X06: Age of Conan Updated Impressions: More Than Just Swordplay

Fancy yourself a lord or commander? We learn about both roles in our latest look at this fantasy-inspired MMO PC game.

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BARCELONA, Spain--Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is more than a massively multiplayer online hack-and-slash-fest. Make no mistake, the game based on Robert E. Howard's classic tales of the boozing, brawling, babe-loving barbarian king will offer you plenty of opportunities to get to the wetwork with your favorite edged weapon on all sorts of enemies. But it's not all there is to do in this multifaceted game, as we discovered on the floor of X06 today.

The game was set up on two different PC stations in the Microsoft game lounge; one PC was showing off the game's gorgeous and massive landscapes that serve as the backdrop for your heroic enterprises in the game. We saw two main areas on display: a sandblasted, mountainous desert and a thick, lush forest. On setting alone, the two areas couldn't have been more different, yet they both shared an uncanny design that was equal parts pure imagination and realistic, believable landscape.

On the other PC, a slightly older version of the game was running, and it was here that we got to know some of the cool details that will make Hyborian Adventures such a different take on the traditional MMOG. As we've discussed in a previous look at the game, combat will be different than the typical point-click-kill approach that is such a big part of other MMOGs. Here, if you want to win a battle, it's going to take some effort on your behalf. Each character will have a number of melee weapons he or she can attack with. To attack, you have several options, all based on a direction-based menu that pops up in the lower middle section of the screen whenever you initiate combat. Mouse users, for example, can click on the different available directions, and your character will perform the attacks in the order you clicked them. If you're using a USB analog controller, you can move the analog stick in any direction to do the same. If you prefer to attack using the keyboard, you can use either the numerical pad or certain alphabetical hotkeys on your keyboard.

With all of these options available, you'll likely find a combat system that suits your personal style. The action-combat system in Hyborian Adventures will support combos, as well; one developer told us of the deadly "458" combo (referring to the directions on the numerical pad), which usually resulted in a decapitated enemy.

In addition to melee combat, ranged weapons have a unique system, as well. Fighting with a bow, for example, will require you to aim and fire your weapon using a targeting reticule. If you've got the cash to afford a horse, you can perform both melee and ranged combat while mounted, and you even get a damage bonus when attacking on horseback. One other cool feature about the combat in Hyborian Adventures is the use of formations. If you've got a commander in your party, he can suggest a formation for you to take when engaging the enemy. Lighted icons will appear on the ground, and if everyone in your party sticks to their formation assignment, the entire group will receive a damage bonus.

But there's more to do in Hyborian Adventures than viciously separate limbs from bodies. Once you've gone through the roughly 10 to 12 hours of single-player content and reached level 20 in the game, you'll venture out into the larger MMOG world of Conan's fantastic universe. As you rise through the levels, you'll increasingly customize your character to find his or her fit in the larger world. At level 20, for instance, you choose your class from roles such as thief, warrior, and so on. At level 40, you choose a prestige class, which will define your role in the larger MMOG world of Hyborian Adventures. Options here include lord, commander, crafter, and more.

Your prestige class is tied to your role within the guild system in Hyborian Adventures. Once you've joined a guild, you and your guild mates have a number of options. You can go on dungeon adventures and raids, or you can engage in some of Hyborian Adventures' more interesting aspects, such as city building. That's right, if you're in a guild, you can stake your own personal plot of Cimmeria as your own, building up a city complete with its own working blacksmith, living quarters, meeting hall, walls, and defensive units for you to control. It's here that your prestige class will be useful. A crafter, for example, might be useful as a blacksmith or an architect to build buildings. The lord, on the other hand, is skilled at finding resources for the city, while the commander can lead troops into battle, earn increasingly effective formations, and so forth.

In the so-called border kingdoms, guilds can also choose to build castles. The difference between building a castle and building a city is based on who will eventually come to attack it. When you build a city, for example, a rival city will eventually form close to yours, made up of non-player characters that will eventually look to attack your precious home. You can beat them back periodically or raid their town and prevent events from getting too ugly, but they'll be a persistent problem to deal with.

Castles, on the other hand, can be attacked by other guilds--the equivalent of PVP battles in the game. Here's how it works: If an enemy guild approaches your castle, they can form a war tent under your gate. Eventually, you or some member of your guild, will be required to treat with the enemy siege forces and agree to a time for the battle. Of course, a guild can refuse the battle right out if they so wish, but that wouldn't be very sporting. If both sides come to agreement on a time for the battle, you'll want to make sure that all your guild mates are on hand for the fight, as winner takes all in these border-kingdom skirmishes.

Age of Conan developer Funcom probably could have gone the easy way with Hyborian Adventures and created a simple hack-and-slash affair with little depth. However, it seems like the team has grander ideas in mind for the game, and we're intrigued to see how all these seemingly disparate parts fit together in the final build. Age of Conan is currently scheduled for release in early 2007.

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