The Anvil of Crom: Playing through Dead Man's Hand

The Anvil of Crom - Guide to Dead Man's Hand
A few weeks ago I teamed with Funcom to bring you an exclusive preview of the Dead Man's Hand solo instance featured in Age of Conan's new Savage Coast of Turan adventure pack. Over the past couple of days I finally managed to spend a bit of time playing through it, and for the most part it's been a lot of fun.

I say "for the most part" because I did experience a couple of gnat-bite annoyances in terms of acquiring the proper quests and completing a couple of the boss fights. Overall, though, it's definitely an instance worth checking out (though I'm not sure I'll be adding it to my daily rotation like I did with the Breach and Forgotten City dungeons).

Age of Conan - Dead Man's Hand overlook
The warmup

First things first. If you've been to Turan previously, you can ignore this next part. If you haven't, you'll need to travel to Khemi and talk to Tali in the merchant's alley. Make sure you cycle through her dialogue until you get the Voyage to the Savage Coast quest, otherwise you won't be able to speak with the caravan master who speeds you on your way to the new Vilayet Sea region.

Said caravan master is located near the Khitai caravan master in the Stygian capital, and you'll need to either swim or pay a few copper to be transported across Khemi harbor where you'll find him near a cluster of merchant NPCs.

Age of Conan - ArtusAs you load onto the Ardashir City dock, you'll see a ship immediately to your right, and on it you'll find two pieces of parchment stuck to a table with a couple of daggers. Clicking on one will take you to the Dead Man's Hand instance, while the other leads to the Isle of the Iron Statues dungeon.

Mark this location in your mind, since you'll need to perform a few menial tasks prior to clicking the document. Your taskmaster is Artus, Conan's compatriot from his recent adventure on the big screen and a renowned Turanian pira... er, merchant. You'll find Artus on the Ardashir City docks very near to your zone-in point, so strike up a conversation with the old chap to complete Tali's quest.

Strangely, Artus offers you nothing but idle chit-chat when you're done, and it was here that I took a moment to simply ask my barbaric brethren in AoC's global chat how to go about getting to Dead Man's Hand. If you have the time (which I didn't, unfortunately), you'll eventually discover the path for yourself simply by wandering around the city and talking to NPCs. If you want the hurry-up-and-get-to-it version, though, that's what I'm here for.

Head to the left around Ardashir City's circular outer street until you see an archway, beyond which stand three Turanian soldiers. Move toward Sergeant Pirooz and you'll trigger a brief event that will automatically add a quest to your journal (I'd keep at least five quest slots open before traveling to Turan). Once you've acquired Assault on the Armament, talk to Pirooz. He'll send you to the Ardashir Fort to meet some more NPCs. Talk to them to get a bit more backstory, and make sure you pick up The Admirable General quest from General Arman.

Exit the fort, question the Kozak prisoner nearby, and return to General Arman. After you report on the prisoner's tale, Funcom leaves you hanging a little bit in terms of where to go next. Head back across the bay to Artus and you'll find an exclamation point over his head. Grab the Artus the Merchant quest and make your way out of the city to the Red Brotherhood hideout. It's worth noting that high-level characters will breeze through this area since all the mobs are gray. If you're in your 50s, though, you'll probably have to spend a little time cutting through pirate NPCs as you approach the alcove.

Talk to the drunken pirates, click on the crate, and you guessed it, it's time to check in with Artus again. At this point, he'll give you three more quests, but the only one you care about for Dead Man's Hand is Messenger in a Barrel. Accept it and go click on the parchment I told you about earlier.

Whew.

Age of Conan - mob train
Dead Man's Hand

With all that prep work out of the way, we can finally get down to brass tacks in terms of the instance. Also, as I mentioned before, I was kind of in a hurry to get on with things, but Funcom has taken the time to inject some interesting and well-written quest dialogue into the adventure pack, and I recommend you partake of it on at least one of your characters.

Anyway, the actual instance part of Dead Man's Hand is pretty straightforward. Every objective is clearly marked on your map, and there's not a lot of guesswork involved aside from boss strategies. In addition to the Messenger in a Barrel quest that you already have, there are a lot of other quests in the strange fishing village near your zone-in point.

Age of Conan - VayaTalk to all of the NPCs if you want a bit of flavor (and if you can stand the creepy crawly everyone's-laughing-like-a-maniac atmospherics). Pay particular attention to Fariborz, Zormayel, Tanaz, Amineh, and Delaram, as they'll hand out various one-off and chain quests that will make up most of your Dead Man's Hand experience. Though some of the quests are apparently repeatable (judging by their appearance in the cool-down tab of my journal), I wasn't able to re-take them on my second visit to the instance. To be honest, I'm not sure whether this is a bug or I was doing something wrong, and I'll update the article as soon as I find out for certain.

When you finish your first round of quests, keep in mind that you're not done with the instance just yet. Heading back to Artus on the Ardashir dock (by clicking on the beached boat where you zoned in to Dead Man's Hand) nets you some more turn-in XP as well as three fresh quests. Go back over to the ship, click on the note again, and re-enter the instance (entry is not on a daily timer like the Khitai instances introduced earlier this summer).

It's time for a couple of boss fights, and if your style is like mine, The Weakling, the Warrior, and the Wanton quest may irritate you a little bit (particularly the boss fight against Drostan in the crater). I initially died under a swarm of minion mobs (literally about 20 of them; see the screenshot in which I'm running for my life above). Respawning brought them all back, so I finally dropped the quest, retook it, and tried again.

I eventually discovered that the key was to keep DPSing Drostan (even as he slows you and runs away) and to quickly dispose of the spellcaster he summons atop the temple (doing so seemed to prevent further minion adds). Being able to heal yourself (pack good potions if you're not a healer) and sprinting to following him closely when he runs away at 75% and 50% health is not optional. Your success is also gear-dependent, of course, and if you're curious, my level 80 Demonologist has a couple of pieces of purple Khitai armor and about half of the alternate advancements available. He puts out an obscene amount of DPS and has four decent crowd-control moves, but he also dies quite quickly if a mob so much as looks at him funny.

In any event, the first playthrough worked out fine, and due to all the running around I had to do, it took me a good two to three hours to complete the entire instance. In terms of rewards, I got no usable gear but did get a fair amount of mastery XP (the place scaled to my level 80 character, and each mob gave me around 250 experience, not to mention the large chunks available via quest turn-ins).

Age of Conan - Dead Man's Hand jungle path
Initial impressions

In terms of the world design, Dead Man's Hand does nothing to diminish Funcom's reputation for churning out stellar visuals, interesting dark fantasy locations, and peerless music and sound effects. The island, while small, packs a punch in terms of diverse terrain, featuring everything from picturesque sandy beaches to dense jungle undergrowth and a blasted, other-worldly crater. West of the ramshackle fishing village is a path that leads to this huge crater, and it's filled with more demented villagers as well as boiling pools of acid. There are a lot of dead bodies thrown in for good measure, too, giving rise to the instance's name and allowing Funcom another opportunity to show off its gruesome art direction.

Age of Conan - Dead Man's Hand skeletonsCuriously, there's a lot of empty space on the island; you can run or swim around the outside of it and see nice-looking stretches of tropical scenery set off by gunmetal-gray skies filled with storm clouds. Wildlife is surprisingly sparse, so the instance is not an effective grinding spot. You also have to pay attention to your surroundings, particularly when swimming in certain inlets, lest you find yourself an unwitting extra in the AoC version of Jaws.

In terms of lore and story, some of the quests are undeniably bizarre. Yes, you will be playing matchmaker for a desperate, elderly prostitute and a forlorn hunk of manhood inexplicably brooding his life away in the wilderness. Much of the narrative also takes place in and around a whorehouse, and of course there's plenty of adult dialogue, wince-inducing mental images, and bare-boobed NPCs.

In terms of mechanics, Funcom again shows its disregard for the traditional MMO leash as it applies to aggro radius in most themeparks, and your desire to run quickly through areas to complete quests may occasionally be thwarted by this fact. For example, I was chased by an ever-growing train of hellish savages from their murky swamp homes on the island's southeast corner all the way back to the docks where I first zoned in. I literally ran out of island in my quest to break aggro, so I finally turned around, and with some annoyance, took the five minutes required to burn them all to a crisp. Keep in mind that the distance here was about twice as long as it looks on the map because they chased me through ravines, up mountainsides, down switchbacks, and through dense underbrush.

That said, I enjoyed my sojourn through Dead Man's Hand. There were a couple of hiccups in terms of knowing where to go, as well as a lack of clarity regarding the repeatable nature of some of the quests, but ultimately it's an intriguing little single-player minigame within the larger game. Though I don't recommend it if you're looking to quickly advance your character (nor does it help you if you're on the Khitai faction gear treadmill), it's great for mid-level folks with an afternoon to spend on some dark storytelling and a solitary adventure.

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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.