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Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer expansion announced

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GC 2009: Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer Q&A

We've got the details about the upcoming expansion pack for Funcom's MMO.


US, August 18, 2009 - Gamers that were looking for an adventure set in Robert E. Howard's classic Hyborian Age and mythology created in his numerous Conan the Barbarian novels were thrilled to check out Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, the MMORPG from Funcom and Eidos. Populated with mythical creatures, lost civilizations, and gods frequently seeking the destruction of the world, Age of Conan gives players a sense of what it is like to be a Cimmerian, Stygian or Aquilonian. Now, a little over a year and a half later, a new expansion is poised to present the newest realm for the game, the eastern Khitai Empire.


We checked in with Craig Morrison, the director of Age of Conan, to ask him some questions about the upcoming expansion, the newly included race of the Khitians, and the discovery of the Godslayer as a new threat to the world. This info, and more, can be found below.


IGN: The expansion opens up the Khitai Empire in the east. What can you tell us about this new land and its overall character? What new regions will the player visit? How do players get to Khitai and where can they go once they arrive?


Craig Morrison: The expansion will feature a whole new land for players to explore, the Empire of Khitai.


Khitai is split into five large gameplay regions and players will be able to travel there from one or more of the major hubs in the game.


Gateway to Khitai: The first glimpse that players will get of Khitai is actually from the western side of the Great Wall. The aptly named Gateway to Khitai contains rolling steppes that climb up to the foothills of the Mountains of Night.


The Northern Grasslands: On the eastern side of the Great Wall, the Northern Grasslands stretch as far as the eye can see. Beneath the shadow of the Kang Pagoda lies the village of Chow and further east, the frontier city of Pin Pin awaits. South of Pin Pin, the grasslands are swallowed by impenetrable jungle, while to the north the road winds across the River of Yellow Curses and into the desert of Kara Korum. East the grassland stops abruptly at the Khitan Escarpment. From the edge of the escarpment, you can see clear across the beautiful lands of Chosain Province.

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Chosain Province: Once a stretch of idyllic countryside, Chosain Province is now torn by battle. The northern city of Gun Hai and the southern city of Gun Xui are at war, and the once peaceful city of Shaulun has become a staging ground for mercenaries from across the world. The northern marshes, which bound the southern side of the River of Yellow Curses, are populated by monstrous creatures, no doubt crawling across the river from Kara Korum.


Kara Korum: The desert of black sand, Kara Korum, is eerily silent in comparison with the southern countryside. Nothing moves in the streets of the village known as Ghost Hill and a gentle breeze carries forth the stench of decay from the forest to the south. Northwards, in the center of Kara Korum, the high walls of The Crater dominate the landscape and the sense of the alien that pervades the landscape seems to stem from that place.


Paikang: South again, and on the eastern side of Chosain Province gives way to vine-choked jungles of Paikang. To the north, through Souleater Pass lies Heavens Lake and to the east is Shatterspar Coastline, dotted with the wreckage of a hundred ships. But south is the imperial city itself, Paikang, its purple towered minarets gleaming in the sunlight.


Each playfield region comes with it own set of dungeons and instances leading up to the final raid dungeons that will be found in Paikang.


IGN: Evil seems to be on the rise in Khitai. What's the background of the story and what is the overall conflict? Who is the Godslayer?


Craig Morrison: The story in the expansion is both about looking at the events of Conan's past and how they have shaped the world, and asking the player character some pertinent questions about their future. We know he is King of Aquilonia, but his past actions have also had serious consequences in other parts of the world, even well before he rose to the Aquilonian throne.


Conan's actions in the story "The Tower of the Elephant" were a catalyst for the events which have shaped Khitai for the last two decades. When the player enters Khitai, they are entering a land irrevocably shaped by Conan and the people of Khitai see Conan in a very different light to those of the west. Players will be able to discover exactly how the great barbarian's previous exploits have plunged the land of Khitai into darkness and chaos.


As the player travels through Khitai, they will also be called upon to consider the events of their own past in a new light. The question of immortality and what is the true difference between a man and a god will also feature prominently.


With conflict being at the core of the experience we have designed the content around presenting the player with meaningful faction choices in each of the new gameplay regions.


IGN: You're offering players the chance to play as Khitans. What are the strengths of the Khitans? How do they compare to the existing races? What's the new player experience like for Khitan characters?


Craig Morrison: The races available in Age of Conan don't have different attributes or statistics and the Khitan race won't differ there. New players from Khitai will still experience the new player area in Tortage Island. Tortage is an area of the game that we consistently get good feedback on and we didn't want to break up the introductory experience.


Once players leave Tortage they will be sent to their homeland and can choose to explore there (or return to the original lands if they wish) and will find the entire 'Gateway to Khitai' playfield region to explore and level-up in.

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IGN: There are obviously loads of historical sources for the Eastern style visuals and content you're creating. What have been some of your specific inspirations? Are there any particular thematic touchstones?


Craig Morrison: We first took what we could from the original Howard stories. While there is not a whole lot about Khitai in those stories, anything that is mentioned is tied to the expansion in some way. Also as we have hinted at when talking about the story earlier we took key elements from one of Conan's most iconic adventures is key to everything that is happening in Khitai!


Visually, we've made a conscious choice to avoid the Japanese style of the Dark Horse Khitai comics - we've focused much more on the cultures of ancient China and Korea. We also use the recent Khitai sourcebook by Mongoose Publishing as a source of inspiration. And naturally there is a wealth of Chinese and Korean myth and legend to draw upon and write our own conanesque take.


IGN: How will the new expansion benefit from the lessons you've learned in creating and maintaining the original game? What types of changes are you making in Khitai now that you've seen how players respond to the existing content you've given them?


Craig Morrison: I think there are a few things we are doing a little differently this time around. The playfield regions for example now have a lot more explorable space, the travelling experience is not as linear as many players felt it was in the original playfield regions, we have made a conscious effort to open things up and allow exploration.


Also the playfields are linked, in that once a player is in Khitai there are not travel NPCs to take them from region to region, or a door, here they will actually 'zone' from area to the next and be able to see the geography of the upcoming region before they enter it, so all the playfield regions are stitched together and moving from one to the other is much more fluent experience.


IGN: You've said you're not raising the level cap and not adding new classes because you wanted to expand your current offerings. How are you improving the abilities and options of your existing characters? How does the alternate advancement system work?


Craig Morrison: We are aiming for providing players with new abilities, spells and combos that add new further depth to the combat system. Now that we have deployed the revamped items and statistics update we have a much greater number of options for us to play with and we want to build on that. The focus will be on providing more situational and interesting abilities that mean players can take advantage of the strengths and weakness of their opponents.


At a basic level the alternate advancement system allows players to earn new advancement points that they can then spend in brand new feat trees. These feat trees include a lot of new abilities, functionality and choices for their characters.


There will be a few additional aspects that we think will really give this system depth, but we are still working through a few of the design elements there before getting into the fine details of the system with the community.


IGN: Faction-based gameplay is very central to the new expansion. What are some of the conflicts that players will find themselves drawn into? What challenges will players have to face there and what rewards can they obtain? How does the new focus on factions impact the overall story in Khitai?


Craig Morrison: In each of the new regions players will encounter separate factions that are, for various reasons, in a constant state of conflict. Players will have to choose which side of each individual conflict they ally themselves to!


There will be separate quest lines for each faction that helps to weave the story of the conflict in Khitai in a way that has an impact on every player's experience.


You gain standing with a faction by killing their enemies and completing quests for them. You lose standing by killing members of a faction or taking betrayal quests.


Once a player's standing is high enough with a particular faction, they can complete ranking quests to earn ranks. Ranks unlock special rewards, titles and additional tiers of quests. NPCs will react to you differently depending on your standing with their friends or enemies, so be warned, your actions may not go unnoticed!


In terms of reward each faction has many rewards, including four separate tiers of armor for each different faction. So when the player sees a faction in a particular armor they will be able to work their way up in faction standing to earn those tiers of armor for themselves.

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IGN: The game also introduces two new mounts, the tiger and the wolf. How do these mounts fit into the game? What will players have to do to acquire them and what will they be capable of?


Craig Morrison: These mounts won't be bought from a vendor like mounts in the original game. Both of these mounts are predators and are not used to carrying riders. Thus they must be captured young and trained to bear the weight of a human.


In the case of the Tiger mount, for example, it is a religious ritual for the cult that you must join. In order to capture their tiger, the player must travel into the woods unarmed and unarmored and kill the Tigress barehanded. Then they can pluck the mewling and defenseless newborn from the den and bring it back to raise it as their own. It first becomes a pet and the player must teach the tiger all of the necessary skills for survival such as hunting, stalking and battle. Once the tiger has grown large enough and if the bond is strong enough, the player must create a saddle out of various ingredients scattered across the land. Only then will the Tiger become a mount.


IGN: What about new monsters? Tell us about some of the beasties players will fight in Khitai. How about new dungeons?


Craig Morrison: I think we have a great mix of new creatures to go with the eastern locations. From more monstrous creatures, like the giant Kapa, through to the barbaric mountain men and the swift and deadly crow people there is a great variety of new foes and opponents that players will get to face in the expansion...and that's even before they face the armies and factions of Khitai itself!


In terms of dungeons we are aiming for every playfield region to have several instances attached to it, some smaller, some much more grand like the magnificent Pillars of Heaven area, which is probably a couple of hours of gameplay on it's own. We have a focus on making the instances very repeatable and allowing for return visits and more rewards as well as providing shorter 'pick up and play' experiences alongside the larger areas that require a little planning.


Then we move through to Paikang which will house the tier four raid instances for the elite players to throw themselves into.


IGN: Finally, when is the expansion due to be released?


Craig Morrison: We haven't set a date for release just yet. We will be making those kinds of decisions as we progress through the testing phases.


IGN: Thanks for your time.

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Age of Conan looked cool, and was great in concept in terms of the more engaging combat system and stuff, but I got the feeling that the number of people playing it wasn't too many, especially as, like all other MMO's, it was pretty bug ridden and unstable for a while after it came out, so I am kinda surprised they are doing an expansion.

Not that it really matters much to me, as I can't be bothered playing online games any more. Too many drama queens made WoW become really annoying at one stage, and I don't spend much time at home any more, so don't play games much at all.

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Well, as I have explained in threads before on this subject, Conan did have problems at release and the subsequent months, however patches and updates fixed up a lot of bugs, performance and item/class balance issues. I guess this put a lot of people off and left a bad taste in their mouth. For those who stayed, the game got better and better, and has stabilised over the last 6months or more. There was a period where populations were low, but this was addressed with server merges. New players have been coming in on a steady basis and they get the full game experience. I agree with many others who say the game was released prematurely, I wonder if the game was released as a new title in its present state that we'd have the haters like we do now.

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