Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures released to widespread acclaim in 2008, though not without caveat. Can the MMORPG's first expansion, the mystical Far Eastern Rise of the Godslayer, solve Hyboria's nagging issues while living up to the original's lofty standards?
- Ground-breaking, fantastical source material faithfully implemented
- Lack of Level 80 content happily resolved
- Alternate advancement, factions add playability beyond new quests
- "Growing pains" have evolved into consistent technical problems
- Epic drops far too rare
- No new content for Levels 40-79
Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures released to widespread acclaim in 2008, though not without caveat. By the arching, bleached bones of a once-ferocious mythical beast, it is clear that new continent Khitai is no historically-accurate ancient China. The new landscape is gorgeous, from the hi-res, shimmering waters to the topless reasons you’re playing an M-rated MMO. Endgame content has been given a desperately-needed injection, one that should be a sufficient siren song for gamers who have since left King Conan's domain. Though not without technical problems, the new update, Rise of the Godslayer is an engaging complement to a worthwhile experience.
Conan, What Is Best in Life?
One of the major criticisms of Hyborian Adventures was its lack of content. This complaint has been solidly addressed. As soon as players finish Tortage Island (the tutorial zone for Levels 1-20), they can immediately travel to a brand-new zone. The Gateway to Khitai lies in the shadow of the pseudo-historical Great Wall, harboring a disabled caravan in need of assistance and all manner of ferocious beasts and men. Though Khitai’s Far Eastern mythology is exciting, we’ve seen these dusty brown ridges elsewhere in the game. And yet, it manages to find greatness in moments like the gods smiling on you after placing a donation on their altar and the burnt orange fur of the wooly rhino. The authentic-sounding, powerful Eastern soundtrack is in a class by itself.
Around Level 40, the Gateway ceases to be a fruitful zone. While I was excited to be able to experience Khitai so soon, I wanted to be able to come back before hitting Level 80.
Once you hit Level 80 and are able to come back to Khitai, four massive new fields open up and the slog through 39 levels of old material is all but forgotten. This is what Rise of the Godslayer was created for: unique, captivating zones perfect for total submersion. The Northern Grasslands shield Kang Pagoda, the six-man dungeon lair of boss Po-Sha, a man so obese that he’s immobile. In case you were curious, he forces his servants to wash him with a rag on a stick. Though he is bedridden, Po-Sha’s self-explanatory Gas attacks are as deadly as they are disgusting. Po-Sha is a sweaty drop in the bucket compared to what the rest of this zone has to offer, and there are three more staggering zones besides it (including unprecedented Tier 4 difficulty in Paikang’s Jade Citadel).
What Is Steel Compared to The Hand That Wields It?
Godslayer introduces a fourth race in the Khitans, the "yellow-skinned," magically-inclined people of Khitai. Age of Conan is enjoyably faithful to Howard's 1930's pulp fiction source material, but terms like "yellow-skinned" could use a 21st Century update; they're pretty awkward here. There are no new classes or archetypes to play with in this expansion, nor is there a level cap increase.
So why should seasoned (read: bored) veterans bother returning to AoC for some new dungeons and raids? Alongside the massive content increase is a brand new way to build characters, the Alternate Advancement system. Developed as an alternative to implementing new classes or boosting the level cap to 90 (why not all three, I say), Alternate Advancement is available to less-experienced players and remains compelling for gamers with capped characters. Gamers can exchange points acquired through both PvP and PvE play for their choice of new abilities. While characters at Level 20 and up can access a general ability tree, Level 80’s are treated to archetype and class-specific ability trees. Given a serious amount of time and dedication to the game, it’s possible to acquire all available abilities and reach a new “cap” that way.
The ability to join factions adds another level of playability to the AoC experience. Representing one of ten initial warring factions with their own unique cultures (The Brittle Blade, worshippers of the goddess Death; Wolves of the Steppe, bandits and outsiders) is a game within a game. There are plenty of faction quests to complete, some of them multiple times, in exchange for new, high-quality mounts and faction gear. And you will be desperately seeking better gear, as the most epic items drop with scorching infrequency. Now that Godslayer has hit, there are enough unique ways to spend time in the Hyborian kingdoms that lack of action -- even at Level 80 -- should be out of the question.
Godslayer's community is, like any MMO's, an occasional playground for the festering abscesses of the virtual world -- like the Level 50 PvP players who hunt and gank helpless gamers barely out of the teen levels. However, I was generally impressed and surprised by both the maturity and fraternity of many of AoC's players. Whether or not that can be fully attributed to Funcom's design is an unanswerable question, but it's a thoroughly enjoyable aspect of the experience.
He Is Conan, Cimmerian. He Won’t Cry, So I Cry For Him.
Though one thing tempering this amazing world is a frustrating lack of support. Funcom seems bogged down by in-game petitions (if the lack of response I received to several petitions is to be taken as any indication), server-wide lag spikes, load times and bugs. Ultimately, my desire to push ahead with the game and what it offers outranked all of these issues -- which is both a great testament to the game’s core strengths and a prayer to the dread gods who watch over the gaming world to magically inject this company with some hard cash.
For gamers on the prowl for a WoW-ternative, Age of Conan: Hyborean Adventures has been a top candidate since Day One. Its first expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, not only meets the core game's standards but deepens the experience enough to hook new players and call dormant level 80s home. With a bit of a technical spit-shine, Age of Conan could top the heap. Stay tuned: Robert E. Howard’s ample Conan lore leaves plenty of opportunity for a second expansion.