Age of Conan (“AoC”) was launched in May of 2008 as a subscription-based game. Unfortunately the game was plagued with numerous technical and design-related issues which drove players away. I was one of them.
I am happy to report AoC is a completely different animal now. Not only have they fixed most of the bugs and refined the game, they have also released the first expansion (Rise of the Godslayer) and converted to a combination paid monthly and F2P model with an online market in the July 2011 release of Age of Conan: Unchained.
But with all of the fantasy-based MMOGs out there, what does this mean for gamers? Simply put, AoC has become a diamond in the rough. There is no other MMOG quite like it, and while there are still some outstanding issues, AoC has grown into a respectable and in many regards, fantastic MMOG.
While new players who choose the try the F2P version of AoC are limited as to what classes and areas they have access to, the content is more than enough to begin the fun and addicting process which leads many to become avid supporters and subscribers.
The first thing that sets AoC apart from other fantasy-based MMOGs is the first twenty levels, which are very well done in the areas of voice acting and storyline. The game doesn’t thrust you into a living breathing massive world; instead you begin in a “single player” mode outside of the city of Tortuge. When you reach the city, you are in the “daytime” version where others are present – from this daytime instance, you can move to different shared instances to play with friends and others, or you can choose to pursue a nighttime campaign which is single-player.
The next thing that makes AoC different from other MMOGs is the combat, which features a very different level of fun, strategy and challenging interactivity. Add gore (severing of limbs and decapitations) with bare-breasted women running around and many gamers agree, it’s simply fun. But there’s more to AoC than just strategic gory combat and hot women. There is an underlying breadth to the game which is exceptional, including some of the best graphics, music and sound FX available. Indeed, the game plays very differently for a mage class than it does for a warrior class.
While all characters are some variation of human, the character creation is fun and allows for avatars ranging from sexy to freakish. Additional character growth can be found in a Feat and Alternate Advancement systems. AoC also offers an offline training system for characters above level 30 (the max level is 80).
I’m going to review the different systems of AoC and touch on every core feature the game has to offer. Feel free to comment and provide any additional feedback that you have regarding what you read here or experienced yourself. I hope this review provides helpful information for those who are interested in learning more about Age of Conan and what it has to offer.
Original Release Date: May, 2008
Latest Expansions: Rise of the GodSlayer (May, 2010) & Unchained F2P Release (July, 2011)
Next Expansion: Savage Coast of Turan (Fall, 2011)
Custom Features: Interactive Combat, Offline Training, Apprenticeship, Guild Cities & Battlekeeps, Siege Warfare
Strengths: Beautiful environments, engaging combat, exceptional music and sound, strong initial storyline
Weaknesses: Clunky UI, terrible travel system, poor tradeskill system, server spikes/lag, technical issues
Notes: A must try for any fantasy-MMO gamer who likes great combat
Billing Style: Hybrid Subscription, Free to play and Market system
Economy, Level & Skills, Feats & Alternate Advancement (Perks), Travel, Professions & Resource Gathering, Consumables, Marketplace, Achievements, Pets & Companions, Factions, Death, Repair, Offline Training, Apprenticeship, Minigames, Guild Cities & Battlekeeps, and Sieges.
The Economy of AoC revolves around Gold, Silver, Copper, Tin and Tokens. As with many MMOGs tokens are acquired by completing quests (general and faction), raiding, PvP, and accomplishing “difficult tasks” and are used with different factions to purchase some of the most powerful items in the game. There are also “veteran tokens” which are given per pay period to subscribers which can be used to purchase many special in-game items, including faction and dungeon tokens.
There are 80 character Levels in AoC. Each class has numbers Skills (class specific) and Abilities (generic, such as recall, attack upper left, etc) which are automatically learned when you level (so you get immediate access, no need to train). You can obtain “books” to upgrade your max level spells, etc. through dungeon drops, merchant purchases (with tokens) and the online store. There is also a Feat system where you can spend points (from level 10 onward) to customize your character’s play style (choosing from two class-specific paths with a third general path).
Age of Conan has two systems of character advancement separate from leveling up. The first is that of Feats, which are general and class-based upgrades a player spends points in which are acquired by leveling up. This allows the player to focus on specific areas for their class and play style.
The second system is that of Alternate Advancement. The AA system was really designed to allow growth past max level (80), but players can begin using it as soon as Level 20. There are three types of points, Mastery, Expertise and Prowess. 3 Mastery points are acquired for each level through standard experience gain from doing quests, killing mobs, items, etc (the progress of the level is shown on the left vertical experience bar), and 3 Prowess points are acquired through each level fed by PvP experience (the progress of which is shown on the right). Expertise Points are rewarded each time you make a Mastery or Prowess level, and can be spent as either type of point, so if you. Now this is where things get a little interesting. The Alternate Advancement “selections” come in two flavors. Normal and Perks. Normal AA selections are passive in nature and behave like Feats. Some may grant a new spell or enhance an existing one, but once you put a point in one of these, you don’t need to do anything more. Perks, on the other hand, create a “slottable” perk action which must be in your Perks action bar in order to be “active”. The Perks action bar has a total of six slots. Two for blue (Tier 1), two for red (Tier 2), and two for silver (Tier 3). The intent of this system was to create a flexible end-game customization for players who could “custom-load” their perks bar to make their class play the way they wanted based on what they were going to do (Raid, PvE, PvP, etc).
Another part of the AA system is that of Offline Training, allowing a player to train an AA point over time. People with multiple level 80 characters often use the Guild “timer bot” to keep track of all their characters “offline training”. The nice part of this system is it allows a player to grow each level 80 character even when they aren’t being played. How long would it take to train the highest class perk? 720 hours.
While I think AoC is a fantastic game, it has the worst Travel system I’ve ever seen. It’s confusing to new players, and even after one understands how to move between cities, hubs and regions, it’s a major pain to find out how to go somewhere new. Need to go to Purple Lotus Swamp for the first time? Good luck! Funcom needs to completely redesign the travel system to be easier to identify and use.
A player cannot get a Profession until Level 40, and can only choose two from the five available: Weaponsmith, Armorsmith, Alchemist, Architect and Gemcutter. The system is very simple, requiring only components; i.e. there is no need for anvils, forges, or any other in-world item – you can build the items from anywhere as long as you have the components.
The Resource Gathering of AoC is a bit different from other MMOGs. A player cannot begin to gather resources until level 20, however once a character reaches level 20, they can learn all of the six gathering skills: Mining, Prospecting, Skinning, Stonecutting, Weaving and Woodcutting, and believe me – leveling them up takes time. Another difference in AoC is there are “resource zones” which are chocked full of juicy resource goodness – but don’t be mislead – as you harvest resources, angry mobs come out and attack you and they get more difficult as you progress. Players can only learn the gathering skills (through quests) in Poitain, Lacheish Plains and Purple Lotus Swamp.
Unfortunately, the profession and resource gathering systems have the feeling of being more of an afterthought than anything else.
Consumables are very important in AoC as you always want food and drink keeping your hits, mana and stamina replenished. You can also use potions in battle which help with healing and myriad of other things.
The Marketplace is called an “Item Shop” and from here one can purchase most anything they need: Bags, Companions, Mounts, Jewelry, Weapons, Armor, Abilities, Feats, Travel Scrolls, Potions, Food & Drink, Enhancements, Bundles, Pets, Special Offers and more. Want that Brown Riding Camel? 1,575 Funcom Points. How much are the points? 600 points is $5 USD, 1,200 points is $10, and 2400 points is $20. However, I’d choose the Purebred Killer Rhino for 990 points. The Weapons and Armor are available every 10 levels. For example, a Level 20 staff is 225 points while a level 80 staff is 675 points. So yes, you can outfit your character if you’ve got the money – however the items aren’t “the best in the game” (they are only blues, not purples).
AoC is one of the few games that does not have an Achievement system. I can’t complain too much as dismembering your first victim is an achievement in itself without needing to be told by the game.
There are numerous Pets available in the game for players to collect, acquired through quests and drops, and others through purchase in the Marketplace. Some classes have Companions which will fight for the character. The Necromancer class, for example, has up to eight nasty undead minions at its command, and it’s quite a sight to be adventuring through the world only to have a lone character come over the hill with a mini-horde of undead in tow. One interesting point regarding companions is the threat system. Unlike other MMOGs, when your companions attack a target, the target comes right after you. This requires a companion class to think differently than in other MMOGs where companions are designed to hold threat.
Choice of Faction doesn’t begin until level 80, and when a player hits 80 there are twelve factions to choose from. A player may work on six of the twelve factions at once as the other six are opposing, and once you choose a “side” you cannot work on opposing factions unless you betray your chosen factions. Choose wisely, as different factions give different items (including mounts and pets which can attack), which can be seen here. The game claims the way you interact with NPCs affects your overall reputation, but I haven’t noticed exactly how.
The Death system is very forgiving. Die, simply resurrect at a “rez pad” and go back and grab your tombstone to restore the 1% loss, or wait 30 minutes. However if you die three times, you’ll have three tombstones (the max count) and be at a 3% disadvantage until either you get the tombstones or wait 30 minutes. One issue however is if you haven’t discovered the nearest “resurrect pad” you will raise at the closest one you discovered, and that can often be quite a distance.
The game has no item Repair system.
Depending on the subscription type and how long one has been a subscriber, a player can accrue Offline Training which can be applied at once to any character above level 30. I’ve seen players log in as level 30 and shoot to level 80 by spending these points. This is nice for players who have multiple level 80 characters. A player currently receives one offline training level for every 4 days they subscribe as a premium member.
One feature few seem to be aware of is the Apprenticeship feature, which is similar to the Mentor feature in Everquest; the only difference is the lower level character is elevated one level below the master and the characters cannot be more than 20 levels apart. This means a level 45 would become level 55 if their friend was level 56. This allows the master to take their apprentice to the places they adventure and fight. This is a pretty neat feature and allows one to catch up with their friend fairly quickly.
Mingames are simply instanced PvP games which come in three flavors: Annihilate, Conquest, and Capture the Skull. By playing these minigames, players can earn PvP tokens and points to purchase PvP gear, etc.
Guild Cities are custom built player cities where one can add structures, NPCs, services, and other supportive features for all of the guild members including walls and gates where the buildings all have rankings and with each rank gain additional features. Architects (a profession) help build these structures, and larger guilds can have rather impressive cities. The purpose for the walls and features? In your Guild City instance is a NPC/Enemy city which is also built in conjunction with yours. They will attack your city, and if you let them get too powerful, they can overwhelm your city and cause problems, so it’s good to keep them “hammered down” to prevent them from becoming too powerful.
Then we have Battlekeeps, cities built by guilds in the PvP zones which can be attacked and destroyed by other guilds through the Siege system which creates windows of battle (via date and time) through a custom UI, allowing both the attacking and defending guilds to prepare for the battle (48 on each side). Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that Sieges take place very often on the current PvE server as players are more enticed to run Raids and PvP in minigames, however rumor has it Funcom is going to be addressing this shortly as they want to get Sieges back into the mainstream gameplay features.
Both Guild Cities and Battlekeeps can receive additional protection through hired computer-controlled guards.
Character & Customization, Races, Classes, Lore and Story, Quests, NPCs, Mounts, World, Ambiance, Enemies, Equipment and Inventory, Trader (Bank, Mail and Auction), and Tutorial.
AoC features some fun Character creation and Customization. While all characters are a variation of human, the adjustments one can make are extensive, allowing for a serious muscle ribbed barbarian to the petite perfectly figured female spellcaster. There are four Races: Aquilonian, Cimmerian, Stygian, and with the latest expansion, Khitan. Each race has a set of different visual features including tattos, hair styles, colorations, and facial structures.
There are four sets of Classes which have three subclasses each. The four sets are: Priest (Priest of Mitra, Tempest of Set, and Bear Shaman), Soldier (Conquerer, Dark Templar, and Guardian), Rogue (Barbarian, Ranger, and Assassin) and Mage (Demonologist, Necromancer, Herald of Xotli). The classes all play differently and as with many MMOGs, have common themed roles (Yes, priests heal…)
The Lore and History of AoC is very well defined and based on the works of Robert E. Howard. A simple way of representing the lore of AoC is a mixture of ancient egyptian, asian, babylon, and roman themes with a bit of mammoth with a touch of Fantasy. It is enjoyable and easy for most people to relate to.
Quests in AoC are fairly standard per MMOGs, but are very well presented in the first 20 levels with great voice acting and chained story. Post level 20, the “introduction to the world” wears off a bit, but keeps the player focused on a multitude of tasks. Vanquish the undead? Check. Remove the lycanthropes? Check. Fetch granny some fresh water? Check. I will say though the interactivity with the quests does seem one step above the norm as the visuals of the game make the overall experience that much more believable and enjoyable. By default, you can only have three quests “active” on your UI (which can be increased to 16 in the options) with a total journal size of 30; however even if a quest is not active it will still clearly show on the world map, which is very nice – that way you can look around your current area and see what there is to do. Quests that are located in other zones are marked through the zone “travel” mark. As you progress into the higher levels, towns also have Wanted posters which you can repeat multiple times. This is a good way to focus your efforts and level up if you find a shortage of local quests for your level.
The variation in NPCs is quite extensive especially in the areas of voice acting, racial/cultural differences and impressive-looking equipment sets.
Mounts are also well done (visually and animation-wise) as they behave differently from other MMOGs; you actually have to properly turn, steer, and handle them and must keep their handling in mind when it comes to combat and strategy. You can execute combat maneuvers from a mount, but you can also get knocked off. There are many circumstances where going on foot is much better than going on a Mount. At this time there are no flying mounts.
The World of AoC is diverse and beautiful. Pair this with some of the best MMOG Ambience and music and you’ve got an overall great experience. This includes beautiful lighting depending on the time of day, and even the occasional weather effects. There are currently five active “main” regions in the game: Tortuge, Cimmera, Aquilonia, Stygia, and Khitai. These regions represent “nations” (or cultures) and also connect to a few other regions, such as the Border Kingdoms, etc. By looking at the map you can see there are a lot of other regions which are to come. AoC currently features more than 60 instances (or dungeons) to explore, which is a ton of content; and players can experience all of these dungeons in either normal or epic difficulty.
While most Enemies in AoC are either a variation of humanoid (including undead, werewolves, etc) or animal (including insects, reptiles, etc), there are some “mystical” creatures to encounter as well. The quality of the models and animations is top notch and each fight is a visual feast that can quickly turn into a strategic experience if unexpected guests arrive mid-swing; and believe me, they do. The game also features [Boss] mobs (located in the world). These are tougher than average mobs that often drop better loot, but they aren’t so difficult that you cannot solo them. Bosses often call minions when you attack them as well, so be ready to handle multiple adds.
Equipment is fairly standard for a character with different armor and weapon slots, and it’s pretty easy to identify the more powerful high/max level characters by their grand weapons, armor, mounts and cloak. Some items come with Gem slots which can be filled for bonus and attribute enhancements. There are also Vanity slots so characters can customize the way they look to the world separate from the armor and weapons they have equipped. When a player starts, they automatically have 24 Inventory slots. The game allows for one expansion bag (which maxes out at 72 additional slots with the Body Bag from the Jiang Shi faction in Khitai). I obtained a 20-slot bag with my expansion purchase and have not had my inventory fill up between trips to the merchant yet.
One issue as it relates to Equipment and Vanity items is there is no item preview. This needs to be added to the game, especially for those who are looking to customize their outfits; a player shouldn’t be required to buy something to see how it looks on them.
One nice feature is the combination of Bank, Mail and Auction House in one interface, the Trader NPC. While the Auction House is a bit clunky (there’s no easy way to determine prices other than looking them up separately from posting), the way a player posts items is to put it in the bank and set a price. Mail is fairly standard, but it’s important to delete old mail or the box will fill up quick as each auctioned item stays until you delete it.
The Tutorial works fairly well to introduce new players to the game and is easy to turn on or off, however a friend of mine quit AoC within the first few levels because he was constantly getting interrupted while trying to cast spells which resulted in numerous deaths. He didn’t know he was supposed to put skill points into spell concentration. When I informed him of this, he tried the game again and is now enjoying it.
Guild, Grouping, Events, Social Network, Population, and Spam
As with any Free to Play game, the Global and New Player channels are fairly saturated with less than intelligent conversation. That’s just part of gaming. I’ve also noticed AoC is fairly impersonal when it comes to bringing people together. While you will run into people throughout the world, most don’t group up – they just go about their business. However part of this may be due to the fact that there’s so much to do, and players can enjoy the content themselves, there just isn’t any real reason to group up until you get to a higher level. It’s rather entertaining to often see the lone character running for their life with a train of critters behind them – a standard sight in AoC.
Guilds are very important in AoC. They provide a solid community, access to a guild city (which serves as a Hub for members), and the renown guild level system which unlocks new quests for items, structures, and more. Unfortunately the game doesn’t have a built in voice chat system, so most guilds resort to TS3 or Vent. Another neat feature is the ability for guilds to advertise membership with clickable scripts in game chat. Many of the large guilds use a 3rd party “guild bot” tool called BeBot, which is an in-game chat server monitoring system allowing for automated commands including alt registration, calculations, and even chuck norris facts. A geek’s dream bot!
Grouping is fairly standard (with a focus on 6-man groups for most dungeons) and there is a LFG tool, but I’m not sure how many people really use it.
There aren’t really any Events (at least not like RIFT, for example), nor is there a real Social Network for the game.
The Population of the game is solid. I see people everywhere. I don’t know the exact load of the server I’m on, but it’s usually at Medium.
I’ve seen some in-game spam for power leveling and such, and there doesn’t really be a way to report them, only ignore them. Hint to Funcom – add a name-click “report spam” option, please.
Combat, Strategy, PvP, PvE, Reward, Progression, Learning Curve, Replayability and End Game
The Combat in AoC is one of its biggest strengths. It’s smooth, fun, and requires a level of Strategy, especially for melee actions. If you are playing a melee class, or even a mage class and using a melee weapon, the angle you’re facing, the defensive posture and shield-protected side of your target makes all the difference in landing proper blows. Even as a mage class, one must learn to properly manage damage, crowds, etc. In my opinion, the melee combat system of AoC is hands down the best of any MMOG.
While PvE servers feature PvP, it seems not many participate in the PvP events on the PvE servers unlike many other MMOGs. In addition, AoC doesn’t support a PvP flag, so if you’re on a PvE server, you can’t go PvP and see if anyone wants to play. You’re restricted to PvP zones (Border Kingdoms and Kush), minigames and sieges; but none of those features are cross server. As I’ve been playing on a PvE server I haven’t had a chance to participate in PvP, so I can’t comment as to how balanced it is. Once I gain experience in this area, I’ll update this review to reflect the findings. The general consensus is pretty standard “some love it, some hate it.”
There’s nothing better after a big bloody battle than having that jewel-encrusted monster box drop from to the ground waiting to be opened, informing the victor some great Reward is inside. AoC is all about drops. You don’t loot bodies, you loot either bags, boxes, large boxes, jeweled chests, or the “uber chest”. Note the “loot container” reflects the quality of the item(s) dropped, so the biggest is guaranteed to have at least one purple, and jeweled chest one blue, the large box one green, etc.
Character Progression is smooth and does not feel encumbered, too fast or too slow, and since you automatically gain your new spells and abilities when you level, there’s no need to run back to town to “train up” to receive the full benefit of your efforts. As I mentioned above, the first twenty levels are very story driven and focused, but it goes by fairly quickly. Once you leave the “starter area” around level 20, the game keeps going at a good pace, and before you know it, you’ve made another level.
There is a bit of a Learning Curve to AoC as the game has its own look and feel, which includes a non-standard MMO user interface. As mentioned prior, the travel system is terrible. New players will spend more time trying to figure out how to get from point A to B than they will actually traveling. I implore the team at Funcom to redesign this painful and unintuitive system.
The Replayability and End Game of AoC revolves around building AA, Raiding (full or 6-man), PvP, and running Khitai (the high level area) where players can work on faction standings, obtain tokens, do quests and epic instances. Unfortunately, in order to acquire the best items in the game, one must run the 6-man instances or raids for the actual drops or dungeon tokens required to purchase high level items from faction vendors (unless one wants to spend Veteran Tokens on them). For those who love to raid, this is perfectly fine, but for those who want a different end-game experience, the selections are limited as they are in most other MMOGs. But make no mistake, the end-game content running is strong and easy to get into if you have the time. As mentioned above, there are a LOT of dungeons (solo, 6-man and raids, all with different difficulties available) in AoC and plenty of time to build AAs and faction standings.
Operation, Interface, Graphics, Sound, and Account
As far as Operation goes, there are still a few issues with the AoC servers, but mostly in the area of hiccups rather than disconnects. Every once and awhile my average 120ms ping from Seattle would spike well above 1,000; but it would auto-correct a few seconds later. Also, when I started playing the game I was constantly hanging on the vendors. I solved this problem by manually deleting the shader cache files. There are also regular delays on the chat server, especially in guild chat (sometimes taking five to fifteen seconds or more before they show up). Luckily such delays do not affect gameplay. Note I’ve been playing the game on Max settings in DX10 mode and have only had one crash, which I was able to properly report and then recovered from (kudos to the devs for this).
The Interface is a bit cumbersome, but you grow accustomed to it fairly quickly. It is definitely custom and doesn’t feel like any other MMOG, but there are limitations, which is why the addon market for AoC has a number of custom UI enhancements to provide more action bars, a smoother interface, etc. One issue is the minimap and the colors used to mark quests, etc. They are not color-blind friendly at all, which is guaranteed to cause problems for anyone who is color-blind. Additionally, the casting bar often doesn’t update/reflect the action properly. This should be fixed.
The Graphics are beautiful. Perhaps the best of any fantasy MMOG currently on the market. I also believe AoC has the best Sound FX and Music I’ve heard in a MMOG, hands down. Crank up that 5.1 surround sound when you’re playing!
Account management has a number of features, allowing one to subscribe, buy points, transfer characters or change a character’s name. There’s also a Recruit a Friend program which rewards those who get their friends to subscribe.
Help, CSGM (“Customer Service Game Master”), Online Support, Wiki Player Support, Add-ons and Forums
There is a Petition system built into the game, but it’s very weak and cumbersome and limited to “/petition <message>”. While I have yet to deal with CSGMs, the general consensus from those I asked seems to be Funcom does a good job communicating with the player base and handling issues. The Forums are fairly active and provide some good Online Support for and from the players. The AoC wiki is also fairly detailed, however one must go to another site to explore the item and creature database for AoC. There are also a number of UI Add-ons available for AoC through the curse website.
Age of Conan is an excellent game and you can’t beat it for the F2P price of entry for those who want to simply jump in with no financial obligation. But what sets it aside is more than the fact it doesn’t quite feel like other MMOGs; it has a unique interactive combat system and balance of strategy that is self-defining and fun. The environments are beautiful, the graphics and models top notch, and the overall ambiance very enticing and welcoming. While there are still things which must be refined (mainly in the areas of PvP and the siege feature of the game), the development team made it very clear they plan on addressing these problems in their Age of Conan July 2011 Update.
For those of you who wish to experience everything the game has to offer, I recommend going to Gamestop, purchasing the Rise of the Godslayer expansion for $9.99, creating a new account, and using the 30-days of free premium time to experience all aspects of the game. It’s definitely worth the price, and will have most gamers hungry for more.