Solo dungeons are nothing new when it comes to Age of Conan
. The game is peppered with many a solitary subterranean crawl, and in fact, the variety of soloable PvE locales prior to level 80 is one of the title's strong points.
The Refuge of the Apostate instance is the latest such offering, and in addition to expanding the post-80 solo options, it also breaks with Funcom
tradition by offering some pretty decent rewards relative to your time spent. On my initial run, I completed the dungeon in a shade less than two hours and came away with three rare faction trophies, 16 esteem tokens, a blue knife, and a decent amount of junk loot that netted some coin.
The instance was somewhat challenging, but this was mostly due to my rustiness with my Demo character as well as the fact that he's severely under-geared compared to most level 80s. My Demo is still running around in culture armor, and he's got a decent (but not great) weapon in the form of the Lemurian firestick. His AAs have been time-trained up to this point (and consist of bindings of the Skylord, cacodemon, and pressing and decisive strikes), and I've always got potions and food/drink handy. He's certainly not a fresh 80, but he's far removed from the decked-out characters that many people bring to the table.The dungeon
The Refuge is an atmospheric dungeon with lots of ambiance and a good selection of grotesque mobs and creepy environment textures. The story, which I won't spoil here, concerns a fallen mage of the Scarlet Circle (don't worry, you can still do the dungeon even if you're not factionally aligned with the Circle). To be honest, I felt that the quest dialogue and the general setup was the weakest part of the whole affair, and ultimately that matters very little, as most players will be running the instance for mechanical fun and factional profit. In these respects, I'd have to say it's a feather in Funcom's cap.
In terms of mechanics, the boss fights are interesting (but not very difficult), and there's some puzzle-solving if you're into that sort of thing. For new level 80s, one of the hardest things about the dungeon will be getting to it, as it is located in the southeast corner of Khitai's Kara Korum zone and surrounded by all manner of level 83 mobs (mostly spiders and forgotten spectres). On approach, I'd advise you to clear everything in your path, as the area right around the dungeon entrance and the quest-giving NPC is occasionally dangerous if there aren't any other players around to dispense with the mobs.The approach
Upon entering Kara Korum, you'll want to head east toward Ghost Hill (it's marked with a green dot on your map). If you're having trouble staying alive, pop a stamina pot and sprint for the resurrection pad -- that way, any inadvertent aggro-related deaths will result in your respawn very near the Refuge entrance. After you've made your way up the hill from the pad, head left along the path and talk to Tsaichin. She's the only human NPC in the area, and she's hard to miss in the sprawling courtyard. She'll give you a faction-neutral quest for the Refuge, and you can proceed through the trap doors to her left to enter the instance.
I'm told that you can also pick up additional faction-related quests for the Refuge from various NPCs around Khitai, but I opted to head straight for the dungeon on my first try.The tunnels and the Corpse Walker
The first portion of the instance is pretty straightforward, despite the twists and turns of the maze-like tunnels. You'll encounter a number of level 83 mobs, some solo as well as the occasional pair. Nothing too strenuous here, particularly if you're better-geared (or better at your class) than I was. Clear the tunnels and you'll eventually come upon the first boss, a rather disagreeable lass known as the Refuge Corpse Walker.
I had a bit of trouble with her initially but eventually figured out that the best way to survive as a caster is to move close to the floating volatile skulls and then double-tap out of their explosion radius. As you're avoiding (and detonating) the skulls, slap a DoT or three on the boss and spam her with your best attacks. Don't back too far around the corner from the entrance to her room, otherwise she resets to full health. Once you've dispensed with her, grab a blue loot drop from her resulting chest (if you're lucky) and head back the way you came, keeping left and going through the previously closed grate.The trap room
The next area shows off Funcom's puzzle design; you'll need to navigate a series of frost traps (which slow you down), stone guardians that come to life and melee you into submission, and walls loaded with missile darts that kill you instantly. The ultimate goal here is to make your way to the ladder in the northwest corner of the room, and there's really no set way to go about it. I had some trouble with the stone guardian pairs, as they're resistant to all forms of crowd-control and I was only occasionally able to out-damage them. Melee types and casters with better gear will probably have a much easier time of it, but eventually I made it to the ladder and climbed up to safety.
The top level of the room requires some lever-pulling and some foot speed, particularly if you want to beat the puzzle in time to earn the loot chest prior to the next save point. If you'd prefer to figure it out for yourself, it's easy enough to do via trial and error. If you just want to burn through to the next area, here's how:
From the top of the ladder...
- Turn right and pull lever one
- Turn left (back the way you came)
- Turn left and cross the bridge
- Turn left, then right and cross the bridge
- Turn right, then right again and pull lever two
- Go back the way you came
- Turn left, then left again, then left again
- Turn right and cross the bridge, turn right
- Turn right and cross the bridge near lever one
- Turn left and cross the bridge
- Turn right, then right again across the bridge
- Turn left and cross the bridge, pull lever three
- Turn right and run along the wall
- Turn right and cross the bridge,
- Turn left and cross the last bridge to the exit
Whew! You'll no doubt shave a lot of time off of this run as you memorize the route, so don't sweat it if you blow the first couple of attempts.
The next area is the Refuge library, and it's a matter of killing your way through. There are a couple of pairs of stealthed melee mobs, but if I burned through them easily, you can too. The only real trick here is avoiding aggro on more than two or possibly three mobs at once.Tian-bai's dreamscape
Finally you'll enter the sanctuary doors, where you're greeted by four versions of Tian-bai (the Refuge's main boss). Note which of the four claps his hands, as he's the one you'll want to attack in a few minutes. As you approach, you'll be whisked away to a dreamworld that bears a striking (and admittedly awesome) resemblance to the Scarecrow levels in Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum
There's a rather annoying speed debuff here, and after a minute or so, it automatically kills you. The only solution is to run across the pulse effects at the base of the pillars, as each one reduces the debuff and allows you to navigate the room towards the center platform. You'll occasionally be knocked back by Tian-bai illusions, but making it to the center and clicking the chained soul NPC is still relatively easy. Death here is irksome but relatively consequence-free. You'll start anew outside the sanctuary doors, and you'll have ample opportunity to perfect your technique.The big bad
Once you've clicked on the chained soul, it's back to the real world and the showdown with the big bad. Tian-bai isn't too difficult; I managed to down him on my second try, and the key is to avoid hitting his illusions while focusing your attacks on the real boss (you do remember which one was clapping, per above, I hope). Each misstep results in a debuff, so don't say I didn't warn you. When Tian-bai teleports you to the center of the room, double-tap your way toward any of the various pillars around the outer ring and take cover while he unleashes a nasty AoE fire spell. It's usually a one-hit kill if he lands it, and avoiding it is really the crux of the fight.
DPS him into oblivion when you can, then collect your rewards from the resulting chest. And congratulations on beating the Refuge of the Apostate!
That about does it for this week, I'm out of time (and word count), so hopefully you've enjoyed this little romp through Funcom's latest piece of content. While it's not terribly difficult, the Refuge is just plain fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else Funcom has up its endgame sleeve in the near future.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.