Age of Conan: A Second Look

Age of Conan’s conversion to the hybrid F2P/subscription model has been a success. Ten Ton Hammer’s Jeffprime ventures again into brutal Hyboria to give AoC a second look.

age of conan

Age of Conan came out of the gate strongly, but had faded over time until the recent conversion to the hybrid subscription/free-to-play model created by Turbine for Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. Now, AoC goes by Age of Conan: Unchained and has become a success with revenues doubling. To see if Age of Conan is worth going back to, I am donning my armor, sharpening my blades, and working on my sloth-like reflexes to venture back into the brutal lands of Hyboria.

When the game was originally announced, I was one of those gripped by feverish excitement of Conan coming to the MMOG market. I am a huge fan of the brutal world of Conan having read all of the original stories by Robert E. Howard, and I was mesmerized by the Conan the Barbarian movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger when it came out in my teenage years. The movie captured the essence of Conan: brutal, violent, a mercenary bad-ass who’s out for himself and his friends, plus all the hot babes and sex. (The sequel blows in comparison.) Therefore, I was stoked to hear Funcom say that AoC would be mature, with brutal combat, adult storylines, and definitely gritty and savage.

age of conan
Who doesn't want to play a game like this?

My friends and I played the game a ton when it first launched and we were happy, but eventually cracks began to appear in our barbaric paradise. First, there was a lack of content, especially in the mid-level range that really hampered leveling and killed the fun of questing. Second, the game really pushed the limits of our computers, so that when a huge skirmish broke out, most of my group’s computers pretty much shut down. Eventually, my group drifted away from the savage land of Hyboria, but now it may be time to come back, especially since most of us have upgraded our systems!

Combat

The greatest selling point in Age of Conan is the combat; it’s brutal, savage, and fun as hell. I’m pleased that Funcom had decided to streamline the combat by reducing the number of keystrokes needed to do a combo. While I loved the combat originally, it did get a little frustrating trying to hit three keys in a row while in the middle of a huge fight. What really yanked my chain was fighting in PvP. I played an assassin and it drove me crazy that my opponent could negate most of my attack by dodging back out of the way while I was frantically pressing keys. I don’t have a fancy thousand dollar mouse with macro-programmed buttons all over it. I use a plain mouse and keyboard as I’m old school! My reflexes aren’t what they used to be (I’m 41), but I’m normally happy if I get a few kills in. However, PvP was an exercise in frustration and futility as enemies weaved and danced around me, avoiding all my attacks. Especially irritating were the Tempests of Set with their one-button AoE spam. Ugh!

age of conan
I can actually get some kills in PvP now!

However, PvP is more fun as that most of my combos are now just a single keystroke with just a few requiring more. While I still get my butt kicked, I can drag a few enemies down with me from time to time. As long as my blade gets bloody a few times, I’m satisfied with my time in PvP.

Content

The biggest complaint against AoC was the lack of content once you left Tortage. Since the game was launched, more content has been added with the biggest addition coming with the Rise of the Godslayer expansion that added the Eastern land of Khitai. With the introduction of Khitai came the addition of factions. New PvP maps have been added to the game and new dungeons (the vast majority being high level) have been introduced. The faction quests in Khitai are repeatable as are the quests for the new instanced dungeons of The Breach and The Forgotten City. I particularly like the new instanced dungeons as that they scale with your character from level 40 to 80.

age of conan
Sneaking through the Forgotten City...and doing lots of killing.

All in all, any new content is a welcome addition to the game. You can never go wrong with having too much content in my opinion. Funcom has done a decent job of adding new content, but I would like to see more mid level repeatable dungeons such as The Breach as well as new zones for players to explore and conquer. The first new content update will be the upcoming adventure pack based upon the new Conan the Barbarian movie coming out later this August.

Free-to-Play

Age of Conan: Unchained follows in the footsteps of Turbine’s DDO and LotRO with a hybrid subscription/free-to-play model. Players that subscribe to the game get access to the entire game world, all the classes, and get 60 Funcom Points per month to spend in the cash shop.(The 60 points given to subscribers is pretty low as it equates to roughly 50 cents worth of points! Funcom should up this number quite a bit. Turbine gives subscribers roughly $6.50 worth of points every month.)

If you wish to play for free, you’re limited to two character slots and your class choices are limited to: Barbarian, Demonologist, Priest of Mitra, and Guardian. Free players are also limited to the outdoor zones of Aquilonia, Cimmeria, and Stygia, plus the Gateway to Khitai zone. Only two of the six raids are available to F2P players as well as they only get access to seventeen out of more than thirty dungeons. Free players are also restricted in that they cannot gain offline levels, do alternative advancement, and they cannot participate in sieges.

age of conan
My cool Bossonian Sellsword's Twilight vanity armor. Now I can slit throats with style.

While there are quite a bit of restriction put upon a free-to-play player, they are getting to play for….um….free! I think that a great deal of content is readily available to F2P players and will provide them with a good and lengthy gaming experience. If they wish to subscribe to get full access, they can do so. If they don’t wish to subscribe, they can purchase access to various aspects of the game from the cash shop, which takes us to…



Cash Shop

If players want to pick and choose what options they’re willing to pay for, they can do so in the cash shop. In the cash shop, you can unlock additional character slots, the premium character classes, access to dungeons, as well as the usual items, potions, mounts, and companions.

age of conan
Watching my Priestess companion dance. Crom wants me to have more slave girls.

There are two things that pleased me in the cash shop. First, Funcom has added vanity items to AoC, which you can wear over your normal armor. That way, you can get the benefits of the stats on your gear, but it your gear is butt-ugly, you can wear a cool looking piece of vanity armor over it. That way, you can slaughter and plunder in style. The second thing is that you can finally have slave girls! Actually, they’re called Priestesses in the cash shop and there are currently four of them ranging in price from reasonable to incredibly expensive. These social companions, when summoned, appear and go through a variety of remotes and follow you until combat breaks out. While I was beside myself finally being able to have a semi-naked slave girl at my command, there were a few things that disappointed me. First, you have no control over them. Basically, they just go through a series of emotes and you have no interaction with them. It would be nice if you could give them a command to dance, fan your fevered brow, or some other action. Second, you can only have one companion active at a time. This blows as that Crom wishes me to have a harem of scantily clad slave girls following me at all times. Sadly, there is no eye candy for the ladies at the present time. There are no manly stud slaves available in the cash shop, but you can get one (called Satisfying Company) through veteran rewards.

There are a few problems with the cash shop. While some items are reasonable in price, others are pretty expensive. Some vanity armor pieces cost 50 points, while a different set costs five times as much. The slave girls range from 250 points to over 1100. However, my biggest beef is that anything you buy is for the specific character you’re buying with, not your account. I can see an item being character only, but access to a specific dungeon, vanity armor, and pets? C’mon! That’s pretty crappy in my opinion and really turns me off from buying anything. If I buy something, I want to unlock it for all my characters, which is pretty standard in other F2P MMOGs. This is something that I hope will change in the future.

age of conan
The cash shop is a mixed bag.

Blood and Glory Server

While I’m not the best at PvP and tend to do more PvE, I can empathize with those who love unbridle PvP action. I’m glad to see that Funcom has heeded the cry of those who wish to freely slay other players by creating the Blood and Glory server. I love the idea of this hardcore server where you can only have a single character and there are no guards or anything to protect you from other players. First, by limiting players to a single character, players will now create a reputation with that character. If they piss people off, there’s no hiding behind some other character until time passes and tempers cool. No…if someone hates you because you’ve wronged him, he is free to hunt you down forever. This is old-school, brutal gameplay at its finest. Crom is highly pleased by the creation of this server. You will definitely want to make some friends to call upon for help for when the going gets rough.

Conclusion

All in all, Age of Conan: Unchained is definitely worth a second look. Combat has been streamlined and new content has been added. For players who don’t want to spend any money, there’s plenty to do in Hyboria for free. If you want some perks, you’ll have to pay for it, which is ok. Game companies need to make money to keep games going and to improve them. The game’s visuals are still striking and the music is still the best in the MMOG market. My only beef with the updated game is the cash shop prices for quite a number of items and the stupid ability to unlock purchased items only for a specific character, not an account. Still, my Cimmerian-style anger over the cash shop won’t prevent me from carving a bloody swathe through the game. The first night I came back and that I got my first decapitation, I almost wept with joy except we all know that Cimmerians don’t shed tears!

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