Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

This idea of there being reason behind actions is prevalent throughout. NPCs are having their heads filled with big old lumps of behaviour, so rather than standing stupidly waiting for you to clonk their heads in, they’ll be getting on with busy-work. Guards will have extensive patrol routes, relieve each other from duty, even gain a sense of ambition until they’re willing to go exploring, and naturally get drunk and then go pee on a wall. All this can be used to your tactical advantage, as you and your buddies tackle enemy camps however you see fit.

While Funcom’s previous MMO, Anarchy Online, might not have won a giant audience, it does seem to have taught them the value of details. Conversations, for instance, are far more involved than in previous MMO offerings. Rather than clicking through the cutscene, or choosing “yes” or “no” to a quest, in Conan you’ll have BioWare-style conversation options, so you can choose the attitude with which you approach situations. In fact, be rude enough and you can talk your way out of a quest. It won’t dramatically change the progression of the game, and there’s no shifting between ‘dark’ and ‘light’ or anything similar, but it’s a nice touch that lets you feel far more involved in proceedings.

Guilds look to be getting a decent chunk of attention too. Once you’ve reached level 40 (of 80) you’ll be able to start doing some serious crafting. But rather than just churning out attractive hats, this will allow you and your guildmates to establish a large, instanced base for celebrating your glory, with as many as 150 players sharing the space. It’s an amusing goal to aim for, and there’s a small tactical advantage too, as the area offers opportunities for resource gathering, which will come in useful for PvP action.

Then dozens more details present themselves. Over 100 voice actors have been used for the NPCs, and from our brief play, they’re pretty decent. It’s a hefty relief to hear a Scottish accent in a game performed by an actor who’s at least visited the country, even more so one who can offer an authoritative and impressive brogue. There’s a day/night cycle, which affects the behaviour of the NPCs. There are 2,500 animations for male and female characters, with hundreds of emotes to match (including getting drunk and the subsequent peeing).

What remains to be seen is whether the many years of effort will connect into a coherent and engrossing MMO. The combat, while much improved, will still provide an obstacle to new players merely by being different from World of Warcraft. We’d really like to see Conan succeed - hell, we’d really like to see any MMO different enough from WoW succeed - so we’ll cross our fingers ‘til May.

Feb 29, 2008