Anvil of Crom
Normally I avoid top 10 (or top five, or top whatever) lists like the bubonic plague. I've talked before about how they're not my thing, and with the exception of our own Justin Olivetti and his always chuckle-worthy Perfect Ten, I tend to avoid reading them (not to mention writing them)!

This week, though, I'm indulging in The Anvil of Crom's second top-random-number list, and I'm doing it in response to two reader mails that asked me why their respective authors should give Age of Conan a second shot. In short, there's never been a better time to try (or return to) AoC, so join me after the cut for six reasons why.

Age of Conan - Khemi docks
Number six: Melee combat

Why six? Eh, I dunno, it seemed like a good number. Also, I've been watching BSG reruns of late. Anyway, one of the first things that new players notice about Age of Conan is its melee combat and the way it differs from MMORPG convention. Yes, ultimately it's all about additional key presses and gear, but alongside of that there is a real tactical element to the battles in terms of positioning, movement, and making the right choices based on whom (or what) you're fighting.

Keep in mind that this complexity can be a blessing or a curse. It's great if AoC is your only MMO, as it inserts quite a bit of theorycrafting (or at the very least, forum research) into your daily game diet. If you're a game-hopper, though, or simply looking for the no-hassle enjoyment that easy-mode classes bring, you're better off looking elsewhere.

Or you could roll a Demonologist.

In any case, most MMOs claim to have noteworthy combat, and a growing number even apply the word "action" to their marketing materials, but Age of Conan is one of the very few that can actually claim as much with a straight face.

Age of Conan - Khemi smokeNumber five: Ambiance

This is a recurring theme throughout the life of this column, so apologies if you long-time readers have heard this before. No MMORPG can compete with AoC's mixture of graphical prowess, audio textures, and an evocative and evolving score, all of which mesh together to create a real sense of looking in on -- if not existing in -- another world.

For the gameplay-over-graphics crowd, AoC features core gameplay tenets that are nearly identical to World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and many other fantasy themepark staples, so you may as well have the superior graphics, animations, and the blockbuster score too, amirite?

Number four: Gratuitous violence and zomg, is that a nipple?

This is pretty self-explanatory, and as Massively is still regarded as a family-friendly website despite my best efforts, I'll leave it at that.

Number three: It's trendy

Conan is probably at the apex of his popularity this summer, due in large part to the feature film reboot starring Khal Drogo (sorry, Jason Momoa). Funcom is wisely capitalizing on the cross-promotional potential here, and the resulting Savage Coast of Turan content pack will be geared toward mid-level players when it debuts. That means you have plenty of time to get a character up to 50 (and get your head around the divergent melee combat mechanics) if you start now. For those of you who are especially impatient, Funcom is giving away free level 50 characters to help you experience Dead Man's Hand and the rest of the new stuff in a more timely fashion.

There's also the fact that the game's population is higher than it's ever been -- if you believe Funcom's latest press blurb. Some 300,000 gamers have flocked to Hyboria since Unchained brought about the free-to-try patch, and while I'm not sure how many of those 300,000 are still logging in on a daily basis, the servers do feel more alive than they have since launch.

Number two: Trolls hate it!

OK, so that's not the best reason to devote time and/or money to an MMORPG, but it's an added side bonus at the very least. For some reason, Funcom in general and Age of Conan in particular attract the most relentless form of internet troll known to man. You know the guys I mean. They're still crying about AoC's less-than-stellar launch (from May of 2008!) or waxing on about how "Failcom" lied, broke promises, slept with their mothers, killed their dogs, and generally made their lives unbearable in some form or fashion.

Don't get me wrong; I criticize Funcom's design omissions more often than not, but Failcom trolls take the absurdity surrounding MMO discourse to another level -- particularly the ones who insist that the game has failed or is failing. If you'd like to indulge in a bit of reverse trolling, the thing that needles these guys more than anything else is the fact that the game continues to not only operate but expand and turn a profit.

Number one: It's (sort of) free

This is the big one for a lot of folks, and despite the lake of tears spilled over the fact that Unchained is a glorified free trial instead of a full-blown handout, you can nonetheless experience a large portion of Hyboria on someone else's dime. I won't rehash the F2P services matrix here, but I will link it, and I'll also reiterate the fact that the vast majority of the game's 1-80 content is free despite any bellyaching you may have heard to the contrary. Unless you're a jobless powergamer, said content will probably sustain you for the better part of three months, if not more.

So there you have it, my second (and hopefully last) top-whatever list. It turned out a bit more tongue-in-cheek than I initially envisioned, but nonetheless I hope that it provides a tidy summary of the reasons I gave a couple of you guys via email.

Until next week.

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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.