Age of Conan has undergone significant revision in its short lifespan, from a sweeping combat and itemization revamp to the addition of numerous dungeons and play fields, all of them pre-dating the new expansion. The laundry list of additions can be broken down into six major categories: combat and itemization, PvP, crafting, gameplay, new zones, and the expansion. We'll also touch on smaller details such as performance tweaks and offline leveling, so hack your way past the cut to see the gory details.
The most important additions to the game, though not the most visible to the casual observer, are the sweeping changes made to RPG mechanics and itemization. Those of you who played at launch and through the summer of 2008 will remember an item system that bared little resemblance to traditional MMORPGs, as it rarely mattered what weapons or equipment your character possessed. The early game's combat was an exercise in mastering the newfangled combo system and little else, as the differences between, say, a level 20 dagger and a level 70 dagger were minimal.
Generally speaking, the 1.05 update caused items to directly affect core combat statistics, as hit points, mana, stamina, and damage were adjusted to be relative to your gear. Funcom also beheaded the percentage system in this update, and changed the attributes and aforementioned statistics to a whole number system.
In addition to these mechanical changes, Funcom added Culture Armors to the game in late 2008, in an attempt to diversify the aesthetic options available to players and respond to concerns about the lack of visual variety in the game's gear.
Age of Conan's PvP system is nigh unrecognizable when compared to how it functioned at launch. In addition to adding PvP levels, a performance tracking stat tab, and PvP-exclusive gear, the improved system also features armor ratings that provide additional mitigation against player-inflicted damage.
The most important additions to the game, though not the most visible to the casual observer, are the sweeping changes made to RPG mechanics and itemization.
In addition, the much-discussed PvP Notoriety update brought a choice and consequence system to the game's player conflicts in the form of the Murder/Criminal mechanic. "It is a system where someone who consciously chooses to be 'that' type of player isn't disallowed from doing so, but has to live with the consequences of doing so without having his normal game-play completely removed. We do not wish to reward that kind of game-play. It's about choices for the player, if they choose to be notorious rather than a good citizen they are allowed to do so (Hyboria is a brutal world after all!), the results are negative though, it's up to each individual whether they can live with that life as an outlaw and murderer," said Game Director Craig Morrison.
Age of Conan's crowd control mechanics were also changed extensively in the PvP update. In a nutshell, CC effects were adjusted to automatically break when the player's health dropped below a certain level. More recently, Funcom added the Shrines of Bori update to the live servers, bringing a territorial control mini-game to the PvP portions of Age of Conan.
Crafting is similarly unrecognizable if you've been away since launch, with most of the changes focusing on the Gem system. The 1.05 update did away with stacking lines and gem size, and also introduced gem families, socket colors, and alchemical transformation, all with the goal of simplifying the process as well as balancing the statistics in line with the aforementioned combat and gear changes. You can get a full run-down on the crafting revamp here.
One of the criticisms leveled at Age of Conan's original build was the size and linear nature of many of the zones and instances. Funcom apparently took the criticism to heart, as they've consistently added both size and scope to the game world since launch, even prior to the massive new playfields of Khitai that opened up with the Godslayer expansion. In addition to those lands in the far east, players can travel to Ymir's Pass in Cimmeria, Tarantia Commons in Aquilonia, and the Iron Tower dungeon instance.
A noteworthy, if somewhat controversial addition to the game is a system of offline leveling. Active subscribers receive a free character level every four days which can be assigned to any avatar on their account. Additionally, the new Alternate Advancement system in the Godslayer expansion features an offline leveling component, provided your character is level 80. These options, while sparking a bit of debate in player circles, illustrate that Funcom is committed to facilitating both casual and alternate play styles.
Rise of the Godslayer
While an exhaustive examination of Age of Conan's first expansion is beyond the scope of this article, luckily for you we've written another one. As of now, we here at Massively are still playing our way through the lands of Khitai, and as our long-standing policy against 'reviewing' MMORPGs with definitive scoring remains in place, we'll be rolling out impressions of various expansion aspects in due time. For now, we recommend diving in and experiencing it for yourself, as well as boning up on all our previous coverage.
[Updated: Check out Massively's Khitai impressions in this week's edition of The Anvil of Crom.]
Due to the number of performance-related issues experienced at launch (as well as the almost infinite number of possible hardware setups), it's difficult to go into specifics in terms of improvements over the last two years. What we can tell you is that Funcom has added DirectX 10 support, smoothed out the infamous memory leak problems that plagued the game's early days, and generally seems to have gotten a handle on the crushing frame-rate problems that made for many a sad-eyed Conan fan in 2008. Is the game a model of peak performance? Not entirely, as sieges still experience some slow down and the expansion suffers from the occasional stutter on older machines. That said, Age of Conan's performance is light years ahead of where it was at launch, and, if personal anecdotes count for anything, I have not experienced a single live client crash since returning to the game (and playing a couple hours daily) over six weeks ago. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
In addition to the laundry list of mechanical changes we've already covered, Funcom has also tweaked the game's minutiae, from adding more NPCs and general liveliness to guild cities, to implementing a system of veteran rewards and social pets, it's clear the intent is there to make Age of Conan a worthwhile experience over the long haul. As this has been a fairly high level look at the game changes since launch, there are of course many smaller tweaks which I've left out due to spacing and deadline concerns. If you're interested, you can view a comprehensive history of the game's patch notes on the official boards.