warcraft then one thing youíll notice pretty quickly is that there are three different ways to attack. Itís these three different ways that give Funcom the room to include combo moves into the game which help deal out your wrath. Combos will be the last thing on your mind as a new player - exploration gets the centre stage, that and finding some more Ďrespectableí attire. Still, itís great to see a break from the usual auto-attack moves you usually get even if spell caster classes get left out of the fun.

Youíll soon run into your first friendly NPC and she has dialog... with audio! Yes itís quite rare to have a massively online game include audio to dialogue sequences but before you start thinking this is the norm Iím afraid itís only widespread while on the tutorial island of Tortage. Once you move on to greener and more seedier pastures the only time youíll get treated to some voice acting is when it relates to your destiny. Thatís right your destiny, each character has a series of destiny quests to complete in order to better Ďunderstandí who they are and help draw you into the Conan universe. Before all that though youíll be levelling up and wanting to spend some attribute points to start buffing up, and hereís where MMORPGs can either score with the community or draw their ire.

As Age of Conan is so fresh faced itís understandable that there are going to be some trial and error from Funcom with regards to skills and abilities Ė Blizzardís World of Warcraft for instance has undergone many such an evolution. Youíll be allocating points in the beginning to very few things and these will be close to what all classes will get to choose from. Interestingly you can spend points in increasing your climbing skill, this lets your character use ladders or scale sturdy vines to get access to areas you otherwise canít. You can also increase your running speed by pressing shift to enter into a sprinting dash, but this will use up stamina, although itís an excellent addition for both evading enemies and helping you get to places a bit quicker. Feats are unlocked at later stages, which help you focus your heroes toward more specific styles of play.

Strong story telling revolves around your Ďdestinyí; otherwise youíre out of luck Youíre going down Remuses, your quips are no match for my fire Ė plus we got a healer

After your done beating or blasting the living daylights out of a foe you can choose to rest, in fact any time out of combat, and itís while resting that your health, stamina and possibly mana will get a supercharge boost. In the early stages you wonít really need it much as your stats are low enough to boost quite quickly on their own but as you start hitting the mid-30ís a good rest is a blessing. In fact I got so used to the notion of rest and sprinting that I practically wept when I returned for a quick stint in World of Warcraft. Age of Conan is a different animal despite having similar fantasy settings with Blizzardís creation, Funcomís Hyboria takes a little getting used to but once youíre with the flow itís hard not to let the perks go.

As you go exploring more and more youíll inevitably need the map for guidance and like most others youíll uncover sections of map as you move into them for the first time. If you die youíll be resurrected at the nearest resurrection pad that youíve managed to discover, thatís right you need to actually hunt down these Ďwaypointsí or suffer the tedium of a long walk back. When you do manage to get your characters online rear handed to you, and it will happen soon enough, youíre stricken with a death penalty, which will reduce your attack rating, by a small amount. These penalties can get worse if you screw up again and havenít recovered from the last one. You can cancel out the penalty if you can reach the place of your demise and interact with a small tombstone. Some dungeon instances can even have more than one resurrection point in them which can really help keep your groups morale from embracing total despair.

Blood isnít the only thing that runs in an online RPG, money is just as vital. As Age of Conan is still so new you can forgive the players market from being the most stable and consistent place right now. Tin, copper, silver and gold make up the monetary system in Hyboria and while you may survive from the odd pieces of armour and weaponry you come across in your travels, donít think that currency will remain a secondary concern for too long. The auction house/ trade point or whatever you want to call it is far from a thriving hub of business just yet. What doesnít help is the rather poor design of it and the mind boggling decision to show every item on the list as being generic. In order to find out if an item for sale is common, good or rare etc you have to move the cursor over each item yourself Ė bad and very annoying. Unless Funcom does something the trade points are going to suffer which means players are going to suffer and that will put off new gamers.

To bolster the economy you can of course undertake some professions but in the early levels all youíll be doing is gathering resources, the actual ability to craft something comes later. The options are what youíd expect really, from leather working, woodcutting, mining etc to being able to produce weapons, armour and other goods. What makes things more interesting in Age of Conan is the feature of Guild cities. Other MMOís have experimented with player-generated towns before but havenít exactly gone as splendidly as designed. The difference here is there arenít any zones filled with player built ghost towns that just get in the way and ruin the atmosphere, no, instead Guild cities are fixed locations. There are three different places where one of these cities can be built and unless you are a part of that particular guild you wonít be able to see them. Itís a marvellous idea and doesnít just serve as a prestigious achievement; the buildings have practical uses like your own trade post access. Sieges will play major roles down the line as guilds test their mettle against other guilds but right now everyone seems to want to get on with exploring and looting the lands.

Every zone has to load, thereís no seamless open world here Iím afraid Hyboria is no lollypop playground, Funcom want a grittier atmosphere

Youíll notice that levelling your character, once past the almost single player like port city of Tortage becomes increasingly more difficult and not just because you need to rack up more experience points. Age of Conan right now is distinctively lacking in zones available and given the breadth of Hyboria, which you can see on the main map, itís almost criminal of Funcom to deprive us bloodthirsty adventures more lands to crack some skulls on. There are a good number of quests available once you step outside the main cities of each of the three main capitols but getting past level 40 and onward is a much steeper mountain to climb and the stacks of quests begin to dry up. You begin to pine for your hand holding days of Tortage too as youíre stripped of such a great and strong narrative that really fleshed out the world and characters around you Ė in fact Iíd go as far to say that Funcom spoils a new character rotten only to take away your candy as youíre dumped into the Ďrealí Hyboria.

Funcom is working to bring in more zones in some upcoming patches as right now this is one of the biggest gripes the community has, that and the whole problem with item stats and the generally disappointing range available. Thereís also trouble elsewhere for Funcom as they try to flatten latency issues as much as possible. For the most part the game runs seamlessly but then suddenly you can be hit with a huge lag spike and can be left waiting until the game kicks you out for loss of connection. Logging back in seems to solve the problem but when youíve teamed up with someone to take down a mini-boss in a less than peaceful environment the problem can escalate Ė my connection kicked back in only for me to realised that I myself was getting kicked in, my doom was assured. Bugs are a little to occasional at the moment but most can be overlooked for the greater number of things Age of Conan does right Ė like offering some of the best ever mounts in an MMORPG.

My time with Hyboria is likely to continue right up until the end of my trail period but Iím not so sure Iíd be willing to start coughing up the subscription charge until I see some real meaty updates from Funcom addressing the woes that add to King Conanís troubled brow. Age of Conan does a fantastic job of bringing Robert E. Howard's world of Hyboria and Conan alive to the online community but Funcom have still got a way to go before matching others in the market just yet, before realising the barbarian Kingís dream: ďTo crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!Ē Now thatís my kind of Royal.

Top Game Moment: Slaying the stuck-up sorcerer boss Remuses in his Black Castle sanctuary with a band of fellow adventurers, while simultaneously trying to scoff down a pizza. Good times!

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By Kres (SI Elite) on Jul 13, 2008
I went to buy it a week ago or so and heard about numerous bugs in the game and it got me unhooked. Maybe when I&#039;m back from summer vacation in 3-4 weeks I&#039;ll inspect it again. As aside for bugs, it does seem to be a good game.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jul 13, 2008
I&#039;d like to see what Blizzard have brewing for their MMOG before heading out looking for Krom.