Time away from Hyboria (or at least, less time in Hyboria) makes a man yearn to return, though, as there is no place in MMO land that compares in terms of sights and sounds. That said, I'm still not a fan of the grind, and I still think Funcom needs to address the fact that it takes the average player months -- if he's lucky -- to get a full suit of Khitai armor (never mind jewelry and a couple of weapons). It does seem a bit less daunting when you break it down into chunks, though, and when you set yourself a reasonable goal and stop worrying about if or when you'll ever have time to play an alt.
Funcom has given players a fairly staggering number of options for grinding their endgame eyeballs out, and planning an efficient route through the maze first required me to determine exactly what I was aiming at. It's easy to get disheartened by the grind before you even get started simply because there are so many choices, and Age of Conan internet guides remain somewhat limited in comparison to guides for bigger games. Breaking the Khitai grind up into manageable chunks was crucial for me to maintain my sanity and get re-energized about the game, and I suggest you do the same if you're unclear on a starting point (running around randomly doing faction quests is the worst thing you can do).
For purposes of this particular column, it's worth mentioning that I'm working on my Demonologist, and he possesses no old world raid or PvP gear. He does have a full set of culture armor and a Lemurian Firestick, the latter of which is arguably better than any of the T1 Demo weapons (and as good as some of the T2s, if you believe the scuttlebutt on the official Demo boards).
Anyway, after paging through the database at the aptly named AoC > TV Armory, I decided to work on raising my Scarlet Circle faction before I do anything else in Khitai. Now, the official forums are filled with advice posts that will tell you to raise two factions simultaneously, or three, or whatever. While my way is probably not the optimum power-grinder's preferred method, it has resulted in measurable progress and a good bit of enjoyment, something I didn't think was possible at AoC's endgame as recently as a couple of weeks ago.
Anyway, back to the Scarlet Circle. This particular faction features some of the best Demo armor, and in my opinion, it's easily the best-looking. There are multiple sets, most of which consist of a couple of epic-level pieces (purples) and six rare-level pieces (blues). You can mix and match, of course, and each epic will set you back 25 gold as well as varying numbers of rare trophies and marks of acclaim. Some of the pieces also require you to obtain a certain rank within the faction, and you'll want to rank up your faction of choice regardless because you'll get better rewards (gold, faction XP, marks) at higher levels in addition to meeting the equipment prerequisites.
After a week of casual play (three to four hours every couple of days is my current definition of casual), I've managed to get over halfway to rank two. Depending on the factions you choose and your ability to stay alive while grinding (no small feat in some parts of Khitai for a newly minted 80, particularly in pedestrian gear), you'll quickly work out a system for grinding out your faction as efficiently as possible. Along the way, you'll pick up lots of Imperial Insignias (let these pile up in your quest inventory and then turn them in to the desired faction merchant for a big boost later on), marks, and if you do the occasional 6-man dungeon, rare trophies and blue gear drops.
The 6-mans are hit or miss unless you're in an elite guild that runs through them regularly. There are usually some good PUGs going on, and you'll start to see some familiar faces on the circuit even if you're guildless like I am. You're at the mercy of your group, though, whereas the faction grind is something that can be done on your own (though it does go faster with a partner or a group).
In any case, here is the blow-by-blow breakdown on my current Scarlet Circle solo run. I start out in Chosain Province in the village of Shaulun. My faction contact is a hard-driving woman by the name of Mistress Yi, and to get going, I pick up her three repeatable quests: Neglected Duty, Spreading Strife, and The Tiger and the Moon. Knocking these out takes about 18 minutes (give or take, depending on how many times the silly level 83 elite mob on the blood altar quest breaks my roots and forces me to kite him for an eternity). It also nets me a cool 5,850 faction with my Scarlet Circle overlords. As soon as I've turned in the last of these three quests, I'll port over to the Northern Grasslands zone courtesy of my Path of Asura ability, which I've bound to the village of Pin Pin.
My Scarlet Circle contact in Pin Pin is a rather arrogant mage by the name of De-Wei, but he hands out two more faction quests, so I'll suffer his annoyances (for now). I pick up The Anthromorph and From Earth to Dust quests and head for the quarry southwest of Pin Pin. Here I talk with Scarlet Circle operative Guan-xiu (and keep a wary eye on his giant golem), and he bids me take a third faction quest that involves clearing some enemies out of the quarry. Once this is done, I head across the map to the outskirts of the Warmonk Monastery to finish one of De-Wei's quests, then it's back to Pin Pin to give a transformation potion to a hapless guard before turning everything in. These three quests take me about 22 minutes and net me 5,625 faction.
At this point, I call back to the village of Shaulun (using a pathing ability purchased with veteran tokens) and make my way back to Mistress Yi to start the cycle over again (after a 15- or 20-minute break, thanks to the silly quest cooldowns). One complete run takes about 40 minutes and rewards me with 11,475 Scarlet Circle faction, and at these rates I'll be dinging rank two in a little over six hours of dedicated grinding. I'll also have a significant stack of insignias, gold, and some marks at that point, and I'll likely be traveling to another playfield (probably Kara Korum or possibly Paikang) for a higher-level faction contact and a new set of missions. The best part is that the six hours comes in manageable chunks. I can log in for 40 minutes over lunch here, 40 minutes after dinner there -- and it's all a lot more palatable than running about willy nilly with no plan.
While this is only one way of doing things, I've found that breaking down the faction grind in this manner gives me a much more tangible sense of accomplishment and reward. This is in stark contrast to the frustrations I experienced while trying to grind two or three factions simultaneously on my Assassin character, and coupled with the occasional 6-man PUG, this method should let me reach my goal of having a full set of Khitai armor after two to three months of casual play (maybe faster if the instance drop gods cut me some slack). Keep in mind that your times and quests will likely vary unless your class and faction goals match mine, and also be aware that I have one of the fastest mounts in the game as well as the aforementioned veteran pathing ability and a shortened cooldown on Path of Asura.
As I said earlier, this is only one armor set (there are tons of them), and I haven't even gotten into weapons, accessories, and mounts as of yet, but the key here is to have manageable goals and avoid getting overwhelmed by the possibilities and the grind. That's all for now folks, and as always... well, you know the concept art drill by now.
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 email@example.com.