Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures Hands-On: Combat, Early Quests, and High-Level Sorcery

We get our hands dirty with this brutal and violent massively multiplayer game based on the classic tale of high fantasy's most bloodthirsty barbarian.

While many modern fantasy tales draw inspiration from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novel, those hallowed tales weren't the only classic works of fiction to emerge from the early 20th century. In the early 1930s, author and poet Robert E. Howard created Conan the Barbarian, a mighty warrior and cunning scoundrel who was later immortalized on the big screen by a certain California state governor, and whose likeness will grace the upcoming massively multiplayer game Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. This game from developer Funcom and publisher Eidos will draw upon the dark and violent world of Hyborea that Howard created, and will feature highly distinctive battles that more closely resemble an action game than that of the usual automatic combat you tend to see in games like this. Age of Conan will also offer a lengthy single-player component, three playable races from three different fantasy nations, and the ability to adventure with other like-minded players (or even clash with them in mounted or siege combat). Our recent time with the game was focused on diving into combat as both a melee character and a magic-using character.

What is best in life? Hacking and slashing your way to victory, for one.

We began our tour of the game by quickly creating a new character from the game's character creation screen, which is actually the belly of a slave galley from which your character escapes with a case of amnesia. We quickly created a new Cimmerian character (Cimmeria is the homeland of Conan and one of the nations of origin you can choose for your character, along with Aquilonia and Stygia) and jumped into action. At the beginning of your adventure, your character washes up naked on a beach bordering a jungle, armed only with a fragment of an oar as a weapon.

Your first quest is given to you by a fellow refugee, who speaks to you in an interactive cinematic sequence complete with camera close-up and branching dialogue options, reminiscent of single-player games like Knights of the Old Republic and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. As we soon learned from this conversation, another survivor from the slave galley has washed ashore--the head slaver, who has fled to the nearby town and must be slain before he can alert the authorities to your presence. Along our path, we also found a half-naked Stygian woman bound to opposing trees by her wrists--we spoke with the woman in another cinematic dialogue to find that in order to free her, we'd have to forcibly convince a scavenger to part with the key. We readied our splintered oar and went hunting.

The early version of the game we played already has a working interface that nests most major menus (such as your character's inventory and skills) along the top of the screen, while including a mini-map in the bottom-right corner of the screen and your combat menu at the bottom center of the screen. In the PC version of the game, by default, you use your W, A, S, and D keys to move as you would in a first-person shooter, and you also use your Q, E, and your number keys 1 to 3 to perform melee weapon attacks, which include a forward thrust (the 2 key), overhand diagonal slashes (1 and 3 keys), and horizontal slashes (Q and E); all five buttons are also represented onscreen as labeled icons. When you begin your career, you'll have no real skill in combat, though your enemies will also be weaklings.

When you're not crushing your enemies and seeing them driven before you, you'll pick up quests from different characters.

Over time, you'll learn different combat "stance" skills that let you perform various flashy combination attacks that can deal great damage to groups of enemies. You can equip to your active combat bar at the bottom of the screen. Once you have a stance ready, certain icons (such as either the Q icon or the E icon) will light up, automatically prompting you to press that key to start one of your equipped attack combinations. Once you initiate one of these attack strings, the next key in sequence will light up and guide you through. You'll have a limited (but generous) amount of time to input the correct next attack in sequence, and more sophisticated strings may branch out and let you perform different follow-ups. All attacks will consume a certain amount of stamina (which is measured by a meter onscreen) and will require you to briefly wait for them to "cool down" before you can use them again. While you can't actively parry or block incoming attacks, you can double-tap any of your direction keys to quickly leap into a certain direction, a la Unreal Tournament.

Once we got comfortable with the combat controls, we defeated the scavenger and freed the maiden, who followed us through the lush, densely forested jungle on our way to town, fighting a few mangy bandits along the way. Since these enemies didn't pose much of a challenge, we skipped ahead to an autumnal mountain valley where Pict savages, who in this case vaguely resembled Aztec warriors, occupied numerous camps, waylaying a woebegone merchant who tasked us with clearing them out. Our character was bumped up to level 13 (the game will let you advance to an experience level of 80 at launch) and joined with a few other characters in a party to hack away at our enemies. We followed a winding path down into the valley, fighting not only warriors, but Pict wizards (tough adversaries who summoned electricity-based shields around their bodies, then leapt forward into the fray to pummel us in hand-to-hand combat), massive demon warriors who attacked us with tree-trunk clubs, and giant bats, whom the Picts presumably kept as pets. We were actually hard-pressed to keep track of all the action in the toughest fights, especially against multiple groups of enemies.

While you can manually click on enemies to target them, the game also has an auto-targeting system that locks onto the nearest enemy you're facing and attacking. However, if you're using a string of attacks that sweeps around wildly, you can damage multiple enemies at once--just make sure your attack animations don't carry you too far away from your foes, or that you aren't blinded by all the blood flying around. Funcom stated at the outset that the game would be designed around an ESRB rating of "M" for mature content, and there's no question the game will live up to the rating, especially since it also has dramatic killing blows that occur randomly based on your character's skill in combat. Dramatic killing blows include goring enemies on your sword or decapitating them, and result in a temporary blood-splatter effect on your screen.

The game will have huge, fully explorable environments.

Finally, we skipped ahead to an even more challenging area, a huge, snowy mountain pass that looked extremely picturesque when viewed from its peak--but this wasn't just a backdrop. It was actually a fully built environment we could walk completely across and through. This area was inhabited by Pict tribes in the valley, but also by Nordic Vanir bands in the foothills. For this area, we were able to take a level-55 character for a spin, this time as a magic-wielding demonologist who wielded various elemental powers, such as fiery and lighting-based spells, as well as "debuff" spells that weakened our foes. Demonologists will also apparently be able to summon ally creatures as "pets," though we weren't able to see them in our time with the game. Our character was able to obliterate our enemies from afar by using a lightning-based stun spell to root them in place, then blast them to smithereens using a long-distance lightning bolt spell and an "area effect" heat spell that rained down fire within a radius we picked before casting it.

Age of Conan seems to be coming along quite well. The combat system is very different than anything you've seen in a massively multiplayer game, and it's definitely brutal and bloody, for those who are looking for that sort of thing. We're looking forward to getting our hands on more of the game, including more of the single-player portion and the higher-level siege battles. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates on the game as we approach its launch later this year.

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Discussion

73 comments
CapcomGroove2
CapcomGroove2

can sum1 pls tell me how much the monthly subscription is in the U.K.?

Shadowbane02
Shadowbane02

i say its 50/50, it'll either make or break online mmo's

campo0000
campo0000

This game IS going to be the one that changes the face of MMO's and puts the intensity into them. Don't let it be the best game no one played! It's going the be the best game u've ever played so support it, get it, and don't be left out!

samir_ghofran
samir_ghofran

I think we should wait for reviews, because this game is kind of risky games that can be a real superb and will change the face of MMOs or just an unpopular game (best game no one played).

CapcomGroove2
CapcomGroove2

dude we need an mmorpg that has blood spilling in copious amounts, its annoying in wow that nothing bleeds and theres always that comical kiddy nature to it, i could go a hit a dire mottled boar for a minute until it dies or i could slice clean through a crazed barbarian. maybe it dosnt come across how i want it to but..the point is its for an older audience. I think the game looks great, just hope that its not riddled with issues on the first release like hellgate.

bhaskarchatta
bhaskarchatta

Tooo Much blood splashing game. I think.. It looks great but must wait for some days to read all the reviews...

fkutrn
fkutrn

Well, I have read this twice to make sure what I am going to say is right. From what I can see you cant " actively parry or block " which means it will be a passive ability much like wow or any other mmo. So I wouldn't get discouraged. This game looks great and I really hope it's as good as all the hype, plus I have been following it for a while and would be very disappointed. Bad idea to make the game for the xbox 360 cause I agree it would suck. But on thier web page it says there are two teams, so it won't be a half dedicated game as napoca says. But all I can say is it better be good to release the same time as warhammer. But as for me I will just wait a month anyway and see what the reviews say =)

napoca515151
napoca515151

Let me further add that with graphics like that you can kiss massive battles goodbye and say hello to massive lag. You can't "have your cake and eat it too" when it comes to successful MMOs and the balance between lag and graphics. Most people don't even like Vista, which is required for DX10, and so most people won't be able to touch this game.

napoca515151
napoca515151

Three things tell me that this MMORPG will be good, but not even close to WoW's appeal. 1) It has a single player campaign, which means they didn't focus solely on the MMO part of it. 2) It's being built for the 360 as well, which also shows a lack of focus. MMORPGs are meant for PCs, consoles just won't cut it. Expect bugs. 3) It's going to be rated M because I bet they think it'll get them better publicity. It's not GTA, it's Conan, and it will backfire, if only slightly. Finally, Warhammer Online will come out, and wipe the floor with Conan, Eve EQ2 and all the "garbage" MMOs, Conan included. They're not actually garbage, they all just lack that something which prevents greatness.

noupa
noupa

I think the game developers enjoy blood more than the gamers do. Aye no blocking and parrying makes this seem rather brutish to me.

can0of0cheese
can0of0cheese

The lack of parries and other blocks is kinda sad, but it would be kinda hard putting in block keys to and well we want a mmo not doa. Lets just hope the dodge system work good enough to let low levels kill high levels. A sword in the eye is a sword is still a sword in the eye.

livegamer09
livegamer09

ya i dont like how u cant block attacks that only makes it easier for people to damage you and i agree with u nugxl

nugXL
nugXL

I'm not sure if I'm liking the inability to block or parry and all it is, is running around and mindlessly hacking away at everybody, sure it's conan but c'mon. The blood makes me cringe too. Not that I don't like blood, bring on the gory, BUT each sword slash doesn't need to look like a killing blow. The "300" inspired blood effects work in 300 because the soldiers would die in 1 to 2 slashes or stabs.. not hacking at each other 5-10 times. As well as the screen blood splatter is a child's play attempt after seeing it on Gears of War. I'm hoping that the game will be more refined by the time of its release 2 months from now.

Sparkeh
Sparkeh

This game should be pretty cool. It certainly promises a lot but whether or not it produces the quality it boasts is another thing. Personally im really looking forward to this game and hope that it does live up to the hype. Also for the many many many people who cant quite grasp it yet, Yes you will have to pay a monthly subscription. Its an MMO and you will rarely find one that doesn't require a monthly subscription. Also on that basis I must add that I feel a bit sorry for the Xbox 360 owners who will purchase this game. Because they will have to pay the subscription for Xbox Live as well as the games subscription. I guess thats what you get for using a poxy console to try and equal to the PC. Which lets face it will never happen... Having said all that it reminds me of my concern about Xbox 360 users. So far all MMO's that have included console players have sucked for the sheer fact that they have left the interface and the like very basic and boring to accomidate for the consolers... All in all consoles really do suck and shouldn't be introduced into MMO games. Unless of course they have their own console servers. PC users and console users mixing on one server will just leave abuse I think... We shall see anyway...

Agulf
Agulf

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

silunt
silunt

Been following the AoC site for quite a while, definately looks to have alot of potential but I'm withholding judtgement after that ridiculous release known as 'Vanguard'. Something I just had to mention, I liked oblivion but it was NOT anywhere as great as people keep saying. With every monster in the game same level as you and that insanely boring magic system well....

1stRifle
1stRifle

Nah, it can't face oblivion, it good game though. ;)

kalcaron
kalcaron

Do you have to pay to play this? I assume you do.

b1z0
b1z0

I agree with HellsKing. It's time to get off the world of warcrack and move on to something else....or something more addictive =P

Kanaric
Kanaric

[quote]this game might actualy crush oblivion[/quote] And you might actually be an idiot.

HellsKing
HellsKing

I love WOW, but it's time to move on. I hope this is the game I've been waiting for.

sirkel28
sirkel28

This Conan game looks like it has potential to be good. To the EQ2 fanboy below, I tried EQ2 for about two months and had enough, it is not as good as WoW IMO. Everyone has their own opinion, but the player base pretty much tells the story as far as which is more popular.

vitaly12
vitaly12

Dam this is teh best MMO guys, the combat and the weapons and armorys are awsom, this game Pownes WOW.!!! If u wana play a real game play CONAN,. YEA for the glory . FOR SPARTA lmao

asaphemx
asaphemx

Age of Conan: H.A. will be the best MMO for PC. DX10 RLz

bayfire66
bayfire66

Oh Eq 2 is not gettin owned By Wow like the guy made a comment about that. Actually EQ2 is taking wow players away.Before you make stupid comments like that u need to do your research.

bayfire66
bayfire66

I'll stick with EQ2 Thank You Very much.

shadystxxx
shadystxxx

tiandur Wheres the girls and the boobs? Why arent there any pics of this? This is a mature game isnt it - and even WOW has boob models. Anyone else think that wierd? Cause you all know you want it. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Why on earth would anyone want too see boob's in a computer game. I play game's for fun if you want too see boob's get a girlfriend. If you go out to a night club at least 4 times a month you should at least see some boob's once who know's you may even get lucky and get to touch a real pair. It's people like this that give gamer's the bad name. If computer generated boob's do it for you then you need to see a shrink or something.

Shinkada
Shinkada

An MMO with actual SKILL involved? This could be the best game ever made.

darkcast
darkcast

This game will have the best MMO graphics on the market using DX10. Its combat system is also the best on the market

Romanticide
Romanticide

"360 or PC...? Well it depends if the PC version has achievements if it does then PC all the way." You are officially one of Microsofts B****es

ssh83
ssh83

Good point tiandur. Though if you check out the art in their website, you'll see plenty of what you seek. P.S. This game shall be overshadowed by Hellgate: London like how EQ2 got pwned by WoW. >:D

Tobi_the_killer
Tobi_the_killer

tiandur - just because this game is rated mature doesn't mean that Gamespot is ;)

tiandur
tiandur

Wheres the girls and the boobs? Why arent there any pics of this? This is a mature game isnt it - and even WOW has boob models. Anyone else think that wierd? Cause you all know you want it. ;)

victorer
victorer

this game is the only MMO I seem to be interested in because all the others...wow, lotr, and so on are all just crap. I might actually buy this game, but I hope this will not cost much per month cuz I cant afford it :S

Tobi_the_killer
Tobi_the_killer

This game will certainly fill a niche in the MMORPG market. I know I will play it.

Vampire_Turtle
Vampire_Turtle

360 or PC...? Well it depends if the PC version has achievements if it does then PC all the way.

acej2000
acej2000

this is why I love the pc

stijnf
stijnf

the gameplay looks crappy... what's up with that blood gushing out of you everytime you get hit + noticed how the players step in a box lying on the ground instead of knocking it over or standing on it?

Adam_the_Nerd
Adam_the_Nerd

SOunds very cool, especially if there's no outrageious online fees. *crosses fingers*

RobertBowen
RobertBowen

I'm not usually interested in MMOs, but if this game has a single player component I might try it out.

TEX-MEX
TEX-MEX

This game is going to be amazing. I can't get enough of the graphics of the enviroment.I can't wait for age of conan to get on to the xbox 360. I also like the fact that the first part of the game has a tutorial. the only thing that bothers me is that it looks too barbaric.

LordOfMorning
LordOfMorning

Woot! This game rocks (la da de da), this game rocks (la da de da). (Doing my jiggy dance) This game rocks (la da de da). Seriously. This game is gonna outshine everything else out there (yes, even WOW, but then again WOW has been out long enough to be stale, grats to it for staying #1 for so long) This has everyhting WOW has, and much more. PVP, soloing capabilities, better (but fun) real life animation, direct 10 cabailities, and good god, CONAN!

mgs16925
mgs16925

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Paganworship
Paganworship

@ gamerush, you're going to have to pay.

gamerush
gamerush

I just hope its not a P2P mmo...

BigDaveyDogz
BigDaveyDogz

I'm loving what I read about the combat system!!