SANTA MONICA, Calif.--It's summer in Southern California, and that of course means press events for video games like Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. The massively multiplayer game will feature violent, bloody sword battles reminiscent of the motion picture 300, as well as sophisticated high-level play for online role-playing veterans.
For the first time, publisher Eidos and developer Funcom are showing Age of Conan's "pet" system, which lets certain magic-using professions in the high-fantasy game summon "pet" creatures to accompany them into battle. Apparently, characters that can summon pets will be able to accrue up to eight "pet points," which can be alloted to summoning pets of different levels of power; for instance, a high-level necromancer character can use all eight points to summon eight medium-sized scorpions as pets, or the character can summon two magic-wielding spirits that cost four points each. Different pets will have different functions; the scorpions are straightforward combat drones, for instance, that leap into the melee, while the robed spirits we saw summoned bolts of lighting to hurl at their enemies from a distance.
We had a chance to observe more high-level combat in the game, which remains as bloody and violent as ever. We watched a small party of a sword-wielding barbarian, a priest, and a necromancer leap into action against the thugs in a bandit camp, and later, launch a raid on a small Cimmerian village where Conan himself was born. While the necromancer character seemed better suited to hanging back and zapping the enemy with magic spells, both the barbarian and priest character leapt into battle, though the priest character did prepare for combat by casting protective "buff" spells, summoning ghostly serpents and female spirits to cast magical wards on the party first.
We ended our tour with a brief visit to an extremely high-level dungeon known as "Black Ring Citadel," a level-80 dungeon (80 will be the highest character level you can attain at the game's launch) intended for the game's full "raid" contingent of up to 24 characters. The dungeon itself seemed to be an elegant temple under construction, alternating between rooms floored with red marble and pillars adorned with golden serpents, on the more developed side, and stony caves being carved out by slave crews. Apparently, the dungeon will be the base of a mad wizard who has discovered the secret of animating stone gargoyles and bending the beasts to his will, so players will be attacked by smaller stony creatures before confronting the sorcerer himself. The sorcerer, when defeated, actually tumbles out of his robes and becomes a gigantic, stony monstrosity. After this form of the wizard was ultimately destroyed, our party delved further into the dungeon to a gigantic hall in which an enormous gargoyle creature much larger than the full screen's size stood in wait for us, and summoned additional gargoyles and apprentice wizards while it swiped at our party with its huge claws. Funcom estimates that about 90% of Age of Conan players will eventually join a guild, so the studio is not only building additional non-combat activities into the game, it's also creating challenging group encounters that may involve new enemies spawning from the remains of old ones, as well as relentless attacks of enemies that come in waves, similar to some of the higher-level encounters from Funcom's Anarchy Online.
Age of Conan continues to look like a promising online game for players who are ready to take on a very different and very mature-themed challenge. The game is scheduled for launch later this year.