Funcom, apparently not wanting to be left behind, have decide to make Age of Conan free-to-play under the name ‘Age of Conan: Unchanged’. They’ve tried free timed trials of a week; then they tried a ‘capped at level 20’ method. They’re now having yet another go at it, this time using the idea used by many MMO’s such as Lord of the Rings and Champions Online. In short, you get a reduced version of the game. Your characters can level up all you want, but some of the more advanced or ‘fun’ features of the game are disabled. (So, I assume the Unchained in ‘Age of Conan: Unchained’ is supposed to mean free, rather than unrestricted)
For example, In ‘Age of Conan: Unchained’ you can only use access two character slots; you can only choose from four classes (these are your standard classes but still quite fun); you can only hold a certain amount of gold and your bag space is reduced. Most of these things you can ignore or just play through, especially if you are just trying the game out. Although, any characters that do wish get further into the game, will be unable to reach some of the higher level challenge dungeons or encounters.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played Age of Conan. I bought it when it first came out way back in 2008. Unfortunately, when it was first released it was still missing something. That ‘something’ was a reason to keep levelling; some purpose to keep playing. Up to level 20 was great, but after that there just didn’t seem like any point to continuing.
Has it changed? They have had three years to tweak it and sort out everything that stopped it being as big as it could have been. There was no better time like now to find out. I reactivated my account, deleted my old characters (After 3 years there was no point continuing with the old ones, so much could have changed and I’d miss everything at the beginning.) and gave it the second try it deserved.
Before I get into the game, it’s worth mentioning that compared to a lot of other MMO’s out there, Age of Conan needs a much more capable computer. My computer is now relatively old at around 3 years but in 99% of cases I have no trouble playing on the highest graphical setting. I do have to tweak it down on Age of Conan otherwise the game stutters and the increased graphics are offset but a jerky disrupted gaming experience. Loading screens especially into and out of the game can be also be annoyingly slow. You can sometimes be waiting minutes, depending on your computer’s speed.
Thankfully, creating your characters hasn’t changed. Most of the class choices were locked-out, but I was still able to create my Stygian Demonologist; a slim, yet buxom young woman who commands fire, electricity and even a demon companion. One of the better things about ‘Age of Conan’, was the level of diversity that you could have for your characters. There’s not as many options as some games, such as Champions Online, but there’s certainly enough to make sure that everyone looks different. They’ve even been kind enough to give you three different levels of customisation, with the highest level having little slider-bars for every part of them. (yes, even the now-quite standard breast-slider bar, where we would be without that one). I didn’t really want to get into the small detail, so tweaked her face, changed her tattoo, and narrowed her cheekbones. ‘Shiwoddy’ was now ready to start her adventure.
Once you do get the graphics to game-quality ratio sorted, created your character and have sat through the first loading screen, you’re in. You’re into the game.
The ship you were on, which housed the character creation screens, sinks and after a brief encounter with a large blue glowing symbol you awake on an island with no memory of where you came from, only that you were on that slave ship. You are greeted by a man who after giving you a brief description of the island, tells you to make the Slave-handler pay for your ‘freedom with his blood’, and then seek to enter the city of Tortuga, and speak to a woman called Nadini who can help you get your memories back. Tortuga is your standard ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’, guards on the take, bandits terrorising shopkeepers, maidens to be saved etc. I won’t go in to any more on the story, as you can experience it for yourselves. Though I will say that is well paced, and flows nicely through the first few levels of the game.
The staple part of this MMO as well as most of the others, is around questing. Questing here, is no different from the majority of MMO’s. In fact they still use the golden exclamation marks and question marks to signal available and completed quests. Quests which are predominantly killing an amount of enemies, or items. When you get a quest, a little arrow as well as a purple coloured area tells you where you should look to further your quest. I wish there was some fantastically unique questing method, because god knows some MMO needs to think of a new one.
Saying that, even though the method of performing quests is in no way unique, the first twenty levels, or to be more accurate the introductory quest hub of Tortage, is split into two different parts. All the quests that are non specific to the overall story are played out during the day. You are with other players and have the option to group or solo these as normal. The quests which forward your story are played out at night. You are the only player character around, and everything is tailored for the solo adventurer. It gives your character a feeling of importance and isolation. To be honest, as the night-time scenarios are usually about subterfuge and espionage, it wouldn’t make sense to have the streets filled with hundreds of people all attempting to steal the same scroll, or wait around for someone to spawn so you can assassinate them. Funcom definitely get some extra brownie points here for just doing something different.
The method by which you level up is also quite standard. Questing and killing mobs all give you experience points (xp) after a certain amount you gain a level and you are granted more skills. With each level you are also granted a small amount of skill points. These points can then be allocated towards a number of skills. Some skills are there to decrease the level of downtime for your character, by increased the regeneration rate of your health, magic power or stamina. Casters have the option of decreasing the risk of being interrupted when casting spells. Points can also be invested in a climbing skill or your running speed. The higher your climbing skill the more chance you have of climbing certain points on the land. Running speed, is pretty self-explanatory.
One of the main selling points of AoC that Funcom advertised all those years ago was the more action based combat. Firstly, there isn’t an auto attack; you are responsible for every swing and block your character performs. At the bottom of the screen there are several buttons with arrows on them. These buttons indicate the direction of your strike. The button pointing up, indicates you will attack high-centre. Combat continues with you pressing these buttons and striking your enemy, until one of you is dead (or have run away)
Secondly, any combat special skills you have, are linked to those directions and will open options for further combination attacks when pressed. So you can continue to chain moves together to inflict more and more damage upon your enemy.
Each fighters defence, including your own is represented by a series of brackets. Three brackets in one area indicates the part is heavily defended, no brackets shows an undefended zone. For greatest damage you should always strike where your opponent is defended least, and inversely always defend where your opponent is striking. It does add a lot more to the combat, and gives it a more active action feel. Rather than just almost passively bashing your special attack buttons with no sense of timing of skill.
The third thing isn’t really a new combat method, but the adult in me (or should that be the juvenile) really approves. At random times you will actually perform a kind of Mortal Kombat-esque fatality move on your enemies. The melee fighters will decapitate, maim or dismember enemies at random times, where as my demonologist will occasionally electrocute or burn her enemies (The foe will then shake uncontrollable as energy courses through them, or will roll on the floor trying to put out the flames, while screaming). I think it’s clear that Funcom are trying to distance themselves from the more cartoon and family acceptable MMO’s and create a more adult experience.
So is Age of Conan worth the effort?
I am only a lowly level 10 at the moment so I am still in the starting city, and very early on in my Age of Conan: game. When I played this the first time round, I was very disappointed by the game after I left Tortage. The feel of importance and individuality I felt whilst at the starter city, faded very quickly when I realised that once you join the open game all this faded away and you were left with a grind-fest of an MMO with nothing much to look forward to.
As I said, time has passed and it looks like Funcom have done a lot with this game to get rid of all the little annoyances that plagued it. I still have crafting, guilds and guild cities, dungeons and leveling post 20 to experience. Plus, I expect the game to get a little more risqué and violent as the novels are.
In short the game is worth a try, it’s not going to blow you away and despite the impressive graphics engine it just doesn’t have the same polish as some of the other popular MMO’s out there.
It is free, and that is a price that anyone can pay so if you want to give it a go, you can get to the site, from my free games and demo page, here