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Ask Massively: Age of Conan - Laissez les abattage rouler!

Kevin Stallard

It might not have the same ring as "Laissez les bons temps rouler!" (That's "Let the good times roll!" in Mardi Gras-ese, for you non Francophones out there), but we are a month away from the release of Age of Conan, and the hype machine is going to kick into high gear shortly. Here at Ask Massively, we have been awaiting this release with great anticipation as you may have noticed from our frequent references to Age of Conan in previous columns.

In fact, our friend and fan, Muskulls, even noticed the references. Trust me when we tell you that in order for something to penetrate that dense cranium of his, it takes the kind of force usually found near event horizons or Oprah's bathroom scale.

Hey stoopid,

What's the deal with Age of Conan? I'm a little burned out on World of Warcraft, and I'm looking for something else to try for a little while. Why are you so hyped on this game?


Using the logic of "If that lunkhead noticed, then it must be painfully obvious to the rest of humanity" and assuming that we've been hyping Age of Conan more than the average gaming site, we'll go ahead and tell you guys exactly why some of us are anticipating this game so eagerly. All you have to do is read past the jump. If you have a question for us here at Ask Massively, feel free to stop by our tipline or drop us an email at ask AT massively DOT com. We don't need any herbal supplements or fake Rolex watches, but if you've got a good deal on a 1957 Harley Panhead, we're all ears!

Some of you may be wondering along with Muskulls why Age of Conan is any different than any of the other "WoW Killers" out there. We don't know that it is. The notion of a "WoW Killer" is a false promise. Any game with as many subscribers as World of Warcraft will be able to coast on its own momentum for years, assuming of course that Blizzard is extremely foolish and rests on its laurels for a few years in order to give everyone else a chance to catch up. What we hear in our conversations with other gamers is the desire for "something different." Some folks say that World of Warcraft is "an MMO on training wheels." Others have experienced everything that WoW has to offer and are looking for more challenges. They realize that new models and new ranks of the same spells and abilities can only take you so far. In short, they want a new virtual world with its own rich lore and backstory, but with new challenges and gameplay.

Enter the Barbarian.

With Age of Conan, we have the same "Swords & Sorcery" setting as Ultima Online, EverQuest, EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, Dark Age of Camelot, Vanguard, and so on, and on, and on, and you get the idea. Here is the difference between all of those worlds, and the world of Conan. All of the games listed above are descended in some way from Dungeons & Dragons, and by extension, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The stories of Conan the Barbarian were written well before Tolkien put pen to paper. Robert E. Howard's world is much grimmer and darker than the land of Elves and Hobbits. One quote from Conan, in the book "Queen of the Black Coast" sums up his philosophy.

"I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom's realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer's Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content."

It isn't quite as well known as the "What is best in life?" speech from the movie, but it illustrates that the world of Conan is a lot bloodier, gutsier, and lustier (both in blood and flesh) than the world of Tolkien (and most of the derivatives thereof). Compare this world to the worlds of WoW and EverQuest. Nothing against Azeroth and Norrath, but those worlds were designed for appeal to a broad audience. We predict that you won't see any tree-borne elven villages, or cute pastoral halfling villages, or anything else designed to appeal to a younger audience in Age of Conan.

Last year, at Dragon*Con, when Jørgen Tharaldsen showed the audience a demo of Age of Conan. The character he created didn't start out in a village close to home. He was a slave on a galley ship and wound up shipwrecked in the middle of a thick, and very nasty, jungle. Navigating your way through the jungle on the way to your first "town" was your orientation into the world of Conan. That alone is a significant departure from the "start in your hometown" vibe of most existing MMO's.

According to Tharaldsen, the game is designed for a more mature audience. The game features decapitations, blood, guts, and even a fair amount of nudity. This isn't a sugar-coated version of Howard's world, it's the real deal. Once gamers get over the "Beavis and Butthead" factor, they will reach the realization that this game is actually challenging to play. The combat and magic systems require strategy and coordination. Spells can be woven together to achieve unique effects. Melee combat relies on combinations and attacks of opportunity. There be no "auto attack" here, lads.

It isn't entirely a game of blood and guts. Crafters will have a more important role in Age of Conan. Not only can crafters make weapons and armor, but they can design and build siege engines and city defenses. There are five crafting specializations inn Age of Conan, Armorsmith, Weaponsmith, Gemcutter, Alchemist, and Architect. In addition, the classes in Age of Conan aren't exactly the run-of-the-mill warriors, priests, druids, and rogues that you are so familiar with. In AoC, you have twelve classes to choose from featuring exotic names like "Dark Templar" , "Tempest of Set", and "Herald of Xotli" as well as more traditional names like "Ranger" , "Necromancer", and "Assassin".

We won't even mention the other innovations promised by the folks at Funcom. Mounted combat, siege warfare, large scale PVP, player owned cities are all elements of Age of Conan that promise a radical departure from existing MMORPGs. If you are looking for a different kind of MMORPG, or are looking to lose your training wheels, then you should definitely give Age of Conan a whirl.

That's all we have for this week in Ask Massively. If you have a question for us here at Ask Massively, feel free to stop by our tipline or drop us an email at ask AT massively DOT com.

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