Review: Age of Conan

Review: Age of Conan

Tens of thousands of years ago, between the cataclysm that swallowed Atlantis and the great glaciation, the world wasn’t like the paleontologists describe, but it was a savage, unforgiving continent that only a visionary named Robert E. Howard managed to describe.

Humans didn’t live in caves, but in glorious cities where blood, seduction, power and greed were the main currency. They waged war, loved, hated, stole and murdered in the name of their own ambition and dark gods that are now forgotten.

In that cruel world a barbarian that some would define just as cruel, hailing from the gloomy hills of Cimmeria, cut a trail of blood and broken (often literally) hearts across every nation as he rose from barbarism, thievery and piracy to become the king of the powerful nation of Aquilonia.

Now a new generation of heroes that bear the Mark of Acheron, an unholy brand that makes them immortal at a very high price, walks this dark world of Hyboria, looking for glory or death.

Age of Conan is one of those MMORPGs that demonstrate how reviews of this genre don’t really age well. If you’re asking yourself why we’re reviewing a game that has been released three years ago, the answer is simple: Not one of the old (or better, obsolete) reviews published around the game’s launch holds any validity now. The game has gone through such a large amount of change and evolution that is now unrecognizable to those, like me, that played during it’s first months.

It’s hard to describe the world of Age of Conan in a few lines, as it’s born from a large number of novels and short stories that have been expanded and elaborated by other writers, comic artists, movie directors and RPG designers after the premature death of Howard, creating one of the most complex and colorful low-fantasy worlds to appear in a game.

Forget your love for elves and dwarves, because the only pointy ears you’ll find in Hyboria belong to creatures you definitely don’t want to meet in a dark alley, and most of the large beards adorn the chins of norsemen that are probably taller than you.

Built over the ruins of ever more ancient, and often much darker, civilizations, there are many nations in Hyboria, and players of Age of Conan are able to create characters from four of them. Aquilonia, ruled by King Conan and similar to a hybrid between ancient Rome and Medieval Europe, Cimmeria, Conan’s homeland, and home of the strongest barbarians from the north, Stygia, home to the worshippers of the serpent god (some say demon) Set, similar to ancient Egypt in many charming ways.

Review: Age of Conan

The Raise of the Godslayer expansion introduced the ability to create characters from Khitai, that shows a striking resemblance with our ancient China.

Once the character is created, he wakes up on a beach,  washed ashore after a shipwreck. He remembers nothing of his past, and the only hint to his identity is a brand on his chest. Starting on the pirate island of Tortage, he’ll explore the world searching for his past, on a epic quest to erase the ominous mark  and free himself and his soul from the cold clutch of evil.

The main storyline of Age of Conan is definitely one of the best in the genre, even thanks to the fact that it’s based on an extremely rich and dark IP. You’re not out to save the world (even if it may very well happen in the process), but to save your own skin from a terrible curse. This fits perfectly with the Conan lore, as the moody Cimmerian was almost never embarked in quests for justice, freedom or other ideals that are very typical of heroic and high fantasy literature and that tend to have little to do with realism. He was a thief, a brigand, a pirate and after that an Usurper. Sure, he turned out to be a good and rather just King, but mostly because of pragmatism, and not out of the goodness of his heart.

The same can be said about the immense amount of side quests and additional quest lines that you can find in Funcom’s MMORPG. The writing is always inspired and even the occasional filler quest tends to have interesting points, enriching your knowledge of the lore or providing interesting tidbits on the society of Hyboria.

Review: Age of Conan

As soon as you set foot on the world of Age of Conan it’s hard not to notice that the visuals of the game are nothing short of amazing, especially if you’re playing with the DirectX 10 version of the client (and in this day and age there’s no reason why you shouldn’t).

The representation of Hyboria in the game is simply breath taking. Everything is extremely detailed, even thanks to the wise use of normal mapping that gives materials an almost photorealistic look, but even more impressive is the art direction and design effort that has gone in creating every single area of the game. I haven’t played many games (both offline and online) in which I’ve seen such a rich and inspired world around me.

It isn’t even just a matter of pure graphical power. The love that went into placing and harmonizing every single element of the world, in drawing every carving on walls or pillars and in modeling incredible vistas, is very visible and probably would have been just as visible even if it wasn’t supported by technology.

But it is indeed supported by technology, and that gives even more life and impact to the beautiful scenery. The lighting engine, based on an advanced phong per pixel tech is a delight for the eyes, drawing lovely patterns of light and shadow across the screen and contributing to create a world that feels at the same time realistic and born from the wildest fantasy of an extremely creative artist.

Review: Age of Conan

Diversity and size are two recurring themes in Age of Conan‘s visual design. While traveling in different areas of the same nation, it’s difficult to find two places that look the same, let alone when visiting different nations, but even in the same area, it’s easy to find yourself in a completely different environment as you move from a forest to a swamp, or from impressive cliffs to the shores of a thunderous river.  Yet, and contrasting with the striking diversity, there’s always the other side of the coin, as the overall direction is visible, and we don’t get that pesky sensation that plagues many MMORPGs and that makes different areas, especially if designed and launched in a different time frame look like they belong to a different world.

The style of art, architecture and vegetation is very solid, and lets us feel that even if we’re traveling between regions that look very different, we’re still in the same nation and in the same world. This sensation is further strenghtened by the remains of ancient civilizations like the Atlantean or the Acheronian ones. Whether you’re treading the mountains of Cimmeria or the grasslands of Aquilonia, you often come across the cyclopean ruins of those that lived in Hyboria even before it was given that name, creating a very appropriate layer of homogeneity that perfectly complements the underlying layers of diversity. At the same time the sheer size of those relics of the past characterizes the world further, strengthening the the cultural and historical background of the world.

Characters are as graphically detailed as the environments, sporting a quite realistic style and a deep slider-based customization that leaves a lot of space for uniqueness and won’t disappoint those that want to be able to determine every little detail of the look of their in-game alter-ego. Body customization is also present, with different heights and muscle/fat ratios and separate setting for every body part.

Variety and attention to detail get even more apparent when we look at the game’s equipment. One of the worst flaws of most modern MMORPGs is the fact that there are only few equipment sets, and more often than not many of those pieces of equipment share the same model with a simple texture change or even just a different color. This is not the case with Age of Conan. While there are a few doubles here and there (especially between crafted equipment) the sheer amount of variation in the style of armor and clothing is almost disorienting. The rich cultural diversity of Hyboria is fully represented and creates a game where not only equipment looks absolutely great, with inspired designs  and armor that goes from the crude to the imposing, but also extremely varied.

It’ll be very difficult to find two character looking the same, or wearing exactly the same clothes in Age of Conan. The cosmetic equipment tab helps further, letting you wear whatever you like for the looks, while actually using the stats of another armor set that maybe you don’t like, visually, as much. I think it’s the first time in my “career” as a MMORPG gamer in which I look forward to joining a new group or raid not only for the gameplay that will come with them, but also to enjoy the looks of my fellow adventurers.

As a side note, a lot (while definitely not all) of the the equipment present in Age of Conan shows a lot of skin, both for males and females. This is not only perfectly appropriate to the low-fantasy setting of the Conan novels, but also done with a surprisingly tasteful and realistic eye. While the game is definitely rated Mature, so much that you can walk around topless as a female character, equipment that shows large extension of skin, or lets you get a glimpse of the naughty bits, has nothing to do with the skanky outfits you see in quite a few MMORPGs, but justifies it’s sexyness fully with cultural style (often leaning towards the tribal) and pseudo-historical appropriateness. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of effort went into researching historical and proto-historical armor and clothing for inspiration.

Review: Age of Conan

Animation is another strong point of Age of Conan‘s visuals. They are extremely varied and fluid, and each attack combo has it’s peculiar animation, that sets the game apart from the vast majority of the market in which characters get very few key animations that are rehashed for a wide variety of attacks and abilities. There is also an very large large variety of selectable emotes, that definitely won’t disappoint even the most demanding roleplayer.

A last points I’d like to bring in favor of the game’s graphics are mounts. Not only there’s a large variety of available animals, from horses to mammoths, passing by tigers and giant wolves, but they are all beautifully designed and animated. Horses in particular are probably the best looking and most realistically animated equines I’ve ever seen in a MMORPG. Add to that a set of lovely mounting and dismounting animations, and you get a detail that some may define secondary, but that adds further value to the game’s visuals.

To put it down simply, despite having been on the market for more than three years, Age of Conan puts almost every newer MMORPG to shame, graphics-wise, including those to be published in the foreseeable future. It’s  a visually charming glimpse on what a MMORPG can be, when the developer doesn’t try to make it playable on your grandmother’s laptop from the beginning of the century and instead uses some of the juice granted by that shiny gaming PC you just purchased and that no MMO really uses.  No matter how much the genre will evolve in the next few years, It’s safe to assume that Age of Conan‘s visuals won’t grow obsolete for a long while.

If you want to see more of Age of Conan’s graphics you can check the video review embedded above, or give a look to my dedicated flickr gallery.

Review: Age of Conan

The audio quality of the game is at the very least on par with the graphics. Sound effects are varied and realistic, especially during combat and environmental ones. Voice acting is mostly well done, with a nice variety of accents that definitely seem appropriate to the setting. The only flaw is that voice work only applies to the most important characters, and a lot of the game’s text remains unvoiced. While this is slightly disappointing, especially considering the density of voice acting during the initial area of Tortage and the fact that it dwindles considerably when moving past it to the main nations of the game’s world, it’s understandable.

Even like this the game’s client is weighs about 26 gigabytes. Adding voices to the whole enormous amount of dialogue present in the game would have a prohibitive cost, and would double the size of the client.

What truly shines, though, is the musical score. I can easily say that Age of Conan has one of the best, most epic and most appropriate soundtracks between all the games I played in my many years of gaming, single player ones included. The tracks are varied and never fail to be perfectly appropriate to the situations and environments they are associated with.

I bought the collector’s edition of the game when it launched, and it came with a CD of the soundtrack. While I temporarily parted with the game a few months later, the CD never left the loader of my car’s stereo and has been listened to hundreds of times since.

Review: Age of Conan

Of course high level production values help, but they can’t sustain a successful MMORPG by themselves. So let’s give a nice look to Age of Conan‘s gameplay. It was rather weak when the game launched and suffered from a chronic lack of polish that partly determined a quite rocky start that plagued the game for several months. Luckily, those months are long past and the game has matured a lot under that point of view.

There are twelve classes in Age of Conan, split in four archetypes. Players can chose between three Soldiers (Guardian, Dark Templar and Conqueror), three Priests (Priest of Mitra, Tempest of Set and Bear Shaman), three Rogues (Barbarian, Assassin and Ranger) and three Mages (Demonologist, Herald of Xotli and Necromancer) . If you think the Mages sound rather ominous, you’re probably right, considering that there are very few (if any) “good” mages in Hyboria. Conan hated magic and had every reason to, considering that it required communing with forces that no sane man would really want to get involved with.

Guardian and Dark Templar are respectively the physical and magical tank, the priests are Age of Conan‘s healers, while the rest of the bunch is made by more or less specialized damage dealers, with the Conqueror situated in the unique position of jack-of-all-trades and group buffer.

Review: Age of Conan

This said, choosing your class is only the first step in Age of Conan,  as you level up you will be prompted to chose your feats between three trees, one is common between classes belonging to the same archetype, while the other two are class-specific. Developing your character more in one or the other will change your character’s abilities quite radically. For instance playing a Guardian focused on the Juggernaut tree will turn you into an all-out defensive sword and shield tank, while  putting more points on the Tempest tree will let you use a polearm to inflict a lot more damage (even if it won’t turn you in a damage dealing class, of course).

This isn’t even all, as the Raise of the Godslayer expansion introduced Alternate Advancements, a further way to specialize your character adding new perks and feats that can make the difference in PvE and PvP, and adding a further level of customization that will sure please the most fanatical min-maxxers and power players. Alternate advancement points can be earned by doing pretty much any activity in the game, and after reaching the level cap of 80, they also grow over time (at a rate of one point every 18 hours), allowing even more casual players that can’t play several hours a day to still see some growth.

This is the true dividing point between players that prefer to enjoy the game for free and those that decide to invest some money in it (as purchasing the Raise of the Godslayer expansion and a premium subscription are required to access the system), as alternate advancements can make a big difference, especially when a character has accumulated many perks and feats. They are not needed to enjoy the content offered to free-to-play gamers, so those aren’t cut out from anything they can access because of the lack of Alternate Advancements, but I’d say that they are pretty much needed if one wants to really enjoy the endgame fully.

Review: Age of Conan

That’s why I would say that players that are serious about playing Age of Conan for a long time should definitely go for a premium subscription and get the expansion early, as Alternate Advancement points start to accumulate at level 20. This means that when you’ll get to level 80 you’ll already have quite a lot of points set aside, which is a real boon as opposed as starting to accumulate them when you’re already level 80.

There are three server types on Age of Conan: PvP, PvE and “Blood and Glory“, PvP and PvE servers are pretty similar, in their settings, to those of other MMORPGs, with player vs player combat available in most areas on the PvP servers, and only in controlled environment like the PvP minigames (a sort of instanced PvP scenarios similar in most ways to WoW‘s battleground gameplay) and Guild vs Guild sieges in the PvE servers. The Blood and Glory ruleset is of recent implementation, and represent a hardcore version of the PvP server with many less safe areas and featuring old favorites of the most battle-hardened MMORPG players like limited corpse looting.

The addition of the Blood and Glory ruleset is quite interesting, as it represents a welcome cookie to those that miss the unforgiving times of Ultima Online, and that are interested in fully living the cruel and ruthless nature of the Conan setting without any crutch or artificial protection.

While we’re tralking about PvE and PvP, let’s get to the heart of every MMORPG: Battle. Combat in Age of Conan, at least in melee, is completely different from any other MMORPG in the market. While the player still has a series of abilities to be set on his action bar,  what’s completely new (at least in this genre) is the concept of combos. But let’s start from the basics.

Review: Age of Conan

First of all there’s no auto attack in Age of Conan. Every attack requires a key press or a mouse click. There are five basic attacks that depend on the direction of the strike. You can chose to attack your enemy from above, from the lower left, from the lower right, from the upper left or the upper right.

In the same fashion there are three directions of defense, up, left and right. You can adjust your defense on the fly to be stronger or weaker on the side you prefer or leave it balanced. Of course setting a very strong defense to one direction will weaken the others. When the direction of a blow matches that of a strong defense, the effect is mitigated, on the other hand, if a blow encounters weak or no defense, the damage is much higher.

In addition to the basic attacks every melee character has combos, that are the true heart of the battle system. By activating a combo you’ll be prompted to execute a short sequence (from 1 to 3) of basic attacks that will, if executed correctly, finalize the combo itself and end it with a strong finisher, that in most cases adds further effects like debuffs, bleeding, stuns or similar. The finishers of each combo have a set direction, and can be mitigated by well placed defense like normal attacks.  To explain it in the simplest way possible, Age of Conan’s melee system is your MMORPG version of Street Fighter.

Review: Age of Conan

This creates an extremely original and tactical action-based battle mechanic, that focuses a lot more on skill and experience than the ones present in most other games of the genre. First of all, the speed of execution of your combos is a crucial factor in your damage output, secondly, you can see the defense of your enemy at all times, so you can dynamically move to combos with a finisher that avoids his defense to maximize your damage output. On the other hand, while very few players (at least to my knowledge) have mastered the extremely high degree of skill and the reflexes necessary to switch their defense around during combat in order to effectively “parry” incoming attacks as they are launched, experience and knowledge of your enemy will let you predict what the direction of his most lethal attacks before the fight starts, and set your defenses accordingly without having to turn yourself in an octopus-fingered piano player to move them around with every attack.

This may sound discouraging to less hardcore players, but using this system isn’t really mandatory (and there’s always magic, that works more or less like in any other game of the genre). While adjusting your defense according to who or what you’re fighting provides an advantage, leaving your defense balanced will let you get by in most situations. This means that the combat system is easy and intuitive to learn, but very challenging to master.

Review: Age of Conan

But this isn’t the only innovation that Age of Conan brings to the table battle-wise, as it corrects one of the most hilariously clumsy flaws that affects most of the RPG genre (not just online). In most other games your weapons are ethereal entities that magically phase-shift through non-targeted enemies to hit your designated target. This is not the case here: in Age of Conan your weapons are an actual physical entity that describes a predictable arc in the hair, hitting and damaging everything in their path. To simplify the concept, every melee attack hits an area in front of you instead of striking a single target, letting you using clever positioning to kill more than one target at the same time.

Finally, the game’s battle system provides a quite brutal and satisfying weapon-based fatality system. Every time you kill an enemy with a combo there’s a chance that you’ll execute a gruesme fatality, cutting his head clean off his shoulder, crushing his face with your boot, or pushing him down on his back while running him through with your sword and so forth. While this is mostly visual, it adds to the fun factor of the game and fits very well with the mature theme and the unforgiving Conan setting.

I can already see the most hardcore players smiling wide, as the concepts I just described provide not only a very fast, dynamic and tactical skill-based combat system, but also a refreshing change from the usual “fire and forget” attacks present in basically every other MMORPG, and in this genre, that has been fossilized on the same obsolete concepts for years, this degree of originality is a rare and welcome merchandise.

Review: Age of Conan

The biggest flaw I can see in this great system is that it doesn’t apply to magical classes. I can definitely see the potential of an application to magic, for instance with a gesture-based system that would require spells to be woven with motions in different directions. I actually assume that someone at Funcom actually experimented with this, as it’s too logical of an evolution to think that no one really saw it. Unfortunately, for some reason, they decided not to implement it, meaning that the battle-related innovations apply almost exclusively to melee classes. Of course it’s still much, much better than nothing.

A second smaller issue, even if I personally find it a bit more hurtful given the unexpressed potential of the feature, is mounted combat. While you can definitely engage an enemy on your mount (in areas in which you can ride of course), this doesn’t make you realistically stronger, but actually weaker and more vulnerable. You can’t use combos while mounted, reducing your damage output by a crippling amount, and the chance to be dismounted (and stunned in the process) simply reduces the worth of mounted combat to playing with your friends and seeing who manages to hit much lower level mobs with a sword while riding by, in a fantasy (but rather short lived) version of mailbox baseball. It’s truly a pity, as mounted combat could have been a feature that set Age of Conan further apart from the rest of the market, but unfortunately this wasn’t to be, at least for now.

Let’s not move to the second crucial area of any MMORPG: activities. Innovative and deep combat is great, but players need something to do with their time in the game, and Age of Conan has three years of content to deliver.

Review: Age of Conan

While the game launched a little light on this aspect, causing quite a lot of malcontent between early adopters, Funcom’s designers rolled up their sleeves and worked visibly hard to address the issue. At the moment Age of Conan is one of the richest games in the genre in terms of content, providing a metric ton of quests that are enough to level to the cap multiple times over.

The amount of quests isn’t the only positive thing about them. First of all they are all very well written, fitting to the Conan setting perfectly and providing juicy tidbits of lore and information on the society of Hyboria that would make Howard proud, no doubt a testament of the love of the writers for the IP. Secondly, they show a nice degree of variation. They aren’t just the usual “kill x enemies” or “deliver this package to y” missions, but provide a large number of novel tasks like investigating a crime, winning a horse race and other interesting activities that definitely contribute to make things more interesting.

Deeply interconnected with quests are dungeon, another element that Age of Conan has in an almost disorienting amount. There are dungeons of all kinds in the game. Some let you adventure alone, some require a party, and some other are full fledged raid dungeons. Most are heavily story-driven thanks to dedicated quest chains, and a sizable number of them provides mechanics that go much beyond the simple “kill all the monsters in the place to get to the treasure”. Puzzles and traps are quite widespread, often requiring the player to use his brain and his reflexes in order to get to the final boss.

Review: Age of Conan

Boss encounters are another very positive element in Age of Conan. While in most other MMORPGs only raid bosses require any level of thinking to be killed, while lesser encounters mostly revert to the old trite tank and spank concept, almost every dungeon boss in Age of Conan, no matter if it’s designed to be killed by a single player or a full raid, requires understanding it’s mechanics and applying the right strategy in order to win. Funcom’s encounter designers really went all out in giving almost every prominent villain a different personality, providing tactical depth to every encounter.

Raid content is no exception. Not only the game provides four tiers of raids, ensuring an endgame that has few rivals in the market depth-wise and for the number of encounters provided, but almost all of the raid encounters provide complex mechanics and involve a nice degree of challenge and strategy. Raid encounters scale very well as player progress across tiers, and while tier 1 dungeons currently work as a nice “school” for new raiders, higher tier encounters raise the ante gradually and definitely won’t disappoint even the most demanding and experienced raiders. In addition to this, thanks to the years of  accumulated polish, raid encounters are now very well honed and bug-free. It’s not always been like this (I will never forget how much me and my guild laughed, just after the initial launch, when one of our rangers one-shotted a big, scary dragon due to a bug in the fatality system), but it’s very pleasant to see that things have progressed to this point.

Review: Age of Conan

Guilds provide another full fledged suite of activities to the playerbase. They definitely aren’t just a chat channel in which you can organize raids and dungeon runs, but provide a physical base of operation in the form of the guild city, that can be built, improved and decorated, granting several advantages to the members of the guild, and requiring an organized effort to complete. They also look impressive (and extremely big, which adds to the satisfying feeling of completing a full Tier 3 city) and create a nice meeting place, which never hurts.

Quite a few building of a guild city give crafting advantages and crafting is one of the elements of Age of Conan that could use some improvement. While the basic system is sound, especially thanks to the rare recipes that need to be acquired from bosses scattered across various dungeons, crafting in the game isn’t very rewarding in general, due to the massive superiority of dropped equipment compared to crafted items. Providing better crafted items would make the system more rewarding and improve variety at the same time, which is always a good thing.

I already mentioned PvP activities in passing: while in PvP servers you can fight against other players in most areas, in PvE servers you are limited to PvP minigames and sieges.

Review: Age of Conan

PvP minigames are team-based scenarios in which you can play in a variety of rulesets that range from the classic capture the flag to king of the hill. On the other hand Sieges are more involved:  they require guilds to build a battlekeep structure and prompts other guilds to attack them using siege engines and war mammoths to provide a form of large field battle.

While the feature could be flashed out a little more, as there’s the potential for it to become a real centerpiece of Age of Conan‘s gameplay, it’s still very fun to play, even if the entry level to take part in it is a little high for players that aren’t part of a very active and powerful guild.

Taking part in PvP, lets you gain access to PvP  levels and PvP alternate advancements. The higher your PvP level, the better PvP-centric equipment you can purchase, providing a progression system and something to aim towards, for players that prefer facing live enemies instead of mobs (a group that, admittedly, doesn’t include me, unless we’re talking about Real vs Realm mechanics, but I still found sieges in Age of Conan a quite worthwile activity).

The Raise of the Godslayer expansion doesn’t only provide a new race, Alternate Advancements, new dungeons and raids and a beautiful and exotic nation to explore and enjoy, but also a quite interesting faction system.

Review: Age of Conan

There are ten factions in Khitai, locked in an endless struggle for power. Each faction has one other as it’s natural enemy, and players can chose which factions to side with, performing a series of quests (some are story driven and unique, some others are repeatable) in order to further the power of his allies and unravel the misteries of the land in the process.

Raising through the ranks of a faction will of course provide rewards, in the form of some of the best sets of armor and weapons in the game. This adds a degree of choice to the game’s story and lets the player experience it through different points of view. Faction grinding, though, can prove indeed a little grindy, forcing players to repeat the same quests many times if they want to access the best rewards.

This said, faction gameplay can be definitely fun, and the story driven parts include some of the best writing of the game, so unless you’re absolutely allergic to repeating the same quests more than once, it remains a very worthwhile feature that deserves to be explored. You definitely don’t need to get every single reward anyway, as you can easily find equivalent equipment from raids and dungeons.

Ultimately faction grinding provides a handy way for solo-oriented players to get very good armor sets of a level similar to what would require some hardcore raiding. In the end whether you like to play solo, in a small group or prefer large raids, Age of Conan has a lot to offer.

Review: Age of Conan

A recent addition to the game are Adventure packs. At the moment only the first has been released: The Savage Coast of Turan.

Adventure packs provide a very nice compromise between smaller updates and a full expansion, letting Funcom explore some of the many missing areas of the enormous continent of Hyboria without having to engage in the massive task of creating something as big as Raise of the Godslayer.

It’s very visible that Turan is the latest area of the game created by the design team, as every single bit of previous experience has been exploited, resulting in an exotic location that is not only extremely pleasing to look at (probably the best looking area of the game, dungeons included), but also very fun to play, with boss encounters and mechanics that are some of the best I’ve seen in the MMORPG genre. One of the most fun encounters features a duel against an officer mounted on a War Rhino in Fort Ardashir.

The battle, of which you can catch a glimpse in the video review, is the prototype of what a boss encounter should be in a MMORPG, climatic, spectacular, challenging, adrenaline pumping and very fun to play.

Since we’re talking about expansions and adventure packs, let’s give a quick look to the game’s business model. Age of Conan has an hybrid business model, meaning that you can access part of the game for free, while other areas require you to pay a monthly subscription, purchase the content or both.

Review: Age of Conan

The content accessible for free is still quite a lot more than in most other MMORPG that feature the same business model, letting players easily progress from level 1 to the cap of 80 without any evident holes in content. That said, premium players get many more options and access to a lot more endgame content (that is quite limited for free players).

This means that becoming a premium member is almost necessary for players that plan to stick with Age of Conan for a long time and truly enjoy it’s endgame. Personally I think it’s very worth it, as you may have noticed if you peeked at the score below (and we both know that you did). In the end you can easily enjoy leveling for free until you have enough elements to decide by yourself if the game offers what you desire, and then, if the answer is yes, move to the monthly subscription model.

A last note has to be said about the game’s interface, that is sleek and well designed in itself and includes support for custom UIs (something that should really be included in every MMORPGs). If the default UI isn’t enough for your taste, you can simply download one of the many custom ones, or create your own.

Even  more interesting is the advanced scripting support that includes hyperlinking and that can be used in many quite unique ways, from advertising your guild to giving instructions automatically during a raid without copying and pasting tens of lines in the chat window.

Review: Age of Conan

I will freely admit that when the game launched, I was one of the harshest critics of Age of Conan, and I was absolutely convinced that there was no hope whatsoever for the game. I expected it to die a slow death in a year or two. There are moments in the life of a gaming writer in which he has to admit that he was wrong, and Age of Conan is, for me, one of those occasions.

With the arrival of the new game director Craig Morrison, and years of hard work behind the scenes, not only Funcom managed to straighten the many things that didn’t work in the game and polish it considerably, but they completely turned the tables, creating one of the most enjoyable, innovative and beautiful looking and sounding MMORPGs in the market. It’s not yet perfect, and some old flaws still occasionally resurface, but whether you are an old player that quit long ago, but is still hearing the wild call of Hyboria, or you’re looking for a new MMORPG to enjoy, Age of Conan is an extremely solid offering, that together with one of the best low-fantasy settings ever written, graphics of jaw-dropping quality and the innovative battle sytstem, creates a game that every fan of the MMORPG genre should try. Second Chances are rare in this market, but when they happen, they create great things. Age of Conan is the perfect example of that.

  • Title: Age of ConanReview: Age of Conan
  • Platform: PC
  • Publisher: Funcom
  • Developer: Funcom
  • Release Date: May 20, 2008
  • MSRP: Free to play (Premium Subscription available for $14.99 a month)
  • Review Copy Info: A copy of this title was provided to DualShockers, Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.