When most people think fantasy, Robert E. Howardís Hyboria probably isnít the first setting that springs to mind, and allís the more unfortunate for that. With the MMORPG market saturated with Tolkien-inspired settings, less the expertly crafted mythology and cultural diversity, a game that features a setting that speaks to the manliness in each of us, even the women-folk, has been long overdue. Fortunately for our testosterone-deprived selves, Funcom has deigned to answer our calls for help with the release of their latest MMO, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.
So why should you spend your money on Age of Conan with so many other online experiences vying for your income? Well, aside from the aforementioned manliness, of which this game exudes, Age of Conan has been able to break out of much of the usual MMO rigmarole to provide its players with one of the most engaging experiences the genre has had for some time. Age of Conan manages to make its players feel more like some legendary hero, some unstoppable force of nature, better than any MMO to date. With a plotline that truly centers itself on the playerís chosen avatar and a combat system that exists to do away with the whole notion of auto-attacking, few MMOs are as immersive as Age of Conan.
Though thatís not to say it is without its flaws. While melee combat is an exciting affair, requiring players to keep abreast of their opponentís guarding focus before launching strikes in one of three directions to penetrate their defences, it can quickly become overwhelming thanks to the wealth of available battle manoeuvres. Apart from normal attacks, players have access to Combo attacks, which have special effects and require a combination of normal attacks to execute. Players have to contend with the ability to dodge, block, and adjust their own guard, which doesnít even begin to cover dealing with the various other forms of warfare available, such as magic, stealth, and ranged combat.
As engaging as the combat may be, you will constantly be fighting with the standard MMO control scheme that makes the bevy of potential actions available to you difficult to perform and at times nearly impossible. This frenzied mess of battle is able to inject some chaos into the proceedings, which is exactly what combat needs, ultimately making the slaughter of your enemies in Age of Conan both more immersive and far more rewarding than the norm.
It is a shame then that warfare as a whole doesnít fare so well as melee combat. Magic is completely uninspired, relying on precisely the same mechanics as World of Warcraft. Stealth works -for the most part- though it does suffer from some problems with NPC detection routines. Finally, ranged combat is almost identical to melee but suffers from a lack of feedback as to when opponents are in range.
Regardless of what style of combat players decide to adopt, they are in for a real treat as they pummel their adversaries into submission. Every blow is followed by immensely satisfying grunts and splats, with blood spraying from the freshly opened wounds. The crowning achievement then is when a character performs a fatality, resulting in a splatter of blood and gore across the playerís HUD. The accompanying deathblow performed on the unwilling recipient may take the form of grievous stabs through the gut, being rent by dark magics, or even full-on decapitation. Building on the inherent manliness of fatalities, a short time after performing one of these feats of slaughter, the character will experience heightened damage and stamina regeneration as well as a slight boost to their size.
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