Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures at E3 2007
Hey, Conan, you've got some red on you.
by Phil "Ralphedelominius" Comeau
Since I was a wee lad in the forgotten wilderness of Eastern Canada, I've been a fan of Robert E. Howard and the Conan universe. I spent hours poring through my copies of "Savage Sword of Conan", a new one dutifully purchased each month from the corner store with money made by mowing neighbour's lawns. An uber-D&D geek (gee, who woulda thought, huh?), I even had a player character modelled after Bor'aqh Sharaq the Barachan corsair. You know, the guy in the horned metal helmet that (thanks to Conan) had a missing right forearm, could attach all kinds of weapons to it in a socket? SSOC #75, 83, 92 and 106.
Erm. Yeah, I'm a Conan fan. Even if I wasn't, who wouldn't be excited to play something like this:
Age of Conan is a MMO based on the Conan fantasy license originally created by the famed author Robert E. Howard. Set in 10.000 BC in the world of Hyboria, the game will provide players a unique opportunity to live their virtual lives in a detailed world holding thousands of other players. In this brutal, lush and barbaric world they can embark on an amazing and action-filled journey in the footsteps of the worlds greatest fantasy hero. Here you can meet Conans friend and foes, battle demons and monsters known from 70 year of Conan history, and step up to the ultimate challenge and even befriend the mighty king Conan himself. You can also engage in guild warfare and embark on challenging quests which all stay true to the original written works by Robert E. Howard
Imagine my glee to be present for a demo of the game, led by the able Jørgen Tharaldsen from Funcom. "I'm sure all of you have played online games before. You guys have definitely played online games before. (points at Ten Ton Hammer crew)"
Ouchie. That's gonna leave a mark.
"The core experience in Age of Conan is a social gaming combat experience." It is soloable all the way to level 80, but you will naturally progress further if you group. The game departs from the typical combat system employed by comtemporary MMOs, where you "watch combat unfold like a whack-a-mole game," as Jørgen describes it. It takes inspiration from fighting games like Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Caliber where melee classes, like Age's Barbarian, can execute combat maneuvres through various key combinations - no 'auto attack' here! As described in our pre-E3 Preview of Age of Conan, a combat 'wheel' in the UI shows the different directions you can swing your weapon. If you make the proper attack combination at the right time, you have a chance of being rewarded with one of those signature decapitation moves or limb-hacking scenes that have us all drooling at the prospect of playing Age of Conan. "It's like the finishing moves in Mortal Combat. This is one of the reasons why the game is rated M for Mature. We have not dumbed down the game to get a Teen rating; this is a game for grown-ups," says Tharaldsen.
"You'll see tits, and you'll see profanity. Real World stuff, no wizards in bright yellow hats here."
Here we see a spellcaster administering The Shocker to his foes.
There will be 14 different classes to choose from when creating a character. The 'Pet class' is the Necromancer, which can eventually have up to 8 pets. You accumulate 'pet points' as you level that you spend on whichever pets you want - some cost more points than others, so you could have 8 small pets, or 4 larger ones... you get the picture. Why would you care? Mostly because you can order your pets to attack different targets!!! How cool is that? There's even differences in pets between male and female characters, says Jørgen. The whole thing works like a squad-based mechanic that you may recognize from shooter-style games.
In the thick of battle, everyone swings a sword or big stick in Age of Conan. Priests in this game aren't just heal-bots, they pack a punch of their own and deal respectable damage in their own right. And if that's not enough reason to play the healer, they get some perks that are hard to beat:
"...if you look over here, you can also see the (party's) priest and the naked lady buffing him up," Jørgen points out to the group.
Hellooooooo, nurse! Where do I sign?
Walk softly and carry a big tree.
Working in tandem with Microsoft and nVidia, Age of Conan will be Vista-ready and DX10 capable. We saw the DX9 version, which is level of graphics that XBox 360 users will see when that version launches next year. Battles have a truly epic feel to them that we haven't seen since the early days of MMOs. The Barbarian wades into battle, swinging his sword win wide arcs while spellcasters nuke from afar and Necro's dispatch their pets into the fray... it's an awe-inspiring sight to behold. Encounters with Boss Mobs are even better - you get the feeling of being part of something bigger that we haven't felt since the original big battles of Everquest. Well, not so much 'me' in that 'we'; my claim to fame is falling down the well in Befallen at Level 9 and losing all my stuff. *sigh* Good times, good times.
We were shown several high-level play areas, levels 75-80. Much of the content in Age of Conan is 'dynamically scaled' - meaning that the numbers of creatures you face is comparable to the size and strength of your group to ensure that you get a challenging experience. Raids will accomodate up to 24 players; far less than what you'll find in other games' raid mechanics, but Funcom believes that 24 is a more manageable figure, and this writer tends to agree. They'll be designed to be run in two to four hours, to make it accessible to the more casual play audience. Raids will be on a timer, though they haven't decided what the duration will be - we'll have to wait until closer to launch to learn that tidbit.
'Oh yeah? Come up *here* and say that!'
Cities and settlements play a large part of the bigger picture in Age of Conan, as well. "You can build player-cities, you can lay siege to enemy cities." AI in the game can also build their own structures. As you attack settlements, you'll encounter waves of defenders that get progressively harder to defeat. Once you knock down the walls and final structures, a boss mob will spawn. This is based on game mechanics drawn from their previous work with Anarchy Online.
All signs point to a launch date on October 30, 2007, and curse Crom if that date slips! I can't wait to drive my enemies before me, crush them, and hear the lamentations of the women!
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