Funcom's Jørgen Tharaldsen came to AGDC with the glow of three Best of Show awards from the recent game convention in Leipzig, Germany still fresh in his eyes. There, for the first time at a public game show, players were able to line up and actually play Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. In Austin, Tharaldsen told us about the new PvP features, siege gameplay and their mature slant.
Age of Conan features four brands of player vs. player combat: duels, arena combat, drunken brawling and siege warfare. The first two are likely relatively familiar to fans of the genre, while the second new, are innovations unique to Age of Conan.
The biggest part of their PvP solution is siege warfare. This is where guild warfare happens. Guilds can build cities throughout the area of three kinds: Battlekeeps are the largest, with a limit of nine in existence per server at one time, Forts are the middle ground and there can be 15 at any moment, and finally resource patches are available to a lucky 18 guilds. What happens if they've all been built and a new guild wants one? Well, they have to first destroy one that an opposing guild owns.
Inside each plot there are a variety of spaces where the guild can invest in buildings that either provide some kind of benefit or defend the location itself. It's up to them to manage the correct balance of security vs. benefit.
When an enemy grows covetous and decides to take a guild on, they must lay siege to the area. Each guild gets to set up windows of vulnerability each day. They must have a certain amount, but this makes sure they know when they need to be online and defend. After each attack, there is a period of reconstruction (just like when a plot is first claimed) when the area is completely safe.
During the siege, the attackers have a limited amount of time to overrun the defenses and burn the place to the ground. The defenders simply have to keep them out.
As a layer of intrigue, players around the world can flag themselves as mercenaries. In dire situations, defenders or attackers can pay to bring them in on their side. They are instantly teleported, for the fee, to the area and might very well hold the keys to battle. Like real mercenaries though, these players likely have no stake in the issue and might not be the best investment. There is of course a cap on the number either side can buy.
The other three forms of PvP are much smaller in scale, but each with their own uniquely Conan flavor.
Drunken Brawling is a small, but brilliant feature that really leverages their intellectual property. It's simple. Levels don't matter. In bars, people can just beat the tar out of each other. Plus, he told us, anyone who signs up for their community site prior to launch will receive a free in-game drinking cape.
Duels are relatively straight-forward. At level 20, players gain the ability to face off in single-combat against consenting enemies. In the violent, pre-historic world of Hyboria, it's a good way to settle a fight.
Arena combat takes place inside instances and also carries a level 20 minimum. Tharaldsen boasted of their quick opponent search, which he noted is even faster if people are pre-grouped, and promises capture the flag and team annihilation games will be on the menu. The twist to their arena system is that the game temporarily alters the player's levels to ensure maximum fairness. It's a mini-game, for fun and the changes are very much temporary. They believe it's a small price to pay for short queues.
To supplement these kinds of combat, there are 20 "PvP levels" players can earn and blood money to be collected. The levels allow players to unlock PvP-only abilities, while the blood money acts as PvP loot. When a player pays to go to the border kingdoms, their money is not taken away, but converted to blood money. Then, when killed, players can loot some of that blood money. It's a badge of honor and more. NPCs within the border kingdoms sell special PvP feats as well and demand blood money in return.
Funcom has also made waves with their decision to go for a mature rating, the first mainstream MMO to do so. Tharaldsen told us that it was not a decision taken lightly, but that it is definitely more than just a gimmick. For them, to truly build a world that honors the universe Robert E. Howard created, they had to have an "M" rating. Anything else would be watered down. He also pointed out that the entire game is mature, not just a few parts for show. It permeates their quest, their art and their combat.
"[If it was not mature] it wouldn't be a Conan game," Tharaldsen said.
To them, this is an advantage. He pointed out that while some assume that only kids play video games the evidence doesn't support it. The average age of an Anarchy Online player (their other product) is 27 years old and - using pre-WoW numbers - the general MMO gamer was well into their 20s. This stands to a certain level of logic since to play these games players usually need a credit card.
Age of Conan's Closed Beta is ongoing and the team plans to hit its revised launch date at the end of March 2008.