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The Digital Continuum: Reentering the Age of Conan

Kyle Horner

When I decided to come back and check out Final Fantasy XI, I'm fairly certain that I was in the small minority of people returning in that moment. With Funcom offering previous subscribers a chance to take a second look at Age of Conan, I somehow doubt I'll be in a minority this time around.

So here we are, coming back to the digital realm of Hyboria just past a year since everyone first ventured into its lush and deadly landscapes. What will I find? What will I think? These are just a few of the many questions that go through my mind as I boot up the game for the first time in a while.

I'll come clean on something, however. Earlier this year I did actually attempt a return to Age of Conan for a brief period of time. It was early January and I wanted to take a look at how things had progressed since Craig Morrison had taken over the reigns. My visit was brief, mostly because I don't think I was ready to change MMOs, since many of my friends were still involved with Wrath of the Lich King.

So coming back now after the big item system update should prove to be an interesting experience. I've only logged in three times before this writing -- each time consisting of a few hours of play -- but that was plenty of time to tinker with the new item system and romp around in the game world. However, before discussing that let's quickly address some of the many changes since the game's launch.

For starters, performance is much smoother on the very same machine that last year had all sorts of issues. Granted, I'm running Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 but I've spoken to a few friends who've recently played on Vista machines without any glaring problems. Also, my experience with the DX10 "test" mode has been mixed, but then again this isn't the finalized version, so take that with a grain of salt. The game still looks wonderful in DX9 mode, anyhow. My exploration occurred throughout Tortage with a new character and in the Cimmerian areas with a higher level character.

If you're looking for PvP discussions, this probably isn't the best article to find it -- yet. I haven't had enough time to familiarize myself with the changes there. On the other hand, I can say Funcom has definitely added plenty of new PvE content. I really don't need to explore the world for that, though -- it's something they've been quite happy to discuss all on their own.

Mostly what's been impressed upon me so far is that AoC is largely the same game design without all the problems. The item system has of course changed something fundamental about the game's design, though.

It's really not that complicated of a concept but I'm sure the work involved was anything but simple. Essentially, the original design called for as little emphasis on equipment as possible. Of course, AoC still being a largely traditional MMO made this something the player base didn't enjoy at all. It effectively made equipment almost entirely cosmetic, which would've been fine if equipment weren't being used as carrots for instances and PvP gameplay -- but it was.

This, as you can imagine, was a big problem. Why switch to a level 70 dagger if your level 20 version pretty much acts the same, and potentially even looks the same? With the new system this problem is solved. Gear -- and all the player stats -- have been completely reworked so as not to be obscure and vague. Now, when you get a dagger that has +22 dexterity and +20 strength, you'll know it's better than your +18 dexterity and +12 strength counterpart. It seems obvious in hindsight, but when the development team was creating the original system they thought it was what people wanted. Like the saying goes: They can't all be winners.

Ultimately, I'm going to need some more time to bring deeper AoC discussion to the table. My general feeling on the game right now is that I love the setting, but have a hard time getting into the flow of things. Even for an MMO, AoC has a lot of backtracking, but since I've got two weeks free I'll be doing everything I can to muscle past that so I can hopefully get to the juicy parts.

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