The Art of the Siege - Age of Conan style
“What price glory? What honor in the savagery of war? The only hope is to forget who we are, what we stand for, to lose ourselves in the moment, and then forget what our eyes have seen. To do otherwise is to invite madness.” – Shantyra, of Aquilonia
It all begins benignly enough, but when the clock ticks down, the armies advance and the world plunges into a frenzied pace where one moment you are alive and the next you are on a resurrection pad. Heal fast, my friend, for the battle is still fully engaged.
The Age of Conan has two types of servers – PvE (player versus environment) and PvP (player versus player). The game is violent and visceral. It is not intended for those of fragile sensibilities, particularly those who may take offense if someone plants a blade in their avatar’s back, or roots them and then calls down storms and fire to turn them into fried shells of their former selves. After, PvP servers are wide-open affairs were all this, and worse, can occur. For the most part it is not personal; it’s just a part of the game and part of what makes a PvP server so challenging.
But Conan has another element, where allied clans can team up and at the scheduled time, either lay siege to a keep or defend it from the trebuchets, catapults and scores of attackers that want to pull it down and win the day.
Night is the ally of the ranger, a cloak to hide the sting of the arrow’s flight. But night was fading, trappled away with every footfall of the advancing armor. Soon, the light of dawn would crest the horizon, and the battle for the Burnheim battlekeep would begin in earnest. Worse still, the keep, perched high on rocky crag cast long shadows, a shelter for those who wore shadows like a cloak.
She knew they were there, a slight movement was all that was needed to betray their presence, then her arrows would find them. At least, that was the plan. Once the battle for the keep was fully engaged, her goal would be different – cut down those putting up trebuchets.
She heard the voice of the one who had taught her so many years ago in the mountains of Cimmeria, the one who had prepared her for this day.
“Forget your fears, leave your doubts. Live in the moment. Fight for your survival. Do anything less and you invite death to dance."
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Sieges are planned and put on a calendar. There are times when teams meet up and zone into the area where the keeps will be contested. This is a siege warfare. Nodes are taken to shorten up respawn points, but the fighting is generally a no-holds-barred battle – exhilarating, alarming but a whole lot of fun. Teams generally use external voice chat programs, like Ventrilo, to have commands issued, teams rally to certain areas to breech the hole in a wall, or to protect equipment used in the siege. The fighting is ferocious, and players are tasked with targeting through the hordes of pets running around the battlefields, finding the players, protecting and destroying.
On the PvP servers, level is important and while teams can only have a finite number of players (four groups of 6 players) per side, PvP ranking (achieved through combat in the world and in mini-games) is important.
But even the mini-games will not prepare a player for the all-out bloodfest of a siege.
Muscles screaming in rage at the exertion, the barbarian’s axe sliced downward. The body in front jerked at the force, convulsed and then fell to the side. They were not people any more, not the enemy, but rather objects that attacked, trying to get to the catapult that he was assigned to defend. There was a gapping hole in the wall, but rather than egress to the tier below the keep’s final wall, it was filled with bodies streaming out. Defenders, lungs bellowing challenges, eyes ablaze with anger, faces flushed with the same rage the barbarian felt.
An Amazon warrior to his left charged a mage, in the throes of spell weaving, her sword impaling the chest of the enemy. He looked startled, then angry, and finally sad before his eyes glazed over.
Another appeared in front of the barbarian, dual blades catching a bit of the sun – burning bright against the placid blue sky – as the blades arced toward the barbarian’s chest. His foot shot out, catching the attacker in the chest and driving her backwards. He planted the foot and kept the motion alive, spinning and guiding the axe head in a slicing motion through the abdominal muscles. The blood of this enemy splashed on the already-drenched armor of the barbarian as the enemy staggered back. The confidence of the Aquilonian foe was replaced with worry. She was going to try to run, but a staggering blow delivered disoriented her. Then the axe went back to work, bleeding the life from her. An archer nearby saw the intent and fired a crippling arrow. There would be no running, no escape, only the embrace of death.
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Sieging is nothing new to the AoC gameplay element, and Rise of the Godslayer – the latest expansion, which features a new land and new gear to collect – certainly does not change the core, only some of the tools. And, in the MMO world in general, the concept of massive player battles for keeps or castles is also not new. Both Dark Age of Camelot and Lineage II – among the earliest of the modern age of 3D MMOs – had it. Much of what happens during a siege, though, depends on player perspective – how well you can follow orders (or if in the command slot, give them), how well you know your character class and play to its strengths and not just run around trying to be a tank when you are a support class, and how you handle the inevitability of dying – often.
Eliminating potential frustration before the battle is also paramount to enjoying the experience – and some of the frustration is solidly in the hands of players.
Example 1: AoC is a beautiful graphic game, but those incredible textures and effects come at the cost of reducing frame rates depending on the graphics card and other variables. Reducing the graphics for a massive battle is an easy step and while some things may be sacrificed, it may not be a player character who can barely move because his or her PC is vainly trying to process everything happening on the screen at once and thus reducing the player to a few frames a second. For some machines, going into the user interface and clicking on the Raid/PvP graphics button is enough; for others, reducing it down to medium or so will do the trick. Graphics can always be elevated back up later, but for sieges, having a better FPS is tactically wise.
Example 2: Before the siege begins, scout the terrain. Don’t get too close to the enemy encampment because these are PvP zones and running into one of their camps could well result in a trip to a rez pad. But familiarizing oneself with the battle grounds may pay dividends later in knowing which rez pad to use, or if the siege commander yells for your squad to form up at a certain building or wall partition, knowing where you are going is better than wandering about – and likely ending up at another rez pad because you went the wrong way.
Once you have done all that can be done, lean in and enjoy the experience. Sieges can last a while and a successful defense or attack has its in-game rewards, but most of the satisfaction is garnered far beyond the worlds of Hyboria.
The siege equipment was mostly broken, burned, scraps of former power scattered across the compound inside the outer wall. The enemy was retreating, its siege as broken as the trebuchets left behind. A few of the more enthusiast defenders were following, striking down stragglers.
The ranger sat roughly down on the hewn planks of the inner keep wall, exhausted, a bit bloodied, but otherwise doing well. Death had come calling, the symphony of its dance beginning its overture, resounding in clash of steel, the crash of magic, the crackle of fire spells and the cries of those who had died. But this time, the song was not played til its end; this time, the defenders had emerged victorious – if victory was possible amid the cleaved bodies, the blood-stained landscape and the ruin that was left in the wake of the battle.
There would be other battles, other keeps to defend or attack, but for now, it was time to rest.