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The Anvil of Crom: Can AoC survive The Old Republic?

Jef Reahard

Can Age of Conan survive the onrushing BioWare MMO apocalypse?

That's a fair question, and if you've been playing AoC lately, or really any MMORPG, you've probably heard of a competing game called Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you haven't, well, I don't believe you. Anyway, you may or may not be aware that BioWare announced the official launch date for its MMO opus a while back, and barely a day goes by when I don't hear a guildmate, a groupmate, or someone in global chat talk about it.

That's Age of Conan's global chat, in case you were wondering, and as a long-time fan of Funcom's barbaric fantasy MMO, I can't help but be a bit concerned about its future health after December 20th.

Age of Conan - Turan harbor
While there's no shortage of competing MMOs that have already been draining Age of Conan's playerbase since its May 2008 launch, there's never quite been one with the size, scope, and rabid fanbase to rival what's coming on December 20th. Well, OK, maybe there has and it's called World of Warcraft, but WoW launched four years before AoC, and it's been quite some time since it was considered the new hotness.

Star Wars: The Old Republic must be making MMO executives everywhere a little bit nervous, as it's got the triple-whammy of huge IP, beloved developer, and unabashed trendiness providing considerable wind beneath its pre-release wings. Even if you're heavily invested in other games, chances are good that you'll at least try SWTOR, amirite? I myself will be moonlighting in a galaxy far, far away at some point, and while I don't plan on making a permanent home there, it will likely take a chunk of my gaming time for a month or two.

Anyhow, Funcom is staffed by some pretty smart folks, and they're no doubt working to offset the siren song of The Old Republic (and later, Guild Wars 2) by timing Age of Conan's content releases, offering promotions, and the like. If you've been reading The Anvil of Crom for a while, you know that 2011 has been a watershed year for new content, and 2012 looks to bring as much, if not more, to the table.

Age of Conan - Dead Man's Hand beach
Looking at both games objectively, then, I have to ask: What does Age of Conan have that SWTOR does not, and is it enough to stem the flood of game-hoppers (or at least, return a few of them to the fold when the new and shiny wears off)?

First of all, there's the obvious draw of free-to-try vs. a subscription fee. If you've been unlucky enough to miss out on TOR's beta periods to this point, you're running short on chances to get some free hands-on time prior to the point that you'll need to fork over at least 50 bucks. Age of Conan, on the other hand, features a huge chunk of its gameplay for absolutely nothing but your time (and the first 20 levels or so are very similar to the fully voiced story- and cutscene-driven gameplay that you'll find in BioWare's latest endeavor).

Sci-fi vs. fantasy is a little too obvious to spend a lot of virtual ink on here, but the games' respective approaches to art direction aren't too far off that discussion path. On the one hand, you've got an Old Republic that is highly stylized and populated by what some would call cartoonish avatars. On the other hand, you've got a Hyboria that is, in most zones, almost photo-realistic. The avatars leave a little to be desired in terms of the uncanny valley effect, but the environments are quite convincing in a way that TOR can't quite match.

The underlying IPs are pretty different. Yeah, they both feature magic and melee, but that's about where the similarities end, as Star Wars goes off on myriad pop culture and mythological tangents -- most with an eye toward kid-friendliness -- while Conan revels in his adult themes, crass language, and blood and bewbs galore.

Then there's the combat gameplay. To avoid getting into too much NDA trouble, I'll just say that if you've played World of Warcraft (or really, any tab-targeting themepark MMO), you're already on the path to being a SWTOR combat expert. Age of Conan's combat is divergent enough to require both more preparation and more attention to detail during the execution phases, and while it's not "harder" per se, it does demand more of your time and effort (at least on the melee side of the coin).

Age of Conan - Turan pirate cove
These are just a few of the similarities and differences; an exhaustive list would take the better part of four or five articles. What it boils down to is that despite being themepark MMOs based on world-renowned IPs and featuring similar gameplay mechanics, TOR and AoC are different enough that each offers a welcome respite from the other. Given the fact that AoC's content can now be accessed for pennies on the dollar, I think it's the perfect companion game in case TOR burnout sets in earlier than you might like.

That's basically my way of saying, don't worry, it'll be cool (even though I didn't know that before I sat down to write this week's column; these things can be therapeutic on occasion). That's about all I've got for you this week in terms of content.

I do have one housekeeping detail to bring to your attention, and that is that The Anvil of Crom will be undergoing a bit of a format change in subsequent installments. Some exciting things are happening behind the scenes here at Massively, and a couple of those exciting things have necessitated that I move the column from weekly to bi-weekly for a while. You'll still be getting the best Age of Conan coverage on the intarwebs, along with plenty of exclusives from Funcom and features you'll find nowhere else.

For the next little bit, though, you'll be getting them every other Sunday. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you in two weeks.

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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

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