t’s been a long time coming, but Age of Conan has finally arrived to lend some much-needed variety to the MMORPG scene. Taking a vastly different tack than its competitors, this dark, brutal, and often sultry world makes full use of its M rating. A blend of genre traditions and new ideas distinguish Conan from the pack for better and for worse, but to my delight it largely executes on the many promises made by Funcom during its long development.
As a solo experience, Conan isn’t much different than most other fantasy MMOs. Players can viably solo all the way to the level cap, and the variety of personal goals make it enjoyable. Outside of the fantastic Tortage intro of levels 1-20, the experience isn’t as polished as World of Warcraft or Lord of the Rings Online, but the unique combat mechanics make for more engaging battles than the genre standard. Manually activating every swing of your weapon and the addition of player collision also work very well in PvP.
The true strength of any MMO is its group content, and here Conan doesn’t fare quite as well. Classes don’t play off of each other as well as they could in battle, and encounters are often sloppy and hard to keep track of. PvE content is a step behind the genre leaders, with irritating zone design necessitating frequent backtracking. The solo questing and staid dungeon crawls also fail to deliver the excitement of LOTRO’s story instances or WoW’s interesting encounters.
In terms of presenting a shared world and fostering social interaction, Conan is mediocre at best. Public zones are fractured into different instances in the manner of Guild Wars, and it’s rare to encounter more than 10 or 20 players around you in the world. Crafting – a catalyst for player interaction – is fairly lame, so it’s generally only at higher levels that other players mean anything to you beyond occasionally fighting them over slowly respawning quest items or mobs.
The real meat of Conan’s gameplay is in the Borderlands, where high-level guilds large and small vie for control of territory and resources. As of this writing, the Borderlands dynamic is still evolving, with small cadres of power gamers dominating the early goings. It’s impossible to evaluate how this system will play out over the coming months and years, but Conan’s good underlying PvP mechanics and guild-focused endgame design certainly have a lot of potential. Funcom has already significantly tuned up the gameplay post-release, and further adjustments are inevitable.
Conan delivers the best action in the genre, presents an amazingly immersive world, and has a lot of room for emergent PvP gameplay at the level cap in the Borderlands. However, its heavily instanced design and lackluster PvE content offer little of note to more socially inclined players and PvP haters. More than perhaps any other genre, enjoying an MMO is tightly keyed to your individual taste, and Conan is a prime example. Overall, this is a solid, fun, polished title that should entertain just about any MMO fan – at least for a while.