E3 2007: Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures gameplay

Guarding the entrance to the Funcom booths was the closest thing to a “booth babe” I’ve seen so far at E3. Two beautiful, but well-clothed, Asian Amazons stepped away from the door to let me enter the room and the lights dimmed, transforming the room into the ideal dark basement gaming environment for a guild. Each player of the three man group had their own three screens to play on, giving us nine times as much to drool at as we watched the battles from the perspective of each player.

The new video above is the polished intro footage to the game, and it manages to deliver plenty of Conan violence without uttering more than a few sentences of story. I asked if the recent ESRB controversy gave their M-rated MMORPG any problems, but they’re not worried. With four years of development behind them and a few more months to go until its October 30 release, everything looks stunning, although they’re still adding in more items, spells, pets, animations, and dungeons each week. 

Not a lot has changed in the past few months, although this time I got to watch a guild in action instead of just some guy running around in circles in a lush valley. There’s plenty of new pictures and concept art below, as well as a new gameplay video after the jump to give you an idea of what the game looks like in action. Hit view story for all the details.

Since my last preview of the game at CES, it feels like a few interface graphics have changed, with everything on screen being very small and simple. Many aspects of gameplay, such as spells and pets, require a balanced utilization of points that you accumulate more of as you level up and progress further in the game. The inventory and stats aren’t overly shiny and contain more text then images. One of the most interesting screens they pulled up was the feats chart, where you can acquire more abilities in the game by using your experience points to make your own constellation charts — much like Final Fantasy X‘s sphere grids, but with more freedom in branching paths.

In their efforts to offer more player options and provide a lot of small details to their gameplay, characters can even do such mundane things as getting drunk and participating in bar room fights with locals. Get tanked and bruise a few NPCs and you’ll actually get small rewards for your time, even if it wasn’t as well spent as completing quests.

It was refreshing to see gigantic landscapes reaching out in all directions and actually have enough foliage to fill each huge scene, although the game did crash once during gameplay. Age of Conan obviously destroys World of Warcraft graphically, but they stress that they’re not trying to compete, but instead offer a different gameplay experience to players by giving them more freedom. I was curious how Funcom would handle the players when their freedom reached out to eBay and selling in-game items. However, they feel confident that their years of experience with Anarchy Online has them prepared enough to be their to help and monitor everybody.

The aspect of the game I’m most looking forward to is the option of starting castles and kingdoms, and then maintaining them and defending them against others. One of the missions the guild played through took place on the border of two hostile NPC towns that were battling against one another, where you get to step in and decide the winner. Later on in the game you get to areas where you can claim land and start a town of your own, and with the world map being a single massive continent, the designers deliberately force you to have plenty of neighbors.

Even when the environment was free from foliage, and the guild sped through a mostly desolate dungeon, the graphics were still pleasing to watch. The lighting shifted the from corner to corner of the massive cave and each boss they ran into was impressive and imaginative. Clipping wasn’t prevalent, but easily noticeable at times, and the spells were all as shiny and large as you could hope for.

Once the guild had finished their cheat-enhanced slaughters around the globe, I asked how they planned to handle new game content after its late October release. The word expansion didn’t come up, although Funcom will focus on frequent patches to fix bugs and add more in-game content in small amounts. It doesn’t sound like adding new landmasses or character classes is anywhere near the top of their to-do list, but they make it sound like new items might be steadily introduced into the game each month. 

Tom Fronczak