Although Godager showed us combat on a gamepad at one point (although he told us he preferred the keyboard most of the time), he insisted that while combat was precise and interactive, it wasn’t twitch-based. “I don’t think you push any more buttons than you would in World of Warcraft,” he said, “but the difference is you have more control.” He attacked a group of NPCs (he’d put away his giant sword by this time) and showed us how swinging a sword hit multiple targets in an arc.
Combat moves almost in slow-motion, but Godager says that’s intentional. “We want our combat to be slow,” he said, then corrected himself: “Well, not slow, but realistic.”
Aside from the standard sword-swinging, you can engage in mounted combat. Godager brought forth a horse that the game labeled a “black stallion.” (Unfortunately, the horse was bay—one of those glitches I mentioned earlier.) Horses move in a realistic style, with both horse and rider banking in turns. The horse’s speed determines how much damage a rider does in combat.
Godager engaged some mobs and attacked on horseback. He would ride by and swing…and miss. But when his attacks did hit at fast speeds, the damage was significant enough to flatten a couple enemies. At one point he also used a lance. (And missed again. And again.) “It’s not easy,” he quipped.
Another type of combat is perhaps the most interesting: siege combat. While all the details weren’t 100 percent clear, it goes something like this: when players form guilds in game, they can begin to gather resources which are used to construct player-built cities, and then AI mobs set out to destroy them. We watched a city literally rise from the earth as Godager used dev tools to speed the process. He explained that once a city was completed, the NPCs in the area, who also build rival cities, will eventually lay siege and begin trying to breach your guild’s newly-created haven.
Building a city, according to Godager, takes about 2-2 ½ weeks in real time. City building requires player interaction; it’s a cooperative effort. If the guild chooses, they can go to the rival city’s door and throw down a virtual gauntlet, essentially asking for a confrontation and thereby avoiding a sneak attack.
Another way in which players work cooperatively is formation combat. The leader of the formation can control himself, his group-mates, and NPC characters, deciding on different formations and the degree of freedom the various players and NPCs can have within the formation. It seems as though formations will be particularly essential in siege combat. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see these in action due to a finicky computer, game glitches, or a little of both.
Toward the end of the demo, Godager showed us the home city of King Conan himself. As elsewhere in the game, NPCs in the cities will want to interact with players. Godager referred to this as “need-driven AI.” NPCs will talk amongst themselves, and even address players to chat or issue quests. “We don’t want talking sticks with question marks over their heads,” he said.
Finally, Godager told us that he was going to “summon King Conan.” With his approach, citizens of the city would gather in reverence to the mythic figure. A sweeping and majestic musical score poured from the sound system, announcing Conan’s arrival. I even found myself leaning forward in my chair, waiting for a glimpse of the king, and wondering if he’d still look like Arnold Schwarzenegger after all these years.
He didn’t look like Arnold. In fact, he didn’t look like anything at all, because just as the king was about to arrive in all his fanfare, the kingly soundtrack began to hiccup, the screen began to flicker, and the game froze up, apparently, at least as Godager was playing it, due to a computer problem. (Hey, the machine was an Alienware, so it’s indeed possible, right?)
Although we didn’t see the king himself, we did get an overall impression of AoC in its fairly early stages of development. Overall, the game looks interesting enough to pique the interest of MMO gamers, although its console-esque factors may put off some. Its graphics were modest and certainly not as upscale as some of the next generation games that are poised to hit the market. And although players don’t have to repeat the 20 level solo play adventure each time they roll a new character, playing alone for that length of time in a game that’s designed to be an MMO is an unusual and perhaps risky twist. (It doesn’t cost anything to play those first 20 levels, though, which helps.)
Another thing that may pose a marketing challenge for Funcom is that they’ve chosen to go for a mature-rated game. “The time of Conan was brutal,” says Godager, “so we want the game to show that.” And indeed, things can get a little hardcore. Not only does blood fly when you strike a target, but players and NPCs can even be decapitated. (In other words, yes…heads really will roll in AoC.) In fact, several times when Godager entered the game with his character, he arrived in Hyboria without a head…a particularly disturbing graphical glitch.
Still, there are many appealing features to Age of Conan. Combat, quite simply, looks fun, if perhaps a little too challenging when on horseback. Siege combat and the NPC AI seem unique and engaging. The demo was enough to make me want to get my hands on the game and see how it plays, although we weren’t able to do that.
Despite Schwarzenegger’s Conan moving on to bigger (and more gubernatorial) things, there may be life in the old Conan franchise yet.
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