The Anvil of Crom: Family unfriendly

There's been a lot of lip service paid to family friendly MMORPGs over the last couple of years, and deservedly so. Games like Free Realms, Mabinogi, and Toon Town Online have all done well for themselves by realizing that the first generation of gamers are all grown up and busy popping out future button mashers of their own. Free-to-play doesn't have the market cornered on family friendliness either, as pay-to-play titles like City of Heroes, World of Warcraft, and (I'm betting) the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic are or will be hugely popular with kids and their parents due to a lack of objectionable content.

Isn't it refreshing then, when a game like Funcom's Age of Conan comes along and completely turns its nose up at all the political correctness? Even though that's a bit of a rhetorical question, I'll answer it for you. Yes, yes it is, extremely refreshing. Hit the jump to find out why.

While game companies and publishers were busily falling all over themselves to cater to the largest possible demographic, Funcom brashly decided to move forward with an MMO that wears its 'M' rating with pride. That said, It's not just the bewbs and blood spurts that make Hyboria a breath of fresh air for those of us who either don't have kids, or do and long to escape for a brief while.

Age of Conan has a certain grimness that just feels harsh, lived in, and somehow more authentic than other fantasy games on the market. Whether it's the chiseled and scarred countenance of a Cimmerian Bear Shaman or the barely concealed curves of a Tortage tavern wench, the game world is a sensory assault unlike its genre competitors. Conceptually and mechanically, Age of Conan is very similar to those other games (yes the melee combat is somewhat innovative, but the game structure and progression is still a variation on very old and very tired DIKU concepts). What sets it apart, for me anyway, is the world design, the art, and the uncompromising depictions of violence and sexuality that are otherwise almost completely absent from the mainstream massive genre. In fact, the only other MMO title I can think of that blatantly targets an older audience is Fallen Earth, and it does so not with excessive gore or bared flesh but a general bleakness and the amusing ways in which your avatar hurls expletives while fighting.

To clarify, I'm aware that MMORPGs, and video games in general, are built almost exclusively on violence. The non-combat activities in these titles are growing increasingly rarer as the genre matures (actually expands is a more apt word), which is one reason I find the surge of family games and family gaming press somewhat ironic. Sure most of the violence is cartoonish, but it's still violence. Here in America of course, that's perfectly ok, as long as you don't commit the unpardonable sin of showing a little arse-crack along with all the whack-a-mole skull splitting.

Across the pond, there's very little uproar when a woman bares her breasts, whereas in the States, woe be to the purveyor of nipplage who doesn't think of the children.

Age of Conan is ultimately a very European game, and as an American I couldn't be happier about that fact. I mean this literally, as it was developed by those crazy vikings at Funcom, but also in terms of attitude. Across the pond, there's very little uproar when a woman bares her breasts, whereas in the States, woe be to the purveyor of nipplage who doesn't first think of the children. Thankfully, Funcom didn't give a dead rat's tail about censor-related clucking, and delivered a game that unabashedly celebrates the neck-bearded internet nerd upon whose hairy back the MMORPG genre was founded.

Stylistically at least, Age of Conan is a throw back to the days of the hardcore. It may not boast the free form gameplay of an Asheron's Call or an Ultima Online, but it is what either of those games should look and feel like if they were to be updated with current generation tech.

The one downside to Age of Conan explicitly targeting an adult audience is that there's no way to ensure that all of the patrons are in fact adults. The existence of T&A no doubt attracts the very adolescents that many older gamers long to distance themselves from, but thanks to the standard ignore feature it's a worthy compromise. In my month or so since returning to the game, I've found the player base on both Wiccana and Cimmeria to be quite mature, helpful, and generally accepting of various play styles and levels of competence. Sure there's the occasional nut job to be ignored in global chat, but this is a far cry from the ugh factor of the more family friendly (read 'T' for Teen rated) titles such as Aion and World of Warcraft. The latter, of course, features the infamous blight on humanity known as Barrens Chat.

Ultimately, family friendliness is somewhat subjective and highly dependent on your particular family. That said, Funcom has carved off a nice little niche for themselves by targeting Age of Conan towards older gamers, and I for one salute them. I mean come on, could a family friendly game have such slick concept art?



Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran, as well as the creator of Massively's weekly Anvil of Crom. Feel free to suggest a column topic, propose a guide, or perform a verbal fatality via jef@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.