Even the most solitary pre-level 20 young warrior will eventually have to dive into Age of Conan’s multiplayer mode in order to earn enough experience to progress in the main story line. Luckily, diehard soloists shouldn’t fear Age of Conan’s multiplayer side. Once you tell your trainer at the Thirsty Dog Inn that you’d like to adventure with others, the game will transition to daytime, bringing you together with all the other “day questers” on your server. Grouping isn’t required, though - after playing every multiplayer quest available to level 1–20 players in and around the starter city in Tortage, I found that none of them forced me to group with other players. That said, some quests are definitely best handled by a small group of up to six players working together, especially when tackling bosses or multiple-enemy-killing missions.
In fact, the biggest obstacle I encountered in multiplayer while playing the beta was that framerates dipped dramatically between nighttime and daytime modes. Tortage City, in particular, was plagued by stutters and stops that often turned the game into a sword-and-sorcery slideshow. Turning graphics settings down to “fugly” helped some, but I could almost hear my powerful machine whimpering in protest.
Crashes were also very common in multiplayer, occurring most often when the game loaded a new area. Funcom says that the crashes are due to a known memory leak that will be fixed before launch, but wasn’t able to explain away my framerate issues quite so easily. Long story short: I shouldn’t have had them, say the devs, who suggested a lack of pre-compiled shaders may be the culprit. The final game will ship with a shader library that they - and we - hope will alleviate this problem. I also experienced an array of minor glitches, like absent animations, invisible enemies, and a broken quest or two, but these sorts of problems often get fixed by bleary-eyed developers in the final weeks before an MMO launch. Crom, if you’re up there, please help guide Funcom in ironing out these technical issues.
But, back to the actual gameplay: public quests in Age of Conan don’t deviate much from the age-old quest formulas seen in past MMOs. You’ll be asked to deliver notes and trinkets, kill “x” of “y” beasties and undesirables, dungeon-crawl to find lost items, gather foodstuffs and gems, and destroy specified objects. In one mission, the mistress of Tortage’s brothel, The Bearded Clam (no, really), will even task you with searching for one of her lost prostitutes and then escorting her to safety.
As in the single-player portion, multiple quests are often linked together to tell a story. One of the best is “Ruins and Demise,” a 10-quest adventure in which your hunt to find a family treasure buried in a hidden crypt also uncovers family secrets, not to mention a fatal twist for one of your patrons.