I think it's time I sing the praises of an MMORPG which, in my humble opinion, gets far too much of a bad reputation, and far too little love. To this day I still log on regularly, and enjoy myself immensely. In the following I will try to break down the basics, as well as the pros and cons (of which there are plenty) of Age of Conan, and introduce it to those of you constantly on the prowl for more MMOs to try, or who have maybe never heard of it.
Now Age of Conan is a Funcom game, the same company who made Secret World (now: Legends). It came out in 2008 originally, with much hype and buzz, as it was the first of its kind – an "adult" MMORPG with a big budget and very good graphics at the time, with blood and gore as well as nudity, set in Howard's "Conan" universe. At the time, WoW was reaching unheard of tiers of popularity and revenue in the genre, and competitors were springing from the earth faster than weeds in a vegetable patch.
AoC is a classic MMORPG in a fantasy setting, quest-based, instanced, and with comparable mechanics to most other EQ-type MMOs. It sets itself apart with the world, the atmosphere, and a rather unique melee combat system which involves directional arrow combos and hitboxes.
AoC's launch was beset with tons of issues. For one, the publishers rushed the launch badly, forcing the studio to cut back on a lot of planned content, and miss out on a ton of bug-fixing. As a result, the game was plagued with technical issues, bugs, glitches, and generally a dearth of content post-intro. While some players fell in love with the world immediately and were able to stick it out, players began to leave in droves after the intro experience of Tortage, as it became apparent that wide stretches of the leveling content were unfinished or untuned in terms of XP. This release is, in part, what contributed to the studio's reputation of having great ideas and designers/devs, but really poor execution and quality control ("Funcom'd").
Originally a subscription-based MMORPG with a box price, it has long since gone free-to-play with a voluntary subscription model, which only becomes more or less required to buy into if one really plans to stick with the game for longer than a week or two.
Age of Conan is a beautiful game still, to this day. Many of the areas, especially the expansion content that was added, are lovingly crafted and designed, and the game is second to none in atmosphere and immersion. If the Howard universe, or more mature and gritty dark fantasy (Lovecraftian elements galore!) are your thing, this game will please you.
The soundtrack is timeless and amazing. It's up there in quality with WoW or other movies. My girlfriend usually knows when i'm playing, because she hears me humming along with the music across the flat.
The combat is satisfying and engaging. While casters/spells work the same as they would in any tab-targeting game, melee (and ranged with bows) works with directional arrow combos. Positioning and the directional arrow input of your weapon swings matter to how much damage you deal, as mobs have directional shields that react to incoming damage. To top it off, killing blows with combos (AND spells!) have their own unique fatality animations, depending on the class and ability (electrical/fire/cold damage have their own fatalities as well as some class-specific and weapon-specific ones, such as beheadings with 2h swords).
This makes for a very fun gameplay experience from the get-go, down to pretty fun min-maxing in endgame.
Dungeons and raids are plentiful, and some of the best content in the game. While the majority of dungeons are pretty straightforward and not particularly challenging, the HMs in expansion content and some raid encounters are quite tough, especially for less experienced MMORPG players. The game runs on a typical trinity of tank-healer-dps, however healers deal a lot more damage in Age of Conan, and are not reduced to spamming heals. In fact most heals work in combination with damage setups, are actually heal-over-time effects ( there are very few direct heals and they are to be used strategically!), and pulling off optimal healing can be extremely satisfying and fun in AoC, as it involves more than just mashing a few abilities.
Questing/the world: as i already said the world is beautiful. The questing is pretty generic and typical, however it bears mentioning that some areas (especially the intro zone Tortage as well as some key storylines) are actually fully voice-acted. The fact that this stopped to a large degree post-Tortage plays a role in why many players quit thereafter. It's worth sticking with it though! Some of the later questlines, especially in Khitai, the expansion, have fantastic lore and build-up, and a great pay-off in cutscenes in endgame dungeons/raids. Funcom has also added multiple low level areas in patches and an expansion since release, so that nowadays there are plenty of playfields to engage with, as well as quite a lot of leveling dungeons.
The game has introduced a raidfinder a few years ago, which enables more casual players to see at least part of the raid content, and gain some gear without committing to a schedule.
AoC has some of the more unique classes in the genre. From the Herald of Xotli, a 2h sword-wielding clothie mage who uses melee combos, fire spells and turns into demons, to lightning-wielding or 2h-club swinging healer hybrids, there are a lot of types to try out and experiment with.
As an added "feature", FC has introduced an optional "Unconquered" (hardcore) mode, the goal being to not ever die until you reach level 80 – which is quite hard at times (fall damage for example is quite lethal, and it's easy to overpull later on), and makes for a fun solo experience imo.
As I already mentioned, AoC had big technical difficulties and a lack of content to begin with. This was only partially remedied over the years. Obviously resources were allocated elsewhere, eventually, and some things were never fully addressed. So while there are plenty of zones to level up in nowadays, there are still areas the feel rough and unfinished compared to others. There also persist some technical issues to this day, however nothing gamebreaking or frustrating. Age of Conan still has the scars from rushed development, and a lack of resources being focused on the game since 2012. There is an overall "rough" feeling to aspects of the UI, some of the content, and the customer service.
For some people, the lack of "polish" in some areas, as well as the noticable lack of resources being allocated to AoC (it is definitely in maintenance mode) will be a dealbreaker, there are no two ways about it.
The community is small, but active. There are plenty of guilds to join for raiding or other activities, and the world feels generally populated, thanks to it being just one PvE server nowadays.
I have a soft spot for this game, always have. I do believe, however, that this game deserves more attention even in 2020. For many of those looking for something "like" WoW, but different enough, it scratches exactly that itch, and it isn't yet another Asian anime grind simulator.
I encourage you to try it for free if you like immersive MMORPGs with a high level of production quality and fantastic atmosphere.
If you are interested but have more questions, feel free to poke me here in the thread, or share your own experiences with the game.
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