With World of Warcraft dubbed by some as the best game of the genre, is there room for yet another fantasy Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game? We flew to developer Funcom's homeland of Norway to find out.
Age of Conan as the name suggests is based on the folklore of the Conan the Barbarian and sees you play one of four main character sets: barbarian, mage, rogue and solider, as you embark on your quest to not only complete the single player element of the game, but grow your character online within the community.
Although Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't involved, that doesn't stop the game from embracing the movies, books and mythology surrounding the character.
Gamers willing to take up the challenge from Funcom and publisher Eidos in the UK, will be able to play out the storyline choosing a character based on one of the four character sets. Rather than throw you to the dogs online from the outset, gamers will have to play through 20 levels within a single player element before being let loose on the wastelands of the game's landscape.
Funcom estimate this to take gamers anywhere between 6-20 hours based on experience, but, it says, means you'll be somewhat ready for the challenge of Age of Conan that lies ahead. In fact those wishing to take the single player element to its fruition will have to put in around 250 hours before you reach the highest experience: level 80.
Within those four character sets of barbarians, wizards, soldiers and rogues there are a further three classes in which you can refine your character further and, acknowledging gamers want to customise, you'll be able to create your character from the ground up changing and defining things like facial bone structure or tonal colour of your skin.
Rather than see you start from different lands and different situations as with World of Warcraft (WOW), Age of Conan players all start from the same linear storyline. You are a slave dumped on a new continent looking to return to your past, and perhaps meet King Conan on the way.
As with all MMORPGs, experience is gained through completing quests and general interaction and it's clear from our brief go of the game that this isn't a title that will be pick up and play. This, like WOW, will require you to give over your life.
One reward of losing the girlfriend/wife/mistress with your day/week/month long gaming sessions will be the ability to play raids and sieges. Gamers with an level 80 experience rating (250 hours plus remember) will be able to partake in raids that working with 20 or so other people online will allow you to tackle the bigger bosses of the game as a team effort.
If that wasn't enough of an enticement they will also be able to play sieges where a Real Time Strategy element has been introduced.
Sieges will focus around you working as a team to take down an opposing guild. Gamers will be able to join a guild, just like World of Warcraft, that can then in turn build an entire city complete with keep.
Similar to a real time strategy game such as Age of Empires, gamers will then be able to mine local areas for ore and harvest crops to help fund their city building dreams.
Continuing the RTS theme, gamers will be able to build city elements that will help them in battles, such as armouries and stables.
The siege sees all this come to blows in epic battles that, according to Eidos, will last for hours rather than minutes.
So what do we think? Well our play was brief, but soaking up the atmosphere of the game and from MMO fans we talked to at the launch event in Oslo, Norway, Age of Conan looks to be a hit that gives disillusioned fans of WOW a fresh take on the fantasy world of action and adventure.
The control system was easy to grasp, but at the same time offered plenty of combo's and shortcuts to give depth for those looking for it (like WOW, Zboards are bringing out a dedicated shortcut keyboard).
Elsewhere we especially liked the introduction of animals from horses to mammoths that offer different strengths and weaknesses, while the ranger class coming with its first person shooter bow mode will appease those looking for more than just melee and magic.
The class system complete with assassins and wizards seems to offer enough meat for gamers to get into without being accused of being light on the offering, while the promise of "Raids done proper" as one MMO specialist journalist we talked to suggests that Age of Conan will tick that box too.
Of course its not all likely to be the promised land, fans have already mooted concerns over the two online server strategy separating European and American gamers from the same gameplay (a timezone issue we were told), while even spokespeople within Funcom we chatted to candidly suggested this won't be a game for newcomers instead one that will appeal really only to World of Warcraft gamers.
Either way, if MMORPGs are your thing, Age of Conan looks set to fulfil its promise of immersing you in a Viking yarn for not just hours but months ahead.
Age of Conan is released in the UK on the 23 May.
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