Developers Funcom definitely required a particularly strong back story to pick at if it was to take on the might of World of Warcraft in the MMO world. And taking the Conan fantasy setting of Robert E. Howard, they certainly got their hands on a classic.
Age of Conan straight off feels like a much mature title than the money making machine that is World of Warcraft. While the latter is certainly one that all the family can conceivably enjoy, it’s not too surprising that a game based on the folklore of Conan the Barbarian is one for adults only.
Age of Conan starts off in the usual manner, with a variety of homelands and ideologies to initially choose from. The aesthetical customisation of your character is fairly robust too, offering a wide range of tweaks and allowing you to craft a character that certainly feels not only unique, but firmly your own. Expect a few comedy characters with huge noses and dumpy legs wandering around once you get online.
The various classes on offer serve up a variety of gameplay styles. From the brutal barbarian types who can rip an enemy’s heart from its chest, and chop off heads at will, through to dark mage’s who can set an enemies' bottom on fire from a mile away.
The usual practice of creating numerous characters across a variety of classes and playing through each until you discover which is your favourite is required here. Yes it can be a touch irritating to play through the same initial quests a handful of times, but considering you’ll no doubt be ploughing hundreds of hours into Conan over the next few years, it’s a small initial price to pay for the best fun.
Also, don’t expect to jump straight online with your chums from the off. You’ll have to hit the heights of level 20 before you are set loose on the game's attractive online world, so set aside a good dozen hours of single-player time before stating that you’ll join them for some barbarian obliterating action.
That’s not to say that level 20 is the magic number to gain access to all the game has to offer. Nope, you’ll be forced to hit the heights of level 80 before you’re able to take on some of the games most devilishly brutal bosses. This certainly isn’t one for those that wish to maintain a semblance of social interaction away from their PC.
You’ll want to hit those heights as the combat featured in Age of Conan is a step above the standard fare. Instead of the usual click and hope events of most PC-based MMOs, here you can make use of all kinds of blocking techniques and combo’s in order to cause some bloody death.
Aesthetically Age of Conan is blatantly the best looking MMO currently on the market. If you’ve got yourself a PC capable of really ramping the options up the their loftiest you’ll be in for a real visual treat with some dazzling graphics on offer. There are, sadly, a few glitches every now and again - hopefully to be combated with an upcoming patch - and the much anticipated DirectX10 support has yet to be implemented. And considering the DirectX10 support has been talked about by everyone over the last year, it’s a disappointment to discover that we’re still awaiting a firm date on its arrival.
Sadly, the game could certainly have used a few more months’ development time. Numerous users of ATI graphics cards are contending with woeful performance, and instances of crashes are still not quite as rare as you’d hope. No doubt patches over the summer will help stave off these few threats to Conan’s ultimate long-term potential, but it’s certainly not in quite the finished state that we would have hoped for.
With Age of Conan already a huge seller and massively populated, it seems set for a long lifespan. And for an MMO, that’s the major test. Yes it has a few bugs and glitches, but it has enough in there to keep you hooked for years to come, assuming you’re willing to put in the time required to hit the top levels.
Assuming Funcom can continuously tweak and upgrade what is an incredibly solid base, World of Warcraft, and the upcoming Warhammer Online MMO could just have a mature contender.