There is no doubting that Age Of Conan was an extremely refreshing proposition when it arrived on the PC almost exactly two years ago – discerning, violent and grubbily authentic, it was a title that rewarded measured perseverance and patience; although sadly perseverance and patience were absolutely essential to get a full measure of enjoyment out of it. Like many an ambitious new MMORPG, it needed time to breath. Bugs needed to be quashed, and all of the little creases (inherent in the genre) had be ironed out, but too many players bailed before it found its feet, and its trumpeted status as a comprehensive W.O.W-beater never fully materialised.
But with the release of the utterly fantastic Rise Of The Godslayer expansion, anyone who has recently been tempted to wander back into the fray has never had a better opportunity to do so. The game still looks sumptuous (and is, by quite a substantial margin, the best looking MMORPG on the market, even two years on) and some of the environments are truly astonishing endeavors borne of an almost painterly eye. It’s a striking and vivid environment to traipse around in, and the use of background colour – often so bold and downright unorthodox in a genre as set in its ways as this one is – sets a pretty miraculous genre benchmark.
If you’re familiar with Age Of Conan, the most welcome new gameplay system is the AA (Alternate Advancement) mechanic, which is a bold and very refreshing scheme that makes a pleasant change from merely levelling up your classes. There are a whole host of new Mastery and Prowess abilities to learn (via both Player Vs Player and Player Vs Environment skirmishes) and this deepens the scope of the game; definitely not an addition that’ll be enjoyed by those looking for a quick fix, it involves a hefty amount of careful playtime, and will definitely be best enjoyed by people who’ve already levelled up to the absolute maximum.
Combat is still extremely robust and gratifying, and has been moderately tweaked here. Some of the battles (and those with the bosses in particular) are cerebral and often taxing encounters that are incomparably rewarding when you ace them. Faction missions involve slight deliberation (you’ll create a constantly fluctuating number of enemies and allies on all sides) but are hugely entertaining and the in-game awards are ample. Whilst there is no new level cap or character class, all the present refinements are much more thoughtful than is usually the norm. And, in the case of two new mounts (a wolf and a tiger) Funcom have played into the hands of the fans in the most amusing and enthralling fashion imaginable.
As usual, in the case of the very best MMORPGs (and the very worst, in fact) it isn’t easy to be thoroughly critiqued until an immense amount of playtime has been absorbed, and a purposeful community has formed around it. At this relatively early stage however, and thanks in no small part to this excellent expansion, Age Of Conan is looking very much like it’s well on its way to becoming one of the finest experiences of its kind. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, have a patient play disposition and like to take your time in worlds like this one, then you’ll be gripped early and probably won’t be let go until all of Khital’s wondrous sights have been appraised.
Watch the Age of Conan trailer here…