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Age of Conan: Unchained
Age of Conan: Unchained

PC
Genre: Role Playing Players: 1 (10000 Online)
Developer: Funcom Official Site: http://www.ageofconan.com/
Publisher: Atari
Release Date:
2008
Age of Conan: Unchained

Genre: Role Playing
Players: 1 (10000 Online)
Developer: Funcom
Official Site: http://www.ageofconan...
Publisher: Atari
Release Date:
2008
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Click To View the Age of Conan: Unchained Video
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Review
Review By @ 09:33am 20/06/08
PC
How do you correctly review a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG)? I've never tried before, so bear with me. Rather than pass a glancing judgment to rush something out quickly, we've decided to experience a substantial chunk of the game with the hope of providing a more complete overview and critique of the game. So over the past few weeks I've leveled a character to 60 (out of 80) and have seen much of the game world first hand with (hopefully) a pretty good idea on what's left to come.

Officially released in Australia on May 23, after a sketchy beta period (during the two weeks of beta I participated in, the game never ran more than an hour without a crash or sporadic bouts of unplayable framerate), Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures has had a surprisingly comfortable launch. By MMO standards at least.

Sure, there's a lot of flaws, some that I'll detail later, but as it goes with MMOs you can forgive a whole lot simply due to the sheer magnitude of the game's content and ambition. What you get here easily outweighs what you don't and Age of Conan is, without a doubt, a worthy entrant into the crowding MMO space.

So what's on offer? The retail package, currently the only method of purchasing the game, nets you the standard 30 day subscription to the service, after which you'll need USD$14.99 per month if you want to stick around. Reasonably standard. There's also a Collector's Edition that includes some nice artwork, a cloth map and some exclusive in-game goodies for your characters.

On to the content. The first thing of note about Age of Conan is the adult nature of the game. In contrast to the usual family friendly base that most games in this genre offer, AoC has blood and gore, alcohol, sexual references, and bare-chested members of both genders. A fitting environment given that this is a world crafted upon Robert E Howard's revered novels, perhaps most well known for the 1980's film adaptations starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is no frolic in The Shire with the Hobbits, this is Hyboria and under 18's need not apply.

You'll start the long adventure aboard a slaver ship, where class selection and character customisation is managed dynamically with a high degree of variation. Selecting a male avatar will direct your attention to one of the slaves powering the ships rowing oars while the female choice directs you to the ship's prostitute harem. From here you can adjust race, skin tone, body size and intricately manipulate facial structure with a series of sliders.

It's all executed quite well and helps immerse you in the world from word one. In fact, the early section of the game, the city of Tortage is very well geared for the new player and helps ease you into such an enormous game. Once in Tortage, you'll get your first taste of Conan's massively multiplayer community, with the bustle of other players pottering around performing their quests in parallel to your own. To help newcomers however, the games early quests are performed in singleplayer instances, allowing you to work through them at your own pace and get a hang of things without having to worry about being taken out by another player or ponder the respawn time of an item or boss.

While great for beginners, this feature might not be so fun for veterans, especially on the second or third time through. Each character class has slightly different selection of singleplayer quests which stops things from getting too numbing but different starting areas entirely would have been preferable

The classes are pretty standard RPG affair. There's brute tanks, casters, ranged, healers and damage spec and some crossovers, all tailored to fit within the Conan Universe. Priests of Mitra, Tempests of Set and of course Barbarians. There's something to suit most RPG play styles and although they're far from balanced for player vs player combat at this stage, each can at least hold their own for solo questing.

Each character has a health and stamina bar to govern vitality and endurance respectively. While casting classes have an additional mana bar for their spell-based abilities. Character progression is managed in several ways as experience is gained by defeating enemies and completing quests. As you level, in addition to a base statistic boost, you'll receive skill points, feat points as well as slowly unlock your class' abilities, combos and spells at each notch on the way to level 80.

Skill points are abundant and go toward augmenting the base abilities common to all classes such as climbing, running and hiding. Feats on the other hand are the class-specific modifiers, these define the role your character will play within the chosen class; for example: a conquerer can choose to either specialise in two-handed weapons by investing in brute feats or take the dual wielding path with carnage feats. Finally, abilities, combos and spells. These are your direct attacks and world interactions, all directly bindable to keyboard shortcuts at your beck and call.

Combos are perhaps the most unique feature that helps distinguish Age of Conan from other MMOs - instead of just clicking a single button, they require you to perform a chain of different directional attacks before the final, more damaging move is executed. They start out as simple 2 button sequences and extend to 3 and more as the game progresses. Check out Funcom's combat tutorial video if you want a good look at how combos function.

The result of this new combat mechanic is a little relief in the monotony of the simple click and mash present in most games in the genre – it also adds a touch more to combat strategy as you'll want to use your most efficient and devastating combos first and in PVP combat you'll be wanting to stun or otherwise disable your opponent before they can finish theirs. That said, it's still very basic and the game gives you plenty of time to get the sequence right. It's a far cry from pulling off a Dragon Punch in Street Fighter 2 though. Perhaps a necessary concession for a game of this nature, since high connection latency really is par for the MMO course.

The Australian retail release, like most MMOs, connects to United States-hosted servers so you're not going to see ideal connections to the game. While this is not much of an issue battling AI opponents (the game's client prediction is pretty generous) it does tip a lot of the balance from PVP confrontations away from the geographically challenged.

Not that that's a huge deal at present as PVP combat in Age of Conan is still in a very infantile state. Foundations have been laid for some very cool PVP features, mounted combat and epic guild vs guild city sieges. For the time being however, this is all just conceptual and Age of Conan PVP in it's current basic form consists of free-for-all fighting as you make your way through the regular game – which I must admit, is actually still quite enjoyable but may not yet satisfy those setting their sights immediately on the level 80 endgame.

Player and community communication and interaction outside of combat is adequate with standard chat windows for group/guild/world. In fact the entire user interface is well designed off the bat, allowing you to dynamically re-arrange the location of every box to you liking. You can even toggle to hide your player's head-wear if you'd rather show off your lovely locks. The UI also includes a handy friends list and a functional search for those looking for a pickup group to quest with.

Guild support is also fundamentally complete. All the basics you need to assist and cooperate with your team are there. There's a guild bank to store your collective spoils and resources, guild chat, a notification area that lets you know when your pals level up and a compressive interface to manage the various user levels and permissions of your members.

Intertwined with player trading and the guild features is Age of Conan's crafting system. On top of battling the evils of Hyboria, you're also encouraged to learn a trade, currently two of either Weaponsmith, Armorsmith, Gemcutter, Alchemist and Architect. These are earned through appropriate quests in the guild-centric areas of the game and require players to work together in order to create worthwhile items. Presently, gems can only be used in player crafted weapons or crafted armor which nicely encourages player trade and cooperation.

Additionally, you'll need to progress through gathering quests to be able to harvest the various raw materials required for crafting, particularly for your guilds Architects, who'll be needing a whole lot of wood, stone and gold to build your guild city. That's right, once you have enough members, you can begin construction your own guild town, which will eventually populate with NPCs and offer benefits to your crafters. Again, some of this functionality is in an obviously less-than final state but with the great cost of things, chances are that most won't have the kind of currency required until it's more feature complete anyway.

Graphically, Age of Conan is stellar. Without a question, the best looking game in it's genre - and that's before the promised Direct-X 10 features have even been enabled. Player characters are exquisitely detailed and many of the environments are just sublime. Do yourself a favour and crank up the view distance for a moment in the metropolitan Old Tarantia, even if your PC isn't the best. The designers have taken advantage of Hyboria's many distinct regions and climates; searing deserts and tropical beaches; snow-capped mountains and mossy valleys.

The game world is somewhat dissected, using NPC wagoneers and boatmen as your link between the various zones. This works against the game a little, in that loading screens and the lack of seamless outdoor areas make Hyboria seem a bit less grand. On the plus side, getting from one end to the other is a lot less tedious than many other MMOs.

While most of the game's outdoor zones are public a few buildings and dungeons are exclusive instances that your group won't be able to follow you in to. This wouldn't be a big issue, only that presently they aren't really labeled as such. There are also several group orientated dungeons that aren't instanced which generally degenerate into chaos when they become too populous. These are pretty simple gripes however and admittedly, it's likely that solutions are already in the works.

Performance wise, things aren't so crash hot either. While a top of the line PC will keep you above 30FPS for the most part, there will still be the odd hiccup and there are plenty of memory leaks and other bugs that are no doubt still being furiously plugged by the Funcom maintenance team. Older machines will have a much tougher time. The minimum spec is listed as a 3GHz Pentium IV, 1GB RAM and a GeForce 5800 or ATI 9800 but honestly, you're going to need a bit more grunt, particularly in the GPU and RAM department for the experience to be worthwhile.

The audio, I'm not going to fault. The music is a delight, providing appropriate ambiance, the world over. The orchestral offerings by Norwegian composer Knut Avenstroup Haugen with the assistance of prominent local singers and the Norwegian State Opera Choir are one aspect of the game that is unquestionably flawless. The actual sound effects are equally impressive, with hundreds of different slices, slashes and screams all adding to the authenticity. This game may also be the first to really get the walking-on-snow sound right.

NPC quest dialogue is all voiced for the first 20 levels helping to kick off the main storyline and get you immerse in the game. After that you'll be mostly reading subtitles, with the exception of the main storyline quests and other scattered ones that pertain to lore from the Conan novels. It's a bit jarring going from full speech back to grunts and body gestures but difficult to criticise given they already offer more than most competitors in this regard. The story itself, the lore and the hundreds of quests are well written and for their purpose, interesting enough.

Overall Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures gets the thumbs up. It's different enough from other popular MMOs to stake its own claim in the genre and already has a substantial player-base populating its vast expanses. If you consider that there are two parts to an MMORPG, the initial purchase and the ongoing subscription – For an RPG fan, Age of Conan is well worthy of step one. Step two? Well that's up to you and the 30 days you get with the game should be plenty of time to figure that out.
What we liked
  • The best looking MMO on the shelves
  • Mature rated content
  • Fleshed out Lore that hasn't been done to death
  • Unique combat system
  • Big promises for the future
What we didn't like
  • Hefty system requirements
  • A whole lot of unfinished content and gameplay mechanics
More
We gave it:
8.9
OUT OF 10
Latest Comments
athzhr
Posted 11:01am 20/6/08
Ah, so this wasn't just an excuse to play AoC
Basket
Posted 11:13am 20/6/08
got aoc. didn't like.
Nathan
Posted 12:19pm 20/6/08
Any comments on levelling speed?
Dan
Posted 12:30pm 20/6/08
It's pretty smooth and consistent up until the low 50s when it becomes a bit of a grind for a bit then gets better after 60. That's mostly a problem soloing though as there seems to be enough group quests to keep things flowing, assuming you can find people worth playing with of course.
Jim
Posted 12:45pm 20/6/08
they've made grinding more bearable now by greatly increasing the xp reward for villa quests which are available from around 40, and scale up with your level.

the reward used to be pitiful, wish I could get all that xp retrospectively awarded :)
cJay
Posted 02:45pm 20/6/08
This game is awesome albeit still in it's infancy, for people with higher spec PC's it's lush graphics and sound will be a treat!
boba
Posted 03:39pm 20/6/08
Give it six months to a year and it might be worth paying to play. But atm even though it's fun, it's not working playing because of all the problems and bugs with is.
TicMan
Posted 03:46pm 20/6/08
I think it's a very decent game.. although the biggest annoyance for me is trying to find groups to do instances/dungeons/whatever they are called with. The looking for people system isn't the most user friendly and neither is trying to find dungeons.
groganus
Posted 06:01pm 20/6/08
I think it's a very decent game.. although the biggest annoyance for me is trying to find groups to do instances/dungeons/whatever they are called with. The looking for people system isn't the most user friendly and neither is trying to find dungeons.


go to area where dungeon is

in occ "lfg "
wait...
problem solved.

deadlyf
Posted 06:37pm 20/6/08
It truly is still in it's beta stage IMO. I can't fault Funcom from releasing it early though considering that WAR and the new WoW expansion should be out latter this year. In fact, I think in the end it will be better for the player base having to deal with a few bugs now then if they had done a proper beta period and released it latter.
athzhr
Posted 08:46pm 20/6/08
Game is still fun, but they probably should've delayed release for at least 2-3 months :/ That would've solved a lot of issue and given them time to introduce the new content (that they're adding later this month)
Obes
Posted 09:13pm 20/6/08
I don't want to sound negative...
but!

Graphically, Age of Conan is stellar. Without a question, the best looking game in it's genre -

Without a question ? ... I'd question it, LOTRO and EQ2 both are as pretty and significantly older and run better on lower end machines (ie. scale better). If nothing else Conan player characters are drab and are various shades of brown.

Combos are perhaps the most unique feature that helps distinguish Age of Conan from other MMOs - instead of just clicking a single button, they require you to perform a chain of different directional attacks before the final, more damaging move is executed.

Honestly ... DAOC chains were not dissimilar. Interestingly no mention of spell weaving which is kind of unique. And fatalities...

The game world is somewhat dissected, using NPC wagoneers and boatmen as your link between the various zones. This works against the game a little, in that loading screens and the lack of seamless outdoor areas make Hyboria seem a bit less grand. On the plus side, getting from one end to the other is a lot less tedious than many other MMOs.

A rather nice way to write: "the playing world is tiny compared to other mmo's and everything is instanced (City of Hero's/AO style) with the loading screen being a frequent sight".

And the comments regarding voice overs ... play eq2 they are through out the game. 1-20 is completed 20-80 has been rushed.

That all said for me its new and entertaining, for now.
Jim
Posted 11:13pm 20/6/08
I'd call daoc styles quite dissimilar meself - I'd love it of aoc had them instead of combos. In daoc you /stick to your target and you're almost guaranteed a hit when you expect it, as opposed to pressing a combo hotkey while a caster/healer dances and prances around - you get the combo moves off without actually hitting the target half the time (and that's if the combo doesn't just suddenly disapear due to lag or whatever bug causes it) and then try to make sure the actual last combo move which does the damage or effect hits the target. If it doesn't you're likely frozen while your toon does the animation for the combo on thin air.

Maybe it works ok when your ping is sub-50 but it blows a goat or six from here in aus.

Against a decent player who knows that moving around f**** you up, it is so much easier playing a caster/healer/ranger than a melee class in this game it's not funny. Case in point: the other night I was on my lowbie pom in kopshef and some ranger 5 levels up ganked me, so I relogged my level 63 dt. This level 33 ranger was able to just keep popping healing pots because it was so difficult to get styles off with the lag. With daoc it wouldn't really have mattered.

Anyway, I still whittled this ranger down a few times amidst a flurry of trash talk but then a 51 tos jumps in thinking I am ganking lowbies for the heck of it. So again, I am level 63 and this tos is level 51. I was barely able to even get the guy to have to heal. Meanwhile, he just stands there and hits a single button in order to effect good damage or root etc on me. Due to the fact that I'd get one in 5 or so lifetap combos off on the guy when I could get to him and single-button combo stun him, and the fact I was popping heal pots it turned out to be a stalemate. With that difference in levels! Until I thought 'this is s***' and just stopped popping pots and gradually let him kill me.

Playing the pom is crazy fun by comparison because it _is_ similar to daoc in terms of doing damage and getting other effects on your target
groganus
Posted 11:43pm 20/6/08
dont listen to obes and jim, they are biased fan boys.
Chaser
Posted 07:26am 21/6/08
Um EQ2 is 4 years older. Sorry EQ2's graphics were the best then but they can't touch AoC today. You might want to invest in a more up to date system to see for yourself. Good grief. People find anything to complain about.
Obes
Posted 08:19am 21/6/08
e6850 at 3.6G and a 8800GTX ... Perhaps if you had a better system and turned up the graphics you'd be surprised ? It may not have as much random "frill" detail randomly everywhere. But ...Lavastorm with its heat waves rising off the lava pools is quite impressive for as you as say a 4 year old game. And the toons aren't 400 shades of brown nor are your opponents picts picts and picts with oh some picts.

Jim if AoC had stick, combos would essentially be the same. Combos would have been cooler imo if they automatically fired after pressing the appropriate combination of keys with out first having to trigger the combo. ie. you went up up left and it auto went hey I can do a whirling flurry of pink power puffs and did it.

Dan
Posted 09:16am 21/6/08
Thanks for the feedback, but I'm going to stand by opinion of the graphics.

Here's a couple of recent trailers from Lotro and eq2 imo, they don't hold a candle to Conan.

EverQuest 2: Gathering Tempest Launch Trailer
The Lord of the Rings Online "Book 13" Dev Diary Trailer

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Launch Trailer
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Tech Demo Trailer

As for the palette, well perhaps that's a more personal thing, but imo the rainbow colours that a lot of MMOs seem to have s*** me so it was refreshing to see one that keeps things more down to earth.

Fair call on the combat stuff though as I do agree that the end result is still pretty lacking in substance. Sorry if that sentiment didn't quite come through but there was a crapload to try and describe and I didn't want to get too long winded so a few things did slip the critique.

How about sharing some of the things you _did_ like?

last edited by Dan at 09:18:40 21/Jun/08
Obes
Posted 10:22am 21/6/08
Forget trailers, and I think this is flaw in this review you make comparisons to other mmo's but how many mmo's have you actually played ? ... fire the games up. Maybe I am looking for/at different things when I play a game. If I see the same things repeated over and over and over I am not impressed (I haven't stopped to look at a monster twice since Tortage). Its not just quality its variety and performance. Even on my relatively decent machine the frame rate feels a little stifling at times (and I turned some features off). None of the dungeons have a particularly unique feel to them. The have reused components and have a distinctly cave like feel to them. Maybe they put more effort into the 75+ content ?

As for the positives. You covered them dan ... the music and game/combat sound. It has possibly the best soundtrack since Diablo 2. The capitals have a great and unique feel to them. And the first 20 levels prove this can be a fun game. The lore and world seem to have been implemented well. Fatalities awesome! The fact they have disabled /follow and made being a healer more then /follow and press heal once ina while (ie. removed the healbot).

But seriously Dan the 400 shades of brown is boring. Quake had a larger palette. I agree some games went completely over the top (wow). But the fact that I look the same at 50 as I did when I was 10 and will probably be the same at 80... *yawn*

It smacks of a lack of content beyond level 20. The game feels like it has about 30% of its content.
groganus
Posted 11:09am 21/6/08
the most disapointing thing about the game to me is how small the game world actually is, in saying that though there are alot of very interesting locations for them to go into later.

also stygia which has to have the best landscape terrain and general awesomeness is really only featured in 20-30's after that i havent had a reason to ever go there.

the game holds very true to the lore though, which unfortuneately means that your opponents are either pict's vanir or nemidians (and of course wild life) the problem being with that though is that you get sick of fighting the same enemy over and over again.

hopefully if they ever expand to other locations like the isle of black ones and zamora we will see some tall jungle black people and pirates to fight. (though you got todo alot of that in tortage anyway)

to me however this all shines as a positive. so what if the dungeons look the same and have the same feel... thats how they were in the conan storys, its kind of what i expect. i dont mind killing vanir or picts, they are f*** heads and deserve to die at my blade (especially the pict's. filthy filthy pict's).

as far as armor goes and the way your character looks, i tend to find that my look changes every 10 levels, whilst the changes are not dramatic there enough for me to feel rewarded with my progression, as a barb i started off wearing social cloth armor, i moved to really lame light armor that looked crappy and patchy, i then wore light armor that resembled a potato sack, i then moved to a more warrior style of light armor, now my armor is made our of hides and is all patchy but it is strong and crafted well, it also looks used and bloody. my swords having carvings in the steel and my mace has shiny tips cuts along the handle.... that kind of detail is awesome, and sure they were quest rewards and sure every other barb my level is going to be using the same s***... but what game doesnt that happen in.

for me this game is fantastic, however i understand people when they say it lacks content and its still beta'ish, i have very high hopes for the future though considering what is there and what is left to cover.
Jim
Posted 12:21pm 21/6/08
yeah that's almost exactly how I wish the combos worked obes
having to press the keys _only_ when the game highlights the direction icon is probably the failing part of it - it's incredibly cumbersome with latency in pvp

still don't get the daoc comparison though - in daoc you just press one key and that's your 'combo'. one keypress, one full-powered style (combo) instead of white/plain damage.

and the backup style system they added to daoc was also awesome and would rock for aoc. some styles required you to evade or parry or block before using them, while some styles required you attack from the front, side or rear. so you pick which one you'd prefer in the next swing, but you can also hit a backup style key that will work no matter what the position. meaning that if the requirements aren't met for some reason (player changes direction, or you don't parry/evade/block) you still get to do _decent_ damage with the anytime style you chose as a backup - instead of just patting them on the head.
groganus
Posted 12:25pm 21/6/08
and the backup style system they added to daoc was also awesome and would rock for aoc. some styles required you to evade or parry or block before using them, while some styles required you attack from the front, side or rear. so you pick which one you'd prefer in the next swing, but you can also hit a backup style key that will work no matter what the position. meaning that if the requirements aren't met for some reason (player changes direction, or you don't parry/evade/block) you still get to do _decent_ damage with the anytime style you chose as a backup - instead of just patting them on the head.


this system would be f*****g awesome in the event of using a combo and having the other player or npc block the last move f*****g up the combo and having all damage given back to them.

s**** to me to tears when im using one of my longer cool down combos and the enemy blocks it at last minute and the whole thing is wasted and im stuck waiting 45 seconds before i can use it again.
Obes
Posted 02:04pm 21/6/08
Jim, no doubt daoc had a better system (well after they added backup moves).

My point really was that "combos" are not new. And I'd argue not even well implemented.

ie. DAOC has you hit the opening move, then the followup then maybe another followup and then maybe a finisher.

AoC "combos" are more password protected abilities, rather then a combo in the arcade style.
Jonesy
Posted 02:27pm 21/6/08
SIGH! Why do people ALWAYS complain about the game being instanced and the quest givers not talking anymore after Tortage? Do you really want the game to be open and all the NPC's have voices? Ok...Let's just add another 100gb+ to the required space...Hmm not to mention the memory it would take up. So give it a break and give it some time to mature. All MMO's start out bumpy, yes ALL do.
skythra
Posted 03:00am 23/6/08
No local server?

Not gonna waste my money.

I might play war or stick to FPS if it sucks. I quit wow over that s***.
Keato
Posted 10:55am 24/6/08
AoC is pretty s*** really, the arcade melee is better suited to a console.
The graphics are pretty good, but detract from game performance too much.
And Content is weak.

Maybe ill look again in 3 months, but I think I will wait for WAR.
TicMan
Posted 11:03am 24/6/08
Why do people ALWAYS complain about the game being instanced


Because instancing is s*** when it's implemented like it is in AoC..
boba
Posted 11:04am 24/6/08
The instancing isn't that bad
TicMan
Posted 11:29am 24/6/08
Is so
StreX
Posted 11:48am 24/6/08
this game bloody rox
foad if you think otherwise.
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