The Anvil of Crom: Age of Conan year three retrospective

The past 12 months have been something of a whirlwind for the Age of Conan team. While content updates for the game were a bit lighter than normal, Funcom was nonetheless working quite hard behind the scenes for much of the game's third year.

As a result -- and despite the residual stickiness of the outdated "Failcom" rhetoric that floats around the internet -- there's never been a better time to be an AoC fan. The dev team has expanded, content updates are coming at regular intervals, and there's even a new server ruleset on the way for those of you in favor of unforgiving PvP action. Add to that the cryptic hints of a big announcement that Craig Morrison has been dropping over the last little while and you've got a recipe for Hyborian intrigue the likes of which we haven't seen since launch.

Speaking of AoC's launch, it happened three years ago this week, and today's Anvil of Crom offers you a look back at year three's most memorable moments. Put on your birthday hats, break out the kazoos, and join me after the cut for more.

Before I get started, it's worth noting that those of you without an active Age of Conan account can still take part in this month's birthday festivities. Funcom has re-upped all previously active accounts through the end of May, so patch up and head back to Hyboria if you're curious about all the changes.

It's also worth noting that the following article only covers the period from May 2010 to May 2011, so if you've been away from AoC since 2009 (or even launch), you might want to take a gander at last year's retrospective.

Rise of the Godslayer

AoC's third year started with a bang, as May 2010 brought the game's first expansion to the masses. Rise of the Godslayer was initially quite successful, managing to renew interest in the two-year old title and soothe some of the wounds left by AoC's less-than-stellar launch (and 2009's controversial 1.05 update).

Khitai soldiersThe expansion added a ginormous new land mass, thousands of quests, and a horizontal endgame progression system. The huge Khitai zones also infused Hyboria with a unique oriental flavor not often found in AAA fantasy titles. Godslayer also brought its share of problems, though, chief among them performance issues and two of the more wretched PvE grinds in recent memory courtesy of the new alternate advancement system and the Khitai factional treadmill.

While players both new and old embraced Khitai out of the gate, the grind took its toll over the summer months and into the fall as people realized that gearing up one of their characters was an exercise in dedicated repetition that left little room for jobs and family, let alone alts or portions of the game outside of Khitai 6-mans and repeatable faction quests.

Bori changes and Ranger revamps

June 30th brought the 2.0.5 patch, and in it Funcom attempted to right some of the wrongs inherent in the Shrines of Bori system. The devs posted a bit of a mea culpa in the patch notes, acknowledging the fact that they "underestimated people's willingness to game that part of the system."

While the solution of tying sacrifice mechanics to the raid group that makes the sacrifice looked good on paper, the damage had been done in terms of players exploiting their way to top-end PvP levels and gear.

The patch also brought about a Ranger revamp, and though the class has since returned to form, many players questioned the need to rebuild an archetype that worked and was enjoyed across the board. Nevertheless, we said goodbye to salvo (always, fastly, and well) and ushered in a new era of advantages and upper/lower attack bonuses.

The winter (and summer) of our discontent

Funcom's next major update took a while to materialize, and when it did, it wasn't exactly given a warm welcome. The November 30th 2.0.8.2 patch removed the ability to PvP in the Underhalls and White Sands portion of Tortage on the game's FFA servers, and the change was criticized both for its anti-PvP mechanics and the fact that it initially slipped onto the live servers unannounced.

This was probably the low point of the past year from a player perspective, but happily, Funcom was making good use of the extensive time between game updates to polish the Dreamworld upgrade and develop new content.

Tortage tailNew stuff

The first bit of new content saw the light of day on December 14th. Funcom released a new PvP minigame to the live servers, and The Call of Jhebbal Sag was generally well-received and continues to draw respectable amounts of level 80 minigame PvPers to this day. The 2.1 patch also added some dynamic social events to Age of Conan including horse racing, treasure hunts, and storytelling and insult contests.

These guild-centric mechanics were met with a lukewarm reception by much of Funcom's combat-focused playerbase, but for those of us who'd prefer that our MMORPGs be a bit more than murder simulators, it was a baby step in the right direction. Finally, 2.1 represented the second major class change patch of 2010 and brought about substantial tweaks to AoC's Guardian.

Dreamworld

March 8th saw the culmination of many months of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of Funcom's dev team. The massive Dreamworld engine update finally took a bow and brought with it substantial performance improvements for low- and mid-level computers. Apart from presenting better framerates (and in some cases, better visuals), Dreamworld featured the implementation of new content creation tools, the results of which became apparent as we moved into 2011's summer months.

The 2.1.3 update also featured the opening salvo in Funcom's war on the Khitai faction grind. While I'm hard-pressed to complain about any sort of grind reduction, I will say that the decision to place faction tokens on veteran reward vendors (and thereby tie factional advancement to your subscription plan) was a strange one. Simply reducing the grind seemed to make more sense from a player perspective, and to Funcom's credit, it eventually did just that in a future patch.

The Refuge of the Apostate

Players finally started to see some of the benefits provided by the new Dreamworld tools courtesy of the 2.1.8 update that arrived in early April of 2011. Funcom released a nifty new level 80 solo instance centered around Khitai's Scarlet Circle faction, and the dungeon crawl was both fun and filled with appropriate rewards.

April also featured an interesting nugget from Craig Morrison relating to future AoC development cycles. Funcom's game director publicly hinted at the hiring of several new devs specifically for Hyboria, and this, coupled with the steady increase in new content, helped Age of Conan turn a bit of a corner in terms of public perception.

The present

The most recent update continued the feel-good vibes by introducing more new content, this time in the form of two level 80 group dungeons in Khitai's Paikang district. Funcom also addressed a few long-standing issues with PvP crowd control, and while not everyone was happy with the tweaks, it was encouraging to see the new devs jumping in and rolling up their sleeves.

The May 4th patch also made substantial changes to AoC's faction progression. Marks of Acclaim payouts were increased, NPC factional rewards were doubled, and the amount of faction received from Khitai quests was noticeably boosted. Twenty-hour cooldown timers were also added to repeatable faction quests, but the Khitai grind was nonetheless considerably improved.

As you can see, Age of Conan's third year was an eventful one in spite of the occasional content lulls. The near future is shaping up to be quite interesting as well, so check in with Massively next week as we bring you the very latest on Funcom's plans for Age of Conan. Until then.


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.