Can you believe it has been two years since the launch of Age of Conan, Funcom's low-fantasy online role-playing game? Time sure has flown, and that game has grown by leaps and bounds since its release, which isn't surprising given its slightly rocky start. Last month, AOC's first expansion, Rise of the Godslayer, hit store shelves, and I've been sinking many hours into it. I had hoped to have a review published for you today, but even after 40 hours, I feel like I need to spend a bit more time in the newly added regions of Khitai before I'm ready to pass along a verdict. But I will say this: I am having a lot of fun, and the new content is significant. Since I won't be able to write a review until after E3, which will fill up all of next week, I thought I'd show off a little of what Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer has to offer.
Rise of the Godslayer's content centers on Khitai, a vast area composed of five different regions. If you create a new character and select the Khitan race, you voyage to Gateway to Khitai after you finish your initial exploration of Tortage. If you've got an existing character and want to journey forth, however, you should talk to the new caravan master in Khemi. He gives you a choice: pay a fee for immediate and uncomplicated travel, or get free passage, but only if you're willing to work off your debt--that is, perform a randomly chosen quest. I've traveled this route several times and have encountered three different missions: one that involves a bit of climbing and combat, a high-seas Kraken assault, and a moody underwater reverie in which you must collect a number of artifacts.
The new level 20-40 content (level 40-80 characters are left out in the cold, unfortunately) seems uniformly excellent, though that's no great shock, considering the great quest writing that permeates all of Age of Conan. You free slaves from the bonds of their captors and assault Hykranian archers on horseback, all while traversing the region's beautiful grassy plains and rocky cliffs. You also come face-to-face with a number of gruesome bosses, such as the one pictured at the top of this article. The demonic creatures known as Kang Zai will also put up a fuss, and I enjoyed chopping them up along the great wall separating the Gateway from the neighboring level 80 grasslands.
If you're in the level 40-80 range, be warned that Rise of the Godslayer doesn't offer much new questing for you, though if you've strayed since Age of Conan's launch, you'll appreciate the new areas that have been added since the game's initial release, such as Ymir's Pass in Cimmeria. If you've quested and pillaged your way to level 80, however, there's a ton of stuff in the expansion designed to stir your interest. I marvel at the visual diversity on display as I travel deeper into Khitai. The detailed architecture, character design, and exotic landscapes were clearly inspired by the Far East, yet the environmental variety is impressive. For example, the idyllic coastlines in Paikang are far removed from the charred villages you glimpse in Chosain Province. Yet all of these areas capture that grim Age of Conan essence, and even the most tranquil oases exude a touch of barbarism.
There's no increase to the level cap. Instead, Rise of the Godslayer adds an alternate advancement system, in which you spend points on new types of feats and perks. There's a bit of a Guild Wars-inspired twist to the perks you acquire, however: they must be equipped to your perks bar, but that bar has limited space, so you have to pick and choose which perks you wish to be active at any given time. The other major addition is the faction system, which requires you to take sides in the never-ending struggles for dominance in Khitai. You earn and lose favor by completing quests, triumphing over enemies, and even choosing your responses carefully in random conversations with non-player characters. Gaining favor leads to fun rewards, including new mounts. I'm currently working toward a wolf mount, which entails questing on behalf of the Wolves of the Steppes, though the need to repeat some of the related quests ad nauseam becomes a mild grind after a time.
As you might be able to tell from the above screen, there are also new raid dungeons and bosses to conquer. It's a good mix of solo content, small-group instances, and large-scale raids, and I'll be spending more time checking out the new group-oriented content today and this weekend. If you've been away from Age of Conan and are looking to return, I do recommend checking out some of the fine interface mods available. I am using the Plagued UI, which comes in multiple versions, and the Age of Conan UI Installer, which makes it easy to get a new mod up and running quickly.
I have encountered some glitches and bugs here and there, and even two years later, the graphics engine remains demanding, though performance has greatly improved, and the DirectX 10 features inserted after launch add a nice shine to an already eye-catching game. Expect a review the week after E3, and until then, consider this blog a preliminary thumbs-up to Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer, an expansion I've enjoyed thus far.