Release Date: Q2 2006
Last week, I sat down with Gante Godager, game developer at Funcom, to take a look at a pre-alpha version of the upcoming action/adventure/strategy/MMORPG title, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. While there were understandable issues with such an early build of the game, much of what is in place is impressive, and if the game can deliver on the promises on what is planned for future development, Funcom may have a hit on their hands.
The game provides an interesting blending of the genres of action/adventure, strategy, and MMORPG. At its heart it is an action RPG, placing players in the role of a hero among the barbarian tribes in the Conanverse. Combat takes place in a very action-oriented fashion with players directing the strikes of their weapons in one of six directions. Combos can be created by chaining certain strings together (such as a diagonal slash from the upper-left chaining easily into another swing directed at the lower-right), rewarding players for learning the intricacies of the system and doing more than just mashing an attack button over and over. Additionally, players can mount various animals such as horse and mammoths, opening the doors for mounted combat. On top of that is the ability to lead groups of other NPC barbarians in combat, providing an almost RTS/tactical spin on the gameplay.
But I said this game was an MMORPG too, right? Well, yes and no. The first 20 levels of character development are played as a single player game (albeit on the Funcom servers). After that, it's up to the player to decide if they want to continue their character's adventures by stepping up into the MMORPG world. Note that the single player game takes you up to level 20, while the level cap of the game is currently 80, meaning that the MMORPG part is intended to represent the majority of your character's growth. Nevertheless, the single-player portion of the game is expected to take a good 15-20 hours to complete, which is more than twice the length of, say, Fable. I like to think of the MMORPG aspect as a way to make the gaming experience not end when the single-player game is finished. Although figures are not set in stone just yet, so far there most likely will be some form of subscription fee for playing on the MMORPG servers, while playing the single-player game can be done at no fee (even though you are on their servers).
Character advancement begins with the choice of a general archetype, which is then further refined through the player's choices of specializations at predefined milestone levels. By the end, there will be a total of around 38 different possible paths a player can take (granting that most of the end paths will likely be fundamentally similar to several others).
PvP will be present in the MMORPG portion of the game, but characters will be automatically brought up to the level of their enemy for the sake of combat in order to promote fair play and reduce the unfairness of level disparity. Players will also be able to build castles and other structures in the wilderness that other players can then attack as part of massive siege combat.
The terrain in the game, even at this early stage in development, looks great, and none of what was shown was merely backdrop. All of the terrain, even the stuff that looks good enough to be backdrop, was walkable, and from what I can tell, it's intended that if you can see it, you can go there – no impenetrable walls of uber-foliage here.
Although we're quite a ways from seeing this game go live, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures is one that I'll definitely be following the progress of with great interest.
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