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March 5, 2008
GDC 2008 - Age of Conan Update
 

Funcom’s multi-year journey towards a finished version of Age of Conan is showing a lot more of the polish that’s been promised in recent months. For those not acquainted with the most recent previous coverage on MPOGD about Age of Conan, this is the M-rated MMO role-playing game based off the brutal and rich fantasy world written about by Ron E. Howard and immortalized in comics, movies and other games.

Funcom’s Game Director for Age of Conan, Gaute Godager, was our guide through this latest revision of the game shown off at the 2008 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Godager recapped the introductory steps and scenes for new players entering the game: Character customization begins with your character captive aboard a slave ship, but appears to be more detailed, with more pre-set features to play with for hair, facial types and more. Notably, this time around women are a choice to pick from as a character type, but will have the sort of Amazon figures you’d expect to be a match for the Schwarzenegger-esque features of the men. In fact, as a further sign of just how much customization there can be, male and female characters are even given the choice of three or four different types of voice effects, including moans, groans, battle cries, etc.

Once the character is selected, play begins with your avatar stranded on the shores of Tortage due to the slave ship wrecking during a storm. That starting zone encompasses roughly the first twenty levels of play as a solo game play experience. From the moment a player starts from the beach with a boat paddle in hand, getting the hang of the real-time combat system is perhaps the most important consideration.

All of this early-level exploration was largely similar to what was shown at Eidos in December, when we last took a close look at Age of Conan. However, what was considerably different was the smoothness and stunning beauty of the graphics in motion on their test servers, especially in the Tortage area where it was possible for me to compare and contrast what I’d seen in December. Every texture and lighting effect seemed to have been given a facelift, thanks to the new Direct X 10-fueled graphics engine rolled out in early January. The graphics engine will scale back without sacrificing too much quality to accommodate less advanced hardware than what was used to demo the game at GDC, according to Age of Conan’s game director.

Then, we were shown new areas we hadn’t been shown before, starting with the level 80 end-game area in the dungeons below Kheshatta, in the heart of the magicians’ realm of Stygia. In this realm, the heavily buffed and well-balanced party of a priestess, an assassin, a conqueror and a demonologist with a summoned succubus were taking on a group of raptor-like lizards.

The most noteworthy new addition to the Age of Conan that Funcom revealed would arguably be the mounted beasts that can be used for attack, expressly the War Mammoth, War Rhino and War Horse, none of which are currently slated to be earned in-game at this point but can be acquired through one form of purchase or another. Godager compared the maneuverability and speed of the beasts to vehicles in Grand Theft Auto, the mammoth being measured against the slow-moving but tank-like bus and the horse on the other end of the spectrum being likened to a fast, agile exotic sports car. The rhino, clearly taken from the movie 300, is the balance of both ends of the mounted combat spectrum. Most attacks from these mounts aren’t too dissimilar from ground combat, just from an elevated and defensible position – using front, right, left, center and back attacks of the “real combat” system and the few keys needed to carry it out. “High level opponents,” Godager warned, “can knock you off your mount or slow you down, although it’s a very effective position to attack from.”

The last demonstration from the game served to illustrate the power of guilds, through the visually impressive if god-like construction of a defensible city in a large plains area. “The process of building a city is very much like an RTS,” Godager said. “There’s resource gathering to build it and you also have to be careful to defend the positions in a city once you’ve created it.”

To even be eligible to build a city to start with, a player needs 30 members in their guild. Resources must be gathered to build the keep and its walls. Then, beneficial buildings that benefit the entire guild can be built into the city structure. Temples and smithies add bonuses for the city and its guild inhabitants, such as survivability,offensive and defensive enhancements. On the flipside, to attempt to destroy a city in a siege by a rival guild, the defensive towers must be taken in a certain order before the keep may be overrun. High ground positioning can even the odds for attackers attempting to probe a city’s walled defenses, which adds to the tactical considerations (and RTS flavoring) within Age of Conan.

Age of Conan has shown marked improvement within the last two months, most notably with the improved graphics engine and the revelation of the female avatars in the game. But, to misquote Shakespeare, “The play’s the thing.” It’s in-depth game play that will truly reveal what lies beneath the shiny exterior of this visually attractive and approachable fantasy MMO. As the May 20th launch date approaches, MPOGD is sure to share to keep you informed about the ins and outs of Age of Conan.
 

Funcom’s Game Director for Age of Conan, Gaute Godager, smiling before the new trailer was shown

The level of detail in the character customization screens are evident, illustrated by the scowling and face-painted barbarian avatar

Buffing the high-level characters before combat

The party has closed off any escape for this lizard in the dungeon

Both the character and the War Rhino seeming to close in on the dangerous chicken

The War Mammoth definitely lives up to its name, especially in size

Pointing out the details that go into building a city in Age of Conan

 
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