The Anvil of Crom - Reasons to come back to Age of Conan
A couple of weeks ago, one of Massively's more eloquent commenters referred to yours truly as "Funcom's biznitch." Well, OK, biznitch wasn't the exact word, but you get the idea. This bit of nerdrage was amusing for multiple reasons, not the least of which was that I hadn't covered (or played) Age of Conan for nearly five months at the time.

You know what, though? I do like Age of Conan, and I did miss Hyboria.

Sure it's got its issues, omissions, frustrations, and WTF-were-they-thinking design decisions, but it's also got a game world unlike any other in the MMO space. Join me after the cut for a few reasons I came back (as well as a preview of what the future holds for The Anvil of Crom).

Age of Conan - The gates of Tortage
First off, it's worth noting that I'm still kicking around both the format and the timing of this particular AoC revival. After all, there are a ton of new and interesting MMOs coming out this summer, not the least of which is AoC's Dreamworld cousin called The Secret World (shameless plug alert: Look for the first of my press beta impressions on that this Thursday). Guild Wars 2 also looms, as does EVE Online's latest expansion and the Lord of the Rings Online's long-awaited geek nirvana that is Rohan and mounted combat in the Fall.

That said, all of those games will be disappointing enough to merit continued dabbling in other titles, and there AoC will be, as pretty as ever and probably with even more content to boot. And that leads into the first reason to return.
1. Aging MMOs
For the most part, MMORPGs age rather gracefully. Sure the graphics can eventually grow stale, but the gameplay (and more importantly, the gameplay variety) is nearly always better as a title gets on in years. As unique as The Secret World's modern, urban myth-based setting may be, its launch will lack Age of Conan's four years of bug-fixing, polish, and content patches. Last year in particular saw a ton of new solo- and group-focused content make its way to Hyboria, and more is scheduled for the latter portion of 2012 and beyond.
2. Crafting revamp
I know, I know, most of you die-hard AoC fans just want to bathe in the blood of your enemies, and you're probably rolling your eyes at Funcom's decision to revisit the game's crafting mechanics. This goes back to what I said earlier about MMOs aging well, though. Hyboria is one of the more massive and immersive worlds in the genre, and it begs to be a true virtual world as opposed to yet another combat-focused progression grind.

Funcom's extensive crafting ramp is a fantastic first step in that direction. Frankly I can't tell you how excited I am to see an actual economy in Age of Conan (and one that I hope is driven by crafters and gatherers).
3. Atmospherics
This is old hat if you've read this column at any point in the past. It's almost impossible for me to write a 1000-word Age of Conan piece without going on about the art direction, the animations, and Knut Haugen's peerless score. It's simply the best the genre has to offer in those respects, so I'll just leave it at that.
4. The EU Community?
I decided to try something a little different for Hyboria 2.0 (and you can too, if you're so inclined). For now, I'm not returning to my max-level characters on the American servers. At the urging of a couple of long-time Anvil of Crom readers, I signed up for a European account and am currently making my way through yet another Tortage speed run.

Age of Conan - Hallifax the PoMWhy start over? Well, I've heard it said that the EU community is both larger and more passionate about the game than its American counterpart, and I figured it would make for some interesting articles if I were to experience that for myself. There's also a scheduling bonus, since I tend to play AoC most often when I'm at the metaphorical Massively office tower during late mornings and afternoons (Eastern time, which translates into late afternoons/evenings on the EU shards).

The one down-side to this experiment so far (beyond losing access to my characters and wealth) is the performance. Through 15 levels in Tortage, my ping has bounced around between 150 and 200. This is no problem for PvE, but I'm not sure how workable it'll be when I get into PvP minigames and the like later on.

Regardless, it should be an interesting time. If you're a fellow Yank and you want to join me on the EU servers, it requires a little bit of extra work. For one thing, you cannot have both the US and EU clients installed on the same machine (or if you can, it'll take someone with more technical know-how to clue us both in). I tried it, even going so far as to install them on separate drives on a couple of occasions, and it completely hosed my ability to patch either client.

After you've uninstalled your US client, go to the AoC account registration page and click the "sign up for a new account here" verbiage on the left side of the page. Depending on your location when you click that link, Funcom's site will redirect you to either its US or its EU portal (in my case, I saw the following page destination come up in my browser's URL bar: https://register.ageofconan.com/signup/ctrl/register/us/conan/default).

See that "us" in there? Change it to "eu," hit enter, and voila, you should see a welcome to Age of Conan Unchained EU message at the top of the screen. Proceed through the account creation process, and once you're logged into your new account, you'll see the option to download the EU client.

So there you have it. The Anvil of Crom is back (on a bi-weekly basis, at least until we get past the glut of summer MMO launches). I'm currently rolling as a Priest of Mitra named Hallifax on the Crom server, and I'm currently seeking a guild, a semi-regular adventuring group, or both.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Have a look at the world's greatest concept art. I know you've missed it.

The greatest concept art ever
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Jef Reahard is an Age of Conan beta and launch day veteran as well as the creator of Massively's bi-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.