Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, is Funcom's brutally epic MMORPG set in the high fantasy world of Conan, Robert E Howard's barbarian king. In retrospect the brooding Cimmerian's literary world was such classic material for an MMORPG, the only real surprise was that no-one had beaten Funcom to the punch when Age debuted back in 2008.

During beta over half a million signed up for the dark, adult-orientated vision of the grim barbarian's world and it garnered generally favourable reviews on release and went on to ship 1.2 million copies. Yet day one is just that in MMO world and Funcom have improved and refined the game ever since, based on their love of the original material and fan feedback. The introduction of new zones like Ymir's Pass and Tarantia, plus PvP enhanced the MMO's reputation and of course it attained ultimate geek-gasm by featuring extensively in the classic Big Bang Theory episode The Barbarian Sublimation. Who can ever forget Sheldor the Conqueror? Or indeed Queen Penelope?

Now, almost two years later, Conan's first major expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, is ready to debut and open up a whole new realm for Conan devotees to explore. So time to oil up the pecs, strap on a broadsword and strip down to our loin-cloth to see what's in new in the land of Hyboria.

Land of the black Lotus

Rise of the Godslayer is set in the mystical far eastern Empire of Khitai with events inspired by and then extended beyond Robert E Howard's classic short story The Tower of the Elephant. Khitai, much like the ancient Chinese empire on which it's partly based, is a fabled oriental realm slowly rotting apart from within as it's rent by powerful factional strife. However as well as Howard's source material, Funcom's design team have woven in esoteric Chinese and Korean mythology to create a magical oriental realm full of ancient sorcery and fabulous creatures.

This is the land of the legendary Black Lotus and players will initially adventure on the western side of Khitai's Great Wall before graduating through Gateway and the Mountains of Night into the empire proper. East of the Great Wall, the Northern Grasslands region provides a bloody introduction to life in Khitai proper. Dominated by bandit lords, this is where players will encounter their first major new dungeon, the Pillars of Heaven. Set in an abandoned stronghold now ruled by the infamous Hyrkanian exile Bhangi Khan, players will not only have to defeat his number one assassin, the beautiful Ming the Knife, but batty sorcerer I-Po before confronting the bandit lord himself.

Further east, lies the strife-torn Province of Chosain where the warring city states of Gun Hai and Gun Xui provide plenty of opportunities and plunder for any sword for hire. A huge open battlefield will allow you to take part in a large scale conflict and new creatures such as the crocodile-like Kappa or the flying Children of Jhil, are just some of the exotic challenges on this perilous open plane.

Bolder adventurers will want to explore the vast wasteland of black sand which is the Kara Korum desert, where deserted ghost villages may point to a hidden evil, in a barren landscape dominated by the mysterious Crater. Push further east through sweltering vine-clogged jungles and you'll eventually cut your way through to the glittering purpled-domes of the forbidden imperial city of Paikang.

If that's not enough to whet your inner barbarian's chops then Rise of the Godslayer also introduces a new playable race in the Khitan, natives of Khitai. Once training on Tortage Island is complete, Khitans will be able to sail straight for their homeland where a large area of lower level instances and quests will help them prepare to journey beyond the Great Wall and penetrate the inner mysteries of the empire.

Factional strife

However the story of Khitai, has always been one of the dreaming empire. From the priests of Yun who venerate the Lotus plant and worship the lord of the underworld, to the Shadows of Jade, who are dedicated to the overthrow of the emperor, the twelve different factions provide real narrative drive, opening up new rewards, tier-missions, plot lines and unique quests and armour sets as you rise to power and influence within them. The struggle for power as the factions clash in Rise could well be one of its most intriguing and compelling features.

By Crom you want more? Very well, given it's bloody heritage, it's no surprise to find Rise of the Godslayer also introduces two new combat refinements in a new Combo system and Alternative Advancement. In keeping with the oriental theme, Funcom couldn't resist introducing martial arts into Conan's bloody mix, but alternative advancement allows you channel your experience into special feats and combos, opening up new powers and attacks and allowing much deeper character customisation.

Mount up

Rise's final major development is the introduction of two savage new mounts, the wolf and the tiger. Khitai unsurprisingly doesn't actually boast a pet sanctuary, so the only way to capture them is to strip off your armour, head to the woods and wrestle them from their respective mothers. It's harsh, but necessary, as your new pet will become one of your most valuable assets in the east, with intense training and mystic rituals necessary to turn your cub or pup into a killing machine. Tigers are naturally stealthy with Usain Bolt-like sprint abilities, but wolves are also able to sniff out both stealth attacks and some of Khitai's buried treasures.

Funcom's philosophy with Rise of the Godslayer seems to be is to give players a players a real meaty expansion to get their teeth into without compromising the game's existing balance. While there's no new level cap or character class, it boasts a wealth of gameplay enhancement like combat, mounts and alternative advancement system.

With a huge eastern-themed empire to explore and the factional system providing plenty of intrigue and challenge, Rise of the Godslayer should prove perfect fare for Age of Conan players. You'll get your chance to explore this realm, when Godslayer debuts imminently.

Feb 12, 2010