Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures PC Review
The world of MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games); one of the fastest growing genres within the gaming world. There is never a shortage of new ones being released, but rarely do we see one rising to high popularity and longevity. World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, EVE Online, Guild Wars; these giants of the MMORPG world are a tough act to follow, but Age of Conan rises to the challenge and attempts to make something of itself, sword and axe at the ready.
Conan and the world of Hyboria are the creation of Robert E. Howard, an American author writing in the 1930s. Rather than being a world filled with races such as elves and dwarves, AoC is low-fantasy, focusing more on realism and the darker aspects of humanity. Moral ambiguity is rife in this genre and is one of the many things that make the game unique within MMOs. The inspiration for the game comes directly from Howardâ€™s books, rather than the interpretations made since. The game setting takes place a year after the events of the book, The Hour of the Dragon. Those expecting to see Arnie look-alikes prancing around the wilderness, rescuing helpless virgins will be, thankfully, disappointed.
Age of Conan was developed by the Norwegian company, Funcom, and was released on May 17th 2008. Funcom have been responsible for such games as Anarchy Online and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.
The world of Hyboria is on the brink of war. King Conanâ€™s lands are threatened on several fronts; on one side he has the savage Picts biting at his heels, on the other Thoth-Amon, a powerful Stygian sorceror, schemes to twist the lands to his will. Not only do the worldâ€™s warriors have to contend with savages and fanatical cultists but the land is plagued by the undead and vicious beasts.
Your character is thrown into the centre of it all when the ship you are enslaved upon is sunk and you wash up on the shores of the island of Tortage. With only your slaveâ€™s manacles, a rather unattractive loincloth and a mysterious mark branded upon your chest, you attempt to make your way in a very hostile world, guided occasionally by strangers with unknown motives.
This is the first noticeable aspect Age of Conan has going for it; the emphasis on storyline. Not only does the plot feature heavily in the start of your adventures, but your character is made important in the grand scheme of things. Something a lot of other MMORPGs lack. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is, in fact, a single player game as it focuses so heavily on solo play to begin with. Once you reach the first town, you are given the option to enter â€˜night timeâ€™ play, where no other players may join you. This allows you to do your â€˜destinyâ€™ quests and further the main plot. You may switch back to daytime mode at any time in order to do normal quests with friends.
Each of the destiny quest NPCs (non-player characters) have voiceovers as well, making the game play even more immersive. Every quest on the island of Tortage is treated in the same way and it is only when you leave the area, usually after your 20th level, that the voice-overs cease in the normal quests. This might be disappointing to some, due to the quality of acting, but itâ€™s likely to be time-consuming and costly to repeat this throughout the entire game.
But donâ€™t let the heavy plot fool you, this game is as much about pounding your enemies as it is about listening to some old scholar blabbing on about a lurking doom. And the combat system is truly unique. Instead of merely pressing one button to activate a skill, you have a choice of three directions from which to hit your opponent. Skills require you to press these directional buttons in a specific order to activate them. It makes the combat both diverse and tactical, as your enemies can block certain directions too, making some skills less effective in one moment and powerful in the next.
Add to that the ability to dodge out of the way of any attack, making range very important to combat, and you have a system that requires thought rather than mere button bashing. This might also make it frustrating for newcomers or those with impaired digital dexterity. Although the game does ease you into the combat, PvP (player vs. player) can be extremely brutal.
The game does feature some intensive PvP aspects and if you create a character on a PvP server, then expect to get pounced upon at any time. There are specific areas where you are safe from being ambushed but the majority of locations on these servers allow for a free-for-all type of play. There are no factions, like in World of Warcraft, so itâ€™s you against the world. If youâ€™re new to the game, you can find yourself at the mercy of more experienced players quite often, making questing difficult.
If, however, you choose to play on a PvE (player vs. environment) realm, it will allow you to appreciate the surrounding locales a bit more. And the graphics are nicely done. Rather than the more cartoony feel of World of Warcraft, Age of Conan goes for realism and immersion. The character models are very detailed and highly customisable, and who doesnâ€™t like spending hours making new characters, right? The architecture of each culture can be linked to our own past and is easily recognisable, for example the Stygians are quite obviously based upon the Ancient Egyptians. The music is equally fitting and well composed, adding to the atmosphere of the game. So much so, itâ€™s hard to play without sound at all.
With the vast array of features the game has, such as mounted combat, guild cities, professions, and the mentoring system (which allows you to take a lower level friend and raise them to your own level so you may fight together), it appears as though this game has much to offer the tired MMORPGer.
In Funcomâ€™s eagerness, however, it seems as though theyâ€™ve released the game a tad too soon. The servers are rather unstable and there are quite a few glitches within the world, graphical and mechanical alike. Had they taken more time on the game and ensured it was absolutely ready for release, then this would have been a perfect contender against the likes of World of Warcraft.
At the beginning of June, AoC had around 500,000 subscribers so it has a long way to go to match the 10 million of WoW. But it is an MMO in itsâ€™ infancy, and has time to get through the teething difficulties to become a truly great game.