The Anvil of Crom: Wild times

Welcome back to the Anvil of Crom, your weekly peek into Funcom's Age of Conan. I'm your host, ranger rantypants, and today we'll be returning to a happier place, namely, the latest installment of my ongoing Hyborian travelogue. This week, I visited the well-traveled Wild Lands of Zelata, the third of the game's four post-Tortage regions and home to some of AoC's premier questing zones.

The trip was something of a homecoming, as my original launch character made his way to the Wild Lands after leaving Strom's broken body on the Tortage docks a couple of years ago, and playing through the zone again after numerous graphical and performance tweaks was quite an enjoyable experience and even a bit nostalgic.

Port past the cut for more.
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The witch Zelata
Just who, or what, is Zelata, you may find yourself asking? In a nutshell, she is a powerful druidess who has taken up residence in the eastern wilds of Aquilonia. In Robert E. Howard's Hour of the Dragon, she reveals that the people of the region fear and mistrust her greatly, leading to her seclusion in the wilds. During the time period in which Funcom chose to set Age of Conan, Zelata is also blamed for the infestation of dark beasts that roam the hills around the village of Tesso and its outlying areas. In a nice nod to the source material, Zelata's first words to a hailing player are lifted directly from the Howard story. "I am Zelata," she says. "The people of the valleys call me a witch."

Playing through the Wild Lands again gave me a new appreciation for the job that Funcom did constructing the early to middle portions of Age of Conan. Say what you want about the endgame content and the faction grind, but AoC is a lot of fun -- and packed with options -- up through level 40. The Wild Lands will take your character from 20 to 38 or so, depending on how many times you want to run Sanctum or grind mobs. Looking back, I'm somewhat surprised at all the complaints about the smallish nature of Age of Conan's original old world zones. Perhaps my opinions have been altered by playing a slew of boxed-in themepark games since 2008, but the Wild Lands make up a big zone, huge in fact, with varying terrain and consistently lush visuals that convey a real sense of scale when traveling to and from the village of Tesso and into the wild. Certainly the new Khitai playfields are larger, but traversing Zelata's domain is nothing to sneeze at.

Tesso fields guardianSpeaking of Tesso, it's the region's major quest hub, and you'll find it just over a bridge after loading into the docks at the zone entrance. The village is an idyllic frontier settlement, surrounded by beautiful rivers, lakes, and rolling grasslands. Unfortunately, the aforementioned plague of dark beasts casts quite the damper on the villagers and refugees holed up inside the city walls, and there are many quests here that will level you through a good portion of your early to mid-twenties.

In addition to gobbling up the numerous quests and quest chains scattered throughout the village, be sure you speak to Keyx in Tesso's old mill (a large silo-like structure down by the waterfront). He'll start you on a series of quests that grants access to the region's first dungeon instance, a proper underground crawl called the Old Smuggler Route. Aside from the dungeon, Tesso is your standard MMORPG quest hub (though as you can see from the gallery, the eye-candy puts most games to shame). You'll be doing everything from killing tainted wolverines (which make the most god-awful noise imaginable) to re-lighting oil lamps and collecting piles of wood. There's nothing revolutionary here, but there's a lot to do, and it's covered in a coat of visual and performance polish that's hard to top.

Branching out from Tesso, the quest chains will lead you through the nearby village of Kerkyra, through the blasted rock chasms and scarred gorges to the northwest that lead to the lands of Poitain, and through the mountainous interior of the zone, which contains a nifty level 27ish public dungeon known as the Maze. Filled with regular-con mobs (mostly spiders and their nasty queen) and occupying an appropriately scuzzy outdoor area, the Maze provides one of Aquilonia's first real solo dungeon experiences and shouldn't be missed. Talk to Phaedra just outside the entrance to hear her tale of woe and pick up a few related quests.

To the south, you'll find the ruined remains of Corvo, overrun with Neimedian soldiers preparing to invade the Aquilonian homeland of their longtime enemies. There are several quests in this area and you'll alternate between working your way up the side of a precarious mountain path and passing through the enemy encampment avoiding their guard dogs and the watchful eyes of roving sentries.

As you progress into your mid to late 30s, you'll spend a good amount of time in the eastern and northeastern portion of the zone, alternately fighting the many mercenary mobs roaming the map and completing standard quests, and finally venturing into Sanctum of the Burning Souls. Given Sanctum's status as one of the game's signature dungeons, it really deserves its own article. I also haven't had a chance to run through it since the game's launch, so look for more on this noteworthy location in the coming weeks.

That about wraps up our zone tour of the Wild Lands of Zelata. If you roll an Aquilonian character (or just want to go against the grain on your Stygian, Cimmerian, or Khitain avatar), the Wild Lands will represent a substantial portion of your initial Age of Conan experience. As such, it's an appropriately large and diverse zone, one that is representative of some of Funcom's finest work to date. Whether you're into soloing, group quests, PvP (on the appropriate servers), or dungeon crawling, you'll do a bit of everything here, and as always, the visuals are the benchmark against which other MMORPGs are measured.

Until next week, I leave you with my favorite 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.