Anyway, several alts are in the works, but rather than focus on the hows and whys of a new class (more on that in the coming weeks), we'll chew the scenery in this week's Anvil of Crom.
Join me after the cut for a look at the majestic Gateway to Khitai, the latest stop on our tour of Hyboria's many and varied questing zones.
Funcom's Age of Conan is nothing if not a diverse collection of play fields that offer a wide range of pleasing environmental aesthetics. Whether you're into deserts, jungles, steppes, mountainous highlands, remote islands, or teeming cities, Hyboria has them all. Even in adjoining areas like the Grasslands and the Gateway to Khitai, you'll find quite a lot of variation in terms of terrain, NPC garnishes, and visual flair. So, while I'm a bit burnt on the higher-level Khitai zones, the Gateway is just what the doctor ordered.
It's not just the purty graphics either (as the Grasslands are arguably even more beautiful). The Gateway to Khitai is fast becoming one of my favorite Age of Conan zones (apologies to Tarantia Commons) in large part due to its exquisite progression. I started out next to the smoking hulk of a familiar newbie caravan, ambushed and broken, its contents strewn across the dusty road through the zone in a trail of rubble winding its way to the horizon. This initial quest hub sets the mood for Khitai and for Hyboria as a whole, with its grisly mauled horses, carrion, and terrified merchants and soldiers who look to the player to help them weather the attacks of the ferocious Hyrkanian raiders that mill about just out of visual range.
You'll find a standard set of quests from various NPCs stationed around the wreckage, and whether this is your first AoC character or your twentieth, there's nothing really revolutionary about the quests themselves. Kill a few of these, deliver a couple of those -- we've all done this thousands of time before. What sets the Gateway apart is the overall story presented through the quest text, as well as the way they all flow smoothly together for those who would rather skip all the blah-de-blah-blah to get at the objective.
The Hyrkanian village and the Great Wall
The next hub is a small Hyrkanian village, the centerpiece of which is a giant rolling pleasure palace and home to the local warlord. Here you'll grab several interesting quests, including excursions into the nearby graveyard (the objectives for which differ depending on whether it's day or night), a dried lake bed crawling with scorpions and wild rhinos, and several tasks relating to hapless villagers who've gone and gotten themselves captured by marauding horsemen.
Around this time, you'll also want to check out the trading village at the far eastern edge of the map. Here you'll find your bind point, vendors, and a couple of quest continuations relating to the original caravan supply missions that you pick up early in your Gateway career.
The steppes, the hermit, and the Forgotten City
After roving about the middle portion of the map for a bit and ridding the steppes of many an annoying mounted archer, I ventured south of the wrecked caravan, past giant kappa skeletons (think the huge snake skeleton that C-3PO stumbles upon in the Tatooine desert, only much cooler), and into a series of labyrinthine canyons populated by hyenas, epic-level horses of death (don't laugh, they hurt), and a reclusive hermit who hands out a few more quests (a couple of which reward you with some pretty spiffy samurai-inspired armor). Funcom has clearly tried to spice up the questing in the expansion a little bit, not just through the dialogue and story elements but also by making some quests require actions other than going to the X on your map and killing everything that moves. You'll dig graves, kneel and offer respect, and generally have a good time engaging in themepark questing that is a welcome departure from the norm. Now, don't get me wrong -- the Gateway to Khitai is still 80% killing, whether you're on a PvE or PvP server -- but there's just enough variety to make it seem new and relatively exciting.
After running a few errands for the hermit, I came across a would-be Khan named Menudsjin and saved him from a pair of ferocious Zang Xin, devolved mountain men who dwell in the shadow of the Great Wall. This opens up another quest hub, as the Khan gathers his men and asks you to meet him when you travel north beyond the Hyrkanian village. From here, you'll be tasked with finishing some dark Hyrkanian rituals, exploring the ruins of the Forgotten City (and ridding it of undead and diseased animals), and collecting the rest of your armor rewards. Finally, around level 38 or so, you'll be given the chance to work with either Last Legion or Scarlet Circle operatives near the Great Wall, ferreting out spies and ridding the region of still more of the Zang Xin.
All things considered, the Gateway to Khitai is one of Age of Conan's more enjoyable zones. Funcom wisely made it both varied and accessible, and the fact that the high-level Khitai faction grind is completely absent is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it paints a less than accurate picture of Khitai as a whole, giving newer players a somewhat skewed sense of what to expect at endgame when the rest of the expansion's content becomes available to them. On the other hand, it's probably the best post-Tortage starter zone in the game, as it's vastly larger and more interesting than Knopshef Province, Conall's Valley, or the Wild Lands of Zelata.
That's all the time I have for this week. I've got to get back to ogling my new samurai armor and filling that dastardly Zang Xin chieftain full of a few more arrows. Until next time, I leave you with the requisite concept art.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.