Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

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a game by Funcom Oslo A/S
Platform: PC
User Rating: 9.0/10 - 2 votes
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See also: Conan, Best MMORPG

MMOgs Can Be a daunting and lonely affair, if you're a bit rubbish or shy. With nothing more than a 'Can you break that crate with a hammer please?' mission to teach you the combat system, it feels like you're learning to wipe your arse with the whole world watching.

In Hyborian Adventures, the dark universe of Robert E Howard's Conan gets the MMO treatment but for your first 20 levels - about ten hours of gameplay - you'll be playing through a story-driven, single-player game. And if you don't know what you're doing after that, you probably shouldn't be trusted with a sword anyway -I or you've got no arms.

With online games straining to make the combat more engaging than buying I a better sword, Funcom claim that the combat promises to be even more skill-based, as watching your movements and learning what hacks and slashes go well together will be rewarded with increasingly deadly combos. There's also 'formation combat', allowing you to directly control NPCs and, most exciting of all, more than a splash of horsemounted sword-slashing.

Set in the time when Conan has become king, and with the occasional appearance of the legend himself on the parapet of his castle, Hyborian Adventures is another considerable gauntlet being thrown into the online gaming ring. If the single-player prelude is up to scratch (whetting your appetite rather than putting you off), this MMO could one day grow up to be, urn, a Californian governor.

Download Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

PC

System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

It's Slightly strange to think that Conan the Barbarian - whose sword and sorcery adventures were best personified by Arnie during the '80s -was actually conceived some 70 years ago by Robert E Howard for Weird Tales magazine. It's this original incarnation of the most famous barbarian hero that Funcom has used for the design of Age Of Conan, which the game director Gaute Godager describes as: A very dark, harsh and violent world, but also one that's very lush and lustful.

There's no pussy-footing around here making bowls or herding sheep - this is a MMO that's all about fighting. There will be three different types of regular combat in the game: normal hands-on weapon combat, formation combat and lastly epic siege combats against great strongholds and towers. PvP also comes in three different types with mass PvP, team versus team and brawling - one-on-one combat that happens in special bars and inns and usually involve lots of alcohol. Just like real life in fact...

At the beginning of each level, Age Of Conan is set to play out much like a single-player game. You'll be immersed in a strongly story-driven world and as soon as you hit the big 20, it's off to play with the big boys. With simply stunning scenery and an immersing world fuelled by blood and sweat, this is shaping up to be the best thing to happen to Conan since Schwarzenegger slipped on a furry codpiece.

I Honestly Don't have the inclination to grapple with the greased-up homoerotic beast that is the Conan franchise. The mulleted barbarian resides at the arse-end of the fantasy genre, with a face made of constantly flexing muscles and many, increasingly large eyebrows. Any credibility he retained from his comic-book outings was dashed by the hilariously bad '90s TV series, and now he's simply an awful stereotype of a fantasy RPG class most people don't choose any more.

With this positive attitude, I took a look at Funcom's MMORPG, Age Of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, and realised that they've mercifully taken inspiration from 'old' Conan in his more comic-book, more likeable form - the form people might have found cool once. Besides, you won't actually be playing as Conan, and the only homoeroticism I encountered was an uncapped custom body slider allowing one of my team-mates to spawn with a really huge arse.

Age Of Conan is swinging its great big axe of intent down upon the mainstream, aiming to feel more like a single-player game than its market-hogging peers. How it does this is, for the most part, through its real-time combat system, something relatively unheard of in games of this ilk.

Laid out all around the WASD keys are your attack keys, each corresponding with a direction of attack. Alternatively, you can click sections of a combat rose at the bottom of the screen and marvel as your character swings his weapon, damaging surrounding enemies based on immediate physical contact.

Too Many Buttons

Genius, you might think. It's about time this happened, you might think. And they're both fair thoughts. The fighting is well animated and feels solid, if a little clunky, and the combo system is plain fun, if a little fiddly. You can even pull off fatalities, chopping off limbs and what-not, as well as dodging and concentrating your blocking power to one side (much like a flesh version of the Starship Enterprise).

However, pointing your character at an enemy while still clicking the right parts of the combat rose on screen is an impossible task, so the responsibility of fighting naturally falls on your left hand. This wouldn't be a problem if your left hand wasn't already moving your character; and so, Age Of Conan, it seems, is ideally suited to players with three hands. Let's see them stick that in the minimum requirements.

Putting that aside, Age Of Conan does place some genuinely interesting baubles on the MMO tree. There'll be fighting on horseback, as well as massive sieges with catapults against guild-owned castles, NPCs who follow daily routines rather than stand in one spot waiting to dish out quests, and DirectX 10 support. If Funcom can do all that well, and if the combat system magically stops being so cumbersome, then we might see a happy revival for the worst fantasy character ever.

Did You Know State of Play was introduced after we reviewed Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures and received some valid questions as to how one can give a fair and definitive verdict to a constantly evolving online game? We've come full circle now, as we find ourselves once again on the doorstep of Hyboria. Having kept one beady eye on/IOC for these past seven months, we're ready to return to the MMO to see what's changed, and if it's become any better or worse than when we first reviewed it.

While it was hardly a catastrophic launch, AOC was shouted at in the street for feeling soulless upon release, and for lacking an endgame more substantial than one or two larger creatures than usual to smack around. Bar the occasional YouTube video involving a guy repeatedly kicking people off a bridge on his horse, there wasn't as much to do with the game as one hoped. Between cries of censorship, the firing of a GM over cybersex accusations, and the consolidation of the European and North American servers, AOC has had a rocky few months. Despite problems, it has kept chugging along happily under the direction of MMO developers Funcom.

There is promise within the hallowed and slightly misogynistic lands of AOC -though we can't accuse them of outdated ideas about women folk anymore: a 31 July patch declared that Funcom had now done "the majority of the process to completely equalise male and female damage." How's that for progress? Things aren't, as you'd imagine, perfect. A great deal of the updates for AOC so far have been to constantly tweak and balance a slightly chaotic system, and retroactively fix a great deal of bugs that plagued the game from launch. This makes AOC, in its current state (and for several months now) a stable and playable experience, but slightly chaotic in the ever-changing realms of balance.

The largest addition to the game by far, though, is the addition of the PvP levelling system - every time you eviscerate your fellow man, you'll gain a bounty of experience. There are 10 PvP levels, and it's nice to see that one of the original release promises was made good on. Players aren't limited to gaining levels - they can level up and purchase PvP gear, such as armour, accessories and weapons. These change as you gain PvP levels, but also coincide with your "real" level - as in the one you gain from your common or garden quests.

Funcom have also managed to balance the ganking aspect of PvP. If you repeatedly kill the same player, you'll get less XP with each bash, which holds off your average player-hater. A much more necessary and useful system - one that I believe World of Warcraft should adopt - is the PvP consequence system. Players who decide to prey on those that are seven or more levels below them accrue Murder Points. Get enough of these, and you get marked as a scumbag and will find yourself barred from major cities. The only way to redeem yourself is to attend outlaw camps (the gankers' equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous) and take part in quests clear your muddied reputation.

This has been mostly well-received, with a fair amount of noise from those who enjoyed romping around the lands taking out their daily frustrations on their lesser kin. The outlaw camps - and the resultant lore - are a great addition, especially considering as games forget to actually include PvP in their storyline.

Sadly, AOC still sits in a problematic flux, and while I would have loved to sit down and tell you all that the points raised in our review are now obsolete, and that Funcom have endlessly improved their game, it just doesn't seem that way. While some criticisms have been dealt with (the lack of content has been addressed with the addition of Ymir's Pass, which still only caters to the 50+ crowd) I can't in fairness say that the core problems with the game aren't present. It lacks a great deal of personality, and needs more work to really make it competitive. This is especially noticeable when Funcom are adding a PvP system that only gives WOW the slightest of bother - and, let's be honest here, Warhammer Online is far more intricate in that respect, with 70 more levels.

This isn't to say the future is dark for AOC. Craig Morrison, the game's new producer, has proven to be transparent and verbose with the community, which is exactly what the game needs. Whether or not AOC improves is totally up to Funcom - it just needs a great deal, of work, and the competition is only getting stiffer as the months roll on.

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