Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer Review (PC)

As has been extensively documented, Age of Conan's entry into the MMO fold didn't come without its share of teething problems. Following a well-produced initial twenty levels set in the port town of Tortage, players found that content steadily dropped as they reached the mid-to-end game, resulting in an experienced hardcore group of fans that had little to do except hang around and eventually quit. That fall in subscribers and the subsequent consolidation of over half of Conan's servers hasn't deterred Funcom however, with the developer steadily trickling new content into established zones, plugging levelling gaps, and now unleashing a tidal wave of improvements with the anticipated Rise of the Godslayer expansion. If you're a newcomer or a fallen veteran, it may well mark the perfect time to jump into Conan's low-fantasy world of adventure, violence, and bouncing naked flesh. Who knows, you might want to stick around.

Godslayer then, revolves around five new zones themed on an Eastern Empire. As a new player, the first of these you'll encounter is the Gateway to Khitai (aimed at levels 20-40), which is accessible after finishing the infamous Tortage opening. Whilst most will opt to pay for caravan travel to their new destination, choosing the alternative 'free passage' route displays a hint of the effort that Funcom has expended to make Godslayer memorable for the right reasons. One of several solo instanced set pieces can (and frequently does) ensue on the journey, tasking players with fighting off the Undead, battling a Kraken, investigating an island, defending against a surprise attack or several other permutations. It's a neat way to include some dramatic content that may otherwise have ended up on the cutting room floor, and whilst it's a tad gimmicky, it's also a welcome change of pace that at least attempts to illustrate the dangers of a long journey.

Some of the new areas are fantastically designed

Once you're within the gateway, a renewed focus on depth of content is immediately apparent. Quest vendors are frequently strewn throughout the beautifully-rendered rocky and alternately verdant land, dynamic encounters are numerous, and themed areas blend into the landscape as they're scattered liberally across a zone of considerable size. It's here that you first encounter the new faction system too, which provides a total of 10 new groups for which to quest or annoy. Benefits gained from the new factions are considerable and well thought-out, armour sets are combinable and offer up a vast array of customisable class options, and it's easy to back-track and regain the loyalty of any group that you fancy pillaging for quest rewards. If you can't be bothered (most faction quests tend towards a grind) or simply need a quick way of purchasing a missing item, faction vendors are available to provide a selection of goods that you may otherwise miss out on - but be prepared to pay the price.

As expected, Godslayer also contains two new mounts (or pets, depending on your choices) in the form of an incredibly cool-looking Tiger and slightly less-so Wolf, with each requiring a fair amount of effort to 'train' via their own quest lines. As distinguishing features are concerned these about the best of the new bunch. Both are fairly scarce at the time of writing, and for once they encapsulate something genuinely useful, as the sprawling territories of the expansion are a far cry from the original's relatively narrow focus. But whilst top-level players may be able to attain them with relative ease, they may also be disappointed to realise that Godslayer has eschewed tradition elsewhere and keeps the overall level cap static. Or, they may not, as the new 'alternative advancement' system brings something altogether different to the table, and it's definitely not half-cooked.

Full of Eastern Promise

Advancing your character without a traditional leveling process can take a little while to get used to, but Funcom's choices have delivered a system that offers up a far superior level of tactical diversity than previously available. AA points are accumulated from both PvP or PvE throughout the duration of your session, and these can then be pooled into a new set of perks, which are broadly divided into PvP, PvE and General skill trees. Some of these are simple passive boosts, some are active, but the kicker is that only a maximum of two from each tier can be selected and equipped in the new 'perk bar' at any one time. Some perks require double slots, some single, and so managing your offensive and defensive boosts becomes an active part of the challenge, particularly from what was seen of the difficulty to be found in the remaining four level 80 zones that comprise the rest of the expansion.

  It would be remiss of me to comment too much about the content on offer at such levels, as although I did sample every zone, it was with a character created specifically for testing and loaded out with all manner of perks and equipment. As a content tourist however, I can say that you should expect a much higher difficulty spike than perhaps was anticipated, and that the beauty of design doesn't tail off at any stage. Paikang in particular is spectacular, and well worth the slog to reach.

He's a friendly chap when the camera isn't around

Overall, Godslayer's huge and sprawling territories and abundance of early and late-level content is perhaps not what you'd expect from an expansion, but then this is effectively a Hail Mary pass from Funcom, and you get the feeling it might be their final attempt at appeasing long-serving subscribers and bringing in a new audience. If they lock people in at levels 20-40, then the rest of the game is ostensibly fleshed-out enough at this stage to carry them through, and at the cap of 80 players now have an incredible amount to delve into. It might have been nice for them to provide an alternative to Tortage perhaps, and maybe the could have provided something a little different between 40 and 80, but that would probably funnel people too far away from the original for it to be worthwhile.

As it stands, Age of Conan in this state is a hell of a lot closer to the world that people envisaged prior to the original release, and Godslayer simply fills one of the final gaps and expands horizontally at higher levels. If there ever was a game that desvered an official relaunch, this would be it.

Best Game Moment: Exploring beautiful new Eastern territory

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