The MMORPG Age of Conan was released by Funcom right around the middle of May in 2008, probably to avoid getting steam-rollered and plowed under by the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for everyone’s favourite fantasy juggernaut. In less than a month of blistering sales fueled by desperate gamers trying to escape the pull of Warcraft, Age of Conan had gathered up over 700,000 subscribers in its muscled and well-oiled arms.
Six months later Funcom was quietly merging servers and banning anyone who talked about subscription numbers on their forums. Age of Conan is now, for all practical purposes, a walking and half-naked corpse shambling toward a dark horizon. So what happened? How did Age of Conan die?
The quick answer? It was never alive.
When you first login to Age of Conan, you’ll wake up on the shores of a lush island, overflowing with quests, voice actors, plotlines, and wonderful vistas. Even bitter veterans who wouldn’t piss out Funcom if the entire company were on fire admit that this starting zone, Tortage, is a great experience. Tortage lasts for about twenty levels out of eighty. Then, you step away from the jungle harbours and into the wide world, and that’s when Funcom shouts “Sucker!” in your face before running off laughing into the night with your money. They give you the finger the whole time.
You see, a few things were lacking after Tortage. Those wonderful vistas transform into dirt and rocks, mostly because the DirectX 10 support listed on the box isn’t actually in the game. Instead, Funcom took the graphics overhead DirectX 10 would have used, and plugged it all into the famed Realism Brownifier. That’s right, in the harsh world of Conan, real graphics are brown and dirty.
You might also discover the barren lands are short on things to do, since all those Tortage quests which brought you up to level 20 are gone. From here on out, most of your questing will involve going to the proper Place of Great Respawn and grinding mobs like you were filling up a resume to take some Chinese gold farmer’s job. The dust and dirt must be really hard on the lungs, too, since the vast majority of quest givers are mute. Voice acting, it seems, was too much a courtesy for Funcom to extend after the trial period.
But hey, at least your character isn’t wearing a clown suit like those technicolour lollipop bastards over in Azeroth. That’s true enough, but you better like that brown, realistic outfit, because you’ll be wearing something just like it for the rest of your career. Not that it matters what bonuses it gives you. Character stats didn’t work at all when the game released, and bonuses on gear were so low you’d need to twink out a full suit over a single bonus to even see a 1% increase in your abilities.
Fortunately, you’ll be able to move around those desolate zones easily enough, what with how dying and rezzing is actually a faster way to travel than going there through the game.
And you will die, make no mistake. The combat system relies on position and combos to deal your best damage, but the great part about this is that while you’re pressing the four buttons and swinging around the five attacks for your combo, the other guy just walked away from you, got into position behind you, and sank his sword into your spleen. Oh, and two classes can close in on you under stealth. Doesn’t everyone love getting ganked by Warcraft Rogues? In Age of Conan, there are two different flavours of teabagging rogues to sample and savour.
To their credit, Funcom has tried to fix the problems of their newest flagship game, but it seems whoever actually built Age of Conan has gone on to other pastures, or perhaps their next life. The remaining crew’s attempts at repairing the game can be likened to dozens of monkeys eager to help out with an especially critical moment of brain surgery. It was messy, things got broken, there was alot of hooting, and something nasty was left dripping off the walls.
Gaute Godager, the Producer and Game Director even resigned, leaving Funcom after sixteen years with the company over how the game was handled post-release. Without Godager’s influence as a unifying force, the game sunk further in the pits of hooting monkeydom.
Suckered in by the newbie zone, 700,000 souls subscribed. Faced with the rest of the game after level 20, they unsubscribed. It all lasted a bit over two months.
In the end, all that is left are guilds of gankers, hiding in grinding caves and waiting for someone to unstealth. What began among the jeweled towers of Aquilonia ends then, here in caves and dirt. And brown. Lots and lots of brown.