Crispy Gamer

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

Gaute Godager, producer and director of Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, has dedicated nearly five years of his life to developing FunCom?s massively-multiplayer take on the barbaric fantasies of writer Robert E. Howard. When the game launches on its planned date of May 20, his work may only just be beginning. Godager calls his violent, sexy online world ?a game made by adults, for adults.? The question is: With 10 million souls playing World of Warcraft, just how many adults are there left to play Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures?

Those that do manage to break free of Azeroth and roll a character in Hyboria will find themselves aboard a Stygian slave galley. Initial customization is deep, with slider bars allowing for subtle tweaks to the player?s face and body. Hair and face paint are permanent once selected, though. Godager joked that his team wasn?t going to implement niceties such as hair salons and tattoo parlors while they have bigger technical fish to fry.

One shipwreck later, players find themselves on a volcanic island and at the beginning of their adventure. Their first task is to find and kill the only surviving slaver that can identify you as a member of the lower caste. Once you?ve found that eunuch and bought your freedom with his blood, your fate is yours to captain. There are 20 levels of single-player tutorial between the castaway?s beach and the beef of the game. And if the first encounter is any indication, the proceedings are bound to be saucy. Just a couple of paces up from the shore is a maiden chained to a tree -- a familiar exclamation point hovers above her sagging head. Who knows what rewards such a quest could offer? Hopefully the prize is a little more interesting than a +1 Loin Cloth of Covering and a pocketful of spare change.

Godager?s guided tour of Hyboria gave us a brief glimpse at combat, and here?s where we begin to see Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures part ways with World of Warcraft. If a player swings their club, anybody within range of the blunt instrument will take damage. Targeting still does its job, but the hurt splashes out in different directions depending on the weapon equipped. Players get real-time feedback during each encounter by way of shield symbols that appear around an enemy. The idea is to maneuver away from guarded areas and hit enemy weak points for massive you-know-what. Fighting is brutal and (surprise, surprise) violent, with some fatalities decapitating the enemy, though at this point these gory kills only work on humanoids. On the far end of the spectrum is Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures? endgame, where level-80 characters will raid dungeons and participate in player-vs.-player combat. Gaute Godager gave us a brief look at a typical dungeon, where a team of five maxed-out players methodically killed the monsters and crazed priests who guarded an ancient temple. Another trait unique to the game is the subtle importance of positioning. Characters can?t share the same space, so efficiently jockeying into the right location during a fight will be vital. Add the fact that healers don?t zap targets, but blast a cone of beneficial waves in one direction, and combat gets a lot more interesting. Mounted melee adds another wrinkle to warfare. Players can ride horses, mammoths and rhinos -- each creature with its own unique handling and strength. From atop these beasts they can slash enemies with their weapons or use front and rear hooves to pound suckers into the dust.

As expected, organization and cooperation between players appears to be vital to endgame success. The rewards seem worth it. Godager and his team demonstrated how a guild of around 30 members can pool their resources and build a city. More conservative players can erect a crafting town in an instance, safe from the steel of marauders. Those who thrive on player-vs.-player combat have only a handful of places where they can break ground. These areas will likely be heavily contested, and the buffs and other rewards will be great. These towns are also pretty damn cool. When built, the fortress rises from the dirt, much like a building in a real-time strategy game. Spreading out from the main hall are a series of battlements, each with positions from which players can defend -- and defend they will. With a limited number of places to erect these bases, the competition for these spots will likely be fierce. Luckily, digging in your heels has its perks: Arrows fly farther from elevated positions, making high walls an ideal place to pick off attackers.

It?s nearly impossible to measure a massively-multiplayer online game from only a couple of hours of preview. But our initial impression is that the game appears to be graphically stunning and thematically bad-ass. Still, there?s no telling whether Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures will be as fun as a barrel of Ape Lords or a veritable Wheel of Pain. Either way Gaute Godager swears (by Crom!) that we?ll be playing the PC game on May 20 -- with an Xbox 360 version destined to hit somewhere in the future.

This preview was based on a publisher-driven demo of the game. The game is scheduled for release on May 20.