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Age of Conan week, day 4 - monster mash

Like a medieval NCAA tournament, raiding in Age of Conan is about gradually making your way to the big showdown. Dungeons raids will be handled by groups of 24 (though 16 highly skilled players may get the job done) in three stages; completing each tier gets you access to the skills and equipment you’ll need to tackle those that follow.

Above: Guilds need to divide and conquer if they're going to beat back multiple bosses per dungeon

We rode along with one of the devs on tier 2 of the Kheshatta raid, a dungeon that’s home to the evil Stygian wizard (and Earth’s most powerful sorcerer), Thoth-amon. The game’s total of eight raid dungeons will contain 20 encounters, all with bosses - and some, like this one, with multiple bosses. All bosses regenerate over time, and all have one or more special behaviors. The first we saw, a stone god, grows increasingly tougher the longer it takes you to fight him: he can summon minions, and also spews a noxious, health-sapping bog around the room.

Next up were a pair of fire and ice succubi, who aptly demonstrated that raiding groups will need to adapt on the fly. The trick to these two: groups must divide and conquer, fighting the succubi simultaneously and keeping them apart, because the closer together these two get, the more deadly they become.

After that, we wound our way to a spellcaster protected by a force field who summoned wave after wave of swarming demons, all with different abilities - watching the final wave of 74 surround the group was like watching tween girls in a mall who’ve just realized Hannah Montana is nearby. Again, group adaptation is key here: certain players will be better equipped to take on certain types of demons, so the group will need to adapt on the fly, as each wave comes, into the right offense and defense roles, with melee fighters swinging big weapons that damage multiple enemies at once while spellcasters focus on area-of-effect spells that affect large groups.

Finally, we met up with a demon commander who thumbed his evil nose at us and then teleported away before we could take him on, summoning tons of nasty minions in his place. He’d also thoughtfully cast an illusion that covered the many holes embedded into the floor of his top-level hideout - fall through one and you drop to the floor below, thinning out the team of attackers. Halfway through these shenanigans, he turned into a giant Minotaur demon with a tail made out of snakes - and knock-back abilities. Did we mention those holes in the floor? Ugh. But grapple successfully with this sucker and you pick up some excellent (not to mention crucial) loot for making your way to the third ring of this particular dungeon.

The developers estimate boss battles will take 5-15 minutes apiece… after you’ve died a few times and figured out the gimmick. Raids will take anywhere from one to three hours to complete, so you’ll want to stay in it to win it - die mid-battle and you can’t rejoin the fight in that tier until your group either beats the boss or bites it themselves. Luckily, though, dungeons can be completed in stages, so a three-tier dungeon can be completed in three different settings, as long as they all happen within a week of starting tier 1. And lone wolves can still get in on the action - raids are open to guilds or to informal parties willing to join a pick-up game.

Great Pets  Though you won’t see them until later in the game - and certainly not in the first 20 levels - you’ll eventually be able to earn yourself a mount. At launch, rhinos, horses, and mammoths are all traipsing around Hyboria, or will be when their future masters reach a high enough level.

These guys aren’t just good for getting you around, either - players can fight while atop mounts, and can even use them as battering rams during sieges (though you can’t summon your steed when you’re in a dungeon - which is good, because who wants to smell mammoth poop in a closed space?). Each mount boasts different abilities, and each handles differently, in keeping with its size and agility: the mammoth is slow and difficult to turn but very strong, the rhino is solid but has vulnerable flanks, and the horse is more agile but less powerful in combat. They each have unique mounting animations, as well, so instead of clicking on your mammoth and then magically appearing atop the saddle, your character will actually climb up and swing your legs around its back - just like a real barbarian!

On to day 5 - Hyborian strongholds

May 15, 2008

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