The Anvil of Crom: Dead men walking

Hoo boy. Well, after last week's F2T versus P2P throw-down, I figured it was time to take a break from controversy and tread the relatively safe waters of in-game impressions. That's not to say there won't be plenty of opinion this week, as this is after all an opinion column and not straight-up "journalism" with a capital J. With that said, let's delve into the Cimmerian foothills, shall we?

The lands of Hyboria are vast and varied, whether you're traversing the sandy dunes of Stygia, mingling with the crowds that line Aquilonia's city streets, or traveling across, over (and even under) Cimmeria's darkened highlands. As your humble correspondent continues his trek towards the mythical hinterland known as level 80, my rangers have been spending the majority of their time in King Conan's ancestral homeland of Cimmeria.

We've already examined the war-torn landscape of Conall's Valley in a previous edition of The Anvil of Crom, and this week we'll take a tour of the next stop along the Cimmerian express route, namely the Field of the Dead. Join me after the cut to journey through the burial mounds and haunted forests that make up this unforgettable zone.

The Field of the Dead can be viewed as Hyboria's answer to Tolkien's Barrow Downs, as it is a haunting (and haunted) landscape dotted with unmarked earthen mounds and the cairns of Cimmerian battle chieftains. Situated in the northern portion of Cimmeria, the field can be accessed by exiting Conall's Valley to the east, and players are generally safe in doing so around level 40.

The Field of the Dead lies in the shadow of Ben Morgh, the foreboding mountain where the Cimmerian god Crom watches over his grim-hearted subjects with a dispassionate gaze. The field itself is actually a series of ridges, rife with treacherous hillsides, moss-strewn slopes, and wind-swept paths that camouflage packs of wolves as well as the scouts of the invading Vanir horde. These barbarian warriors will hound the player as he makes his way through the large number of quests throughout the zone, and also serve to liven up the atmosphere considerably as they pillage and plunder the Cimmerian graves and unwittingly unleash the specters of angry chieftains as well as a monstrous plague of werewolves.

In addition to the packs of mobs situated around the various burial mounds, there is also a large section of the zone that lurks under the canopy of a lush, dark forest, and you'll want to grab a buddy or two before venturing down these foreboding paths and fending off lurking werewolves and hordes of specter mobs. Also be sure to say hello to Radi, a disembodied talking head on a pike who also happens to be one of Age of Conan's most darkly amusing quest-givers.

If it all sounds rather bleak and terrifying, well it is, but it's also quite beautiful. With the Field of Dead, Funcom has created a singularly memorable zone in a game that is full of them. While many veterans I've talked to have grown tired of the locale, there is near-universal praise for the progression, the visuals, and the sound design. The weariness stems almost entirely from repetition as there is simply no better place to level a 40-50 character.

Like Conall's Valley before it, much of the Field of the Dead can be accomplished by the solo player. As you approach level 50 however, you'll likely want to check out the zone's group dungeons, as both the Cradle of Decay and Toirdealbach's Tomb are great examples of the 6-man fun to be had in Age of Conan.

The former is accessed in the far southwest of the Field of the Dead, very near where you enter the zone when coming from Conall's Valley or the Lacheish Plains. CoD, as it is commonly called in global chat, was added to the game post-release as a way to fill the leveling curve and provide an alternative to dungeon-running exclusively in Aquilonia's famed Sanctum of the Burning Souls. The cradle is a dark valley of stone enveloped in a thick green mist, and features packs of epic mobs ranging from level 43-44. Inexperienced groups can expect to die frequently during CoD's initial stages, as the mobs are quite close together and there are a lot of them, which naturally makes pulling something of an adventure. As you progress deeper into the cradle, things start to ease up and the epics come in pairs rather than bunches. Though it can be a tad frustrating depending on your level, the instance is a great place for both XP and atmospherics, as well as the occasional rare boss drop.

Toirdealbach's tomb, located at the northern end of the zone, is the other 40-50 dungeon located in the Field of the Dead (there is a third, Kyllikki's Crypt, but as it is an endgame raid instance we'll save it for a future column). The Vanir grave-robbers looting the zone have managed to anger the sleeping spirit of a huge Amazonian woman buried in Atlantean armor, and players will be tasked with clearing her crypt tunnels of assorted baddies before duking it out with her lieutenants and finally Toirdealbach herself. The strategy here took my group a couple of tries to figure out, and in the end it involves focus-firing all ranged DPS on Toirdealbach's minions while a tank (or two) continually runs her around the stone pillar at the center of the courtyard. Your mileage may vary depending on group makeup, but once you get a handle on quickly dispatching her helpers, the rest of the boss fight is a breeze.

So that's your basic overview of the Field of the Dead. Chances are, if you've played (or are planning on playing) Age of Conan, you'll end up spending a fair bit of time here around the midway point of your leveling journey. From my point of view, it's one of the more enjoyable spots in the game, both because of production design and thanks to the huge amount of available content.

That's all the time I've got for this week. Check in with me next time for some information and impressions on building a guild city. Until then, I leave you with a scene from last week's E3 after-party.



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.