Age of Conan – Hyborian Adventures – PC – Review

Every once in a
while a game comes along that is bold enough to break the mold of the genre to
which it is cast. The game takes some fresh approaches and gives players pause
to re-think previous perceptions.

Age of Conan –
Hyborian Adventures, from Funcom, is one of those titles. This massively
multiplayer online subscription-based title does some amazing things in terms of
combat, rethinks character classes, incorporates a strong story, dazzles
visually and is a whole lot of fun to play as well.

In order to do
justice to this title, GameZone will be running the review of the game in
several parts, breaking it into the major areas of the game. This first review
will target the first 20 levels of the game, which amounts to an introduction to
the combat system, character classes and general game flow. The next review,
which will be down the road a bit (after the next phase has been explored more
thoroughly), will take on the next 20 levels of gameplay, and so on. These
reviews are at milestone areas in the game. At level 20 the guild experience
kicks in. At level 40, crafting comes into play. The game does have a level cap
of 80.


Age of Conan (AoC,
henceforth) takes place in the world created by Robert E. Howard. While it bears
some semblance to an ancient Europe, it mixes enough real-world elements with
fantasy to give the whole game an immersive factor. There are no elves, or
dwarves, or goblins in this fantasy. It is all human-based, but there is an
undercore of evil, and demonic monsters to battle.

Let’s start at
the beginning, though …

Character
creation

You get to
choose between male and female and then pick one of the three available races –
Aquilonian, Cimmerian and Stygian. Some of the game’s 12 professions are limited
to certain classes; for example, the Stygians are the magic-wielding race and
have three professions to select from – demonologist, Herald of Xotli and
necromancer. The demonologist and necro are pet class and the herald (HoX) is
sort of a pet unto themselves. The HoX wields a two-handed weapon and can turn
into a demon for short periods of time, absorbing a lot of damage as well as
dealing it.

There are four
priest classes in the game – Priest of Mitra (which is one of the gods in the
game), Tempest of Set (another one of the gods) and bear shaman. Again, Funcom
has put an interesting spin on these classes. Consider a priest who is also a
melee machine or tank, and heals by bashing opponents. Fun? Absolutely.

The rogue class
gets some love with barbarian, assassin and ranger. It seems the barbarian is
very popular on the PvP servers, but may not be what preconceptions of the class
would deem it to be. The barbarian is a damage dealer, pure and simple, but does
not go in for the heavy armors; rather this class equips light and uses almost
every weapon scheme available in the game. As a rogue class, though, the
barbarian is not overly immune to damage.

Those who can
take a hit are in the soldier profession, and include the classes of guardian,
dark templar (a tank that has some magic powers), and conqueror (provides group
buffs).

Customization
of the character is easy. There are 21 sliders to tweak the faces (don’t look
for huge changes) and seven sliders to tweak the body. Pick a name and the
server you are going to play on (there were 25 servers at launch for
player-versus-environment and player-versus-player gaming), and you are ready to
enter the game.

Another way to
customize the character is through allocation of skill points and the feat
trees. As you kill and level, points become available in skills that you can
disseminate. These may be in such skills as climbing or hiding, or even health
regeneration. The feats tree comes in three flavors for each profession – a
general tree and then two branches for profession definement. For example, a HoX
may drop points (one feat point is earned each level after level 10) into Avatar
or Possession. An Avatar feat tree might focus on flame-based attacks, while the
Possession feat tree starts with fire, but will ultimately get to the stage
where you can take control of enemies.


Tortage

The first 20
levels of the game are an interesting blend of multiplayer gaming and
solo-player destiny quests. You begin washed up on the shore of the island, in
slaver’s clothes. The first mission is standing chained to a wall about 100
yards away. For the first five levels, you are battling through humans and
demons to the gate that will lead you to Tortage City. During these levels, you
gain a few generic skills and a couple that are profession-specific.

You will also
have the chance to upgrade your armor and weapons through loot drops.

Once you get
into Tortage, there are two types of missions available – the daytime
multiplayer quests and the night-time destiny quests. The latter takes players
deeper into the storyline and each profession sees a different piece of the
story, tailored to that class. This is a remarkable bit of gaming that really
makes the player feel as though they are the center of the story, or that it is
their story being told. Missing pieces of one character’s story are filled in
through destiny quest in another profession.

For example, as
a rogue you sneak down to the harbor to see what a spy for King Conan is doing,
only to see him arrested by the guard of the ruler of Tortage. The next time you
see him is in a camp just outside the city gates. How did he get there? You find
out other pieces to that by playing a mage, a healer and a soldier.

The daytime
quests also follow story threads and you will unravel the secret of the city by
doing them. The whole quest scheme in Tortage is needed to reach level 20, get
into the final battle for the city (a destiny quest) and leave Tortage for your
homeland.


Combat and
game mechanics

AoC departs
from the typical MMO is that there are few magic missiles, and the game is line
of sight in many regards. You will not attack an enemy behind you, but will have
to turn your character to face that opponent. The game gives you, at the onset,
three target areas to attack: to the left, to the right and down the center.
These come into play by watching how your opponent attacks and countering. You
can also use the X button to dodge – though it is not always successful.

Double-tapping
a movement key (WASD) in combat will have you leap to the side, which may have
an opponent’s attack go well wide.

As you level,
you will get combo skills, which can reduce your stamina or mana, and work in
concert with the three keys linked to attack zones. The higher the skill you
get, the more combinations of keys will be required to successfully launch that
attack.

The game
defaults to the third-person view, but if you are looking for a challenge, zoom
in to first person. If you are using a ranged weapon, you get a targeting cursor
and actually have to move the cursor with the opponent you are attacking. This
is not a lock-on system, but rather a challenging and effective element to the
game.

The user
interface is serviceable, but if there is one downfall, it is in the
arrangements of the hotbars. AoC could have taken a clue from other titles, like
Everquest II, that allows for the display of several hotbars along the bottom,
with access tied to the regular number keys as well as the Control and Alt keys
in concert with the number keys. You can open other hotbars in AoC, but these
float, can be moved and will, on occasion, jump from a horizontal display to a
vertical display. The Alt key will display another hotbar, but it just pops up
in the UI and unless you know precisely what is on there and have a sense for
the cooldown reset times of skills camped there, this is less than effective. 

Launch

It would be
nice to say that the U.S. launch of AoC went off without a hitch, but that
wouldn’t be true. There have been a few problems, especially in some areas of
the huge game world. Traders, which come into play and act as the auction
house/player bank, apparently had an exploit and the dev team has disabled them
pending a final fix.

Also, players
that got past level 20, ventured into the greater world, found problems in the
Lacheish Plains that froze the game when zoning in. The characters were unable.
The dev team, though, appears to be working very hard and is dropping in patches
as quickly as they can, keeping the game moving forward.

To really get a
feel for the game, playing several different characters (some of which will be
used in the

fiction
Funcom has approved on the GZ site) gave a reasonable range of game
experience that was very entertaining. Tortage is a great city, but moving
forward is the goal and the path can be accomplished quickly once players have
been through the zone once and found the quests that drop the biggest rewards.
But the game is pretty much what one would expect, player wish. There are those
that gank on the PvP servers, those that help, and those who lack the maturity
level the game asks for. This game is rated M for a reason. It captures the
essence of the Conan world in language, and graphically. That means blood,
decapitations, and a few unexpected surprises.

In playing
several different classes, it is apparent that no single class was a throw-away.
Thought has been given and while some are a little ‘squishy’ at the start
(meaning they die easily, and maybe often), by the time the new characters get
up around level 15, the potential and scope of the profession starts to
solidify.


Graphics and
sound

The musical
score for the game is glorious. Funcom has, in the past, released CDs featuring
the score of its other MMO, Anarchy Online. AoC will likely get the same
treatment. The musical score is robust, has an orchestral and choir sound to it
at times that is grand.

As for the
graphics, a few glitches aside, this is a visual treat. Yes, the system
requirements are a little hefty, but game’s dynamics are terrific. The game does
have dynamic shadows and lighting and the frame rate occasionally takes a hit.
One night, the FPS was cruising along in the 50s, there was a stutter and it
came back in the teens. Relogging helped, but it jumped to the 120-130 range
(with an nVidia 8800 GTX card) before stabilizing back in the 50s.

A few glitches
pop up from time to time as well. The HoX was wearing a robe that feel to
mid-thigh and, unfortunately, there was some skin missing from the thigh to the
knee.

But the
fatalities are jaw-dropping and the visuals are very well done.

Summary

Age of Conan is
a benchmark MMO. It has some tweaking yet to do, but the first 20 levels are
terrific fun. The combat offers something fresh, the visuals are appealing, the
game is both challenging and fun. Yes, there are some elements that need to be
addressed, but this game is on the right track.

Those
considering stepping into the game should be aware of the system requirements
and the personal requirements to handle a mature-rated game. But in the first 20
levels of this game, one thing is very apparent, AoC has raised the bar.


Age of Conan –
Hyborian Adventures – Review #2 – Levels 20 – 39

 


Review Scoring Details

for Age of Conan – Hyborian Adventures

Gameplay: 8.9
The UI needs a
little work, but is generally effective. The keyboard-and-mouse controls work
well enough.


Graphics: 9.5
A few glitches aside
the look of this game is amazing. The environments are diverse and appealing,
and the animations are solid.

Sound: 9.2
The voice acting in
the first 20 levels is great, and the musical score is impressive. The only
downfall is the prerequisite grunting and groaning characters do when hit.

Difficulty:
Medium

Concept: 9.5
If you have read any
of the works of Robert E. Howard, you will realize the undertaking of creating
an MMO based on that world. Funcom did a remarkable job. The game has taken the
genre in some great new directions.


Multiplayer: 9.0
The community is
actually pretty good. There are a few players that obviously lack the maturity
level to play a game like this, but those who can handle it, answer questions
and are generally nice to chat with created the foundation for what might become
a very solid and good player base.  

Overall: 9.4
This game marks the
next generation of MMOs in many ways. It looks good, is very entertaining and
plays very well. This is a journey well worth taking.
 


Editor’s note:
GameZone, in cooperation with Funcom, is publishing a series of original
fictional stories –
Tales
of Conan
– surrounding the lore and world of Age of Conan – Hyborian
Adventures.