Blood dripped from the talisman clutched in the mage's left hand. Fresh blood it was, deep red, almost black in the pale moonlight, blending with the red-orange stalks of firegrass that parted as the mage moved through them. A demon crept along behind him, his demon, and blood trickled from the corner of her mouth as she silently followed.
Ahead, across a vast lake of firegrass, two soldiers of the Last Legion lounged lazily in the crook of an ancient oak, its boughs and branches twisting skyward like so many gnarled fingers grasping in vein for the velvety backdrop of night. The mage stopped, images of a man twisting on the end of a rough brown rope rising unbidden in his mind. The rope hung taut from the branch of a massive dead tree, and two soldiers of the Last Legion prodded the swinging corpse with the tips of their steel.
The mage blinked, his eyes refocusing on the men ahead of him, their ornate Legion armor clearly visible even in the dark. They were not the same soldiers, but then it did not matter. The mage whispered and his thrall winked briefly out of existence, reappearing between the two soldiers whereupon it performed its ghastly task. The mage crossed the field of grass and dismissed the demon, glancing dispassionately at the red stains on the oak's massive trunk.
Chosain was red with blood already and would grow redder still.
Chosain Province is accessible at the eastern end of the Northern Grasslands zone, and if you're anything like I am, you'll be anxious to take a break from the latter and see some new sights after a few weeks (or months, in my case) of repeatable quest running. While the Grasslands is a beautiful zone in its own right, it's also your first introduction to the lengthy Khitai faction grind, and many players I know have a love-hate relationship with the place as a result. Chosain is just what the doctor ordered, then, and the region hosts a huge variety of vistas and visual styles to distract you from the grind. Whether you're into rolling red fields, lush rice paddies, or corpses swinging from trees and the husks of burned out war machines, Chosain has got you covered.
The town of Gun Hai lies at the extreme northeastern edge of the Chosain map. When you first enter the zone from the Grasslands, taking a hard left and heading north to the edge of the world will bring you to the heavily fortified village. Gun Hai is the first of two opposing faction towns in Chosain, and it's home to many principles from the Scholars of Cheng-ho faction. Depending on your faction choice, you may be asked to engage in a few sabotage missions in Gun Hai or aid some of its residents, but either way you'll want to poke around the impressive scenery around, above, and inside the city itself.
Far to the southwest of Gun Hai is the city of Gun Xiu, a mercenary stronghold under the control of Tamarin and his fearsome tigers (actual tigers as well as his followers who have appropriated the beasts' name). If you want the Rise of the Godslayer tiger mount, you'll be seeing quite a bit of Gun Xiu and Tamarin's Tigers' representatives in particular. The flooded rice fields and classic far-eastern architecture make the town pretty easy on the eyes, but the city's beauty belies the violent tension simmering beneath the surface as Tamarin's forces gear up for war with the Scholars of Cheng-ho in the north.
The village of Shaulun is, for all intents and purposes, the center of Chosain. Aside from its location near the middle of the map, it's also where you'll start the majority of your faction missions. The Scarlet Circle makes its headquarters in the province here, as does the Brittle Blade and others, so you'll be spending plenty of time flitting in and out of your respective faction's compound to pick up missions.
Shaulun is also the political center of Chosain as far as Age of Conan's lore is concerned. The conflict between Gun Xiu and Gun Hai plucks many of its combatants from Shaulun's streets, and there are several quests in and around the city that are worth reading if you enjoy Funcom's take on Hyboria.
The village itself is straight out of one of those early- to mid-2000s Wuxai blockbusters. I half expected to see Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi pop out of an alcove, defying gravity and doing their deadly sword dances across the rooftops. To say the place is atmospheric is quite an understatement, and whether it's due to the visuals or Knut Haugen's twangy oriental guitars, I can't get enough of the place.
Aside from the three cities, Chosain Province features numerous military camps that you'll encounter over the course of your faction grinding, as well as an open battlefield near the center of the map. If you need some examples of AoC earning its mature rating, look no further than the gruesome visuals on the blasted battlefield and the surrounding environs. Thus far I haven't spent a lot of time here as it doesn't seem to feature any quests for my faction as of yet, but it's hard to miss on the road from Shaulun to Gun Hai.
Chosain also features a trio of dungeons for the highly geared adventurer, though the conventional wisdom is that they're not worth the considerable time it takes to complete them in terms of rewards (most seasoned players will tell you to run the Kara Korum circuit instead). If you want to make a go of it anyway, head southwest from the battlefield to the Mines of Chosain (helpfully marked on your in-game map). Here you can access the Den of the Crowmen, the Abyss of Kun Whu, and the Jade Dugout from the same entrance.
So that's Chosain in a nutshell. If you haven't seen it yet and you're languishing in the Grasslands wondering if (or when) you'll finally go insane at the behest of your faction taskmasters, do yourself a favor and head farther east into the heartland of Khitai. It's a nice change of scenery, and it offers quite a bit of exploration and immersive fun. Until next week, I leave you with a group of folks who've never seen the Red Forest.
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.