Jeff Woleslagle, Cody Bye and Garrett Fuller and I were fortunate enough to view Age of Conan's most recent developments on day one of GDC 2008. Gaute Godager, Game Director and Erling Ellingsen, Product Manager were but two of a team of six that guided us through an hour of the latest developments in Age of Conan, the AAA title to be released by FunCom on May 20, 2008.
Mounted combat, city building and more were shown for the first time. Let's get to it!
The team led off by showing us a spectacular new trailer (that we were asked not to video). The incredibly detailed landscapes, lush with an abundance of varied vegetation, ruins and landmarks were not what I expected, yet they portrayed the dour mood of the Conan universe better than could have been imagined. What made the trailer perhaps even more astounding was that it was built completely from the in-game assets of the DirectX 9 version of the title.
"It's a game which is all about vast landscapes with great details, but also about a mature theme. It is built with a great love and care for the Conan license." - Gaute Godager
Next we were taken through character creation, where Erling showed the vast number of elements that can be changed to give your character a truly unique look. Your character's nose can even be broken to various degrees. Erling named the newly created character for the demo, "TenTonHammer", confident that such a mountain of a man could take anything that the game dished out.
"It's very important in an MMO, being able to create something that looks unique and that you can identify with, or at least find despicable and enjoy playing, or that is sexy as she runs in front of you, whatever is your fancy." - Gaute Godager
"You can create a character that looks so unique, that you can recognize a player just by the way that they look." - Erling Ellingsen
The player starts the game as a slave from the galley of a wrecked ship with no memory of his past. Completing "Destiny" quests helps the character regain their memories. Fumcom has spent an enormous amount of time building a world in which your character has a sense of purpose right from the start. Washed up on the beach of the starter island, you can choose to begin your journey in solitude if you desire, but you can also choose to join up with friends right away.
"We want to tell the player that they mean something right from the beginning. They are not starting off as wolf puppy killers or rat killers. They are starting off as something skull-crushingly cool! That is important." - Gaute Godager
As Gaute explained the lore behind the Conan property and how loyal the FunCom team has tried to be to that lore he explained how the backstory is like a layered cake. As the player peels back one layer they find another, darker and more sinister layer below. **Spoiler Alert** He also let slip that players would have a way to trigger volcanic eruptions on the starter island. For those of you not familiar with the game, there is an intricate story that branches as you play through the initial 20 "tutorial" levels and beyond.
The team took us through a very short dungeon crawl in the Onyx Chambers. This instance will allow up to 100 players at once before auto-spawning another instance. As Gaute put it, this is a "social" dungeon, meaning that other players and groups can inhabit the dungeon at the same time as you.
The next thing you feel will be my club meeting your cranium.
Combat is significantly different from what many MMOG players are used to. Attacks are direction based. In other words you can swing to the right, left or right down the center, stringing consecutive moves together to form a special attack or "combo".
"Every melee swing does area damage. The bigger the weapon, the bigger the swing, the more people that you will hit, but also the farther the reach you will have. " - Gaute Godager
This innovative melee system coupled with the character collision model (characters cannot pass through other characters like in some popular MMOGs) makes for a very interesting combat mechanic. Another compelling aspect of combat are the shields. I'm not referring to the bucklers and tower shields found in many MMOGs, but rather the ability to set your character's defensive prowess. Players can put forth a very defensive front, leaving their sides vulnerable, go for a balanced defensive setup or favour one side over another. NPCs do the same thing, forcing players to attack from the right or left when perhaps they do not wish to do so.
Once the dungeon crawl ended we were shown the mammoth, rhino and horse mounts. The mammoth is enormous, slow moving and slow to accelerate. The sheer size of this beast makes it impossible for the rider to attack with his weapons. Instead, the mammoth has its own attacks that can be used at the player's discretion. The horse on the other hand is much faster and more agile than the mammoth. It also has special attacks, one of which is a kicking attack with its hind legs that sends enemies sprawling. Riding a horse keeps the player close enough to the ground to also swing with his weapon at enemies.
Next we were shown city building. Much like a real-time-strategy game a guild harvests the necessary resources and then spends those resources to build a specific building. Other guilds can then lay siege to your town and of course you can lay siege to theirs!
"It's an awesome mix between MMO and RTS. It's like being in the middle of Age of Empires." - Erling Ellingsen
Age of Conan remains one of, if not the most anticipated MMOG of 2008. You'll be able to play it on May 20th, 2008 when it officially launches.
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