Conan fans will recognize the above passage as one of the most famous in the barbarian's extensive canon. It appears at the beginning of 1932's The Phoenix on the Sword and serves as a brief teaser for the history that underlies the world of Hyboria. Being something of an MMO lore junkie (and given the fact that I'm slowly working my way through Robert E. Howard's Conan library), I've often wondered about the origins of the Nemedian Chronicles and the people who wrote them. While Nemedia itself is not yet accessible in Age of Conan, Funcom's nods to Nemedian culture are numerous, and nowhere is this more evident than the Border Range. Join me after the cut for some impressions on this war-torn zone and the stories behind it.
Wildlands of Zelata. The area is a curious one in terms of game design, as it's smaller than the Wildlands but not small enough to be classified as a dungeon per se. It's also a public zone, meaning you're free to group up with other players as you take part in the conflict brewing between the advancing Nemedian army and the settlers who occupy the farthest reaches of the Aquilonian empire.
Historically, the Nemedians are a warlike people who have long sought to conquer their Aquilonian neighbors to the west, and Howard's lore is filled with references to this never-ending conflict. Nemedia is considered the second most powerful of the Hyborian kingdoms (behind Aquilonia), and because of its lineage as a part of the ancient Acheronian empire, it's not surprising to run across sorcerers, ferocious beasts, and foul manifestations of wizardry when you're roaming the scenic hill country.
Unlike some of the other zones I've profiled in my ongoing impressions miniseries, the Border Range isn't subdivided into towns and instead exists as a continuous cobblestone path through a rocky ravine. Along the way, you'll pass Aquilonian guard towers and forts that have been co-opted by the marshaling Nemedians (identified at a distance by their scarlet dragon standards), hordes of feral dark beasts, and Aquilonian mercenaries who have apparently sold out to the enemy (they attack my Aquilonian character on sight).
Straying off the main path leads to a series of rougher trails that wind through the mountains, all of them packed with level 32 to 34 mobs that make the Border Range an ideal grinding spot for players in their low 30s. While you can definitely group to handle the pulls, soloing is the way to go here if your class (and skill) allows you to handle the packs of three and four mobs that typically appear. AoE classes in particular will be sad to leave the Border Range behind once the mobs con grey after a few levels.
Funcom's world design prowess is on display here as well, and despite falling under the Aquilonia zone sub-heading, the Border Range feels quite different than contemporaries like the Wild Lands or Thunder River. An ancient stone wall runs through the middle of the zone, and though it's tiny compared to Khitai's famous landmark, the crumbling stone and overgrown outposts do a great job of providing a convincing backdrop for the lore-driven conflict between the bordering nation-states.
The Border Range also boasts its share of interesting quests. While this particular piece is more concerned with overall impressions than exhaustive walkthroughs, I will say that taking the time to read the quest text will contribute mightily to your enjoyment of the zone. Whether you're flaying the skin from a ruthless Nemedian general or nosing around the blackened ruins of an ancient Acheronian ritual site, the Border Range has plenty of the ambiance and bleak beauty that is unique to Age of Conan.
In story terms, the Nemedian army is pushing cautiously over the border into Aquilonia due to the perceived weakness of King Conan and his tenuous grip on the Aquilonian throne. Players are tasked with the monkey-wrencher role, and when taken in concert with the Nemedian-centric quests surrounding the town of Corvo in the Wild Lands zone, the conflict provides an interesting (if static) context for the wholesale slaughter of thousands of NPCs.
The Border Range zone is also home to one of my favorite Age of Conan armor outfits. Given the upcoming appearance slot functionality, I may actually be able to equip it again, too! The Nemedian Legionary set includes head, chest, arm, hand, leg, and waist gear, all of it medium armor and covered with a spiffy chainmail design that's perfect for any character who fancies himself a soldier or a merc.
The set pieces drop off random mobs in the Border Range, and spending an hour or two powering through the packs of mobs will likely net you most of the pieces (and the rest are usually available on the cheap from the auction house). I've also run across a few light armor Nemedian Scout pieces, but I've yet to encounter any dropped plate in the area.
That about wraps up this week's journey into the Border Range. If you've got a character hovering somewhere around level 30, head to the Wild Lands and then turn south past the village of Corvo. You'll eventually come to an iron gate that leads into the zone, and if you've anything in common with me, you'll be in for several hours of immersive Hyborian-style gaming.