|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Funcom||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Eidos / SCI||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 21, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: Online (MMOG)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Derek Hidey
When the idea to create an MMO based on Robert E. Howard's Conan was first announced, there were probably plenty of naysayers. However, after years of development and delays, Funcom, the creator of Anarchy Online, has finally released Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
The game is set in Howard's world of Hyboria, a savage and barbaric land of war. The three playable races, or nationalities, since they are all human, include the Aquilonians, a Roman-like people; the Cimmerians, a Germanic-like people; and the Stygians, an Egyptian-like people. There is no faction vs. faction war factored into the story as far as PvP is concerned. Instead, Funcom decided on a free for all system, meaning that you can attack anyone at any time if logged into a PvP server. There are PvE servers that restrict PvP to specific areas for player who prefer that.
There are a total of 12 available classes divided into four class archetypes: the Soldier, Mage, Priest, and Rogue. Each class' skills are broken into three different categories called feat trees; one that each class of the same archetype shares and two different ones that are class-specific. In many cases, feat points, which are basically skill points, are awarded at each level and can be placed into all three feat trees and still provide bonuses that benefit the player overall. This allows players to create unique combinations among the three feat trees or focus on just one or two.
However, the feat trees aren't without their bugs and confusing descriptions. Many of the feats' descriptions are vague and confusing, saying things like, "Increases chance to inflict burning wounds," rather than giving the player the percent chance or how much damage is dealt. Moreover, these discrepancies have resulted in player's questioning whether specific feats even work as intended. Unfortunately, most questions have gone unanswered, forcing players to perform in-game tests to determine how certain things work.
Age of Conan's character creation system is one of the best seen in an MMO to date. Not only are the standard options available, such as gender, race, and class, the player can also customize just about every shape and size of his or her character using sliders similar to games like Oblivion. This ability to customize the character so intricately helps ensure that no two characters are exactly the same, a goal that is a difficult one for developers to achieve.
The first thing the player will notice while playing Age of Conan is its ESRB rating of Mature. The game is brutal by MMO standards. Sure, there are plenty of games out there like Manhunt and Grand Theft Auto IV that take full advantage of the bold letter on their boxes, but Age of Conan isn't without its share of decapitations, blood sprays, and, last but certainly not least, bare-chested females. While these elements are mostly visual additions with only slight impacts upon the gameplay, they do establish Age of Conan in its own category of MMOs. At the very least, an attempt to cater an MMO to an older audience is certainly a breath of fresh air for the genre.
Funcom went to great lengths to ensure that Robert E. Howard's universe had been respected in its fullest. The lore, while generally taking a backseat in MMOs because of the "everyone is the hero" paradox, certainly stands out from the start. Loading screens play host to a variety of quotes taken from the many novels that make up the Conan universe. Moreover, the first 20 levels of gameplay focus on a single-player quest line that furthers the narrative and attempts to leave an impression on the player. Unfortunately, as is with most MMOs, the narrative is difficult to get into at times, despite dialogue tree options and miniature cutscenes that unfold.
These cutscenes don't increase immersion very well because of the occasional glitches. For example, there is a cutscene where three guards confront a man and arrest him, but when they do, the two flanking guards appear to be slow-motion running. Then, there are cutscenes that appear to lack special animations altogether, like one where a blacksmith asks you to place your shackles on an anvil, move your face aside, and then proceeds to break them with a hammer. Oddly, not only does your character not place the shackles on the anvil or turn his or her head aside, but when the blacksmith swings his hammer, you don't hear the noise of the shackles breaking. While the cutscenes aren't nearly as good as the ones in games like Mass Effect, which place much more emphasis on story telling, they are definitely better than standard quest boxes full of text.
The visuals in Age of Conan are impressive, even when stacked up against games like Crysis and Grand Theft Auto IV. When compared to other MMOs currently on the market, Age of Conan is unrivaled in its level of graphic detail. Granted, the level of detail and beauty achieved is very much dependent upon the computer hardware used to run the game, but even on the lowest settings, the game is still pleasing to the eyes. Nothing quite comes close to the first time you arrive in Old Tarantia, the Aquilonian city, and look across the harbor into the neighboring districts.