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We built this city: Age of Conan's constructible PvP city system previewed

Michael Zenke

During the week of GDC we talked briefly about the mounted combat in Age of Conan, part of the demo run for us by Gaute Godager. There was a great deal more to the demo, though, content very much worth talking about. The event started by reshashing the game's starting point, your rise from slave to adventurer in the wake of a ship wreck. We've discussed that experience, both in our own coverage of the game and in reference to work done by other sites.

Probably the most interesting element of the demo, though, was the so-far little seen guild and guild city elements. Essentially a sort of RTS-lite element plopped down in the dead center of the game's endgame PvP, Age of Conan's city construction takes the crafting and housing elements we've seen in other games and explodes them out in some interesting directions. Read on for details on this new way of tackling a well-known game system.

Gallery: GDC 08: Age of Conan Preview | 45 Photos

The city construction element actually begins by the developers creating a new guild. Guild creation is as simple as clicking on some UI elements and giving your organization a name. One person can start a guild. In the beta demo we saw, it only took two players to make that guild 'permanent', but the team members stated pretty flatly that the game at launch would require more members to stick around. At the point the guild elements kicked off the demo PC had been running the client for some time, and as a result they ran into some heavy technical difficulties; rebooting, restarting, and clearing out the guild elements was required before we could move on.

Once we were back up and running, the developers headed to the Lakeesha plains – a special instanced zone designed specifically for building your guild city. In order to build your city, you'll need a guild of at least 30 players. Participating in city construction will require your character be at least level 40, but it wasn't clear whether you'll need 30 level 40 characters before you can enter the plains or not.

The Lakeesha zone features a number of unique elements that you won't find in the typical adventuring areas. Building markers, small concrete rocks, dot the center of the huge map. They lay out the basic structure of a city, your guild's home and center of power in the world of Hyborea. The first building your guild will be raising is the Great Hall, a hub for all the resources your proud company will be gathering in the Lakeesha zone.

The zone, aside from providing ample room for constructing a city, also features resource nodes that you and your fellow guildies will be harvesting with vigor. Each building and feature that you're going to want to add to your city will require a certain amount of resources. Most buildings are going to require large amounts, typically hundreds and hundreds of stones, logs, and other resource types. Once the requisite amount of resources is collected, guildies can open an interface on a building marker and begin construction on your city's structures.

Markers only note the possible placement opportunities for buildings – what buildings are actually placed seem to be up to the guild. Walls are pretty much set in specific places, but whether you want the barracks (or whatever) here or over there is up to you. It was unclear whether this means guilds could specialize in specific areas of the game by making different building choices, or whether the placement of these buildings is purely aesthetic.

Walls are placed in specific areas to form an inner baily, which will surround the most important building in the player city: the Keep. The Keep is set up high on a hill, around which the walls form a sort of screen. Beyond those walls are most of the city buildings, and additional walls can be placed around that level to create another screen to protect the city from ... invaders.

The possibility of invasion will apparently be the apex of endgame PvP combat. Guilds can lay siege to opposing guild cities, in what sounds like a mammoth contest between the two factions. Invaders will have to burn through the outer ring of buildings and walls to reach the baily before sacking the Keep itself.

As interesting as all this sounds, there were some big questions left in the air at the end of the demonstration. How frequent will guilds have to fend off these attacks? Are they going to be 'scheduled' somehow to ensure that a group has a chance to fight off the invading army? How much angst will the cause the first time a guild loses their fully built-out city to an exploitive PvP guild?

Despite these questions, there's a lot of potential here; like with many systems in Conan, a breathtakingly ambitious new approach to design we've seen in many other games. Let's hope their launch date just a few months away allows them the opportunity to answer all of these remaining issues to their (and our) satisfaction.

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